Overlooked Idaho - South Couloir

Overlooked Idaho - South Couloir

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jul 22, 2013
Activities Activities: Hiking, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Summer

Long Overdue Idaho Visit

I had wanted to check out the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho for a couple years, but it wasn’t until this summer that everyone’s schedules lined up to make it a possibility.  My main goal was to hike to the top of Thompson Peak with my brother (my Dad didn’t want to do it because of the length and also the scrambling required), but I was also excited to catch a glimpse of some of the scenic lakes in the area on some easy family hikes.

Bloomington Lake
Bloomington Lake

My only previous Idaho hike had been to Bloomington Lake near Bear Lake just north of the Utah-Idaho border, but it convinced me that there was some top-notch scenery in the state rivaling that found in some of the famous western national parks if you knew where to look.  Most of my outdoor experience in Idaho had been limited to ATV’ing near my grandpa’s farm in Bancroft (give yourself a gold star if you know the location of that little town) and boating/tubing around Preston (Napolean Dynamite country), so I was excited to finally see Idaho’s prize mountains for the first time.

Day 1 - Out of the Frying Pan ...

It had been quite hot in Utah (this July ended up being the hottest month on record in the state’s history), so I was excited to be heading north into the mountains of Idaho. Despite the fact that the same large high pressure system we were experiencing had just moved north to where we’d be going in Central Idaho, I was hopeful that the temperatures wouldn’t be too bad up at the higher elevations. My brother Johnny flew in from California the night before, and the next morning we set off on our drive. To see some different scenery on the trip, I wanted to drive from Salt Lake City to the town of Stanley (where we’d be staying) along the Lost River Mountains around Mackay on the way up, and back along the Sawtooths and down through Ketchum on the way back. You know you’re a mountain geek when you schedule drives around mountains according to when the lighting will be best for taking pictures (Lost River Mountains to the east would look nicer in the afternoon with the sun to the west), which is what I always do when planning road trips to different mountain locations.

No Regret & Mt. Breitenbach
Point 11,967 and White Cap Peak


Mount McCaleb
Mount McCaleb


Mount Breitenbach
White Cap Peak

Approaching the mountains north of Arco, the sky began to get very hazy, which made me wonder which fire/fires the smoke could possibly have been coming from, since the news/weather forecasts I had looked at just two days earlier had shown completely clear skies. It must have been from something that started just recently, but I was optimistic the air would clear up as we got farther north. Although they appeared quite dry and barren (more so than the Wasatch, at least), the rugged peaks to the east were impressive (the only ones I recognized were Leatherman Peak and Borah Peak, though). At one point Borah Peak had been on my list, but since the area didn’t seem to have as many nearby family hikes and other activities to keep the rest of the family occupied I ended up taking it off (ran into this same problem when contemplating Crestone Needle and Mount Whitney on separate trips to Colorado and California, as well).

Borah Peak west aspect
Borah Peak


Leatherman Peak
Leatherman Peak


Sacagawea Peak
Sacagawea Peak

Before the turnoff onto the ID-75 road which would take us through a scenic canyon leading to Stanley, we saw a faint column of smoke rising just in front of us to the north near Challis. It wasn’t close enough to shut down the road (still a few miles away), but would offer an unfortunate preview of things to come. The road winding along the Salmon River was quite scenic, and seeing the many rafters out enjoying themselves on the water reminded me a lot of the Snake River winding south of Jackson, Wyoming. We finally came out of the canyon just outside of Stanley, and instead of seeing the famous view of the Sawtooth Mountains I’d expected, we were greeted with the worst smoke and haze we’d seen yet. If you concentrated hard you could kind of see the rugged profiles of Mount Heyburn, Horstmann Peak, Thompson Peak, and Williams Peak, but the haze was so thick that it made discerning these otherwise impressive peaks almost impossible, even though they were only a few miles away to the south.


