Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Sawtooth Mountain

Time for some fall color posts!  Autumn hues are peaking here and I've been on a photographic frenzy these past two weeks, trying to capture it all.  I have tons of images for posts lined up, and no time to write.

Fall colors started right at the trailhead

But first, catch-up time.  I'm going to take you back to one of my initial autumn color hikes - way back in mid-September.  SW Washington's Indian Heaven Wilderness gets the nod for earliest leaf turnings, and I always try to plan some hikes into this area to capture it's full autumn glory.  But on this day I wanted to try a "new to me" trail that came with some rave reviews - the Sawtooth Mountain Trail.

PCT hiker logbook at the trailhead

I think the main reason I'd never hiked Sawtooth Mountain before was the long drive to the trailhead.  Located on the north side of the Indian Heaven Wilderness, it was a 2+ hour drive over increasingly deteriorating Forest Service roads.  A drive like that called for some company - so I recruited my friend Catherine and her husband Larry to come along for the ride (and hike!)

Catherine and Larry check out the logbook

Even though the drive seemed to take forever, I was instantly redeemed when I stepped out of the car and noticed blazing red huckleberry leaves right by the trailhead.  Oh yeah - this was gonna be good!

Lots of interesting trail names!

Since our trailhead intersected with the Pacific Crest Trail, my friends and I were pleased to discover a hiker's register at the trailhead sign.  Catherine opened the box that held the log book and we enjoyed reading some of the trail names of people that had recently passed by - on their way to either Canada or Mexico.

Our trailhead

Our route for the day began on the Pacific Crest Trail.  We'd take the PCT south for about 1.5 miles, and then branch off to the Sawtooth Trail.  This trail would take us over Sawtooth Mountain for a couple of miles before rejoining the PCT.  Then we'd follow the PCT south for another mile before detouring to Wood Lake.  Our return trip would be entirely on the PCT.

Leftover beargrass and red huckleberry bushes

I didn't get even a couple hundred yards down the trail when my camera came out.  The huckleberry bushes were a spectacular color combination of reds, oranges and yellows.  Add to that dozens of spent beargrass stalks that by themselves were also photogenic.

Fall hues peeping out between the trees

The fall hues just kept coming - peeping out from between nearby trees, covering entire slopes, and lining the trail.  I lagged way behind, firing my shutter constantly.

Bright red and orange leaves

At one point, my friends were afraid we'd never make it to Sawtooth Mountain.

Beargrass stalks and Mt Adams

Here's a few more photos of all beauty.....

Huckleberry bushes were everywhere!

Yeah, every once and awhile I even get in a photo!

Surrounded by technicolor bushes

Finally I had to pull myself away, put the camera back in it's bag, and just hike.  Otherwise, we'd be here all day (and I really wanted to see all of this trail).

Color-lined trail

There were still berries on the huckleberry bushes, and when my friends and I walked through an area where the trail cut through the bushes, we scared tons of birds that had been feasting on the goodies.

Mt Adams at the first viewpoint

Coming upon the side trail over Sawtooth Mountain, we left the PCT and began to climb.  But our efforts were quickly rewarded - soon after arriving at a great overlook with killer views of Mt. Adams.

Mt St Helens from Sawtooth Mtn trail

Moving on, the trail contoured around the side of Sawtooth Mountain, showcasing nice views looking north/northwest, including a glimpse of Mt St Helens' barren summit.

Fall colors glowing in the sun

Huckleberry bushes covered the uphill slopes of Sawtooth Mountain, their red leaves glowing in the sunlight.

Catherine does her best Vanna impression pointing out the tip of Mt Hood

Rounding the south side of Sawtooth Mountain, eagle-eyed Catherine spotted the tip of Mt Hood peeping over an adjacent ridge.  She did her best Vanna impression as I captured the moment.

Picture-perfect viewpoint

Catherine, Larry and I came upon a ridge jutting out over the forest.  Not only boasting spectacular views, the adjacent slope was covered with red huckleberry leaves.

Enormous views

Oh my, what a grand panorama of forest and mountains!  (Thanks to Catherine for being my "view model!")

Red-lined trail

By 1:00 we'd made it all way around Sawtooth Mountain and started back towards it's junction with the PCT.  However, it was well past lunchtime and my companions and I were getting mighty hungry.  We had yet to see a good stopping spot, though.  Finally, I spotted an overlook with great views of Mt Adams and Sawtooth Mountain.  I suggested resting here for a bite.

