by Kalen Thorien
My patriotism may lack enthusiasm, but nonetheless I was happy to spend my Fourth of July in what I believe to be Americas greatest assets—the wilderness!
My roommate, Laurel, and I packed our car and headed to Stanley, Idaho for a stay at Pettit Lake, a less popular zone of the Sawtooths (I use the word “popular” lightly as the Sawtooths are, by no means, hectic). Since we were technically glamping, a stop in Hailey for beer was a must! We stuffed the cooler full.
We found a great campsite right on the lake, with glassy water reflecting the distant peaks in its mirror (truly characteristic of this part of the country). The Idaho beers went down smooth, our tongues and bellies relishing in the non-diluted version of our local Utah brews.
The next morning we hiked to Alice Lake, a gorgeous alpine lake nestled by (yes, really) El Capitan. Miika, Laurel’s dog, ran about four times as many miles as we hiked, therefore helping herself to a nice siesta. I scrounged the lake for fish and we munched on fancy cheese and salami. Laurel (with her giant lady balls) stripped down to her skivvies and, after a quick internal debate, jumped into the lake. Chunks of snow were still floating around as she submerged her whole body. Brrrr….
The next day we woke early to boogie back to Salt Lake for Laurel’s work commitment, but I was definitely excited to go back!
Well, that didn’t take long …
We arrived in Salt Lake. Laurel went to work and I just sat there staring at my gear in the living room. I began pacing, fighting between logic and emotion. And, as with any of my decisions regarding adventure, I said, “Fuck it. Let’s go!” And so I began my drive back to the Sawtooths for a solo backpacking trip, only a mere hour after I got home.
I spent my first night at Cramer Lakes. The first of the lakes was marshy in appearance, but filled with little Brook trout. The second lake had a gorgeous waterfall running into it, something you see in an Ansel Adams photo or a James Cameron movie (It IS weird putting those two in a sentence together. Sorry Ansel.). The third lake, of course, was the most majestic! Nestled right against Cramer Peak, it was the quintessential high alpine lake. The water was so clear, rivaling the finest of tropical getaways. Snowmelt pouring into the lake made for exceptional drinking water and I managed to find myself a nice little campsite right by the outlet.
After dinner I made my way down to the third lake to fish. Now–I’m a novice fly fisherwoman with plenty of days void a catch, but this was the complete opposite! Every cast, BAM, fish on! Mind you, the fish were between five and eight inches long, but I still had fun! Plus, it helped me practice pulling the hook out of their mouths, something that still makes me squirm.
After my date with the Brook trout, I headed back to camp and was greeted with a gorgeous sunset reflection on upper Cramer Lake. I plowed through my SIM card on my camera and then called it a night.
The next morning, it was on to Alpine Lake. A few decent-sized groups were also making the trek, so I put on my headphones and started walking—fast. Not wanting to get shafted on a camp spot, I blew by the first group who were resting, red-faced and sweaty. I managed to catch the second group, their clothes saturated. Hungry and thirsty, I finally reached Alpine Lake in all her glory. But this was no time to stop! I needed to find a campsite. I scoured the shore, finding some marginal sites, all presenting decent views but never quite feeling like THE spot. Then I looked down towards the outlet and there she was—a perfect rock perch right on the shore, complete with a fishing peninsula. I setup my camp and got to know my surroundings.
The first of the two groups eventually showed up. I sat on my little peninsula and observed their habits, as if it were a nature show. Right behind them was the second group. “Perhaps a bloodbath will ensue?” I said to myself as I watched who would claim what spot.
I wandered around for a bit, made some rock art, got to know all my surrounding peaks and passes with my Topo Map App, whipped up dinner, snapped way too many photos, and, of course, fished. Unfortunately Alpine Lake was JUST starting to see some life, so the fish were very limited. But it still felt great to be casting in such a beautiful area.
That evening, I had a little bit of wine and read Desert Solitaire, waiting for the sun to go down. The mosquitos were definitely on a bender, so I took refuge in my tent until the cooler air kicked in. My camera was all setup to take some night shots once the stars came out. I continued reading, curled up in my sleeping bag. And the next thing I remember is waking up to birds chirping and a distant glow of the sun rising. I wiped the drool of my chin thinking, “Well, I blew that one!” Fish were rising, so I made a couple of casts, snapped a few photos, and took in the solitude of an early morning, before packing up camp and heading out.
The walk back was met with philosophical conclusions and hunger pains. I passed many hikers with clean faces, fresh deodorant, and newly washed hair, their eyes sparkling with enthusiasm. They were about to have the time of their life…
I scarfed down a Bratwurst at the Redfish Bodega, hopped in my car, and headed back to reality, my mind already planning my next adventure.
The Sawtooth Mountains hold a special place in my heart. They’ve changed my life, but have also taken life from me. I lost one of my best friends Mikee to these elusive peaks. Mikee (and the Sawtooths) is the reason I explore. I didn’t grow up loving backpacking, or even hiking for that matter. But summiting Mt. Heyburn with Mikee and a few good friends changed everything. I saw what I was capable of and, more importantly, just how beautiful and enriching the wilderness was. After that, the path was clear: Adventure more. Adventure always. -K
For more of Kalen’s musings check out her website.