The Best of All Possible Worlds: An Epic First Day Back in the Sawtooths

Ever since we visited at the beginning of last summer I’ve been having a long distance love affair with the Sawtooth Mountains. Since I hike often (and post on the Internet about it) I am frequently asked my favorite places and so at least a few times a month I find myself alternately gushing about the alpine lakes and jagged peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains and/or whipping out my phone and showing photos from Alice Lake. Ah, Alice…. It’s fair to say that I’ve been thinking (obsessing?) about returning to these mountains ever since I left. I will admit I am smitten.

We made our return at the beginning of the 3rd week of June, driving up again from the south towards one of the dispersed camping sites along Baker Creek Road. As luck would have it the same spot we camped last year was open and we were again treated to these views from our campsite:

But I’m sort of getting ahead of myself because I need to mention that as we drove through the town of Ketchum on our way north we spotted a banner for Sun Valley Brewfest – which was the next day. Immediately we agreed we would head back to town the following afternoon after a morning hike. Last year we had walked a short trail up to the Norton Lakes from Baker Creek that had been lovely despite the thunderstorms so this time I thought we could hike one of the trails to the lakes from up the north side along Prairie Creek. Importantly, hiking one of these trails would allow us to get to town in time for beer. Totally sound plan except that when we arrived at the trailhead the creek was overflowing, dare I say gushing, down the mountain. Over it’s banks, running down what we thought might be the trail, spilling over everything. It was shallow enough that we could have walked through most places or at least skipped across in most other places and so we might have tried it except for the fact that we didn’t know where we were going and that there seemed to be a drier trail leading in the opposite direction from the same trailhead. And also because – I’m not going to lie – that water was cold.

So it was off in the opposite direction down the West Fork Prairie Creek Trail instead. All was well as we ascended the first mile through dry forest… until the trail turned into the gulch and disappeared into the snow. Careful to avoid crossing the snow bridges over the swollen, roaring creek we picked our way across the moraine. And across more snow and more of the steep, loose rock on the sides of the valley. I went ahead looking for signs of the trail reappearing on the other side of the creek since the trail map had shown a crossing but enough of the creek banks were covered in snow that I couldn’t find anything that looked promising. We eventually turned back. Pretty walk though, challenging as it was.

Revising our plan for a second time we decided to head in the direction of town earlier and stop at the ranger station. There we were given a bunch of really helpful information and some trail recommendations as well as the suggestion to drive up Trail Creek Road from Sun Valley. Though nearly all the trails off the road were impassable due to dangerously high water crossings the ranger (easily) convinced us this one lane road up the Boulder Mountains was worth the drive. He was totally right. We were absolutely blown away with the views of the Boulder Mountain Wilderness on the ride up and the vistas across green, sunlit Sun Valley below on our return. Though the road goes through the mountains to the town of Challis, crossing from the Sawtooth National Forest into the Salmon-Challis National Forest at the summit, we turned around rather than continue due to warnings of washed out road ahead – but I absolutely plan to get back there someday. Besides, in addition to the road conditions there was beer in our future.

The Sun Valley Brewfest was a fantastic collection of 20 or so regional breweries not to mention a really fun atmosphere. And also extra great because everyone brought their dogs. Most breweries had with them 2 beers on tap though there were a number of purveyors with more. Needless to say I did not come close to trying all of them. For whatever reason the most represented style of beers were pale ales (aka American pale ales) which was a) surprising since their hoppier IPA cousins usually get more love and b) awesome because pale ales are my favorite style of beer. I am aware that very few people who read my blog are all that interested in beer so I won’t get too geeky on you except for a few shout outs because I tried some really outstanding and unique stuff. Starting with my favorite, Great Northern Brewing Co. had an Earl Grey Pale Ale that was a perfect balance between super-tasty dry-but-not-too-dry tea flavor balanced with some nice hoppiness. Sockeye Brewing brought a fantastic Maibock with them that had a rich malt without the cloying sweetness that can sometimes come with a Mailbock. Bocks are not my favorite style but this beer was one of my favorite tastes of the day. Finally, I need to give Wild Ride Brewing a super-enthusiastic thumbs up for their Nut Crusher Peanut Butter Porter. I know you’re wondering if that’s even beer and why on earth I would want to try that in 80-something degree temperatures but while Tom was tasting their wheat the guy talked him into a sample. I smelled it – peanut butter heaven – and after confirming it didn’t have lactose I agreed to have a taste as my final dessert beer. Everyone needs a dessert beer after an afternoon of drinking beer, right? Okay, anyway, this beer was perfect in richness and had outstanding flavor but not creamy at all (which I personally dislike). Credit that to it being a porter and not a stout. Anyways, totally mind-blowing delicious.

Well sorry, that was a little geeky. Anyway in summary for the day, beautiful campsite views + hiking + amazing mountain sightseeing + beer tasting = PERFECTION. I couldn’t have asked for a better first day upon returning to the Sawtooths.