Baron Lake & Stephens Lakes
Sawtooth Backpacking
July 6-8, 2007
Horstmann Peak - Mount Iowa
Baron Lake Sunrise

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The Sawtooths offer some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Idaho. Jagged peaks and alpine lake are everywhere. It had been several years since we'd done any backpacking in the Sawtooths because of a fear (mostly unfounded) of crowds. But we came up with a loop route that would take us through some awesome territory, including an off-trail portion for the second half of the trip to help ensure solitude. The plan was to catch the boat at the Redfish lodge, and start at the Redfish Inlet campground. From there we'd hike the popular trail up Redfish Canyon, then to Baron Lake on day one. Day two would take us cross-country to the Stephens Lakes, then down Fishhook Creek back to Redfish Lake on day three. It looked like a great loop on paper, and we were all excited to head for the hills.

Ken, JJ and I met up in town at just after 6am so we could get an early start to beat the heat. By 9:30, we had made the boat ride across the lake to the trailhead, and were ready to start hiking. The scenery along the trail was excellent, with great views of the Grand Mogul, Elephants Perch, etc. After gaining a little elevation after the trail left Flatrock Junction, the scenery got even better and we wondered why we'd been neglecting the Sawtooths for so long. Climbing the switchbacks up to Alpine Lake, then to Baron Divide gave us a good workout, but the trail is well maintained and the constant views distracted us from all the sweating we were doing. After hanging out at the pass for quite a while, we made the hike down to Baron Lake. To my surprise, there was only one other group camped there, and they were on the other side of rise, so we never even heard them for the rest of our stay. The backdrop for Baron Lake is nothing short of spectacular. The jagged Monte Verita ridge, Cirque Lake Peak, El Pima, Big Baron Spire, and so on. We spent the afternoon lounging and then turned in early after dinner and some deer watching.

The skies were clear the next morning and it looked like it would be a beautiful day. I was up by 6am to answer nature's call, and was pleasantly surprised to happen upon a USFS issued metal potty (complete with lid) not far from our campsite. Talk about luxury! I lowered the food bag down out of the tree, and decided to try some fishing. I worked my way around the lake, and had good luck catching/releasing Brook Trout on about every other cast. But the highlight of the morning was the scenery. I got to watch the first rays of sunlight hit the spires and towers that surround the lake, it was one of the coolest things I've ever experienced. I told Ken and JJ that if nothing else good happened during our hike, it would still be a perfect trip… We broke camp, then headed down the trail to the top of the switchbacks above Little Baron Lakes. From here, we left the trail and began the trek over the Braxon Lake, then up to the saddle south of Stephens Lakes. Fortunately the underbrush wasn't too bad, and we made pretty good time. We even spotted a group of elk not far from the saddle. From the pass, we took in the views of the valley below along with the surrounding peaks, highlighted by the imposing Mount Ebert.

I was eyeing the ridge to the east, and hoped to climb Horstmann Peak and Mount Iowa at some point during the day. After checking the map, we could see that the upper Stephen Lake wasn't far away. So we hiked a short distance over to the awesome little lake. It was a great location, and we decided to make camp here even though it would make our hike out the following day a little longer. After a bite to eat, I headed up towards Horstmann, while Ken and JJ did some relaxing. It took me about 45 minutes to make the 1000' climb up to the ridge, and 45 more to scramble out to the summit. The route I took involved side-hilling across the south face of the peak for a while, then going up diagonally to a notch on the ridge. Once on the ridge, it was fun scrambling as I weaved back and forth for a while before reaching the summit. On top, there was a register can that had been placed back in 1954 by the Iowa Mountaineers. After reading through the log entries, I headed back down to the base of Fishhook Spire, then traversed over to Mount Iowa. It was a fun scramble too, and the view from the summit were excellent. I took a little more direct route back down, and found some rock that was fairly stable. I was a little tired, so it seemed to take longer to descend that it had to climb up. I made it back to camp in 4.5 hours round trip (3 miles, 2000' gain). Back at camp, I was pretty warm, so a swim in the lake was in order. To my surprise, it wasn't nearly as cold as I thought it would be. Very refreshing! After dinner, we had the standard lively campfire conversations, then turned in early again so we could get a head start for the next day's festivities.

