Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Last minute Score On a Camp Site at Redfish Lake Leads to an Attempt on Braxon Peak. July 3-6, 2014.

We had hatched the idea of car camping or a possible backpacking trip with the kids over 4th of July weekend.  When Deez scored a site at Outlet camp ground at Redfish Lake, the plan was set.  With a few days in the Sawtooths on tap, I needed a mountain to climb.  I came up with Braxon Peak after seeing Oleg's climb of it just two weeks earlier.  The views from Braxon's summit are said to be best in the enitre Sawtooth Range, so that got my attention.

Despite the busy holiday weekend, we were pretty happy to get up to Redfish Lake since it had been almost 2 years since our last visit here.  Even though we've done several trips into the Sawtooths over that time span, when opportunity knocks, open the door.

So after a less then perfect packing job and surprisingly little traffic, we pulled into our camp site and were on the shore of Redfish Lake just two and half hours after leaving home.

This was Deez's second time here and the first for Landen, who surprised us by wanting to play in the sand so much after spending three weeks in Florida.

After grilling some bratwurst's and a failed attempt at fried potatoes in the dutch oven, Deez reminded us how she earned the title of The S'mores Master.

On the second day I woke up at 6:30 to get ready for my climb.  Actually, my alarm went off at 6:30 and I laid in my sleeping bag contemplating my desire to get ready and actually do the climb.  I was super tired from work and the desire to sleep almost won.  I came to my senses, woke up and was out the tent door in about four minutes.  Heck yeah I wanna to climb!

The shuttle boat at Redfish Lake starts scheduled trips at 9am, however they will run on demand with 2 or more people before then.  I was hoping that on such a nice day that there would have been others wanting an early shuttle ride, but to no avail, I was all dressed up with no place to go.  I rolled up to the dock at 8, payed the round trip fee and waited, and waited, and waited...

I had told Deez I'd be back down to the dock by 4 and her and Landen were going to ride across later in the day and meet me there for the 5 o'clock shuttle back.  (Note that the last shuttle ride from the transfer dock leaves at 7pm.  If you miss that, you get to walk the 5 miles back to the lodge.)

A flood of hikers rolled up to catch the 9am shuttle, so the boat actually left a few minutes after 9.  It was 9:15 when I hit the transfer dock, about an hour behind the time I had hoped to make.

I had set a fairly standard turnaround time of 2pm, as well as a rendezvous time at the transfer dock at 4.

Gotta make up some time!

Usually, I just make up the time by running, so that's what I did.   There was one problem with that; it was already extremely warm.

Hmm, maybe I should have called an audible, changed the play and done Grand Mogul.  Nope, stick to the plan!   Gotta stick to the plan!


Luckily, there was a well placed stick holding up this rather large boulder and keeping it from rolling over onto the trail.

I had covered the 1.5 mile approach hike/run in about 40 minutes.  Like I said, it was hot, so now I was covered in sweat and already feeling tired and dehydrated.  The route up the drainage to the cirque involves a steep off-trail bushwhack intermixed with beautiful polished granite slabs that cliff out.

The problem with these slabs is that they are slick, dangerous to climb and difficult to get around.

It was hard work finding a safe route on the south facing slope in the heat of the day.  It was also burning up precious time...

Great views of The Elephant's Perch opened up, so I decided to rest in the shade for the first break of the day.  I was pretty sure I could see climbers high on the route.  It reminded me that I've wanted to try The Perch myself for quite some time now.

I'll have to make that happen someday!

It took a bit longer than I had hoped to reach the top of the stream and tarn lakes, but it was worth the effort. This is a really cool area!

Little water falls along the stream allowed for a few much needed head dunks in the cold snow-melt waters.

Better than a splash from the fountain at Ann Morrison Park on a hot day!

There was still quite a bit of snow at the lakes.  By this time I was really beginning to feel dehydrated from the hard hiking in the heat.  I eased to a shaded spot, ate and guzzled water with one eye my watch.  It was getting later than I would have liked to see, and to make matters worse, I was starting to move slower.