Salmon River rafting
Salmon River


Borah Peak north aspect
Borah Peak north aspect


Ivy at Salmon River
Pit stop for Ivy

Fortunately, the rooms we had booked for three nights with Stanley Vacation Rentals were quite nice, but my first order of business was checking out the forecast for the coming days using the available Wi-Fi. I quickly learned that in the last two days, three different wildfires had sprung up about a hundred miles west of Stanley, causing the majority of the smoke. After researching predictions for wind direction on www.intellicast.com and comparing those results with the locations of the fires from local forest service reports, I figured that barring any new fires, we’d have a small window in the morning where the winds should flush the smoke out of the valley, giving us clear skies at least until the afternoon. After failing to summit Capitol Peak last summer in part due to a wildfire causing my friends to not be able to start the hike until way later than I would have preferred, I was hoping something similar wouldn’t happen on this trip as well. My initial plan was to do some fun stuff with the family around Redfish Lake during our first day there (hiking, boating, horseback riding) and do Thompson Peak the next day, but since Mother Nature was in charge and it was very possible there would be more fires to come, Johnny and I decided it would be better to try it when the odds were more in our favor.

Day 2 - Thompson Peak

Redfish Lake
Redfish Lake at dawn




We woke up around 5 am the next day, got dressed, filled our packs, ate breakfast, and drove down to the Redfish Lake trailhead, which was only about ten minutes from where we were staying.  It was difficult to tell how clear the skies were since it was still dark, but as the sky got lighter it looked like most all of the smoke from the previous afternoon was gone.



Grand Mogul
Grand Mogul


Sawtooth sunrise
Sawtooth sunrise












Un-named 10,200 foot peaks
Un-named 10,200 foot peak


Un-named 9,800 foot peak
Fishhook Creek peak

After parking in the large trailhead parking lot (which was well-marked with signs so we knew where to go), we made our way back to the northeast for a couple hundred feet, crossed a different paved road, and then the trail wound back to the north and then west eventually.  Even though the forecast had shown it would get to almost 90 degrees later in the day, right now it was only barely above freezing, and the nice brisk morning air helped snap us out of whatever lingering sleepiness we may have still had.  There were a couple times where the trail forked, but in both cases we stayed straight or to the right, following the signs to Marshall Lake.  After a little less than a mile, the trail branched off to the right (north) up a steeper hillside with aspen trees.  Once on the ridge overlooking Fishhook Creek below, we would pretty much be heading straight west on a well-maintained trail for the next two or three miles.


Mount Heyburn through trees
Heyburn Mountain alpenglow through the trees


Horstmann Peak
Horstmann Peak














Heyburn Mountain
Heyburn Mountain


Williams Peak
Williams Peak

I’d checked out www.sunrisesunset.com to figure out when the best time to catch the alpenglow on the rugged peaks to the southwest would be, and timed it so that we were treated to some nice views from the start of the ridge trail right around 6:15.  These were the same views seen in photographs that had originally sparked my interest in visiting the Sawtooths.  Mount Heyburn and Horstmann Peak were on full display just over three miles away, with lesser-known peaks such as Mount Iowa, Mount Bruce, and an un-named peak at the back of the Fishhook Creek drainage also looking impressive.


Sawtooth alpenglow & wildflowers
Awesome views along the Thompson Peak Trail


Ridge below Thompson Peak
Ridge above steep trail

Hazy Valley
Rising above the trees

It gradually got warmer as the sunlight from behind us filtered through the trees along the trail, but we were shaded, which was nice.  Near the base of Williams Peak at 8,000 feet we encountered another split in the trail, and this time we turned left (going right would have taken us to Marshall Lake), up towards the basin between Thompson Peak and Williams Peak.  Up until now, the trail had been very flat and gradual, but this is where it became steep.  As the trail traversed around the southeast side of Williams Peak, we saw how abruptly Thompson Peak and its jagged sawtooth-shaped east ridge rose above the terrain below.  We decided to eat second breakfast in a shaded spot on the trail around 8,300 feet, with nice views of a lake and meadow about 700 feet below us to the south.  Looking up towards Thompson Peak from here, we could see several cascades in the distance coming down from the un-named lake at 9,000 feet, which I was excited to see.  A little pika stopped by to investigate as we were eating, which surprisingly ended up being our only wildlife encounter of the day.


