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Plan A, Cramer Lakes By Brandi Johnson

... if the crick don't rise

On a dramatic August morning, partly cloudy with a storm moving in, we awaken to the beauty of Grand Mogul and Mount Heyburn, two of many peaks in the Sawtooth Range. I’m excited at the prospect of my first overnight backpacking trip, which will include a six-and-a-half-mile hike with a gain in elevation of about 1,826 feet and a stream to cross. Our destination is the three Cramer Lakes, lower, upper, and middle, deep within the Sawtooths.

My partner Steve Shay, his son Kody and Kody’s best friend Wyatt Caviness and I have spent the night camping at Redfish Lake near our trailhead at the base of the Sawtooths. Our plan is to hike into Cramer Lakes, spend the night, and hike back to our base camp at Redfish for the remainder of our vacation. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, there is a Plan B—but despite the threatening skies, we decide to brave the trail and cross the stream.

We reach the middle lake, whose beauty is accented by a waterfall cascading to the water's edge, and set up camp in a spot that takes advantage of this scene. The rest of our time is spent exploring and doing some backwoods fishing with a stick, line, and hook. That night, we gather around a campfire and gaze at the stars. Unfortunately, the night is almost sleepless as we try to cope with the continual deflation of our expensive air mattresses.

We awaken to a wet, cold morning. Temperatures dropped when the storm finally rolled in. It not only has rained, but hailed and snowed. During a break in the storm, we quickly take down the camp and stuff the wet gear into our backpacks. Ponchos on, we start our trek back to Redfish as the storm builds again. As we head to base camp, the rain, lightning, and thunder are relentless. I think my feet may become webbed from wading through enormous puddles in the trail. Eventually, I realize that if I straddle the trail on the high side, I can avoid most of the puddles.

We take shelter under a tree, which we discover is home to a grouse, who clearly does not want to share. It won’t stop hissing and snorting, until we’re finally chased down the trail. By the time we reach the stream crossing, we’re drenched from head to toe, which eliminates the need to switch to our flip-flops. We cross in our hiking boots and now have only a few more miles to go, with Steve in the lead, followed by Kody, Wyatt, and me.

Suddenly, we hear a scream. Steve has startled a grouse from the brush, which has flown under his poncho and is trying to escape by flying even higher. Of course, the rest of us find this wildly entertaining, enough to amuse us for another mile down the trail.

Even so, it’s still raining. About a mile from base camp, Steve and I are ditched by the boys, who want to arrive first.

Steve frustrates me by slowing his pace as he stares at his cell phone, until I discover he’s making reservations for lodging in Stanley. Even though we have accomplished Plan A and could have slept on the boat, it appears we also will implement Plan B, a warm shower and bed. I’m already thinking about taking a first good look at my pictures, which I know will carry me back to Cramer Lakes for years to come.