Sawtooth Mountains Traverse
Page 3

Day 3
Another day another 9,000' plus mountain pass to cross. Cramer Divide is at about 9,500' and would be the highest point of my trip. It was also forecast to be the warmest day. I was in no great hurry and did not break camp until 9:50 am. Nothing wrong with a little relaxing while on vacation. I dropped back down to Vernon Lake and then on to Edna. From there it is a slow descent past Virginia Lake to the low point of 8200' where the trail crosses the SF Payette River. Just beyond Edna I met the first people in 24 hours and only the second ones since Snowyside Pass two days earlier. Mid week makes for small crowds in the backcountry.

I stopped at Virginia Lake for a break. I easily dropped to the shore and sat down to enjoy the view. Big peaks in the distance and bright blue water all around. On previous visits I have flown past the lake on the way over Cramer Divide. This time I had all the time I could need. I saw ripples and then fish jumping our of the water. At least all those bugs have some use. The water was shallow near shore and crystal clear. Soon I was seeing the fish themselves. I ended up with as many photos of fish and frogs under water as animals above it.

When the mosquitoes zeroed in on me it was time to get moving again. So far I had managed to rock hop or log cross all the creeks. I figured the Payette crossing and Redfish Creek on day four would be the last tough ones. The SF Payette had more water than I had seen but I managed to rock hop again. From there it is 1300' uphill to Cramer Divide. Hidden Lake makes for a good stopping place at 8563' before the last 950' climb. The wildflower show continued all along the way. Between the river crossing and the lake I found something I have not seen in the Sawtooths. A series of 30 plus trees down across the trail. They do a great job of logging out the trails but for some reason they are behind this year. I would not have wanted to get a horse through the blow downs. It was not too bad for a hiker.

I arrived at Hidden Lake already overheating. I had a nice break and refilled water bottles for the trip to Cramer Lakes. The trail follows the lake then climbs through open meadows before beginning the series of switchbacks to the divide. The creeks were flowing strong in the meadow which meant more wildflowers. It was well into the 80s for the climb to the divide. Thankfully there are patches of trees. I would hike a ways then stop in the shade. Repeat often. Near the top I found a big snow patch and carved off a piece for a homemade popcicle.

Cramer Divide was just as beautiful as I remembered. The deep moraine below then forests and lakes in the distance. Mt. Cramer is just across the moraine and the ragged ridge between is topped by the Temple. Gary and I summited Cramer in 2009 and I almost made the top of the Temple in 2006. This day any tough scrambling was out of the question with the heat. I did not want an early arrival at sure to be buggy Upper Cramer Lake. I enjoyed the cool windy divide for a while then remembered Gary talking about scrambling the ridge in the direction opposite the Temple. Well, why not?

I hiked over to the first high point. From there the ridge dropped and climbed again. The low point was full of snow. The scrambling was fun. Little ramps around walls of granite. Always a way to avoid real climbing. The next high point revealed... another drop and higher point. Enough is enough. I could now see around the corner to Upper Cramer Lake. It is not seen from the divide. The point also provided a good look down into the moraine. Satisfied with my short trip and extra few hundred feet of elevation gain I headed back. I took one last look at the monster tree at the divide. My poles are set to 4' 4" and the trunk is much wider. How it can grow and prosper at 9500' on this wind blown ridge is a mystery.

The trip down was fast and easy. Other than the fact the trail begins in a rocky moraine it is easy to follow and not too hard on the feet. There is a tarn right along the trail. Just water in a huge pile of talus. Nothing grows here. Well, almost nothing. I heard pikas all the way down. There are even a few patches of penstemon growing amidst all the rock.

The trail reaches a lake where rock gives way to grass and forest. A smaller lake is off to the right. Now the route follows the lakes outlets down to Upper Cramer. The water is often loud as it cascades steeply down. Near the bottom the trail crosses over the creek between a series of cascades. At the lake the trail goes far from the shore to the other end where most campsites are located. Although the lake is only 7 1/2 miles from Redfish Lake I have not seen another camper on three previous visits. I picked out the prime spot by the shore, set up camp, hung the food, and sat down to enjoy the view.

You cannot see Cramer Divide but the big peaks behind the lake make for a spectacular backdrop. Upper and Middle Cramer Lakes are only separated by a narrow swath of land. The creek between goes gently to the precipice then falls all at once into the middle lake. I had to go take another look at that. Down at the middle lake I could see two campfires and a number of hikers at each. Two fishermen passed by too. Other than at a distance they were only the second group seen all day.

The sky was still mostly clear though there were a few high clouds as I went to bed. The morning I headed out for the trip the forecast for Wednesday night went from clear to a 10% chance of thundershowers. That's a pretty low chance, isn't it? At 4:18 am rain splashing on my tent woke me up. A few minutes later flashes lit up the inside of the tent. We just do not get much lightening in the Washington Cascades. It's both exciting and a little nerve wracking all at once. I had visions of packing up wet gear and slogging out 7 1/2 miles with lightning and rain. In the mean time I went back to sleep. For the day I hiked about 8 miles with about 1500' of gain.

First Light Over Lake 8866
Morning Reflection
Leaving Lake 8866
Vernon Lake
Morning At Edna Lake
Virginia Lake
Fish In Virginia Lake
Blooming Flowers
Many Trees Down
Approaching Hidden Lake
Fish In Hidden Lake
Small Island
Payette Peak
Meadow Above Lake
More Paintbrush
Looking At Hidden Lake
Small Barren Lake
Near Cramer Divide
Cramer Moraine
Peak Across Moraine
Very Big Tree At Pass
Starting Scramble
First Time View
Scrambling Ridge
Moraine Peaks
View From High Point
Descending Into Moraine
Pond In Moraine
Penstemon In Moraine
Lake At Moraine Edge
Next Lake
Colorful Snag
Arrowhead Peak
Upper Cramer Reflection
Middle Cramer Sunset
Posing Squirrel
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

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Sawtooth Traverse Report