Thompson Peak Trail views
Sawtooths rising above valley

Thompson and ridge east aspect
Thompson Peak (right) and its east ridge (left)















Thompson Peak first glimpse
Thompson Peak revealed

After boulder hopping in between some patches of wildflowers and the last stretch of well-maintained trail on the way up, we came to a meadow at 8,700 feet.  From this point it’s all off-trail hiking with a little scrambling thrown in to get to the top.  We went southwest from here, in hopes of getting to the base of the big lake.



Thompson Peak meadow in morning
Meadow below Thompson Peak in the morning ...

Thompson Peak meadow in afternoon
... and later in the afternoon














Ridge over 9,000 foot lake
Bright blue water


Thompson Peak over 9,000 foot lake
Thompson Peak over lake

We should have stayed a bit more to the left (south) going up, since we actually didn’t get to the lake until its northernmost point (staying further to the left brings you to the lake sooner near its northeast shore, with a nice view of Thompson behind).  Regardless, the views from above the lake were phenomenal.  Of all the alpine lakes I’ve seen in the Rockies, this was probably my favorite.  The water was a deep bright blue, and was so clear that you could see the bottom along the north shore we were standing above.  The lake is actually ringed by a steep rock wall all the way around, so instead of trying to climb down we just admired it from above.  The ridge directly over the lake to the south was particularly impressive.


Un-named 9,000 foot lake
Un-named scenic lake at 9,000 feet


Ridge, lake, & wildflowers
East ridge over lake at 9,000 feet

Ridge reflection
East ridge over pond at 9,300 feet

Next up were some boulder fields which would lead us farther west, bypassing a couple smaller ponds to the south.  Thompson Peak became even more impressive and needle-shaped from this angle, making me more excited to get to the top.  The boulder fields were a little monotonous since the boulders were on the smaller side and especially loose, so we took our time going up to avoid any sprained ankles.  We had to gain, lose, and regain elevation quite a few times because the rockfall coming down from the south slopes of Williams Peak seemed to have created a series of chutes we had to climb up and over as we made our way west.







Thompson Peak headwall
The walls of Moria (headwall between Thompson Peak and Williams Peak) ...


Talus field of death
... prompted us to traverse this loose talus field (went up north end of headwall in middle of picture)














Thompson over pond
Thompson Peak over pond at 9,500 feet


Thompson Peak north aspect
Thompson Peak north face close-up

We probably could have stayed more to the south (closer to the ponds) for a route with less loose boulders, but since I was planning on us scrambling up the north end of the headwall (the south end of the headwall still had some steep snow which didn’t look like a good idea for us since we didn’t have ice axes) I wanted to stay higher to the north.  Eventually we got to the base of the headwall, which stretched quite far from end to end (over a thousand feet), and was quite steep.  We could have gone even higher to the north to get above the headwall for some easy class 3 scrambling, but since we were sick of the loose rocks and boulders we decided to start up the headwall earlier for some fun class 4 scrambling.


Thompson Peak over basin
Thompson Peak's impressive north face over scenic basin below


Johnny climbing headwall
Johnny scrambling ...


Johnny scrambling
... up the headwall

Johnny did quite well, and didn’t have any issues at all with the steeper scrambling.  In a couple spots I showed him where the best holds were, and he went up without any problems.  He’s only done a few scrambles with me, but has shown marked improvement and confidence each time.  On top of the headwall were great views in every direction.  Back to the east we could see smoke from nearby fires creeping into the valley, but up here it was still totally clear.  To the south was Thompson Peak’s impressive summit spire, and after walking that direction past some more little ponds we could see Goat Lake off in the distance down the drainage to the north.


Thompson pond reflection
Thompson Peak scraping the sky

We soon came to a couple snowfields as we wound our way around Thompson Peak’s west slopes.  The first one we crossed wasn’t too steep, but where we stepped onto the second one was a little too steep and slippery for my liking, so we hopped back down some boulders to the west to cross the snow where the slope wasn’t quite as steep (just be sure to loop around in a circle away from the summit of Thompson’s summit on the west side to avoid this issue, which is what we did on the way down).