Morning came a little late, and we didn't roll our the tents until after 7am. Then Ken and JJ had to wait for me almost half an hour before I finally got my stuff packed up by around 8:30. Down the mountainside we went, knowing we could be in for a long morning of bushwhacking in the Fishhook Creek drainage. The upper portion of the valley around the lakes was pretty easy going without too much brush, and we got lucky and caught a well-traveled game trail leaving the lower Stephens Lake. It helped us cover at least a mile or so along the south side of the valley. After a while it petered out, and the thicker brush slowed us down a little. The brush, along with the maze of downed trees, made for a good adventure. After a while we crossed over to the north side of the creek, and did our best to stay on "game trails" to make better time. Eventually we met up with the Fishhook Meadows trail, which made the going much faster. The bushwhack was an adventure, but it could have been worse. I was glad we had decided to go down the valley, and not up through the thicket… Once on the trail, we made good time and only passed a couple groups as we made our way back to the trailhead and then on for a quick soak in Redfish Lake.

It had been a great trip. Awesome scenery, and we got almost complete solitude. I was surprised that we didn't see more people on the weekend after the Fourth of July. It had definitely been a wake-up call that I hadn't been spending enough time in the Sawtooths
.

Overview map of the route. We took the loop clockwise.
Overview map of the route. We took the loop clockwise.
A view of the Grand Mogul early in the hike.
A view of the Grand Mogul early in the hike.
Looking through the trees at the Elephant's Perch.
Looking through the trees at the Elephant's Perch.
Alpine Lake from the northeast.
Alpine Lake from the northeast.
Baron Lake and the Big Baron Spire from Baron Divide.
Baron Lake and the Big Baron Spire from Baron Divide.
Dusk view of Monte Verita from our campsite at Baron Lake.
Dusk view of Monte Verita from our campsite at Baron Lake.
The Big Baron Spire at sunrise.
The Big Baron Spire at sunrise.
Morning panorama taken at Baron Lake.
Morning panorama taken at Baron Lake.
Dave, JJ, and Ken near our campsite at to Baron Lake.
Dave, JJ, and Ken near our campsite at to Baron Lake.
Panorama looking east from Braxon Lake.
Panorama looking east from Braxon Lake.
This huge tree was near the Braxon-Stephens saddle. At just under 9000' elevation, a 3-foot diameter tree like this would have to be centuries old.
This huge tree was near the Braxon-Stephens saddle. At just under 9000' elevation, a 3-foot diameter tree like this would have to be centuries old.
View looking north from the Braxon-Stephens pass dominated by Mount Ebert.
View looking north from the Braxon-Stephens pass dominated by Mount Ebert.
The south face of Horstmann Peak as seen from the saddle north of Fishhook Spire.
The south face of Horstmann Peak as seen from the saddle north of Fishhook Spire.
Looking back on Mount Iowa and Fishhook Spire from the south face of Horstmann.
Looking back on Mount Iowa and Fishhook Spire from the south face of Horstmann.
This is the 1954 summit canister on Horstmann, and a couple of early climbers log entries.
This is the 1954 summit canister on Horstmann, and a couple of early climbers log entries.
Looking up at Fishhook Spire from the saddle to the north.
Looking up at Fishhook Spire from the saddle to the north.
Looking down on the Stephens Lakes from the ridge just north of Mount Iowa. In the background are the Monte Verita, Warbonnet, and Tohobit.
Looking down on the Stephens Lakes from the ridge just north of Mount Iowa. In the background are the Monte Verita, Warbonnet, and Tohobit.
A view of the Rotten Monolith and Braxton Peak from the summit of Mount Iowa.
A view of the Rotten Monolith and Braxton Peak from the summit of Mount Iowa.
Looking up at Mount Iowa and its many spires from our campsite.
Looking up at Mount Iowa and its many spires from our campsite.
Our campsite nestled in the trees at the upper Stephens Lake.
Our campsite nestled in the trees at the upper Stephens Lake.
JJ and Ken down-climbing from the upper Stephens Lake.
JJ and Ken down-climbing from the upper Stephens Lake.
Looking northwest from the middle Stephens Lake, with the Ed-da-how Spire and Mount Ebert in the background.
Looking northwest from the middle Stephens Lake, with the Ed-da-how Spire and Mount Ebert in the background.
JJ crossing a log during the bushwhack down the Fishhook Creek drainage.
JJ crossing a log during the bushwhack down the Fishhook Creek drainage.
The Sickle Couloir cutting up Horstmann Peak, as seen from Fishhook Creek.
The Sickle Couloir cutting up Horstmann Peak, as seen from Fishhook Creek.
View from the Fishhook Creek trail, Mount Heyburn on the far left, Horstmann Peak on the right, and Mount Ebert on the far right.
View from the Fishhook Creek trail, Mount Heyburn on the far left, Horstmann Peak on the right, and Mount Ebert on the far right.

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