Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Climbing Scott and Webber Peak Scramble, Beaverhead Range, Idaho


Scott Peak, Idaho
Near the entrance of the climb

In November I drove up Scott Canyon from the Birch Creek Valley to hike up Scott Peak. I was initially headed right for the peak when I thought that my directions were off. I veered to the left heading up a gnarly looking peak thinking it must be Scott. This was a hike by “seat of my pants.” Once back home I consulted a map; yes, I know this was ^** backwards, but that’s how I usually function. I found out that I had climbed Huh’s Horn. Since Huh's Horn was on my wish list, I didn’t feel too bad. Yet, I had come less than a quarter mile from summiting Scott before I veered to the left. That bugged me, and I knew I would be back up that way to stand on Scott. As long as I was going to be on Scott, I thought I might as well go another mile along the ridge to see the view from Webber. The idea was planted.

Last week, I hiked up Heart Mountain to see what the snow conditions were. The windward sides of all the ridges were mostly blown clear at higher elevations. From the upper slopes of Heart, I could look north and see the beginnings of Webber and Scott. It was a beautiful sight. I knew that if I were to scramble up those peaks, I would have to approach them in a similar aspect and that the chance of avalanche was nil. The plan was coming together.

I felt so great after coming off Heart that I wanted to get back up in the mountains as soon as possible. Yet, I really did not want to go up those peaks alone in the winter. Heart is perfect class 2 mountain with a very simple approach, just a fun workout up to around 10,500 feet. The other peaks have a long drive through deep snow and then miles of breaking trail in knee deep or deeper snow just to get to the base of the mountain. The climb then goes up a scree-ridden valley to an amphitheater of steep cliffs with very steep scree slopes above the cliff bands. I knew this would be a bit tricky in winter snow. I was looking for a partner.

I ran into Kate Hill a few days before Christmas. I knew she wanted to get out and just climb. Kate’s a tough adventurer and so I proposed the idea of climbing both Scott and Webber Peaks together. She was game.

We left Rexburg at around 5:00 A.M. on Saturday the 27th. I was most worried about getting into Scott Canyon and to the trailhead. I had four cards to play to make sure we made it. First, the Jack, I knew I had the best possible tires on the Subaru. Second, the Queen, I had strapped a 6-foot heavy steel pry bar on top of the car in case I had to leverage the car out of a drift. Third, the King, I had 20 pounds of kitty litter in case we need some extra traction. Finally, the Ace, I brought along my Christmas present, a pair of brand new chains. This item trumped all the others.

Heading further towards the mountains, it soon became apparent that we would not get to far without the chains. After a few minutes of fiddling with them, I decided to read the instructions. Probably did not inspire a lot of confidence from Kate. This is when she asked if they were a new Christmas present. Anyway, they went on in a jiffy after reading the directions.

Wow. The little Forester was soon chewing paths in fresh foot-deep snow. Often the front tires would dramatically throw snow past the windows and top of the car. I was actually pretty amazed at how well we plowed a new trail into the canyon. I am sure the image of us cruising through the deep snow with sprays shooting out the wheel wells of the front tires would have made for a great Subaru commercial. We had no trouble at all making it all the way to the trailhead.

Started hiking around 8:30. I think. The initial trail is well marked and the snow was usually about a foot deep. We made great progress. Soon the snow reached close to our knees and breaking trail became more of a challenge. I was actually enjoying this part of the hike. The snow then reached above our knees. The day was young and we were still pumped to plow ahead. Up the canyon we went. We then crossed over a small ridge into what I believe is the Crooked Creek Drainage. We angled northeast into the box canyon guarded by the imposing cliff bands of Huh’s Horn. We stayed a bit high on the wall as we entered the valley of scree and soon dropped to the floor of the canyon venturing upward toward the steep wall at the end. I explained that we would be able to find a way up the cliffs once we arrived at their base. I am not sure Kate was sold on the idea. They did look a bit intimidating. Although I had been through the cliffs before, they were now covered in snow and the steep slopes above them had just enough snow to make them very slippery.