Snow crossing
Big snowfield


Johnny crossing snow
Crossing the snow














After crossing the biggest patch of snow we came across an isolated patch of bright green grass/moss and yellow wildfowers, which was pretty cool.  After that we could then see the saddle between Thompson Peak and Mickey’s Spire to the southwest, which was our next waypoint.

Sawtooth oasis
Oasis above tree line


Thompson South Couloir
South couloir entrance


South Couloir
Johnny ascending couloir

The boulders along this stretch were pretty loose, but easier to hop up since they were bigger than what we’d seen below the headwall.  The higher we got, the more impressive the views of the peaks above other basins to the south and north became.  Soon we were near the saddle to the south of the summit, with impressive views of nearby peaks all around.  We went straight up along the southwest ridge (admiring the steep southeast cliffs of Thompson Peak on the way up) until arriving at the base of the south couloir, with several false summit spires directly above us to the north and northeast.






Decker Peak past cliffs
Decker Peak beyond cliffs


Mickeys Spire
Mickey's Spire














Thompson Peak west face
Thompson west face


Baron Peak
Baron Peak

There was some easy scrambling starting a couple hundred feet below the summit, and the rock here was solid for the most part as long as we stayed on either side of the couloir.  Before we knew it we were overlooking Thompson Lake (what I’ll call the un-named 9,000 foot lake since no one else has named it), and only a couple dozen feet later we were at the top.  Looking to the south from up here we saw countless razor-shaped ridges, and off to the northeast were impressive views of Williams Peak and the little town of Stanley where we were staying.






Williams Peak over lake
Williams Peak over lake, with town of Stanley in background

Thompson east ridge & lake
Thompson east ridge over lake















Johnny summit shot
Johnny on summit


Brandon on summit
Brandon on summit

From our car to the summit we had not seen a single other person, which was mindboggling to me considering how scenic this hike had been the entire way.  I now knew why local rock climbers would want to keep the Sawtooths a secret.  If not for the lack of wildlife, I wasn’t sure why the surrounding area wasn’t already a national park, but in a way I was glad it wasn’t, since it had allowed us an awesome summit in complete solitude.  We took a nice 30-minute break on top, signed the register, had lunch, and then started back down.


Thompson summit south view
Summit view looking south


Back down south couloir
Going back down couloir ...

Headwall downclimb
... and headwall

Circling back down around the west side of Thompson Peak seemed easier on the way down, and we were able to spot a faint climber’s trail below the Mickey’s Spire / Thompson saddle that we had missed on the way up.  In a short time we were back to the headwall, and after another fun dose of class 4 down climbing we were back in the loose boulder fields of death.  I got a minor ankle sprain at one point and Johnny had an upper leg cramp as well, but route-finding was easier on the way down and this time we stayed closer to the ponds.


Williams Peak spires
Spires on Williams Peak south slopes


Williams Peak spire
Spire on Williams Peak southwest ridge


Thompson over pond
We climbed that!

This time we contoured along the northeast shore of the 9,000-foot lake on the way down, to get a closer look at the bright blue water.  We saw one person lounging on the rocks above the lake, completely oblivious to us, and since it looked like he was taking a nap we just went by without disturbing him.  It was starting to get warm enough that a dive into the lake would have seemed quite refreshing, but since it would have required some scrambling to get down to the lake we refrained.


Gorgeous Thompson Lake
Last look at gorgeous alpine lake


Idyllic alpine lake
Water so blue...


Thompson Peak over blue lake
... we felt like jumping in

After making it to the tall trees in the meadow at around 8,700 feet we were back on the trail.  We saw a couple other people on the steep trail asking if it was much farther to the lake, so we told them it was just about half a mile ahead and that the views were awesome.  That was all the people we’d see until we got to the Fishhook Creek Trail near our car.  Looking back to the east we could see Castle Peak, the highest mountain in the White Cloud Range, which was actually over a thousand feet higher in elevation than Thompson Peak.  In the event of a return trip, that’s one I might be interested in trying.


