Journey into the secluded interior of the Sawtooths to camp where three terraced lakes spill into each other, providing a backdrop that could have inspired James Cameron’s Avatar moon, Pandora.
(1) Begin this 13.6-mile out-and-back from the Redfish Lake Lodge, where you catch a ferry (info at right) to the Redfish Lake Creek Trail. Walk southwest, passing through boulder fields. “Don’t miss the spot where one gigantic boulder is suspended above two adjacent rocks, creating a cave,” says Tory Hebdon.
(2)Continue below the imposing granite cliffs of 9,733-foot Grand Mogul and 10,299-foot Heyburn Mountain, which rise 3,000 feet. Keep an eye out for mountain goats balancing on tiny rock ledges and moose and elk munching on reeds, and take the left fork at the Alpine Lake turnoff.
(3) Ford 25 feet across icy Redfish Lake Creek (usually between 1 and 2 feet deep).
(4) Gain 300 feet in .5 mile via a set of switchbacks at 4.2 miles, which deposit you 200 feet from 5.8-acre Lower Cramer Lake, the smallest of the Cramers (reach it via a footpath to hiker’s right).
(5) Continue on the main trail to 6.5-acre Middle Cramer, which is fed by Upper Cramer’s 25-foot-tall, spaghetti-like falls.
(6) Continue to 30-acre Upper Cramer and pitch your tent near the northwest shore where Upper and Middle Cramers almost meet, amid a grove of mixed pine (no fires allowed; bear canister recommended). Awake early to catch a radiant sunrise between serrated Decker Peak and Mt. Cramer. “Seeing the Sawtooths from this point is seeing the Mountain West at its wildest,” Hebdon says. Next day, explore a series of unnamed alpine lakes via the 1.3-mile path over Mt. Cramer’s pass (400 foot gain). Double-back on the Redfish Lake Creek Trail to the trailhead and your return ferry.
As seen in the January 2014 issue of BACKPACKER.