3-4 days in the Sawtooths, first week of June 2019

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I’m planning a trip to the Sawtooths for my first time the last week of May, first week of June 2019. This will be my first trip to the Sawtooths and I would love to see the most of what the rugged Sawtooths have to offer. Loops are great. The Alice/Toxaway/Imogene loop has really caught my eye but From what I’ve read on previous snow reports, that trail will be hard to pass during that time of the year. I’m not afraid of breaking out the crampons to get over snowyside pass, but how dangerous is that scenario in early June? Is there anyone who has backpacked the Sawtooths during that time of year? Are there trails that you recommend that are accessible that time of year? I want to go early In the season for two reasons: 1. I want to avoid the crowds (I won’t be solo hiking) 2. I want to avoid the atrocious mosquitos at all costs. I have 3-4 days available for backpacking and I’m days away from booking our flight to Boise for that week. Any advice and recommendations are appreciated!! ** we will be calling ranger stations when the time gets closer to check the snowpack and trail conditions
 

Jackson

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Here is a thread posing a similar question.

There are some trip reports on here from late June, I believe. It's likely going to be quite snowy during the time you're considering, so be prepared for that. Tough to estimate danger without really knowing what the snowpack will be then though.

Especially if I were buying plane tickets months advance, I don't think I personally would plan a backpacking trip in a western mountain range for that time of the year. Too much risk of getting there and not being able to do the route or a reasonable variation. Generally, across western mountain ranges (barring the ones far to the south) in late spring there's a very, very good chance of deep snow in most places, and then in the event the snow has melted in some lower places, it's going to be marshy and muddy. Of course, if you have good experience with those kinds of conditions, and you're adequately prepared and prefer it, more power to ya! I don't mean to preach to the choir.

Lots of great Sawtooths trip reports on here for inspiration and route ideas. https://backcountrypost.com/tags/sawtooths/

Best place to be at the end of May is the Colorado Plateau!
 
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LarryBoy

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There are two chief considerations for a mountain trip in the west at that time of year:

1) Snowpack consolidation. Unfortunately, the snowpack isn't super consolidated yet in late may or early June. 2018 was the driest year on record in the San Juan range - got only about 50% of median snowpack. I started hiking in the San Juans on May 15, and spent a few weeks there. I was postholing by about 10am every single day, which makes for extremely slow and frustrating progress. Once you hit, say, July, all that snow will be nicely consolidated and you can walk on top of it pretty much all day. But at that time of year, you have to assume that you'll posthole most of the day. Not my vacation cup of tea, but you may be different! Slowshoes or skis would probably help, but that's all contingent on you having the training and gear of course :)
2) Late season snow. A few years ago, a friend and I planned a Sawtooths trip over Memorial Day. We normally wouldn't have planned something like that so early, but the Sawtooths had, again, a record-low snowpack. The week before our trip, a snowstorm moved in and put down about 2 feet of fresh up there. We had no choice but to change plans. We ended up going to Bryce and doing the Under-the-Rim trail, and had a wonderful time. Yes, it can snow in the mountains any time of year, but it's much more likely in May than it is in July, and much more dangerous in May than in July, because you can still be looking at wet-slide avalanche problems (which, by the way, formal avalanche education is a must if you're recreating in the mountains in the winter or spring).

In summary... yes, a Sawtooths trip in May is theoretically possible and, for some experienced hikers with the right training and equipment, totally achievable. But without skis/snowshoes, it's certainly going to be miserable... and you might get snowed out the week before. Just hard to know at that time of year. Agree with @Jackson that, if you're looking to do something at that time of year, high desert is the place to be - say the upper drainages of the Escalante River, Bryce/Paunsaugunt Plateau. Even the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (course, if you go farther down, it's gonna get hot in a hurry). Or head east and do the Great Smoky Mountains!

Hoping not to dissuade you, but to put things in a realistic light. Whatever you end up doing, have fun! :)
 

Bob

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How much snow do you like to posthole thru is the question ... First part of June there will be a lot unless you just want to stay low. Yes, no people to speak of, no mosquitos..... Last year was heavy snow thru all Idaho and Montana... This year who knows.... I'd wait till first of July... I had substantial snow at house in Island Park ID untill 2 nd week in June
 
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Here is a thread posing a similar question.

There are some trip reports on here from late June, I believe. It's likely going to be quite snowy during the time you're considering, so be prepared for that. Tough to estimate danger without really knowing what the snowpack will be then though.

Especially if I were buying plane tickets months advance, I don't think I personally would plan a backpacking trip in a western mountain range for that time of the year. Too much risk of getting there and not being able to do the route or a reasonable variation. Generally, across western mountain ranges (barring the ones far to the south) in late spring there's a very, very good chance of deep snow in most places, and then in the event the snow has melted in some lower places, it's going to be marshy and muddy. Of course, if you have good experience with those kinds of conditions, and you're adequately prepared and prefer it, more power to ya! I don't mean to preach to the choir.

Lots of great Sawtooths trip reports on here for inspiration and route ideas. https://backcountrypost.com/tags/sawtooths/

Best place to be at the end of May is the Colorado Plateau!


Thank you so much for your input! Very helpful. It’s sounds like the Sawtooths this early is going to be out of the question. I’ve been looking into Southern Colorado area and around Denver area. Any experience in the Flat Tops early Spring? Again, not afraid of some snow but we don’t want to be post holing the entire time. We are also set up for the cold.

Long story short.. we’re from CA and have the Sierras, John Muir and PCT in our backyard pretty much (well within in modest driving distance I should say). I have a flight voucher that I need to use up ASAP so we were looking to experience some backpacking out of CA for a change. The Sawtooths really caught my eye but I think a later season trip would be better for what we want to experience.

