Sawtooth Mountain is the third highest point in the Indian Heaven Wilderness area
- located centrally between Mt. St. Helens
to the west, Mt. Adams
to the east, and the Columbia River Gorge
to the south. While not the highest point in the area, Sawtooth is worth a visit for its namesake ridge - an array of welded volcanic rock spires for some fun class 3-4 scrambling. Views from the summit on a clear day include four Cascade peaks (those above plus Mt. Hood
and Mt. Rainier
). Sawtooth likely does not receive too many visitors -- the peak is located off of the Pacific Crest Trail and the exposed scrambling to reach the summit or traverse the ridge may deter the average hiker. Sawtooth can easily be climbed in 3-4 hours RT on a north approach along the PCT -- or combined with other peaks in the region (possibly starting at Cultis Creek campground) for a full day outing in the area.
Sawtooth (5353') ranks as the third highest peak in the Indian Heaven area behind Lemei Rock
(5926') and Bird Mountain (5706') to the south.
Note that the USGS maps (and Topozone) do not display the current route of the PCT which actually traverses along the west side of Sawtooth ~4600. The trail displayed is actually the Sawtooth Mountain Trail (see the Routes section). This trail, despite the name, does not go all the way to the summit.
Coming from the Portland area, take I-84 east to Cascade Locks and cross the Columbia River via the Bridge of the Gods. Across the bridge, turn right on Hwy 14 and follow it east ~6mi to the turn off to Carson (signed) on Hwy 30. From the junction, continue north ~14.5mi turning off onto Wind River Road (signed for Mt. St. Helens) and continue another 16mi to Lone Butte Road. Continue on a good gravel road for ~8mi, again turning right on gravel FR 24 and continue ahead about 0.5mi to the the trailhead (signed) for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). If you're aiming to start at the Cultis Creek campground, continue on FR 24 for another 3.7mi to a parking area near the campground. (If the latter be sure you're starting at the right trailhead -- two trails leave the campground area from different parking areas).
No permits or fees are required to park at the trailhead for the PCT. The Cultis Creek campground requires a NW Forest Pass.
When To Climb
Sawtooth is probably best done as a late-spring, summer, or fall climb. Some sections of the scrambling (particularly along the southern section of the ridge) are somewhat exposed and should probably be avoided if the rock is wet and slippery. Getting to the trailhead may be time-consuming in winter if the roads in the Indian Heaven area are not plowed.
Also be prepared to face throngs of mosquitos around the lakes in the early season (typically late June through July). That there's a Mosquito Lake in the vicinity also says a lot about this area during the early season.
Late August or early September can also be a fine time to visit the Indian Heaven area as the vast numbers of huckleberries in the area are ripe for picking....
Car camping is available at the nearby Cultis Creek
or Smokey Creek
campgrounds. Backcountry camping is also available within the Indian Heaven Wilderness area - although note that many of the lakeside camps are fairly popular on summer weekends. Also bring your insect repellent.
Mountain ConditionsNWS Point Forecast - Indian Heaven Region
Gifford Pinchot National Forest Website