12 Summits
> Autumn in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA)

October 15th - 16th, 2005

Winter is almost here, and it won't be much longer until it requires a serious expedition to reach any of the major peaks in Idaho. When fall time arrives, it's time to get in as many hikes as possible, before the winter snows make the terrain avalanche prone and hard to reach. Hiking in fall in the SNRA is also a great time to truly get away from the people. Most of the tourists are back in their cities, and far away from here. This allows those of us that live here to embrace and enjoy the mountains, and to trek in areas relatively free from the crowds. I must admit, that I love slack season. The less people that one encounters in the backcountry, the better.

The Norton Lakes trail takes one to the one of the more scenic areas of the Smoky Mountain range. Located in the lower southwest corner of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Norton Peak is the second highest peak of the Smoky range,and perhaps the one

with the most centralized viewpoint of the range. One of the best parts about hiking to Norton Peak is how primitive and quaint the mountainous canyon feels as you approach the lake area. Trout are numerous in both lakes, and this area is far removed from most of civilizations wrath.

Nichole and I decided to start out early on Saturday morning, and head to the lakes region, at which point we would continue to climb up to the top of the ridge that leads to Miner Lake and Norton Peak. From there, I would hike solo to complete the top of the mountain, while Nichole read a book. Overall, Norton Peak provides some spectacular views of the Boulder, Smoky,White Cloud and Pioneer ranges. At the top of Norton Peak, I made the decision to attempt Castle Peak the next day, after I saw it free of major snow.

A Brook Trout feeding at Upper Norton Lake
Norton Peak (10,335 ft)
October 15th
The Norton Peak Summit
The Pioneer Triple Crown
A Distant Castle
Miner Lake
The Boulder Crest
The Norton Peak Ridgeline
Two Summits
Winter Erosion
Castle Peak (~11,500 ft)
October 16th, 2005

After witnessing a snow free Castle Peak from Norton Peak, I decided to attempt to reach the summit the next day with Mike Jensen. This was a push, and I knew that more than likely I wouldn't make it to the summit, since daytime was short, and if I didn't reach the summit by 2:00 that it wouldn't be worth the risk to make the summit. We decided to try the shortcut route to reach the summit. This cuts off around 10 miles of hiking on the normal trail, however, it requires going north at Washington Lake and crossing a 10,000 foot ridge that descends down into Chamberlain Basin. From there, one has to cross the basin, and aim for the rotten rock gulley on the southeast face of Castle Peak. Overall, this is a strenuous climb that requires hiking close to 11 miles roundtrip, with 9000 feet of elevation gain. Needless to say, this route requires a serious day of hiking to complete.

Unfortunately, I didn't reach the summit on this attempt, mostly due to the fact that darkness sets in around 6:00 during this time of year.. So, I reluctantly decided to head back to the car when the clock struck 2:00 pm. Good thing too, because I had to hike out in the dark, and Mike had already returned to the car, a few hours ahead of time. If I would have completed this peak, I would have counted it as Summit 7, however, i'll have to wait until next year. A week after this trek, the snows started to fall, making a trek back into this territory rather impossible. Ohh well, there is always next year, and a day out in the mountains beats a day at home, anyday.

The Great Castle Wall
Washington Lake
The Sawtooth Chain
Early Winter Dusting
Scaling the First Wall
The Whilte Cloud Chain
Almost the Summit
Images and text copyright 2005 by GT Wilson.
Reproduction or reuse prohibited without written consent from Gary T. Wilson