Middle Fork and Buckhorn Mountain Lakes


We visit some of the most remote (and hardest to get to) lakes in the Lick Creek range.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

First let me apologized for the somewhat imprecise overall trip statistics. That's what happens when you leave the spare GPS batteries right where you put them as you are packing up; in the middle of your desk.

This hike starts by walking up the East Fork of Lake Fork Creek. If this was the first time I had gone up this way, I would have taken pictures of crossing Lake Fork Creek (very low), Dave running across the East Fork without removing his boots, etc. Instead, you get meaningless photos taken during our rest breaks. This one was taken after we had crossed the East Fork and are now heading up the Middle Fork. Yes, that's the Middle Fork of the East Fork of Lake Fork creek.


Dave expresses his love of Idaho by hugging the trees.


I was curious of the status of our balanced rock. Quite a few notable summits in the Sawtooths were brought down by seismic activity in the last two years, but our balance rock is still there.


There is an ancient trail up the Middle Fork, but it's pretty darn thin. So for a good portion of the time, you just walk upstream and hope for the best. It's exciting when you hit one of the meadows and can sort of see your destination; makes all that effort seem worthwhile. For a bit.


The issue is that no one has used the trail for years, and it's natural for trees to fall down. Over the years, that accumulation of fallen trees tends to bury the tread. How long has it been since people really used the trail here? They quit using glass bottles for Mrs. Butterworth's in 1999.


Getting closer. The 'V' notch (here with a tree sticking right up into it) is our destination for today. We call it Gunsight Notch.


As you near the bottom of the super-steep gully that takes you up to the lake, you inevitably run into the alder. Maybe that should be capitalized for emphasis: The Alder. It's heinous, especially when wearing a big backpack. We did our best, but still got to go swimming in it.


It's a relief to finally exit The Alder, but that just leads to The Chute. Pictures don't do justice to the angle here.


At the top of The Chute, you get The Boulders. Again, doubly fun with full packs. But the views are so stunning you hardly notice.


And then finally -- FINALLY! -- the lake.

I had visited here with Art in 2016, when I set a goal of coming back up and spending the night. This night.


A few more lake shots.

I can't say that this is my favorite lake, but it is certainly set in a stunning location.

We were certainly stunned. Most of the afternoon was spent just sitting and staring. Well, maybe drinking, too. But you get the idea. Trailhead

The nights are already getting longer as Fall approaches, but we were up at our usual barely-light o'thirty, eager to get on with today's explore. The night had been unusually warm such that we only put on the puffies out of habit.

Down in the hole here it will be a while before the sun fully arrives.


And we had places to go.

Years ago on a hike to Buckhorn Mountain Lake I had looked through Gunsight Notch from the other side, but only looked. Now from this side we were going to climb up it.

If that looks gnarly, well, it's not as bad as the chute up to the lake.

It starts out pretty mellow- especially since we weren't fully loaded today. Not this morning, anyway. Trailhead

But it does get steep.

If you look in the background here, you'll see Slick Rock in the distance. In the foreground, look for Dave.

From the top of the pass, we wanted to fulfill a quest to see if we could find a route through to the Buckhorn Lakes basin. Up there. Trailhead

We did find what appears to be a passable route where we got to see the lakes again.

Test: Can you find four lakes?
We camped at the upper one on the left
last year.

And for a bit of a perspective on exactly where I was when taking the previous photo, I was sitting on the ridge, sort of mid-photo here. This was taken last year looking up from big Buckhorn Lake. Trailhead
And from here we had a great view of Buckhorn Mountain Lake. I had been there in 1998, but not since. That's the trip where I visited Gunsight Notch while my compadres fished. Trailhead
Fish? Dave was all in for the traverse to the lake.... Trailhead
...and immediately set to work. Trailhead

A beauty.

Then it was time to head back to camp. We knew it was going to be a beat-down to get back to the car, and that dread spurred us on.

So back through the notch, down the chute, break down camp, load up and head out. Trailhead

Only to have to descend another chute. These things are even worse on the way down with the big pack on: loose and slippery.

Just for fun here, let's play "Where's Dave" (much like Where's Waldo).

On our minds as we slid down the hill was The Alder. Somehow or other, either super trail skills or plain dumb luck, we avoided having to practice our alder swimming. But there was still a lot of rough country and tricky sidehilling with full packs. Makes for sore feet.

And then down the valley in search of trail tread.

Right by the East Fork while searching for tread I found this patch of amanita. I don't know if this is the kind of amanita that gets you high or makes you die, but Paddy's whiskey is about as close as I'm going to an entheogen. Trailhead

For more photos and story, read Dave's blog:

Day 1
Middle Fork Lake at night
Day 2

First day map with track Trailhead

Area map


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