Thompson Peak northeast aspect
Steep cliffs below Thompson east ridge


Castle Peak
Castle Peak


Heyburn Mountain over lake
Another un-named lake to the south

It was now getting hotter and the views were getting smokier, which made me glad we had done the hike today instead of waiting.  We got back to the car eventually, where a nice cold bottle of water was waiting for each of us (I stuck them in the freezer at the hotel the night before).  We got back to the rental units at 3 pm, recounting to everyone what an awesome hike we’d been on.






Thompson Peak Trail wildflowers
Wildflowers along the trail ...


Looking down on 7,650 foot lake
... above another un-named lake














I had expected the rest of the family to visit Redfish Lake while we were gone, but due to some miscommunication they went to Stanley Lake instead.  So we decided that we’d all go visit Redfish Lake to hang out at the beach and rent some paddleboats for the afternoon, but upon going out to the cars we discovered a large column of smoke now rising from where Johnny and I had just been a few miles to the south.  Hoping to still somehow make it past the fire to the lake, we drove down towards Redfish Lake, the smoke getting ever closer.  At the turn off of ID-75 for the Redfish Lake area, there were several drivers pulled over staring at the rising smoke, with a policeman and construction worker turning people around.  They said that the Redfish Lake area was closed indefinitely, and you could only drive in to pick up your things if you were staying there (Johnny and I were at the trailhead near the lake just an hour earlier, which made me glad that we were able to squeeze in the Thompson Peak hike before the fire started).


210 Road Fire
This new fire would put a damper on our plans to visit Redfish Lake


Access denied
No Redfish Lake for you!

Unfortunately, that meant no lounging at the lake, horseback riding around it, or taking the boat across to hike up along Redfish Creek.  Also, the family hike I wanted to do the second most after Redfish Creek was Fourth of July Lake in the White Cloud Mountains, which was past the fire to the south.  Since the smoke was coming up just a mile to the south of where we were, it was very likely that it could jump the main road, and if that happened after we went south for the Fourth of July Lake hike and the road ended up being closed, then we’d have to drive all the way back around the White Clouds down through Ketchum, Hailey, and back over to Mackay to make it back to Stanley.  Rather than risk it, we just decided to go back to Stanley Lake, where the others had already spent the morning.


McGown Peak
McGown Peak over Stanley Lake

McGown Peak was impressive from Stanley Lake, but the smoke from another nearby fire made the view hazy, and it was thick enough that we didn’t really want to start hiking to Lady Face Falls, another hike we’d thought about doing.  We had brought swimsuits though, so the kids had fun splashing around in the surprisingly warm water and playing ladder ball, at least.  We turned in for the night earlier than I would have liked, but there were enough channels on the satellite TV to keep us occupied (watched lots of American Ninja Warrior, which has several rock climber contestants).

Ivy at Stanley Lake

Matthew at Stanley Lake

Stanley Lake water fight

Mischievous Munchkins


Thompson Peak Stats

DISTANCE: 13 miles roundtrip
ELEVATION GAIN: 4,250 feet
TIME: 9 hours


Sawtooths from ID-75
Mickey's Spire, Thompson Peak, and Williams Peak to the northwest


Thompson & Williams from Stanley
Thompson Peak and Williams Peak from Stanley

Day 3 - Smoked Out of Redfish Lake

The next morning we cooked up a nice big breakfast (thanks to the kitchenettes in our rooms) before heading out.  It was quite hazy, but it looked like the 210 Road Fire (what they were calling the fire near Redfish Lake) was under control, so we decided to drive down south to try again.  The road was still blocked off though, and the same construction worker told us this (with Boromir-style embellishment):

“One does not simply walk into the Redfish Lake Marina.  Its gates are guarded by more than just police officers.  There are fire fighters there that do not sleep … It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire, ash, and dust.  The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume …”

210 Road Fire Dwindling
210 Road Fire still smoldering

With that in mind, and the air still smoky enough that we didn’t feel like hiking in the immediate area, we instead kept going south along ID-75 to check out Alturas Lake and Pettit Lake instead.  Shortly after leaving the road closure, we saw part of the burned remains of a hillside where the 210 Road Fire had swept through, and there were a few cabins on the hill that amazingly had remained intact.  Props to the fire crews that had been working on it (we saw a bunch of them gassing up their trucks at the station across from our hotel before heading back to fight it some more).