Scott Peak, Idaho
Heading up the east slope, foreground. The lower cliffs of Huh's Horn at the entrance to the canyon in the background.

As we moved further into the canyon, Kate pointed out what looked like a doable ramp-like path on the midsection of the eastern side of the canyon. If we could make it up to this “ramp,” it appeared as if we could just leisurely walk all the way to the main ridge. I really appreciated this suggestion and it looked much more inviting than the three successive bands of cliffs ahead of us. Although it was not as easy as it appeared from below, we made good progress. I kept looking over at the cliff bands thinking we may have to go down that way. I noticed 2 small gullies that had filled with 6 to 8 inches of snow that seemed to cut right threw the cliffs and end at the valley floor. One, in particular, looked like a perfect path to glissade right through the cliffs avoiding them altogether. This was in the back of my mind when Kate mentioned that she really did not want to go back down the way we were going up. The slope was getting steeper and windblown rocks had just enough snow on them to make them very slippery. I said I didn’t either and that we would test out a different route going down.

A former star student in action 
By this time we were nearing 11,000 feet and the weather was deteriorating. The promising morning had turned into a blustery heavily overcast afternoon. Although the snow flurries were light, the blasts of wind filled the air with spindrift. Visibility was slowly going to pot. We pushed on to the ridge and followed it to the right. I could see a big peak in the distance and assumed it must be Scott. With the poor visibility, blowing snow, and angle from which we approached the ridge, I once again walked right by the route leading to summit of Scott Peak. We walked on to the summit of the distant peak. Reaching the cairn, I thought we had reached our goal.

Huh's Horn coming into view

Huh's Horn, Beaverhead Range, Idaho

The views were incredible. Not many people get see what we saw that day. The reality is that to see such places involves some degree of sacrifice. I am in no way comparing our little venture to some grand climb in the Alps, or a climb in the Himalayas. But in my little sphere of reality, our small little adventure was indeed a wonderful experience. It did not require days of strenuous exertion, but it did demand we break miles of trail in almost waist deep snow and scale steep slopes of scree and rock covered with ice and snow. We endured blasts of wind driven snow that stung our faces. We pushed on continuously for nearly 12 hours. No big sacrifices. Yet, it is enough that many people would rather not see what we saw looking down from those Beaverhead peaks that day.

On the way to Webber Peak, Beaverhead Range, Idaho

On the way to Webber Peak, Beaverhead Range, Idaho

On the way to Webber Peak, Beaverhead Range, Idaho

We took a few snapshots on the upper ridges and then made a beeline back to the canyon we must descend into. By this time the flurries had pick up intensity and I think we both just wanted to get down. As I went along the ridge, I remembered parts of the map I had studied and our location just did not make sense. I stared to think that we really had not climbed Scott Peak but had hiked up Webber. The visibility was so poor that I really could not see very far. I just had the impression to stay a bit higher on the ridge as we went toward our planned descent route. Then I saw it. A big peak appeared ghost-like in the distance. I knew it was Scott. The map then made sense. I also knew I wanted to summit it. I could see Kate plodding along in the wind and snow and just didn’t have the heart to tell her we were going up another peak in this weather. I hurried over to tell her that I was pretty sure we had not climbed Scott and pointed to the grey silhouette in the distance. I shouted over the wind that I was going to run up the peak and that she did not have to come. I would be right back.

I had gone a little distance when I turned around to check on Kate. She was following. I waited for her to catch up. She said something like, “This is why we came. Let’s climb it.” We turned and headed for the summit. Soon a massive cairn appeared out of the clouds and blowing snow, we had made it. By this time any photos would have been pretty poor so after a minute at the top we turned our attention to just getting down.

