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

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