The lookout from Snowyside Pass, Idaho

Idaho’s Famous Alice to Toxaway Loop

The last weekend of August presented itself as an opportunity for one final summer adventure, so we decided to escape to the Sawtooths. A good three hour drive in Idaho brings an equivalent amount of pleasure that you would get living close to the Mediterranean coast. Weekend escapes in Europe follow a similar concept – a commute long enough to dismantle any daily routine.

Driving along the mountain meadows while approaching Stanley, Idaho has a striking visual impact similar to Slovenian freeway on the way to the Adriatic Coast. The spectacular views boils the notion of a routine existence down to “live for the moment.”

Yet even upon the arrival to the wilderness a ritual follows. Search for an empty campsite and a pay envelope. Robby takes care of what we call our mini Taj Mahal construction, and I prepare the dinner.

This time of the year the wind breeze was stronger, and the air a degree chillier than the visits before. A kind of poetic rest was in place. We hung our hammock and relaxed until it got too cold and windy to stay by the water.

A few weeks of absence from the mountains forced us to acclimatize longer, although a partial reason for sleeping early was Robby’s elaborate plan of stealing the sunrise. Google Earth’s simulation looks much better in real life than anything a computer could imitate.

Click images to view larger.

Sunrise at Pettit Lake
Morning glory of Pettit Lake in the Sawtooth Mountains, August 2014.

Unfortunately, I overslept the epic scenery…but there was plenty more to come. After a full breakfast – approved by the chubby chipmunk thief – it was about time to start our hike.

Breakfast guest.
Breakfast guest.

Time reading: 11:40 am

The start of the path towards Alice Lake was quite magical. The forest way with an overview of Pettit Lake ends at the entrance to Sawtooth Wilderness. Lastly, a clerical task of signing your name tag, and you are relieved of the advanced world for as long as you need to return from the natural purity.

The Boulder-White Cloud Mountains as seen from the trail to Alice Lake
The Boulder-White Cloud Mountains as seen from the trail to Alice Lake
Rock walls on the way to Alice Lake.
Rock walls on the way to Alice Lake.
Meadows on the way to Alice Lake.
Meadows on the way to Alice Lake.

Around about an hour the path breaks away from the right upside river stream and crosses to the left. The path continues on in its clear way. Many creek crossings follow before a final rise over the rock cliff that leads to Alice Lake.

Idaho's El Capitan above Alice Lake
Idaho’s El Capitan, 9,901ft, towers above Alice Lake in the Sawtooth Wilderness.

Time reading: 2:05pm

Great pace and beautiful views deserved some reflection, and of course lunch. We revisited the map again, and decided after conquering 4 miles in nearly perfect conditions, how bad could another 14 miles be?

So we went. Time reading: 2:23pm

We left Alice for Toxaway. Right after the first rest stop, we ran into hikers, all looping the trail the other way around. We were the only ultralight hikers heading upstream. A lady with an English accent inquires: “Where are you headed?” Me:”Tox–em” Robby: “Toxaway.” Lady looking over my shoulder: “In one day? No sleeping gear?” I got slightly concerned then asked: “We going to make it, right?” Lady tilted her head sideways, shrugged her shoulders and responded: “Better get on your way…” That last comment made me nervous. My adrenalin started pumping. I took the lead and we attacked the ridge. It is amazing what a mind is capable of when considering the failure of completing a task might result in a tragedy of our now so safely programmed being.

The lookout from Snowyside Pass, Idaho
Looking south over the Twin Lakes from Snowyside Pass.

The ridge turned out to be our favorite part of the journey. The climb on the path composed of rocks was  pure enjoyment and the award was waiting on top. Looking back over our shoulders at 9400′ (2865m) were the twins – Twin Lakes, and ahead of us lied the whole mountainous valley with the view reaching as far as Elk Peak in the Redfish Valley.

Lookout from Snowyside Pass
View of Lake 8779 and Elk Peak in the distance from Snowyside Pass.
Lookout from Snowyside Pass
Looking east from Snowyside Pass on the way to Toxaway Lake.
Lookout from Snowyside Pass
Panorama view of the Sawtooths on the way to Toxaway Lake.

Our naive perception that ridge was the hardest part turned out to be wrong. A little mistake of misreading a map makes a great difference in the trail hiking world. The lakes we saw from the ridge we thought were Toxaway (at least one of them could be, right?) seemed to be unnamed ponds along the way. (Could Toxaway simply have evaporated extensively in the summer heat?)

Late summer waterfalls on the way to Toxaway Lake.
Late summer waterfalls on the way to Toxaway Lake.

All of that was still unknown to us…we learned the hard way. Continuing on the path brought us to another great lake. We were staring at it with excitement and belief that in front of us was Farley Lake and we are close to “home.” The precision of reading a map didn’t even matter at that point, as the impeccable view and could distract anyone.

Toxaway Lake
Toxaway Lake with the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains in the distance.

What made us became suspicious was the long trail along the lakeside. We took an hour just to leave the lake behind. Finally, it became clear to us that this monstrosity of a water-body we just passed had to be Toxaway. The realization of how great Idaho’s wilderness is, and how great the distances are, made us appreciate it even more. After three quarters of a trail, we started to get tired. We started to push our mental and physical boundaries. It wasn’t a joke anymore. We had to get back to the camp before the sundown.

Time reading: “I hope we’re almost there.”

Morale at mile 15.
Morale at mile 15.

By the time we reached Farley, neither of us had the mental capacity to appreciate it with serious regard as the lakes before..thus Farley became Farty Lake, and one we wanted to forgo fast. There was a lot of tents set out by the shore, and we thought it was a place worthy of return. The last eight track stadium loop equivalents to conclude a gigantic day hike of Alice to Toxaway were the hardest stadium loops to this day.

Time back at the base camp: 8:00pm

Topographic map of the Alice to Toxaway Loop. 18 miles with 2600' of elevation gain.
Topographic map of the Alice to Toxaway Loop. 18 miles with 2600′ of elevation gain.