I decided to do a climb of Observation Peak in the Sawtooths without using any trails. The ridge traverse linked up Points 8059, 8703, 8916, 8688, and Observation Peak in a giant loop that provided some steep and interesting terrain, and some truely unique views. My only concern was water, and by the time I was back to the valley, I was pretty thirsty on a warm September day. This climb provided tons of ups and downs over mostly Class 2-3 terrain, with nothing too extreme and the route finding was fairly straight forward on the connecting ridges.
From the Grandjean hikers parking area I ascended the steep south ridge just above the corrals. This long ascent was never too extreme, but it had some giant drop offs near the top and it was a healthy 2850 feet of elevation gain in just 1.2 miles. I was pretty toasty by the time I reached Point 8059 even though it was a cool Fall morning. From here I descended slightly into a small meadow before climbing up to Point 8703. Once on top of this section of the ridge I had great views of the west side of McGown, Regan, and Observation Peak.
From Point 8703 I followed a terrific ridgeline with amazing views of rocky ridges in the hidden north section of the Sawtooths. Before reaching Point 8916 I had to climb steeply down a rocky ridge before ascending 8916. In this section the traversing was the most steep and rocky, but it was never beyond Class 3. I descended the east ridge of 8916 down to the upper reaches of Elk Creek where I expected to find the pack trail. No such luck in this this prominent saddle as I figured the terrain was so open, rough, and seldom used that the trail marked on the USGS was no where to be seen. No worries though as I figured it went with the nature of my outing today: trailless.
I climbed to the saddle south of Point 9028 when I spied a great rock formation that I had only seen once- Hanson Spire. This sheer fin of rock is impressive when viewed from the south and isn't visible from any road or even trail. After taking some pictures, I climbed the ridge toward Point 8689. This section of the ridge traverse was pretty easy and straight forward. Further south on the ridge is a nice meadow before reaching Observation Peak. Atop Observation I observed a small dust devil. I found this a bit odd as there was no other wind to speak of all day. The early afternoon light on the Monte Verita ridge did not make for the best photos- something I've noticed before. The peaks in that area have some dark rock and they seem to hide out when viewed from this direction.
The summit of Observation had a nice new ammo box and register with tons of signatures. I noticed that a few younger people had made it up. As the only Sawtooth peak with a trail, it didn't surprise me. This peak does make for a nice hike up the trail for all. I enjoyed the views and descended the southwest ridge to Silver Creek. I made it back to Grandjean fairly thirsty and the complete traverse took me 8 hours at a fairly leisurely pace. It was a great, warm Fall day in the mountains and I enjoyed the relatively short 1.5 hours drive back to my house.
13.3 miles and 6133 feet gain (roundtrip)
Do you happen to know if the ridge from Observation Peak can make it to Hanson Lakes above Bridalveil? I've been contemplating on doing something like that. The lake pictured on the frontpage was passed on the trip I took with my little bro'. (Didn't wanna use the trail once hitting the switchbacks on both the ascent and descent.) Either way, it looks like a good trip! Nice pics too :P