July 26: Mack’s Inn Cut-Off , mile 15-32.1(17.1) – ,2076.2 -2079.5 (3.3) 20.4 miles
Thanks to Issac and Justin at High Mountain Adventures in Island Park (next to the Sawtelle Mountain Resort), who helped us out big time. While the Mack’s Inn Cut-Off is 32.6 miles in total, the next 10 miles for us was to be on the Sawtell Peak Rd, where it the mercifully turns off onto a trail, that supposedly turns into a 3.5 mile bushwhack, that intersects with (NOBO) mile 2076.2 of the CDT. In a text we received from Google the day before, he wrote, “Made it up the road out of town. Hitch it if you can. Extremely busy with idiots on 4 wheelers and the dust is oppressive. Also super long uphill”. We decided to take Google’s advice.
In total, Sawtell Peak Rd is 13 miles and ends at the top of Sawtell Mountain. We originally went into High Mountain Adventure’s, the day before, to ask about Sawtell Peak Rd. We had no idea how far up it went and if/when it became an ATV road. We spoke with Issac who told us that it was gravel road that went up to the top of Sawtell Mountain. “It’s a 3000 ft climb over 12 miles”, he told us, and then asked us if we wanted to rent an ATV to “check out the view”. We told him we would be checking out the view, eventually, but that we were on foot, hiking the CDT. “Doesn’t seem like there are very many of you this year,” was his response. We asked if he thought it would be hard to get a hitch up the road. Issac asked us when we needed a ride. “Tomorrow” was our response. Issac then said that he’s been wanting to “go for a drive”, and offered to take us up the road the following morning.
They morning came, and we met Issac at the appointed time, but their business got slammed, and we had to put it off till after 1pm. 1pm rolled around and we loaded up.
We honestly did NOT expect to be taken the 10 miles all the way to the trailhead.
Down the trail we trotted, after we had drank the extra liter of water we had put in our pack…just in case it was a short ride.
Thus, our 20.4 mile day entailed only 10.4 miles of actual trail walking. 12 miles, if you count the extended bushwhack, wherein we missed (again) our “turn” to begin the “scheduled” bushwhack. To say we overshot it would be an understatement. Short-cuts aren’t always that short, has been proven once again.
During the height of our “scheduled” bushwhack, we came upon a group of ladies on horseback. They we taking a break in the shade and asked us if we were looking for the trail register. Trail register? Yup, on the bushwhack “trail” there is a Mack’s Inn Cut-Off Trail Register, in an ammo box, by a stream bed. Paul signed the register while I battled horse flies (hence no picture). The ladies were on an annual horse pack trip. This time they chose Idaho. They asked us where we were headed. We told them we were hiking the CDT and were headed to Lilian Lake for water. They told us they had just come from there. What? You mean there is an actual trail? They didn’t know if there was a trail, but that after 10 horses walking single file from there, there should be a trail now. Jack Pot! We had certainly lucked out this day. One of the ladies led us to where they had stopped, and from there we followed a nicely trod “trail” most of the way to Lilian Lake, until we had to bushwhack down to where Guthook had us approaching Lilian Lake.
We knew it had gotten just too “easy”. We watered up at Lilian Lake and soon were back on the CDT, proper, at mile 2076.2.
The trail continued to climb, but with actual switchbacks, over and through amazing terrain, with stellar vistas.
We also cross/enter a portion of the US Sheep Experiment Station. It includes close to 28,000 acres, and per wikipedia its mission is “to develop integrated methods for increasing production efficiency of sheep and to simultaneously improve the sustainability of rangeland ecosystems”
With the sun getting lower in the sky, we called the day just past a small spring (mile 2079.5) that took some effort to find a good place to collect its icy cold elixir. Our view, although a bit hazy on the edges, thanks to fires in Northern California, was amazing.