Now, we headed for the planned glissade. We cautiously glided down the mountain to the cliff bands below. When I was sure that the slide did not cliff out, I let loose and sped to the bottom. Kate followed down the small snow gully. Once below 10,000 feet the weather was much improved. We quickly made our way down the rocky canyon to the deeper snow below. We had planned on taking a different route back to the trailhead. I started to break new trail in waist deep snow that packed like concrete; it was no longer fun. We both looked back at the trail we had come in on; it was already broken! The decision was a no brainer. We plodded back the few steps to regain the broken trail and Kate led the rest of the way back to the car. By now it was dark, the sky clear. A crescent moon threw a pale light on the snow. A few stars had appeared. The wind was still. Surface hoar was forming in the cold clear night. Our lights glistened off the faceted crystals creating a sparkling light show. We marched silently on in the beams of our headlamps. How could something be more perfect?

Panorama of the entrance to the scree filled canyon
It was a balmy 8 degrees when we reached the car. We ate some almonds and drank some chocolate protein drinks before maneuvering out of the canyon. We were soon plowing through the deep snow and enjoying ride out. Once we made the county maintained road, we took off the chains and hit the highway for home. Listened to some music and talked about stuff. I think we arrived back in Rexburg sometime after 9:00. 

Other Resources:
Tom Lopez Website:
Scott Peak

For more trip reports of other mountains visit idahoclimbing.weebly.com

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Climbing Heart Mountain, Beaverhead Range, Idaho

Heart Mountain Scramble
Looking south from the lower slopes of Heart Mountain, Beaverhead Range, Idaho
James Helfrich and I had been planning an ambitious climb up the Super Gully on Lost River Mountain for several weeks. The unusually light snow through December gave me hope that a climb would be possible. Unfortunately, 3 days before the venture, moisture descended upon the mountains. The avalanche danger was extreme in the Sawtooth and Boulder ranges. Although the Lost River Range typically gets far less snow than most Idaho ranges, the Super Gully's steep terrain all the way up the 12,000+ peak invite trouble after heavy winds and new snow. Sensibly, we called off our assault. We were both pretty bummed. James opted out of considering any other climbs or hikes. 

I mulled over a possible climb in the Beaverheads. I had been up Webber Creek and Crooked Creek several weeks ago and was surprised at the little amount of snow on the ground. Perhaps a mountain near these access roads may be doable. I explored climbing Heart Mountain from the Crooked Creek Trail Head on Google Earth. It looked straight foreword. Several ridges veered northeast from the trailhead and connected to a series of ridges leading to the summit. Even if I encountered a snow pack, I would remain on top of defined ridges all the way up. 

I went to bed not really intending to venture out the next day. I slept in, getting up around 8:30. Looked outside and saw blue sky! I decided to go. Threw together a pack and was on the road by 9:30. I was climbing by 11:30.  I had no agenda other than to climb as fast and far as I could before weather or darkness turned me back. The mountain is very safe and the well-defined ridges make it a no brainer to find one's way back. At the very least, I planned on getting a good workout climbing to the 10,500-foot summit. 
Climbing the slopes of Heart Mountain, Beaverhead Range, Idaho

The sky was beautiful in the southeast. Ominous clouds churned in the west and northwest over the Beaverheads. At times, the afternoon sun would break through the western sky and illuminate the slopes, surrounding peaks and ridges. These views were a welcome bonus for the day. I encountered very little snow going up the lower slopes, perhaps a half-foot. Going by myself, I could set a pace that was challenging at times and relaxed at others.  

Climbing the slopes of Heart Mountain, Beaverhead Range, Idaho

Once on the upper ridges, the wind became somewhat of a problem. At times I could not continue walking. I was blown over several times. I would fall to my knees with my pack to the wind and wait out the gusts. I made sure I stayed on the windward side of the ridge with plenty of space between me and the leeward slopes. At one point, I considered turning around, but the gusts seemed to come less frequently. I continued. 

