A couple of comments on Sweetwater Gap area.
At the risk of increasing traffic in the area...
We just returned from a loop into Little Sandy Lake and out Sweetwater Gap. It was very nice but I would do it in a 7 day/6 night trip instead of the 5 day/4 night trip we did. It's important to have good route finding skills and have good maps. A couple clarifications on the directions to the trailhead.
Follow the signs for Sweetwater campground/ranger station. (We saw no signs for any of the ranches until quite a way in) You'll eventually come to a fork in the road where there is a large colorful Forest Service sign obscured by the bushes. Go L at this fork. There is another fork or "T"--the campground and station is on the R--go L. At the last fork there are small numbered forest service road signs. Take the L onto 890. This is the 4WD high clearance road--high clearance is no joke.
The trail into Little Sandy Lake was pretty rough going with deadfall for about 2 miles--much worse than Sweetwater Gap trail in the same burn area. In fact the deadfall in Sweetwater was a cinch to get around in comparison. At one point on the Little Sandy trail I had to crawl on my belly under deadfall for about 15 yards while dragging my pack behind me. Meanwhile my husband walked the around the snag on top of the deadfall never touching the ground. Once that was past, the rest was easy going. You have to hike downtrail about 1/2 mile below Little Sandy Lake before climbing back up another trail to it. The best view is up on the bench hiking down to towards the lake. The switchbacks up Temple Pass were hard to find, and the trail down to Big Sandy Lake from Rapid Lake is not well maintained. The Ice Lakes trail is visible but not marked, about a mile past the Pinto Park, North Fork trail junction. Due to a snowstorm we went down Pinto Park trail to the Middle Fork trail and back up the Sweetwater trail instead of going above treeline on the Ice Lakes trail. Pinto Park was beautiful in the snow and offers a loop back into the Deep Lakes and Ice Lakes area.
The trail register mentioned a couple who were harrassed by a black bear in their camp in the Sweetwater Gap area. We saw bear prints but no bear in the Sweetwater Gap area. Practice good bear country habits!
Thanks for the update, Laurel. We did not use the Little Sandy Tr, so all my info on that trail was based on hearsay, though from your report, not far from the truth. We ran into one group that was camped at Little Sandy, they got there via Block & Tackle Hill.
When we got to the TH, it looked abandoned. The signboard had one posting, which was barely hanging on. The trail register was without pages, let alone pencils. When we came out a week later, the signboard was filled with postings and the register had new paper and was ready to go.