• Sarah Schlaefke

Bushwhacking is a lifestyle


When Al told me he had a crazy idea for taking on the Sawtooths over our Labor Day weekend, I sorta knew that I was in for it. But I also knew that whatever plan he’d come up with would be doable. So before he even laid out the beta for hiking between Elephant’s Perch and Finger of Fate, I was game.

If you have ever been anywhere with me, from the grocery store to the crag, you know that navigation is not my greatest talent. In fact, I could get lost in an empty room probably. Therefore, I let Al do all the way-finding on the path, on route, and in the backcountry. I just made sure to bring the bear spray, continuously ask if any of the plants were poisonous, and lead any pitch that had an offwidth or chimney section (can’t get lost in a crack.. or can you?).

We drove up on a Friday afternoon and left the car at the Sawtooths visitor center. Grabbing our backpacking packs, both of ours a size Women’s Small, we headed for the dock of Redfish Lake to get dropped in the wilderness by a boat. We just had to make it to the lakes by the base of the Perch by nightfall.

After hiking switchbacks in and out of the summer alpine sun, we finally came upon a gurgling spring that soon turned into Smoky-Mountain-esque waterfalls. The crisp air smelled like pine and blooming algae as we peered over the rocks and down to a lake so blue it could be the sky. Above us, the Elephant’s Perch yawned to the twilight while shadows slowly covered the giant stone trunk and tusks.

We set up camp, “cooked” dinner and fell asleep just a tad bit giddy to get up and take on Astro Elephant the next day.

The route promised killer granite climbing, and that it delivered, most notably, Al’s favorite pitch, the 5.9 like, 5 pitches in with an unimaginable FA route-finding quest, and my favorite, the chimney pitch. After reaching the top, we took in the view until we were shooed off the rock by grumbling tummies and chilly peak winds.

That night we fell asleep to the sounds of other campers slowly moving in around us, pitching tents, crushing beer cans, and spraying beta about the scrambles they’d take on the next day. We knew the wild was waiting for us.

When we woke up, we packed everything back into our packs, and without really thinking about what I was about to do, we started out, off the path, looking up at the notch in the ridge to guide us. After plenty of snot-rocket sneezes, battles with pine trees, and inspiring anecdotes about backcountry ice-skaters, we passed a remote lake at the edge of the forest and were spit onto a slope of talus. Looking up only to see how near the notch’s peak was, we stumbled over piles of rocks and meandered around boulders until the channeled breeze greeted us and we stood looking down on the next talus field we’d have to endure until we met a river. Without any interruption by wildlife, we hiked on, crossing creeks, sliding down steep banks, and avoiding tripping on tangled brush below us.

We never had to carry more than a liter and a half of water thanks to the glacial creeks we followed the entire journey. As we got closer to the Finger, we followed what we assumed was once a river, according to Google Maps, and once we hiked high onto the ridge, it turned into a bubbling mountain stream accompanied by explosions of petite red, white and purple wildflowers.

After passing through the last notch of many, the Finger stood before us, alone as a breath-taking statue. The range tapered off around it, leaving the Finger of Fate to burst skyward in its awesome lichen-covered-green glory. Below pooled another alpine lake, mirroring its reflection. The lake spit small rainbow trout into the air as they hunted for dinner and glimmered in the remaining sunlight. The mountain wind made the air cool and brisk, but the lake was just too inviting to not immediately jump in. So that I did.

We went to bed early with the Finger watching over us, snuggled in our one-man tent.

The next day we zeroed the last of our food, packed the rest of our snacks for the climb and headed toward the base of Open Book. The granite titan gave us nothing but incredible climbing. Al screamed joyously about the splitter hand cracks, I grunted and whined my way up tenuous-but-well-worth-it offwidth, we climbed through tunnels, and topped-out on pitch that might put Ancient Art to shame. After a couple moments on the top, we started our rap, followed by a long hike out to the nearest road in hopes to catch a ride back to my car ten miles away.

At this time, I’d like to give a shout out to my man Dooley (Duley? Duely? Dewly?) who turned around and took Al and me back to Redfish Lake. Not all heroes wear capes. Thanks for paying it forward.

We got to the car. We put our packs in the trunk. We sat in the front seats and stared into the darkness. “I want a Whopper,” I said. And with that, the mission was set, and we made our way back to Twin Falls in search of a 24-hour BK.

As we scarfed down massive hamburgers at 1 a.m. in the parking lot of Walmart, we noticed something stuck on the windshield of my car. Al grabbed it from under the wiper.

“Long live MUFA! – Nolan.”

The paper-bag-note was ceremoniously left on my dash as others from my OG climbing crew from Wisconsin had also made their way to the Idaho wild that weekend to get in a dose of bushwhacking themselves.

It’s funny how small our big world is, even when you feel like you’re the only creature on Earth when wandering through the forest, probably only a mile or two away from where your college buddies are also hiking.

We laughed about this as we fell asleep in the backseat of my Chevy Cruze.

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Salt Lake City, UT, USA

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