No innovation in brewing has meant more to SummitBrew than the crowler, the “canned on-the-spot” alternative to the 64 ounce glass growler. Sawtooth Brewing in the Wood River Valley of Idaho was where I first saw this magic in action and realized, “I can bring any of their ‘tap only’ offerings back to Utah without fear of them going flat. Or even better, I can take them into the mountains.” Which is exactly what I did last weekend when I returned to my adopted home of Idaho for a long overdue backpacking trip with my wife.
The mountains of central Idaho offer countless backpacking options, but for me, the Sawtooth Mountains northwest of Sun Valley hold some of the best options for a memorable wilderness trip. The range has very little in the way of roads bisecting its nearly 50 mile length and most of the area is a designated wilderness, meaning that even though it’s a very popular destination, your company on the trail will only consist of other hikers and horses– no ORVs or mountain bikes.
When we pulled up to the crowded Tin Cup trailhead at Pettit Lake, I immediately felt a wave of jealously watching lightweight packers storm up the trail with their 45 liter packs, but “going light” has never been easy for me. Over the years, some of the items I’ve lugged into the high country have been embarrassingly extraneous. For instance, I’ve learned with the help of my wife that I likely don’t need to carry copies of Dharma Bums and Turtle Island into the wild, no matter how appropriate it seems to read them among the mountains and streams. Hell, Gary Snyder himself, (the subject and author of those books) would probably see me pull out his thin book of poetry and lump me in with the fools that don’t know a rucksack from a haversack. (I thought that was a quote from Dharma Bums, but I couldn’t find it. Not sure where I heard it.)
The weight savings practices like restricting my journal to a small 3 inch notebook and ditching the cookware and eating right out of the Backpackers Pantry bag has been somewhat counteracted with other amenities like aerosol cheese, beer, wine and a hammock; four items that are the backpacking equivalent of wing sauce, DVRs, bitters and female leg shaving (sure, they aren’t essential, but they sure make a pleasant thing more pleasant). We had all four of those things on this two-night trip up the Toxaway Lake drainage and for the beer, I chose a Sawtooth Tandem Double Rye IPA.
Lexi and I had started from the same Pettit Lake trailhead 7 years ago for a memorable trip to Alice Lake, but we wanted to see something new, so we choose to hike to Farley Lake, which is in the next drainage to the north. Farley Lake lies 6 miles west of the trail head and at approximately 8000′. The trail climbs south over a 400 vertical foot moraine that separates the Alice and Toxaway drainages, then proceeds southwest to Farley Lake and eventually Toxaway Lake, three miles further. Alice and Toxaway Lakes are equally beautiful and many hikers choose to cross the Snowyside Divide between them and make a loop out of their trip, but we were hoping Farley might be less populated.
Most of the hike to Farley Lake ascends through a pine forest, but not long after you cross the wilderness boundary and encounter a fairly large stream crossing, you pass some roaring waterfalls. The lake itself is perched right above and below hidden waterfalls that are worth a closer look. The lake is also squeezed between Imogene Peak to the north and Parks Peak to the south, with particularly steep banks on the south and we struggled to find camping around this small lake. The narrow north shoreline had limited options, but we did find a perfectly cleared tent pad on a rocky hilltop about 75′ above the lake surface. While being near the water would have been nice, our perch gave us a great view down the canyon and across the Sawtooth Valley to the majestic White Clouds in the east. The downside to this dry camp though was that I didn’t have a cold lake in which to chill my beer.
As we prepared to day hike up to Toxaway Lake on our second day, I debated stashing my Sawooth Tandem in the stream, leaving it to chill while we were out on the trail and retrieving as we came back. But without a drag bag or something to anchor it with, I was afraid my 32 ounces of refreshment would tumble down the stream and get punctured open as it dropped one of the waterfalls. Not the way I want to share my beer, as much as the otters might enjoy it. So I found a crevice in some rocks that looked like it would stay shady most of the day and hoped that it would at least retain room temperature for the evening.
When we returned from our afternoon at the stunning Toxaway Lake, my Double Rye was still shaded by the talus. I was pretty elated that the silver can at least felt cool on contact, not like a dashboard in August.
Sawtooth Brewery started in 2011 and I discovered them the following year on a fall trip up to Hailey. The story of their struggles to get their beer in local establishments (it used to be on their website, I couldn’t find it now) made for an interesting read about how difficult the brewing business can be, mainly due to distribution. Yet they persevered and the small tap room they had in a Ketchum hotel has now grown to a full service pub and an expanded brewing facility in Hailey. It’s a treat every time I return to the Sun Valley area to stop in and try their creations. The Freeheeler Rye and Twin Stop Pale are two of my favorites which are bottled in 22 ounce bombers, but the Tandem Double Rye IPA has been one of the draft offerings I’ve been taking back to Utah since I tried it this winter.
Tandem Double Rye IPA probably favors the rye over the IPA in terms of flavor. It has a malt characteristic that I really like, but IPA lovers looking for heavy citrus or hop flavors might not. It’s a strong beer at 9% (which is a heavy undertaking to drink in the backcountry when your wife prefers wine), but I found it really smooth to drink, especially considering it wasn’t chilled. I poured it into my collapsible rubber cup (no, I’m not lugging steel pint glasses in my pack no matter how cool they are) and enjoyed the amber colored brew while looking out over Farley Lake and the monstrous Castle Peak in the distance. I thought it had a bit of a sweet character, but not sugary, just like the hint of fresh bread with some undertones of hop bitterness. The “tandem” in its name probably means I should have shared more of it, but as I mentioned, my wife isn’t much of a beer drinker. However, she did enjoy what she tasted and I quaffed much of it while looking at my favorite mountains in my favorite state.