top of mount cramer
Burl Ackerman

Weekend Peak Bagging: Mount Cramer

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We left Boise on a Friday after work, headed for the summit of Mount Cramer in the Sawtooth National Forest. At 10,716 feet, it’s the second highest peak in the Sawtooth range. There were three of us — Brian, Jason, and myself. We had packed the night before to try and get on the road as soon as possible, but we still did not get out of town until 5 p.m. The drive to the trailhead takes almost three and half hours.

When you get to Stanley, turn off highway 21 onto highway 75 heading south toward Ketchum. Approximately 10 miles down the road is the turnoff for Hell Roaring Creek. The week prior, there had been a fire in the area, but it was put it out during the week. We headed up the road and drove past the initial Hell Roaring lower trailhead . . . because the map we had showed a road that you can take that cuts off approximately three miles of the trail if you continue on to the upper trailhead. We were glad we took the road. It is a rough road, though, and we definitely needed the clearance of my pickup truck.

When we arrived at the trailhead, it was close to 8:30 p.m. We quickly loaded our packs and headed down the trail. We made it about three miles before we needed to start using our headlamps, and somewhere along the way, Brian lost his sunglasses, not that he needed them right then — but he likely would on the summit of Mt. Cramer.

Hiking with a Headlamp

Overall, I was surprised at how well you can hike using a headlamp. I thought the lightweight beam would not illuminate the trail well enough, but to my surprise it was quite adequate, and I would guess our pace was only slightly slower than if we had been hiking in daylight.

As it turns out, though, when you’re hiking in the dark with a headlamp, you can’t see any farther than your beam of light.

Our destination camping spot was Imogene Lake, and we had hiked half the distance along the lake before we realized we were at our destination. The exchange went something like this:

Brian: “I think that’s the lake below us.”

Jason: “Are you sure?”

Brian: “Pretty sure. It seems like something big and wet and cold is down there.”

Me: “I think he’s right.”

Jason: “I can’t see anything.”

Me: I throw a rock . . . splash. “Yeah, that’s the lake — or do you need me to go down and swim in it, too?”

Chuckles all around — you can’t argue with a splash in the dark.

Hello Neighbor

We immediately started looking for a spot to set up our tents, our headlamps flashing in the night. We thought we had found a good open spot . . . and then we noticed a couple of tents in it. We continued along the trail for a ways, trying to put some distance between us and the other backpackers, and we found an OK spot. We set up the tents and then hit the lake to filter water. It was pushing 12:30 a.m. by the time we got to bed.

Jason and I both did not sleep well and consequently did not get out of our tents until 8:30 a.m. At that point Brian had already been up for two hours. When we could see in the daylight, we were on a little bluff overlooking the tents we ran into the night before — the trail had circled back around and we didn’t even realize it in the dark.

We ate a little breakfast and headed out to climb Mt. Cramer. We cruised back down the trail to the outlet of the lake. From there, it’s basically a cross-country hike straight uphill to the summit. Brian claimed it was only 2.5 miles to the summit, but I have my doubts. It definitely felt much longer than that. We made it to Profile Lake by noon and took a half-hour break for lunch. At this point I was questioning if I was going to make it to the top. From Profile Lake you can see Cramer peak looming over you and a massive and steep boulder-hopping climb to get to the top.

We forged on.

Every step of the way through the boulder field, I kept thinking, I need to get in better condition to do this.

Amazing Views, Huge Cliff

We eventually make it to the top — with me bringing up the rear. We lucked out on top — there had been some cloud cover roll in, but no thunderheads were on the horizon, so we could spend some time on the summit. The views are pretty amazing from the peak. Jason and Brian took pictures of each other standing right next to the huge cliff on the backside. (I opted to not participate in that photo shoot.) We discussed alternate routes down. No one was looking forward to the boulder scramble going down, but in the end, we slowly hopped down the way we came up.

The trip down was pretty much as bad as the trip up. You have to fight gravity on the way up, and you have to fight gravity to keep from falling and tumbling on the way down.

When we reached camp it was 5:30 p.m. and we were exhausted. Jason and Brian jumped in the lake. I opted to lay down in my tent. That lasted about 5 minutes due to the sun beating down on the tent.

In the morning, we headed out around 8 a.m. It was a quick hike out. Brian mentioned to keep an eye out for his sunglasses, and sure enough at the trailhead, they were sitting on the side of the trail.

When we made it back to Stanley, we wanted to eat at the Bakery, but the line was out the door so we opted for the other restaurant in town. When we asked the waitress what she recommended, she commented, “I don’t eat here.”

Not a good sign.

We forged ahead, just like we did in the dark on the hike in to Cramer, and we ordered breakfast burritos. That was a mistake — the breakfast burritos were truly bad. How can you mess up a breakfast burrito? The waitress came by and said, “I told you.”

All in all, Mt. Cramer is a great peak to climb in a weekend. Just remember that — if you can’t get into the Bakery at Stanley — just buy some snacks at the gas station and hit the road.

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