Spindrift on an upper ridge

Near the summit at over 10,000 feet there were some mighty gusts. I don't think I have ever been in such a gale. Having lived in Okinawa for five years, I have been in many typhoons. Yet, I have never been blown over. At one point, with the summit in sight, wind again drove me to my knees. The spindrift swirled madly around me. I hunkered down, back towards the driving force and yelled, "Yahoooo, Whoooooo." at the top of my voice. I was having the time of my life! This was now great fun. 

Summit of Heart Mountain on Right

Spindrift on upper slopes
 I snapped a few photos and headed down. The way down was extremely easy. I made it down in a hour and a half and was driving out by 4:45. Although a quick hike, the views were fantastic and it felt good to be moving up and over rock. Heart Mountain may be just the place to get out in winter to stretch your legs and maintain conditioning until spring.

View of a gnarly Webber and Scott Peak,  just north of Heart Mountain

A bit more wide angle just north of Heart Mountain

For more trip reports of other mountains visit idahoclimbing.weebly.com

Climbing Mount Church and Donaldson Peak, Lost River Range

Mount Church to Donaldson Peak
Climbing Mount Church
Donaldson, Church, Bad Rock,White Cap, Leatherman taken from Brietenbach
This would be my first time on the ridge that connects the two Idaho high points and I was not really sure of the route. I was confident though that I could figure it out as I went. While driving out of town, a friend texted me, concerned that I was going up alone. He offered some advice about different sections of the scramble and urged me to be careful. He concluded by telling me that his father-in-law's friend died while climbing Church. I was a bit freaked out, but I concluded that this was his way of telling me to be extra careful.

When I go into high mountains alone, or on any hike into the back county, I am very aware of the risks involved. I am totally responsible for getting myself out if anything should happen. I don't expect help. Perhaps having this mindset, makes me a bit more conservative in my choices. Nothing wrong with that. If I was seriously injured, I am quite sure I could drag my self to some crossroad even if I had to crawl for a day or two.

Some suggest climbing from the Jones Creek Drainage. After studying the map, I thought a more direct route would be to climb from the drainage to the northwest. Take the Lone Cedar Creek road, a well maintained county road, to the ranch at the foot of the mountains. Turn right at the ranch and follow to road to the trailhead.

I drove up to the trail head and bedded down for the night. I was working on some images in the back of the Subaru, when I saw headlights meandering past the ranch and up my way. The Lost River Range is remote and chance of two parties sharing a trailhead is unlikely; Borah is the exception. It is the "Mount Everest" of Idaho. When Ben and I climbed Borah earlier in the summer, there was a steady stream of hikers from the trail head campground to the summit.

The van, pulling a large trailer behind, slowly pulled into the flat area before the trailhead. I had company! In fact a lot of company. It was a van from BYUI Outdoor Activites full of students eager to make it to the summits of Church and Donaldson. I arose from my bag and introduced myself and asked if what time they planned on starting in the morning. Several of them had attempted a summit on Church when the ridge was loaded with snow and had turned back a few hundred yards from the summit. They were familiar with the basic route and I was eager to join them. I figured I could save myself time and energy by tagging along. Also, I always enjoy company.

We began at 5:00 A.M. hiking up the drainage. With headlamps we could follow a pretty good trail. Evidently this was a well trodden route. At this point the route is straightforward. Walk up.

Looking down the valley

Scott with his dog Moab
Eventually, After a few miles you come to a small pond, or puddle in October. Beyond this point, a steep slope of scree skirts a skirts a tall wall. the ridge line to Church and Donaldson is at the top. It is here that I was glad to relinquish route finding to those who have previously been up the wall. At this point, Scott tied up Moab; he would not make the trip the rest of the hike.

The steep scree slope and wall to the ridge between Church and Donaldson

Climbing Mount Church
Leatherman, Bad Rock, Church, and Donalson from the west
The wall can be seen between Church and Donaldson.