Ivy at Alturas Lake
We decided to check out Alturas Lake ...


Pettit Lake
... and Pettit Lake.














Looking for skipping rocks
Looking for rocks to skip


Imogene Peak
Imogene Peak

We stopped along the east shore of Alturas Lake for a while to let the kids play, ate some sandwiches at some picnic benches there, and then backtracked and took a different dirt road north of there to check out Pettit Lake.  Both lakes were nice, but not quite as cool as what I’m sure Redfish Lake would have been like.  At Pettit Lake there was a youth group having kayak races near the east shore, so we walked a little farther north along the shore to skip some rocks.  I think my Dad, Johnny, and I each had a few rocks skip somewhere in the range of the late teens (# of skips on the water), but it was too close to call a winner.







Family at Pettit Lake
Family hanging out at Pettit Lake ...


Stanley Vacation Rentals
... and outside our Stanley Vacation Rentals rooms













On the way back up to Stanley, we saw a big chopper fly overhead and drop a container of water on the 210 fire, which was exciting to watch.  The air was giving my Mom problems, so yet again we were unfortunately forced to turn in early for the day.  That night we tried eating at the BackCountry Bistro, but the waiting time to be seated was over an hour, so we instead went to Papa Brunee’s.  I wasn’t expecting it, but the pizza there was amazing and is the best I can remember having in a long time (we had one with lots of meat called the Texan I think, as well as a Hawaiian).  The rest of our time was spent playing the board game Sequence, which is a family favorite.

Day 4 - Fourth of July Lake


Horstmann Peak from Stanley
Horstmann Peak


Williams Peak from Stanley
Williams Peak

On the way back to Salt Lake City the next day we’d have one last chance to get a family hike in.  Johnny was feeling a little under the weather, so he and my parents just decided to drive back to Salt Lake City (he had to pick some stuff up at their house before flying back to California that night, anyway).  The skies were a little clearer this day, but with the Redfish Lake area still closed, we would try doing the Fourth of July Lake hike in the White Cloud Mountains instead.


Grand Mogul from ID-75
Grand Mogul to the west


Bent tree
Holding up a tree


Hiking buddies
Hiking buddies

It took about half an hour to drive up the 10-mile dirt road to get to the trailhead.  Most of the trees in the area were burnt from a fire, but there was enough undergrowth at the bottom of the trees to make us think that it had been at least a couple years since the fire.  We only saw one other car on the way up, but there were several others parked at the trailhead.  A large group started out ahead of us as Matthew was using the toilet there, and with them they were taking what looked like a couple giant goats (I don’t think they were llamas, but maybe they were).






Matthew's Log
Matthew ...


Ivy in Kelty Pack
... and Ivy on our hike














Scenic Fourth of July Creek
Fourth of July Creek


Patterson Peak
Patterson Peak

The area surrounding the trail was actually quite green, so the fire must have somehow missed this part.  There were quite a few barren trees though, which must have been due to beetles.  We walked over several stream crossings on the way up to the lake, which the kids liked, especially Ivy, who takes after what her brother Matthew did in that once she spots a stream she repeats “wawa” over and over again excitedly.  About 2/3 of the way up to the lake we passed the group with the goats, who were resting for a breather (when he puts his mind to it, Matthew can hike pretty quickly), and soon after that we arrived at our destination.





Matthew & Liz at Fourth of July Creek
There were several scenic crossings ...


Crossing at Fourth of July Lake
... along Fourth of July Creek















Fourth of July Lake
Fourth of July Lake reflection


Ivy climbing
Little climber

Fourth of July Lake was quite scenic, so we figured we could hang out on the grassy west shore of the lake for a while and let the kids throw some rocks in the water.  Looking to the east were nice views of Patterson Peak on the left and another un-named peak over 10,800 feet (both just barely higher than Thompson Peak was) on the right, with the still higher Castle Peak hiding somewhere behind.  We had just busted open the lunch snacks though, when we were assaulted by a variety of bugs.  Among them were mosquitoes and some giant horse flies, and since I had forgotten to bring the repellent our stay was short.  Hiking mostly in the Wasatch where there are no pesky bugs to speak of, I underestimated how many there would be here in the White Clouds, especially since we had been fine when walking down to the water of the various Sawtooth lakes on the previous days.




