Backpack trip to Alpine Lake in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountain Wilderness with day trips to Upper Redfish Lakes, Lake Kathryn and Baron Lakes.
"Keep close to Nature's heart and break clear, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean."
- John Muir
Upper Redfish Lake - Sawtooth Mountain Wilderness
Reward Peak at middle horizon
Alpine Lake 6:30 a.m.
Location: Sawtooth Mountain Wilderness out of Stanley - Central Idaho. Take shuttle across Redfish Lake to Redfish Inlet Transfer Camp on south shore. Hike trails 045 and 101 to Alpine Lake.
Cross-country route to Upper Redfish Lakes from Alpine Lake (no marked trail). Leave trail FST 101 at Alpine Lake's eastern end and climb ridge to southeast of Alpine Lake, toward southern gulley. Follow the ridge southward to an elevation of ~ 8,800 feet. Hike down the west side of the ridge and into the gully. Climb gully to saddle at 9,200 feet, just west of Point 9337. Descend southward toward the first Upper Redfish Lake at 8,670 feet. Second Upper Redfish Lake is just south of the first. Lake Kathryn is the furthest south.
Elevation gain/loss from Alpine Lake to Upper Redfish Lakes: ~ 830 feet gain in less than one mile to saddle, ~ 500 feet loss from saddle to Upper Redfish lakes.
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous Class 2 and 3; loose rock at top of steep gully; stable talus deposits at bottom of gully.
Maps: Sawtooth and White Cloud Mountains Trail Map, Sawtooth Wilderness, ID map by Earthwalk Press, Sawtooth Wilderness Hiking Map and Guide, Earthwalk Press.
U-shaped glaciated valley - Redfish Lake Creek Canyon as seen from Alpine Lake Trail # 101
Our route to gully south of Alpine Lake
Our GPS tracks from Alpine Lake to Upper Redfish Lakes and Lake Kathryn, Sawtooth Wilderness
This hike ascends gully to ridge separating Alpine Lake and Upper Redfish Lakes
Entry into gulley from Alpine Lake's eastern ridge
Making our way up to saddle overlooking Upper Redfish Lakes
This hike to the remote upper Redfish Lakes, including Lake Kathryn is a great way to see some of the Sawtooth Wilderness that has not had a lot of human impact. It takes more effort and a walk up a slippery talus field, but it's worth it. The Upper Redfish Lakes seem nearly pristine. We camped for 3 nights at Alpine Lake and took two day hikes: cross-country to Upper Redfish Lakes and Lake Kathryn and the second day to Baron Lakes. We summited Reward Peak southwest of Lake Kathryn on another Upper Redfish Lakes hike in 2019.
The hike up to the southeast ridge from Alpine Lake is steep. A good topo map helped us to enter the gully at the right altitude. We followed the directions from Tom Lopez' Idaho: A Climbing Guide. There's a lot of "right" ways, but we wanted to avoid getting cliffed-out. Rock on the top half of the gulley is loose. Once up to the saddle, a mostly undisturbed wilderness opens up. Reward Peak, Elk Peak and the first Upper Redfish Lake can be seen to the south.
Climbing gully that separates Alpine Lake drainage from Upper Redfish Lakes
Fred (lower left) approaching saddle - Alpine Lake in Basin; Redfish Lake upper right
The first Upper Redfish Lake as you descend from saddle
Gulley at end of lake leads to Reward Peak
After hiking up the gully from Alpine Lake, then down to Upper Redfish Lakes, we got water from the lake outlet. It was too late in the day to summit Reward Peak, but we hiked southwestward toward it and then circled around, doing some Class 3 climbing over the steep rocks northwest of Lake Kathryn.
We saw mountain goat prints indented in the mud around the rocks. A breathtaking view of Lake Kathryn awaited us at the crest of the rocks. Lake Kathryn, the southern-most of the three Upper Redfish Lakes is named after Kathryn Mills, according to Iowa State University's archives of the Vandervelde Family Papers. This fact leads me to consider whether Kathryn Mills was associated with the Iowa Mountaineers, a group important to the Sawtooth Mountains' climbing history. This group led mountain ascents all over the world from 1940 until 1996. The Iowa Mountaineers claimed first-time ascents of 18 peaks in the Sawtooth Mountains in 1940's, including Warbonnet Peak in 1947, a challenging sheer-wall spire where all routes to the top are Class 5 climbing. Lake Kathryn is located ~ 5 miles southeast of Warbonnet Peak.
Second Upper Redfish Lake
The second Upper Redfish Lake as you descend southward from gulley separating Alpine Lake drainage and Upper Redfish Lakes drainage
Lake Kathryn - Sawtooth Mountain Wilderness, Idaho
We scrambled for 9 hours, ascending, descending and route-finding in the spectacular basins and forests of the Sawtooths. The next day we decided to hike on the established trail to Baron Lakes. Smoke increased that day due to fires in British Columbia and Washington state.
Top of gully separating Alpine Lake and Upper Redfish Lakes - Redfish Lake behind Fred in basin
Creek from Upper Redfish Lake
Upper Baron Lake
Erigeron at Baron Lake - Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho
Western Columbine near Lake Kathryn
There's nothing like the peace and rejuvenation your body and mind feel after spending multiple days and nights in the wilderness. There are things you miss, of course, like better food cooked more easily and no mosquitos. But once you get back home to your comfy house, there are many things you miss about the wilderness. Having only what
Fred and I can carry on our backs for 4 days, having the legs to take me to stunning lakes and meadows, and the time to do it is a blessing. Reminds me of a quote:
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life,
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
and not, when I came to die,
discover that I had not lived."
- Henry David Thoreau
Sue and Fred waiting for boat back to Redfish Lake Lodge and breakfast!
Sue and Fred
About this blog
Exploration documentaries – "explorumentaries" list trip stats and highlights of each hike or bike ride, often with some interesting history or geology. Years ago, I wrote these for friends and family to let them know what my husband, Fred and I were up to on weekends, and also to showcase the incredible land of the west.
About the Author