Thompson Peak AttemptMount Thompson is the highest peak in the Sawtooth Range at 10,751ft. Looking at the mountains from Stanley it would appear to the untrained eye that Mount Thompson is the most visible, but it is not. Williams Peak is the most prominent peak while viewing the mountains from town. Ever since my start of exploring the Sawtooth area 3 years ago, I have been intrigued, almost mesmerized by the sheer size and beauty of these mountains. You could almost say they hold a special place in my heart which no other place I've been to has done. Since January, I have been training for this summer with the ambitious goal of summiting Thompson and being able to say I climbed the tallest peak in the Sawtooth Range. I was doing a lot of stationary biking, walking on the treadmill at the steepest setting with my backpack fully loaded with an additional 20lbs loaded to cause strain. Sometimes I would run 2 miles to help with my endurance at higher elevations. Along with the exercise, I was also dieting to reduce my overall weight (Less overall weight equals an easier climb). Three months passed and I had finally lost 20 lbs, but was getting extremely bored with the workout routine. After March, I started training out at Celebration Park hiking the 7 mile loop at least once a week to get my legs and ankles in shape for the summer which lie ahead….
Finally, I was able to talk Tarina into a Thompson Peak attempt. We had kids with us this weekend (with exception of my daughter), but the climb was rated as a Class 3 on a small section, so I didn't think it would be much of a safety risk. The plan was to climb up to a 9,000 ft lake directly below Thompson, then climb up to a 10,000ft saddle located between Thompson and Williams peak. From there, we would circle around the backside (Southwest) of Thompson for the easiest route to the top. Easy right? LOL
I had never been to Redfish Lake… actually, I had always avoided it since it was your typical 'tourist' attraction (I hate crowds!). Hell, this place even had a lodge/motel, a restaurant and a plethora of other places to go/activities to do. Not my idea of a 'wilderness experience'. We parked at a crowded trailhead and started our journey.
Following the trail, it was apparent this was a major hiking destination for a lot of people. The Alpine Way Trail is a nice trail which eventually leads to Marshall Lake, located below Williams Peak. Traveling along this trail will take you through groves of Aspen trees while switchbacks take you up to the spine of a long ridgeline. From here you can see beautiful views of Mt. Heyburn (10,299ft) and Mt Horstman (10,470ft).
Following this trail for 4.5 miles will lead to a fork in the road. Right will take you to Marshall Lake, while left leads you up a steep hillside towards the cirque below Thompson. Looking back towards the trailhead offered excellent views of the Redfish Valley. The Whitecloud Mountains are in the distance, with Castle Peak being the most prominent.
From this rock field, we found out exactly where Tarina's elevation limit is. 8,500ft rolls around and she gets that lovely feeling of nausea and dizziness, weak legs, etc. We found a cool spot in the shade and took a nice, long break for about 30 minutes to ensure everyone was feeling up to par. There's not much you can do when you're feeling like this but to wait it out. After the nausea subsided, we continued up the canyon until reaching a huge boulder field. I'm not only talking huge as in lengthy, but huge as in these boulders were the size of cars and such. Here's a picture looking up at the boulder field, with the 9,000ft lake directly on the opposite side of the rock ridge.
From here, we simply took our time to pick our way through the maze of rocks. There really wasn't a defined trail at this point, but I did see some hikers on the way down who took the route following the right side of the canyon. Once reaching the top, we were rewarded with spectacular views of the 9,000ft lake. The water was crystal clear with an aquamarine hue, VERY COOL!
Because we were out of water at this point, we made our way down to the waters edge to fill our water bottles. We hung out here for a few moments while the dogs scurried around. Pal was quite intimidated with the size of the rocks, so I ended up having to carry him back up from the lake. Here's a picture of him striking a pose, along with another perspective of Thompson (my fav pic).
At this point, it was getting late in the day, (2:30). We still needed to climb up to the 10,000ft saddle, then climb to the summit. The family was exhausted at this point, so I decided that I would be satisfied with the 9,000ft lake as our destination. We didn't need to push farther, only to have an expedition back to the trailhead in the dark. Thompson isn't going anywhere, and there's always next year. Coming back along the Alpine Way Trail, I noticed more and more of these nasty little (actually, they were quite large) Mormon Crickets coming out on the trail. The youngest (who watches way too much Discovery Channel) told us they were females and if they have their butts in the ground, they were laying eggs. Now that's nasty! Check out this thing!
Our trip was pretty uneventful the rest of the way down. I must say, that evening provided one of the best lightning shows I've ever been in. Nothing like flashes of lightning while camping to get your blood moving a little. Imagine, 9:30 at night, it's completely dark with the only light coming from huge flashes of lightning. In the distance thunder could be heard while the storm is edging closer. I'm not much of a night time photographer….. And am still learning the whole manual aperture setting on my camera. Couple that with having to sit completely still, holding your breath so the camera doesn't move (for 3 seconds), just to prove this:
Yes, it rained all night, yes, our tent leaks, yes, I slept like crap. Hope you enjoyed, and until next time…...