The 21 Lake Tour – 56 Hours Off Trail and 28,000 Vertical Feet

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Jeff Lubeck paddles on Warbonnet Lake.

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21 Lakes Route. Inset the Sawtooth Wilderness. Map © EB Phillips – all rights reserved. Overlay Jeff Lubeck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Redfish Lake drainage in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) situated between the towns of Stanley, and Ketchum Idaho is a geologic masterpiece.  No doubt about it.

Most people call the south end of the lake and the first few miles of the trail on Redfish Lake Creek Shangri-la. Buttressed by Elephants Perch on the south and Braxon Peak on the north it is easy to understand the claim.

For the vast majority of day hikers – Flatrock Junction – the 3.75 mile one-way trip from the south end of the lake on the Redfish Creek trail is the farthest travel distance.  It is a wonderful thing to experience.

For the hearty hiker an additional leg – up the steep but exceptionally well constructed trail – to Alpine Lake and on to the Baron Divide encompassing 6.5 miles one-way – is worth every single ounce of energy.  The journey is memorable.

For the over-night trail oriented back-packer a superb trip is 18 mile round-trip to and from Cramer Lakes.  Complete this trip and you can look locals in the eye with a gentle nod of acknowledgment.

But Wait There is More…

However, these trips are is simply the start of the treasure to be found and enjoyed in this region of the Sawtooths.

For me and my regular teammates Chris and Sara Lundy of Sawtooth Mountain Guides we establish an additional level of adventure and fun is to be had by venturing off-trail and cross-country to the south and west of the aforementioned trail-bound trips.

This adventure takes 61 hours – of which only four hours and 7.5 miles will be be on-trail. It encompass 21 lakes, climbing three high elevation passes, covering three drainages and summiting Reward Peak. As an added part of the adventure the team floats on the three highest lakes in a Alpaca Raft.

The 21 Lake Tour represents the ninth photo-shoot the team has performed together over the past few years. The photo-shoot takes place from Thursday August 25th through Sunday August 29th. The photo-shoot starts and ends at the wonderful Redfish Lake Lodge.

The challenges on this photo-shoot are many. On the first day the smoke from the Pioneer Fire greets the team late in the day at Verita Pass (9,600) which requires crossing over a mile of large boulders at a steep angle from the Baron Creek drainage to the Warbonnet Lake Overlook followed by a 700 vertical foot descent on unstable scree to the lake.

On the afternoon of the 2nd day smoke greets the team as it reaches the Cony Lake and Cony Peak area. We confirm smoke at high elevation is not much fun.

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Sunrise from Cony Lake – Copyright Jeffrey H. Lubeck MESH Art LLC – all rights reserved.

On the afternoon of the third day, the last 189 vertical feet to the top of Reward pass requires the teammates to follow each other in lock-step one step at a time on terrain that is best described as sand blasted to a fine grain with little to no foot grip.

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Lake Kathryn (near) and Redfish Lake (distance) from the summit of Reward Peak. Copyright – Jeffrey H. Lubeck MESH Art LLC – all rights reserved.

Each of the challenges mentioned above make for a colorful narrative but are easily outweighed in enjoyment by a factor of 100x given the remarkable beauty of the region with virtually no evidence of human impact. And truth be told – the challenges are not really all that tough in the first place.

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