Fourth of July Lake family pic 2
Enjoying the surroundings ...


Fourth of July Lake Scenery
... at Fourth of July Lake














White Cloud trail
Wildflowers ...


Un-named peak & wildflowers
... in the White Cloud Mountains

Since we wanted to get back to SLC to say bye to Johnny at the airport before he took off anyway, we decided to forego the remaining hike to Washington Lake.  After hiking back down, we started our drive south, which would take us along a different route than the one we had taken to Stanley.  Along the way we caught some nice views of the Boulder Mountains to the east.  We only drove through, but the scenery in and around Ketchum was nice too.  It reminded me of some of the ritzier ski towns in the Rockies like Park City and Aspen.  After the town of Hailey the mountains started petering out, so with nothing else to distract me from driving (Liz doesn’t agree, but I think I’ve gotten pretty good at gawking at and even taking pictures of mountains while driving without swerving around too much), I lead-footed it for the rest of the drive back.

Lorenzo Peak
Boulder Mountains


The Sawtooth Mountains were really cool, and I’d recommend a visit to anyone looking for some scenic, rugged mountains.  They aren’t as well-known as some of the other sub-ranges of the Rocky Mountains, but from the little taste I had of them doing Thompson Peak, I think they definitely hold their own when making comparisons.  Since we didn’t even get to do any other hikes in the range, I’m sure we would have been just as impressed if we had been able to make it up to places like the canyon along Redfish Lake Creek or Sawtooth Lake, which I’ve heard is also a must-do hike.  I was very impressed with the little that we did see though, and fortunately the smoke cleared just enough for us to summit Thompson Peak.  It was more strenuous than some of the hikes and scrambles I’ve done in the Wasatch like Pfeifferhorn and Mount Timpanogos, but not as hard as others like Lone Peak, which was perfect since I didn’t feel like I really had to exert myself too hard to get some awesome scenery (that lake at 9,000 feet in particular, was incredible).


Cliffs around lake
Thompson Peak: One of the most scenic hikes I've been on


Also, if you’re a wuss like me who prefers to sleep on a bed at night instead of in a tent, I’d highly recommend staying at the Stanley Vacation Rentals (we booked the Valley View and Heritage rooms, which were probably the nicest we could have gotten around Stanley, and still very affordable).  With having to change a lot of our plans due to the fires and spending more time indoors, it meant a much more enjoyable time for the rest of the family. 


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-16 of 16
Matt Lemke

Matt Lemke - Aug 18, 2013 11:16 pm - Voted 10/10

Love it!

Well done...I will be reading this one. Nice photos as well!

Rocky Alps

Rocky Alps - Aug 19, 2013 1:19 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Love it!

Thanks, Matt!


awilsondc - Aug 19, 2013 9:19 am - Voted 10/10


Really beautiful report! Amazing photography! I havnen't been able to read the whole thing yet, but it looks like you had a great time... minus the wildfires... :)

Rocky Alps

Rocky Alps - Aug 19, 2013 12:06 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Stunning!

Thanks. Yeah, even though the wildfires prevented us from doing a couple additional hikes we'd planned, we at least got to do Thompson Peak, which was awesome. It sounds like the fires up there are even worse now (nearby Beaver Creek Fire has burned over 100,000 acres), so we were fortunate to go when we did.


phatty - Aug 19, 2013 2:04 pm - Hasn't voted


you have to go back and do redfish. I got my first taste of Sawtooths when a couple of girls I knew that worked at the redfish lodge took me up there one summer in college. Needless to say I was "hooked" and have been back many times. Hope to take my wife and kid this fall for their first time! Great report!

Rocky Alps

Rocky Alps - Aug 20, 2013 11:38 am - Hasn't voted

Re: redfish

Yeah, everyone who's been there says it's an awesome place, so when we go back it will definitely be at the top of our list. Seems to be a great place to take families while avoiding the crowds you'd typically see in a national park.

