Chasing the Unknown
At 6:30 am the world in Stanley is still dark. I roll out of bed and heat up the kettle to make tea. Not being able to help myself, I open the front door to embrace the pre-dawn morning and immediately the wind is sucked from my lungs. The air is frigid. A thin layer of snow dusts the ground. I linger for just a moment, gazing up at the piercing black sky studded with stars before closing the door, smiling. Change is in the air. So, here we are, another summer season come and gone. Like the return of salmon, a Stanley summer is a quick flash, and before you know it the snow has settled back onto the mountains, the ancient granite faces not to be seen again until next year when warmth floods the valley once again. Wood is being stacked, fresh elk and deer meat will be stored in freezers, and things are quieting down in this little mountain town. For those of us who are fortunate enough to spend autumn in these mountains, this is a time to be cherished. I like to refer to myself as a late seasonal. My work in Stanley is usually over in September or October, but come time to leave, I cant quite tear myself away from the mountains, from my quiet life here. I keep myself busy until my time runs up, or the snow really starts flying, then I am off to another town, another job. I am reluctantly counting down the days until I leave this year and embracing the beautiful fall weather in as many ways as possible, but we will talk about that more next week! Though fall is a magical time in Stanley, much can be said for spending the summer here. For me, this summer was one of exploration, of chasing the unknown. Of driving down new roads, dipping my toes in new alpine lakes, and casting my fishing line into new waters. Exploring new places in the Sawtooths is always a great idea, and some of the most beautiful places have names many people have never heard of. From beginner hikers to those who want a backpacking experience, there are enough wild places here to keep a person occupied for a long time. My first new venture was to Bench Lakes. In my three years I hadn’t ever made it to the lake chain, and the ridge line hike that parallels Redfish Lake was an enjoyable and scenic stroll. Once turning off the main trail and entering the Sawtooth Wilderness, it’s a quick half mile to the first Bench Lake, where this photo was taken. The second Bench Lake is a quick walk through the woods, and gives hikers an excellent look at the iconic Mount Heyburn. While close in proximity to Redfish Lake, Bench Lakes offer the typical wilderness solitude that many of us seek. Put this hike on your to-do list for next summer, and bring the kids!
Fast forward a few weeks. I was long overdue for an overnight trip into the Sawtooths and had been eyeing Baron Lakes as my destination. So on a Friday morning in August my roommate and I strapped on our packs and headed across Redfish Lake on the shuttle boat to be dropped off at the wilderness boundary (an excellent alternative to hiking the trail to the other side of the lake). We enjoyed the beautiful hike to Flatrock Junction and from there began the long and arduous uphill climb to the Baron Divide. We made it to the lake with enough time to make camp and catch several brook trout each, before settling into camp for the night and enjoying the serene lake before us. With no other campers around, it was easy to close my eyes and imagine that I had stepped back in time. The place was exactly how it has been, and exactly how it will be, and in today's fast-paced society I think there is something to be said for finding a spot like that. The next day, hiking out of the basin that held the Baron Lakes, we were happy to find grouse whortleberry plants growing alongside the trail. A wild breakfast in a wild place. The tiny berries were a welcome burst of sweetness before we hiked up and over the divide again and back down into civilization.
Yes, this summer was one for the books. Leaving the comfort of the familiar and hiking (or biking or driving) into the unknown left me speechless, and often breathless, but always grateful that I chose a new and unknown path. So when you next find yourself in these mountains, think about doing your own exploring. I promise you won't be disappointed.