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

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