Mike Lewis

Mike Lewis - Aug 19, 2013 10:11 pm - Voted 10/10

Eye candy

I think I have a cavity from all the eye-candy and I need to get it filled (with experience). I like to see families getting out like this it brings memories.

Rocky Alps

Rocky Alps - Aug 20, 2013 11:41 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Eye candy

The Sawtooths are awesome because in almost any direction you look are jagged peaks and pristine lakes. Since our Idaho trip, one of our daughter's favorite words is now "hike", which she says whenever she sees an outdoor/mountain picture.

andrew david

andrew david - Aug 20, 2013 1:49 am - Voted 10/10

Great Report

You frame your photos very well. There are some inspired ones here. I definitely want to do Thompson when I next get out to the Sawtooths. I drive up from SLC once each of the past few years and get a few peaks. They are always harder than you'd think from the low elevations, and looking at the maps. But great approach trails and great views. The Sawtooths are overlooked, but are one of my favorite places. A secret even among the initiated...

Rocky Alps

Rocky Alps - Aug 20, 2013 11:48 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Great Report

Thanks. I figure I take so many pictures on these hikes that some of them are bound to turn out okay. Doing one peak in an area like this definitely makes you want to come back and do more. It's surprising that the Sawtooths don't get much run compared to other areas. I think the scenery is comparable to the Sierra & Tetons but with less crowds, and like you said, there are plenty of challenging peaks. I'm really glad we finally got around to seeing them.

andrew david

andrew david - Aug 25, 2013 12:02 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Great Report

Great thing about SLC is within 6 hours in every direction there are awesome destinations and the Sawtooths is one of them I can go to. If you ever have a 3 day weekend and nothing to do, try Hell Roaring Lake Trail and then follow the climber's trail into the basin below "Finger of Fate". Spring is probably ideal as much of the talus is buried and there are a handful of peaks up there with crampon runs I've wanted to try. Plenty of options and inspiring scenery. And in the heart of the range, the Baron Lakes area with Monte Verita is my favorite place on this earth!


asmrz - Aug 20, 2013 1:26 pm - Voted 10/10

Thanks for telling people about the Sawtooths

Just want to add my thanks for your TR. It brought back memories of two trips there in 1973 and 1975. My wife and I spent a month there each time climbing and hiking in the Sawtooths and neighboring White Clouds. We thoroughly enjoyed the (then) solitude of these mountains. I think Sawtooths are one of the best western US ranges because they are sharp, have mostly good rock and the lakes are wonderful. Bringing your kids into this wonderful alpine area now can only mean that they too will visit, years later. Cheers and good climbing, Alois.

Rocky Alps

Rocky Alps - Aug 20, 2013 4:01 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Thanks for telling people about the Sawtooths

I'm of the opinion that for the most part it's good to keep people informed for the purpose of preservation, and feel it's only right to let others know about one of my new favorite places so that they can enjoy it as well. Thanks for the nice comments.


mtybumpo - Aug 21, 2013 4:23 pm - Voted 10/10

Gold Star!

I'm from Preston and am in Napoleon Dynamite as an extra. Been to Bancroft quite a few times too! Central Idaho is my favorite place on earth though! Idaho has it all!

Rocky Alps

Rocky Alps - Aug 22, 2013 11:59 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Gold Star!

That show is a cult classic (I especially liked the last dance scene and deleted kickball scene), so that's pretty cool you were in it.
Central Idaho is an amazing place. Driving from Mackay up to Stanley and back down through Ketchum, there were so many mountains there just as impressive as the ones in other Rocky Mountain states, that I see how someone could spend their entire life climbing there and never get bored.


mtybumpo - Sep 3, 2013 1:12 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Gold Star!

It's funny that you should mention the dance scene. That's the one I'm in. I'm just and extra in the crowd but I'm very front and center wearing a bright yellow shirt.

My Idaho list is endless as there is so much to do there. I hope to move back as soon as I'm done with school.

Viewing: 1-16 of 16



Parents refers to a larger category under which an object falls. For example, theAconcagua mountain page has the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits' asparents and is a parent itself to many routes, photos, and Trip Reports.

Thompson PeakTrip Reports