We went up to Stanley, ID, last weekend. Originally we planned to camp somewhere off Fourth of July road or Fisher Creek, out in the White Clouds. But the Wednesday before we went a winter storm blew in. The forecast said the mountains would have snow by Sunday morning. So after dithering a bit about where else we could go, not wanting to give up on getting out into the mountains, we got a cabin at Redwood Cabins in Lower Stanley. I found a picture of the Sawtooths from Lower Stanley on Google maps/Panoramio. The weather didn't allow us to see this view.
We drove up Saturday morning, through Horseshoe Bend, east on the Crouch-Lowman Hwy, then north and west on Hwy 21 to Stanley. We got there around noon. It was cold and blustery, with patchy clouds. We got to where we’d turn off east for a hike into the White Clouds mountains, but we could see the snow was already falling out there. The sky around the Sawtooths was still clear. So we decided to hike out of Redfish Lake instead. Redfish is at about 6,400 ft. There was already fall color on the underbrush and very few people around. When we started hiking around midday, we thought sure we’d be walking back in falling snow.
The trail takes you up along a ridge on the west side of the lake. I was happy to find I could set a good pace. We’ve been working out more regularly and my stamina has improved. Just as well, since the first half mile or so is pretty boring. There’s no view, it’s dry, dusty sagebrush, and even when you reach the trees it’s still fairly dull – no water, no view, not much of interest. Like walking through a pine plantation. But eventually you reach the top of the ridge and you can see the lake on your left, with the White Clouds beyond. As we got higher we could see some of the Sawtooth peaks further west through the trees, with shifting veils of falling snow around them. Eventually we reached the turn-off that switchbacks up to a bench at around 8,000 ft. where there are four small lakes – the Bench Lakes. It’s a 3.5 mile walk one way. Not far, some altitude gain, but a relatively easy hike.
By the time we reached the Bench lakes it was mid afternoon. The lakes were surrounded by willow and some kind of rhododendron with red and yellow fall coloring. We took pictures and stopped for a drink and a snack. I’d brought some Larabars, not having tried them before. They were awful, especially the lemon one. Like eating a block of tar with lemon peel in it. But we choked them down for energy, laughing over what people would suffer through if they were hungry enough.
There were bands of clouds blowing over us all the way up, with scattered flakes of snow drifting down, but it wasn’t cold or cloudy enough to snow. We still had periods of sunshine. We headed back around 2:30. Although one inevitably walks faster going downhill, I’ve reached an age where going downhill hurts more than going up. My right knee started hurting. The new hiking boots keep my toes from hitting the front of the boot and they’re plenty sturdy enough for rocky trails. But I’m not sure I like the high-top style. I probably need to break them in more. The part around my ankles doesn’t flex well, so that area starts feeling sore and bruised by the end of a long hike. Ken’s boots were letting his feet slip forward, squeezing his toes. By that last half mile we were both getting to the point where aches and pains were stronger than the fun of being out. Still, the weather held and we didn’t have the added annoyance of walking in falling snow.
That evening we wanted to go to Prime Rib night at Sawtooth Inn, but it was full. So we went to the Bridge Street Grill, right next to our cabins. We were hungry enough to eat just about anything, but I don’t think we’ll go there again.
In the morning we woke up to a couple inches of snow on the ground, with more falling steadily. It was the new car’s first snow, and it did great, small as it is. Front-wheel drive makes a difference. We had some coffee, took pictures, and went to Stanley Bakery for breakfast. Back in September 2001 when my sister and I camped at Alturas Lake and got snowed out, we’d retreated to the Redwod Cabins and had breakfast at the Bakery. Those were the best sourdough pancakes I’d ever had. There’s always a line on Sunday mornings, but somehow it works out that after you stand in line to order your food and get your coffee, a table opens up. People who go there understand how the system works and don’t sit very long after they’ve finished. The waitresses are amazing and the food is always good.
After breakfast we headed home the long way on Hwy 75, through Sun Valley/Ketchum. We stopped in town to walk and do some window-shopping. I bought a book on hiking trails in the White Clouds. Now I’ll have a better idea of where I want to go next time. It was still snowing pretty steadily, so after a cup of coffee we headed for home. It was really nice to get out and away from everyday stuff for a few days.