Sawtooth Mountain and Mt Adams

Although this was a wonderful spot, it was in full sun, and with the day's heat Catherine wanted someplace shady.  No problem - I spotted a bushy area that appeared like one could wiggle underneath.  Catherine and Larry successfully tucked under the shade of those small trees while I lounged nearby.  We oohed and aahed at the views while filling our bellies.

Lunch with a view

It turned out to be a darned nice place for a lunch break!

Fiery red huckleberry bushes add color to the forest

After a nice relaxing break, we all shouldered our backpacks for the final push to Wood Lake.  Bidding the fabulous views and leaf colors goodbye, we hit the trail once again.  It led steeply downhill for another half mile before rejoining the PCT.  

Mt Adams needs more snow!

A quick mile jaunt on the PCT brought us to the junction with a side trail to Wood Lake.  Of course, we all decided to check out the lake.

Trail junction

This path led my friends and I through a brushy meadow, full of huckleberry bushes with ripe berries.  

Heading down to Wood Lake

Catherine and Larry couldn't resist sampling some of the goods!

Time out for huckleberry picking!

Then, we spotted water through the trees.  This must be Wood Lake!  A short, steep path led us to a lovely little body of water, ringed by tall fir trees.  Catherine spotted a downed tree along one shore, and just had to practice her balance skills (which, for the record, are way better than mine!)

Catherine doing her best log balancing act

While Catherine was on the balance beam, Larry was busy catching toads from the shallow end of the lake.  He's a middle school science teacher and is interested in all things of nature.  He successfully captured one toad, which I photographed for him.  The little guy did not look happy at all about being caught!  (In case you wondered, the toad was safely released after my photo session)

The lake formerly known as Wood Lake

After spending a good amount of time exploring this lovely lake, Larry, Catherine and I were packing up to leave when I spotted a sign tacked to a nearby tree.  It said "Wood Lake 1/4 mile."  There was a faint trail leading from the tree farther into the woods.  Apparently the lake we stopped at was not Wood Lake - the real Wood Lake was still 1/4 mile away.  We discussed hiking further to see the "real" Wood Lake, but by then I was feeling the effects of hiking 4.5 miles so far.  With that same distance to cover on our return trip I decided that was more than enough for the day.  

This toad is not happy about being caught!

So on we trekked, taking the PCT for the entire distance on our return trip back to the car.  Passing back through the colorful huckleberry fields, I couldn't resist snapping a few more photos of this amazing display of autumn leaf color.

Return trip through the huckleberry fields

A beautiful day in the woods!  I give Sawtooth Mountain trail two thumbs up for spectacular autumn colors.  It will definitely be added to the annual fall "must hike" list.

We covered 9 miles and 1500 feet of elevation gain.  This would be the farthest distance I'd hiked post surgery, and I later decided it was probably a bit farther than I should be hiking right now.  But I lived to tell the tale - and share my photos.  Enjoy all the colors!


  1. Nice work for your longest hike to date! Beautiful scenery as always. You are so fortunate to live in a place with autumnal glory!

  2. Great Fall color! And the views just fabulous!!

  3. Well done on completing your hike and getting such brilliant photos. It's always satisfying to find a good place for lunch!

  4. You did well resisting the temptation to continue the walk to find Wood Lake. Knowing when to stop is a lesson we've all had to learn at some point. I was fascinated by that hikers book. An interesting record of activity on that trail. As always your fall photos are full of magnificent colour.

  5. Uma bela caminhada que deu excelentes fotos já com as cores outonais.
    Um abraço e continuação de uma boa semana.

    Dedais de Francisco e Idalisa
    O prazer dos livros

  6. Our trees are starting to turn here in the UK now but we don't get anything as good this!

  7. I've been watching videos by people hiking the PCT. Spectacular scenery!

  8. Totallt enjoyed all the autumn colour, sky, lakes, berries, vistas and little critters. Just wonderful that you are back out there enjoying it to the max.

  9. Beautiful reds! Here we have the Appalachian Trail which goes from Georgia to Maine. I've only walked on small portions of it.

  10. Brilliant colors! Looks awesome.


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