A Travellerspoint blog

Idaho Day 3: Profile Lake…and up?

Sawtooth Wilderness, ID

sunny 90 °F


After waking up at 5am, my mom and I drove the 1 hour, 10 minute drive up to Redfish Lake to hike up to Profile Lake and Thompson Peak in the Sawtooth alpine. My main target birds were Black and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, the latter of which would be a lifer if seen. We arrived to the trailhead on time and while my mom put on her boots, I checked out some bird activity I was hearing nearby along Fishhook Creek. I started out with a great bird in the form of an AMERICAN DIPPER:

I was surprised and ecstatic to see a pair of Kokanee Salmon, one of the two native salmon species which gave Redfish Lake its name. This, and the migratory Sockeye Salmon, are bright red at this spawning time of year and have inspired and fed folks in the Sawtooth Valley for ages. I was able to capture a couple of blurry photos of these Kokanee:

Then, it was time for the hike itself! It started with switchbacks and soon followed a long ridge overlooking the Sawtooth Valley.

Birds were very active along this stretch, led in force by more common forest passerines like WESTERN TANAGER:



Then, I spotted this PILEATED WOODPECKER atop a distant snag.

A bit further along the trail, what I believe to be the same Pileated appeared on a downed log not even ten feet away from us! Absolutely spectacular views!

Not too much further down the trail was an even more exciting woodpecker species for me, a female WILLIAMSON’S SAPSUCKER, a bird I had only seen twice in my life prior to today!

Halfway up the trail, my mom and I stopped at a beautiful overlook where we could see a waterfall cascading down from the basin to which we were headed.

And a wondrous mixed flock of birds surrounded us, including TOWNSEND’S WARBLERS, a year bird for me:

Another year bird — CASSIN’S VIREO:


Immature WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (note the brownish crown):

After an extremely steep climb up a crazy boulder field, we made it to a beautiful subalpine meadow full of wildflowers.

I began to hear the squeaky “Mreep!” call of Pika and quickly tracked one of these cuties down:

Two small, darkish finches had me very excited for Rosy-finches at one point, but they unfortunately turned out to be just PINE SISKINS.

Finally, after a strenuous five-hour ascent full of scrambling, boulder navigation, and narrow trails on the edge of cliffs, we made it to Profile Lake at approximately 9000 feet above sea level. This has to be one of the most beautiful alpine lakes I have ever seen, rivaling nearby Goat and Sawtooth Lakes in stark beauty. Absolutely insane. I was also stoked to see all of the remaining snow as that meant heightened chances for Rosy-finches!

At one point, I spotted a Mountain Goat high on Thompson Peak above Profile Lake and was even able to point out this precarious creature to my mom:

Soon, it nonchalantly rested on a large, flat boulder. This species forages a vegetarian diet on high, steep alpine scree slopes like these.

I wanted to push on, partially in hopes of summiting Thompson Peak, the highest in the Sawtooth Mountains, and partially in hopes of finding my lifer Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, or their more common Black cousins. As I climbed, I came across more and more snow patches — always a welcome sight in August!

But alas, it was snow that kept me from almost reaching Thompson Peak. I did not feel like attempting to cross this snow field resting on a steep slope, followed by that gnarly looking climb up a small cliff. It was simply not doable for me even though I consider myself a strong hiker and scrambler.

The photo makes this large snowfield look less steep than it actually was.

But of course I had to enjoy a controlled slide back down, avoiding a bunch of boulder hopping this way.

And on the way a single BLACK ROSY-FINCH flew by, chirping incessantly! Though it zipped by and disappeared too quickly for a photograph, its calls were clinching the ID — what a fabulous treat to see this alpine-specific species on its breeding grounds.

And here is a gorgeous alpine tarn nearby where I had the Rosy-Finch flyby.

This view of the tarn makes it look like a natural infinity pool.

Profile Lake from above.

One last look and a selfie before heading back down!

The birds were much less prevalent on the way down, so our attention turned to the scenery — barely peaking out over the foothills, the White Cloud Peaks truly resemble white clouds.

A lone OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER between serenades of “quick three beers!”

And a flyover AMERICAN KESTREL to round out the birds from the day:

It was an intense hike. We both hiked 10.2 miles round-trip with 2500 feet of elevation gain to Profile Lake, and my solo tag to Thompson Saddle added an extra 2 miles and 800 feet of gain for me. Those totals, combined with the sheer amount of scrambling and nail-biting route finding made this the most difficult, strenuous hike I have ever attempted. It was exceptionally beautiful and birdy, but I will probably never attempt this trail again unless they do some serious trail restoration as it was extremely scary and dangerous looking in parts where we had to cling to a sheer rock face above thousand-foot drop-offs.

Bird-of-the-day to the Black Rosy-Finch despite not being photographed, with runner-up to the Williamson’s Sapsucker. A very solid group of birds for the habitat traversed.

Stay tuned for more incredible Idaho adventures!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1138 Species

Posted by skwclar 04:45 Archived in USA

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Wow; - MOM, wonderful hiking. That Mountain Chickadee-- did you hear it vocalizing , its like a slow cadence Illinois Chickadee call ?
Pica - calls are bright yet quaint creatures they are!!
I am imagining this scenic adventure.
Steve Fluett -- thanks for the adventure

by stephen fluett

You are both mountain goats for this trip. How beautiful! And great birds!

by Poo

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