I camped under Packer Butte beneath a moonless night. Again, the Milky Way's brightness clogged the blackness above me with a resplendent glow. Coyotes skittered around my camp and I clapped them off. The morning had a chill in the air and I knew a mountainous transition laid ahead.
Downstream the trail meandered Hunter Creek until its confluence with the South Fork of Lime Creek. A short distance later the trail climbed quickly out of the drainage to attain a low ridge. From the Middle Fork of Lime Creek, around a jut in the ridge line, the trail went up a willow choked North Fork of Lime Creek. With a pestering persistence the willows grew in tunnels over the many creek crossings. After many miles the trail climbed up to Grouse Butte and followed the ridge line affording me smoked-filled views of the pointy peaks around me.
Other than the Ruby Mountains of Nevada, no mountain range tantalized my dreams this past Winter than the Sawtooths. I envisioned my footprints, the serrated and jagged peaks. The Sawtooths was the glue that held my Winter together. I couldn't believe I was about to enter this beautiful range.
Willow Creek carved a massive ribbon through a granite gorge. Water roared as it cascaded from the ultimate crest. I hiked in pleasure, in bliss. I had a hard time stopping because I couldn't wait to see what was around each bend. At the crest, possibly the high point of the ICT, I took a long break. Ross Peak shot straight up into the sky. Talus and boulder fields layered the mountainous slope amid a dried out red plant no longer in season and purple lupine. The stark contrast between the silvery sheen of the slopes and the deep reddish hue and purple of the plants caused a pondering of wonderment. I felt happy.
The enormous crest flanking the South Fork of Ross Creek displayed an array of saw teeth, exhibiting exactly why the range was so aptly named. A sea of silver granite firmly etched the forested drainage below. Peak after peak and spire after spire, the range seemed to be endless, especially while perforated by a dreamy haze of thick smoke.
Before boulders characterized the North Fork of Ross Creek as compared to the green South Fork. At the head wall the trail climbed steeply up to a pass, then quickly down a short distance to a trail junction that instantly followed another trail up to a broad pass filled with a meadow at the wilderness boundary. I followed Mattingly Creek beneath a palisade of granite, the setting sun displaying its last breath of the day on granite spires and faces. I found a stream-side camp and pitched my tarp just in case of condensation.
The morning became cold and it felt refreshing. Heading upstream in the Middle Fork of the Boise River, the wild scene was a picture of nothing but granite and peaks. Water plunged down the canyon and I became enamored with the powerful silence of wildness within a clamor of cascading water. A few scattered lakes pockmarked the alpine basin, some large, a few small. The juxtaposition of dead brown logs and golden rock was the perfect partner for the cerulean blue of the lakes. More sharp peaks sprouted all around me. I hardly saw a soul out there. I couldn't believe I had all of this beauty to myself.
Down the Payette River polished chutes of granite poured over drop-offs. I stopped occasionally to follow the water through the chutes. I would then turnaround and look up at the craggy towers and pinnacles above me. The miles came easy with the endless views and picaresque landscape. I camped creek side again amidst a cacophony of falling water.
The next morning I had my final climb of the Sawtooths, 1500ft up. On the other side, in the grassy meadows of Stanley Lake Creek, McGowen Peak simmered in a haze of smoke, outlines of ridge lines and other peaks seemed innumerable. Smoke penetrated the glassy surface of Stanley Lake. My time in the Sawtooths now ended, but I could not help but fathom other routes through the amazingly spiky range.