Again, thank you for your input on any areas we could make 3-4 days trip out of in Spring.


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Thank you for your input! Well, we’re really considering tackling a Sawtooths trip over the summer now. Making a trip that early In the year probably isn’t something we’ll enjoy based on the feedback I’ve been getting.

I have a flight voucher I need to used up ASAP so we’d like to get out of CA to experience some backpacking. We have the Sierras, PCT, and John Muir at our fingertips so we’re taking advice and looking into more southern areas.

Any input for early spring backing trips in the southern CO, UT or surrounding areas is appreciated. :)


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LarryBoy

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Colorado mountains are gonna have the some issue as the Sawtooths. It's farther south, but even higher in altitude. You may be able to get away with some of the desert ranges in, say, Arizona, if you absolutely must do mountains... perhaps the Chiricahuas or something? IDK, never been there.

Two resources to recommend for you:
1) Snotel data. The USDA has a huge network of automated snowpack-measuring sensors all over the mountain west. You can go look up the amount of snowpack left for a specific date and location. If there's any snow left, you're likely gonna be postholing through it. Go play around with it and get a sense for what melts when. https://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/
2) Bag Night Challenge threads here on BCP. Check out what other folks have done in the past in the springtime. Gives you a hundred good ideas!
 

Jackson

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Thank you so much for your input! Very helpful. It’s sounds like the Sawtooths this early is going to be out of the question. I’ve been looking into Southern Colorado area and around Denver area. Any experience in the Flat Tops early Spring? Again, not afraid of some snow but we don’t want to be post holing the entire time. We are also set up for the cold.

Long story short.. we’re from CA and have the Sierras, John Muir and PCT in our backyard pretty much (well within in modest driving distance I should say). I have a flight voucher that I need to use up ASAP so we were looking to experience some backpacking out of CA for a change. The Sawtooths really caught my eye but I think a later season trip would be better for what we want to experience.

Again, thank you for your input on any areas we could make 3-4 days trip out of in Spring.


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I'd strongly consider flying into Vegas or SLC and then going backpacking somewhere like Zion, Canyonlands, or the Escalante region. It's quite different from mountain backpacking, but it's wonderful. And this is one of the best sites to get information on those areas.
 

Windy

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If you've still got 3-4 days in the Boise area you could always look to the desert that time of year. You could head out to Leslie Gulch area in the Owyhee lands or backpack down into the Jack creek wilderness out in the Bruneau desert. Both would be easy shots from Boise. If you wanted more of a mountain forrest trip you could still pack up the middle fork payette that time of year as well.
 

MikeM

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I agree with what everyone has said but just wanted to add... if you're biggest reason for doing a trip in late May/early June is to avoid the crowds, there are plenty of places you can go that rarely, if ever, have big crowds. Last summer four of us did 3 days in the Montana wilderness and saw one other person the entire time, and that was in "prime" backpacking season, late-July. Not to say some places around here don't see crowds, but there are plenty of lesser-known areas that don't see heavy use.

ETA: I've personally never been to the Sawtooths, so I don't know how crowded they get, maybe someone else can chime in on that front.
 
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Bob

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Depends on where you go.....we did north to south Traverse about 2/3 off trail....hit some nain lajes as well . 9 days saw 6 people. Now hike Petit, toxway etc you'll see way more
 
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Thanks for all of your input guys! I’m doing some more research and looking into more southern areas of the state for an spring or even an early spring backpacking trip. We’re hoping to do a Sawtooths trip next year, during the right seasons of course. Im seeing a lot of desert trips but I’m still not sold on the desert backpacking only because we love the mountains so much. Water sources and other logistics are something we would have to address hiking in the desert. This is a very hard trip to plan out of our comfort zone of CA and the season is seemingly tricky because of snow conditions in any mountain areas.

I don’t get any vacation time off from work this summer so that’s another reason we’re trying for a spring time trip.




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Does anyone have recommendations on a spring trip or even an early spring trip (march, April) that covers some mountain terrain with some water?? We can fly anywhere with the flight voucher I have and this trip is getting to be last minute. we’d also prefer not to have to deal with obtaining permits ahead of time for a popular place just in case we can’t pull off permits with the time frame we have.


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LarryBoy

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No.

Anywhere that's not snow-covered in March is likely a desert range - a range where water is hard to come by. This is true throughout the West. If you want mountains and water in March/April you're gonna have to go lower mountains with a wetter climate than you'll find anywhere in the West - namely, the Ozarks/Ouachitas or southern Appalachians. Or go international. That's pretty much the extent of your mountain options.

Fact is, the reason that classic "high alpine" areas are so cool is because they're snow-covered 8 months out of the year. There is no Sierra-like high alpine terrain that's snow-free in March anywhere in the northern hemisphere. Sorry.
 
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If you've still got 3-4 days in the Boise area you could always look to the desert that time of year. You could head out to Leslie Gulch area in the Owyhee lands or backpack down into the Jack creek wilderness out in the Bruneau desert. Both would be easy shots from Boise. If you wanted more of a mountain forrest trip you could still pack up the middle fork payette that time of year as well.

Thanks @Windy. I’m looking up some info on the Owyhee Canyonlands and there are some pretty impressive pictures.


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LarryBoy

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Also,, don't dismiss the desert too fast. Yeah, it's different from the Sierra, but just as great. And if you're following an established watercourse, there's plenty of water. There are rivers and streams, even in the desert. Google "Coyote Gulch" and take a look at any of a hundred trip reports on BCP for more.

Honestly you could just go do Coyote Gulch and probably be happy as a clam. :)
 

Wanderlust073

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You said you’re geared for cold - what is it about winter alpine that your gear isn’t covering?
 
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