If you climb Braxon Peak, be prepared for two things.  #1, be prepared to suffer to get to this cirque.  #2, be prepared to love this cirque and the tarn lakes it holds.  This area is truly magnificent!

In the photo above, the summit of Braxon Peak is just out of view behind the ridge, on the right.

After climbing up the snowfield, I contemplated my route up this wall to Braxon's east ridge and the clock struck 2pm.  My general rule about a turnaround time is that if I am not within spitting distance of the summit and I hit said time, I turn around - no questions asked, no regrets, not a second thought.  Now, I'm not saying I haven't ever extended a turnaround time under the right circumstances, but this wasn't one of those days.  I was several hundred vertical feet and at least a mile round trip from the top.  Not to mention tired, dehydrated and a long way from the dock with a difficult descent - I was heading down.

As I retraced my steps across the snowfield, I noticed something odd.  There was a Large plume of smoke rising from behind Grand Mogul that was not there 20 minutes ago.

Wow! Ether Cheech and Chong are up there, or it's a forest fire...

It was in fact smoke rising from the Hell Roaring fire that had apparently started on the afternoon of July 4. Getting down was just about as hard and time consuming as getting up had been.  There are two tricky sections where the granite slabs present some route finding challenges.  I wiggled past the upper one and was soon at the top of this slab that sits only a couple hundred feet from the trail.

As I traversed across the top of it, I hit a patch of wet, mossy and very slick rock that I hadn't seen due to the thick brush.  I lost my footing, slipped and pulled a muscle in my right leg as I arrested my fall by quickly grabbing a tree branch.  I guess what I should really say is that I reached out for something to grab, and not only was I lucky to have the branch there, but it also held.  I was pretty close to getting down the fast way. That was probably my scariest moment in recent memory...  Whew!  That was too close!

I was a little rattled but quick to regain a safe position and took the slower, albeit safer way down.  Soon I was back on the trail getting strange looks from other hikers, most of whom were armed with no more than a small bottle of water (I had a full pack with an ice ax), and heading back to the dock in the hot afternoon sun at a pace that was more than a hike, but less than a run.  I was able to contact Deez on the radio, reported my closing position and we were all back at the dock with less than an hour to kill before the 5pm shuttle. She fished with Landen while I cooled off in the lake and tried to nurse some painful leg and foot cramps secondary to dehydration.  Good times!

We hopped on the boat and were back at the lodge for dinner and cold drinks shortly after.  The live music was a bit of a bummer, so we retreated to camp for more drinks, fire and our own flavor of music.

Some Reckless Kelly, anyone?

The second day was hot, all the way up until we went to bed.  The next day was no different.  After breakfast we hit the Sawtooth fish hatchery early, which is highly recommended if you've never been. Somehow, I only managed to take one picture out by the kid's fishing pond.  With the ever increasing crowd and lack of luck, we decided it was time to head back to camp for lunch and a paddle boat ride.

O-M-Gezz!  Jersey Shore or Redfish Lake?  There were a lot of people...

No matter, paddle boats are always fun!  Deez paddled, Landen steered and I was merely ballast.

While in camp, I pretty much felt obligated to drink Sockeye IPA since Redfish Lake gets its name from the red color Sockeye Salmon turn when spawning in the lake.

We whipped up a great dinner before heading over to the Visitors Center for that nights wilderness talk, which happened to be about wolves, so Landen could attain his Junior Ranger Badge.  After sharing probably a bit more than was necessary in regard to my opinions about human effects on the environment, we enjoyed cocktails at the now almost vacant lodge.  Before we departed on the last day, Landen took his oath and he is now an honorary Junior Ranger of the SNRA.  

We were lucky to get such a great camp site at the last minute, but I have a feeling we'll likely pass on the next 4th of July here.  Braxon Peak will have to wait until another time, but I plan on returning to finish what I started.  

I was reminded of something during that climb that also applies to life in general - The power of observation. If you look hard enough, there is a way through it.  Time to build your mental pillar, chief!  (Hint: recall the movie that quote is from!) 

-Granola, out.  

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