The fog lay over the lake like a downy blanket as I laced up my boots and quietly threw a few essentials into a rucksack. With the dim pre-dawn light to guide me, I made my way through the gloom to the trailhead. The sign showed four miles to Bench Lakes, and I had until 11 AM to get there and back again.

Grand Mogul and trail

The Sawtooth Mountains of Central Idaho are well-named, their jagged spires raking the sky. Among the ragged peaks and towers are a multitude of lakes, sprinkled like vivid blue confetti in the granite landscape. However, few trails are of short enough length for trail-hungry hikers with less than a day in the area, much less the scant 5 hours allotted to me for my morning jaunt from camp at Redfish Lake. I am not one for trail running, being more inclined to saunter, pause and linger, but that day I made an exception. Buoyed by enticing patches of blue sky in the thinning mist, and the prospect of an above-the-clouds view, I raced up the trail. It is a wide and gentle path, built for the clumsy hooves of horses through slopes of sagebrush and ponderosa.

Sawtooth Peaks

Heaving for air, I turned the final corner and found a junction; one fork plummeting down towards Redfish, the other ascending into the heavens, towards the higher lakes. I took the latter, pushing myself up through the last dregs of fog and into high gardens beneath the towers of Heyburn Mountain. The bulk of the Grand Mogul loomed across the valley, and the shimmering peaks of the White Cloud Range could be seen floating above the sea of fog that filled the plains and valleys bellow.

Mt. Heyburn

On I went, over hillocks and besides a burbling stream and once again back into dark woods before, with startling suddenness, the lake appeared through the foliage before me. I whipped out my camera and snapped my photos of the perfectly still waters with their reflection of the golden peaks beyond.

Bench Lake

That was it, my time here was spent. I hadn’t the time to go and ramble as I wished, ever higher to the upper lakes in the chain, ensconced as they are in chalices of chiseled granite. Back down I raced, dodging other hikers just now making the ascent. It was a different world I returned to, one of the noise and bustle of a popular campground, lodge, and lake – a far cry from the silent, still place I had departed that morning. It was with a glad heart and tired body that I departed, away from the grand peaks I had so shortly traversed. One day I will return again, and this time treat the Sawtooths with the lengthy trip they deserve.

Grand Mogul Mountain


Getting there: Drive Idaho State Highway 75 North from Sun Valley or South from Stanley, turning onto Redfish Lake road approximately 4 miles out of Stanley (55 miles from Sun Valley). Take the lodge turn-off and go straight then turn immediately right into the hiker parking. The Sawtooths are a remote area, and from the nearest city (Boise) it is at least a three hour drive.

Leave a Reply