Matt and his friend on ridge from Donaldson to Church
Mount Church on the left
Photographing on the ridge above the wall
The ridge to Church

Looking back to Donaldson on right. No Regret Peak on left and Breitenbach between the two

Climbing the ridge to Church
On top of Church
Taking pictures on top of Church
Eric Newell looking rugged in his new "blue" Patagonia
Eric and Scott on top of Church
The Ridge to Donaldson
Mount Church from Donaldson

Other Resources:

Tom Lopez Website:

For more trip reports of other mountains visit idahoclimbing.weebly.com

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Climbing Sphinx Mountain, East of the Madison Valley in Southwest Montana.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

I was invited to join a group of guys heading for Montana to hike up Sphinx Mountain. I jumped at the chance to explore new ground and have some company during a hike. We met at Scott's home at 4:00 A.M. and piled into his Subaru.  Scott Hurst, James Helfrich, Matt Wood, Gavin Simpson, and myself made up the party.

We began the hike at twilight. It was clear and cold. The hike to the Sphinx and the nearby Helmet wound through a forested valley and up gentle slopes. Hunters had broke trail for much of the initial hike into the backcountry.

Photo by Matt Wood
Hiking to Sphinx Mountain, Montana
Soon the Helmet came into sight. It is a spectacular rock formation just west of Sphinx Mountain. James commented that the Helmet was indeed the most photographic peak during the hike. Here are four views of the Helmet.

The Helmet, Montana

The Helmet, Montana

The Helmet, Montana

The Helmet, Montana
The hike took us up the northwestern gully and then east to the summit. The temperature never rose above 0. With the windchill, it was at least -10 to -20. In fact, when we finished the hike and drove out to the highway the temperature was -18 without a windchill factor.

The Gully, Sphinx Mountain, Montana
The climbing was easy class 3. From the summit the views were spectacular and rewarding. On the top my altimeter read 11, 054 feet...not a tall peak, but nonetheless a great place to spend a winter day with good company.

Hiking Out of the Gully

Looking North
Upper Ridge, Sphinx Mountain, Montana. 

Nearing the Summit, Sphinx Mountain, Montana
On the Summit

Matt Wood on the Summit
Upper Ridge of Sphinx Mountain, Montana

Upper Ridge of Sphinx Mountain, Montana

Upper Ridge of Sphinx Mountain, Montana
For more trip reports of other mountains visit idahoclimbing.weebly.com

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Climbing Huhs Horn, Beaverhead Range, Idaho

Huhs Horn (left), Beaverhead Range, Idaho

I set off hiking up Scott Canyon last Saturday with the goal of climbing Scott Peak, the highest point in the Beaverhead Mountains along the Idaho Montana border.  I knew the forecast called for a fifty percent chance of rain and snow but was willing to roll the dice for a chance to photograph in anything but bright sun.

As I came out of the canyon, an imposing peak surrounded by bands of gnarly cliffs dominated the view. I jumped to the conclusion that this must by Scott Peak and based my choices on this assumption. I had read that the approach to the peak was to be gained by climbing a steep wall in an amphitheater of cliffs to the south. I hiked past the rocky peak to find this approach. Staying a bit high on the north side I came across a great limestone arch as I rounded the entrance to the rocky canyon. looking down, The entire valley was a sea of scree. From my high vantage, I saw what looked like rolling waves of scree running parallel to the sides of the of the entrance. These waves flowed into and up the valley, intertwining with each other. I had read a geologist's study of ice glaciers in the Lemhis and immediately made the association. I am fairly sure I was viewing an impressive display of ice glaciers.

At this point, the hiking was easy going. The scree was blocky and mostly stable. the altitude gain was easy. The valley ended in a amphitheater surround on the three sides with bands of cliffs with steep slopes of scree above. The very end of box was banded by three distinct levels of cliffs. I had read that by traveling northeast toward these bands a break in the walls would yield an easy class 3 climb to the uppermost palisade. Walking along the base of the lower cliff, this spot was fairly easy to find. It is the only non-technical place to scale the walls. However, I did place a cairn to help others identify this entrance.

Beginning the Climb Through the Cliffs

Initially, I had planned on climbing Webber Peak, Scott Peak, and Huhs Horn that day. The three peaks lay on the same ridge with Scott Peak in the middle and Huhs Horn to the north of Scott. If I had to give up a peak, it was going to be Webber, the southwest peak. 

After coming out of the cliffs, I thought the rugged peak to the north was Scott and decided to angle my traverse through the steep scree toward the peak to the south. I would bag Webber and then traverse the ridge north to Scott, and then on to Huhs Horn. About thirty minutes into this section, the clouds began to churn and the wind picked up. Since Webber was my lowest priory, I decided to abandoned this summit as the weather became more of an issue. I turned from south to north and headed to the ridge line leading to the summit of what I thought was Scott Peak.

Once on the ridge, gale force winds whipped in from the west. I walked the ridge bracing myself with a trekking pole on the leeward side. I put on another layer to stay comfortable and leisurely walked the ridge to the cairn marking the summit of what I assumed was Scott Peak. I made a few images along the way.

Italian Peak (center left), Beaverhead Range, Idaho

Beaverhead Range, Idaho

Beaverhead Range, Idaho

The Next peak to the north had to be Huhs Horn. I dropped off the peak and climbed down to the ridge leading to the next peak. The climbing was moderate class 3. I kept looking at the peak in front of me and wondering how I would even approach a summit attempt. From my vantage point, it looked like a fortress guarded by a series of cliff bands. As the ridge became more technical, I cursed the guy who wrote the ridge between Scott and Huhs Horn was an easy class 2. Finally, I came to a fifteen foot vertical down climb that demanded a landing onto a two foot section of ridge line with nothing by a few thousand feet of air on both sides. Beyond that, the ridge looked like it only got worse. Given the 50-60 mile wind gusts, the fact that I was alone, and the impending winter storm, I knew when to concede to the mountain. I wanted to photograph the peak in front of me before I turned around and headed back. Got out my tripod and camera. Set everything up and was just seconds away from pushing the shutter when the blizzard hit. 

The Blizzard Begins, Italian Peak Slowly Disappears in the Distance

I hurriedly clicked the shutter as the mountain in front of me began to disappear in the storm. By the time I began climbing back up to the summit and ridge line, I was in a white out. I could only see about forty feet in any direction. When I began to descend, I knew I must find the one spot in about a mile of cliff face that was climbable. It would be like finding a needle in a haystack. My first descent ended at the top of massive cliffs. I then began traversing across the face, more cliffs. By this time, I was caked with snow. I had brought enough layers to spend the night if required but was not very happy with the possibility. I knew that I had to have a visual to identify my position relative to the location through which I came up. I made up my mind that the only thing I could do was keep waking and searching. Within 10-15 minutes the valley below cleared. The clouds rolled away and I could see the entire face that I needed to descend. I angled towards the central portion of cliffs. When I saw a cairn ahead of me, I almost kissed it.

After coming off the cliffs, the hike was once again leisurely, I looked for fossils and enjoyed the solitude and views back to Scott Canyon.

Huhs Horn, Beaverhead Range, Idaho

Once at home, I traced the route I had taken and concluded that I had climbed the wrong peak. I figured out that the initial peak I was heading for was not Webber Peak at all. It was Scott Peak! and the gnarly peak I climbed was Huhs Horn! The ridge between the two was indeed an easy class 2. The peak I tried to reach before the storm was Italian Peak and the ridge to that peak is formidable. And I was right about that last mountain (Italian Peak) being a challenge. Lopez writes that the summit climb is a class 4 with rotten rock. My first time in the Beaverheads was a learning experience. At least I have some bearings now for future climbs.

Other Resources:

Tom Lopez Website:
Huh's Horn

For more trip reports of other mountains visit idahoclimbing.weebly.com