Thursday, December 24, 2015

Trip Report: Mount Hoopes, 10,728, Lemhi Range, Idaho

Jeremy Smith making the summit of Mount Hoopes
  • December 21-22, 2015
  • Team: Jeremy Smith
  • Summit: 
    • Mount Hoopes, 10,728, Lemhi Range
  • Route: Camp Creek
  • YDS: Class 2
  • Total Elevation Gain 5,013'
  • Total Miles: 13.5
Since my Great Western attempt last month, this section of the Lemhis keeps surfacing in my mind. the Camp Creek approach is long but the southern fork leads into a box canyon below a saddle between Great Western Peak and Mount Hoopes. In November, I made the mistake of making the western ridge leading to Great Western too soon. That gentle ridge soon gave way to a labyrinth of cliffs. I had no choice but to abandon the ridge and retreat back and down into Camp Creek. This trip, back up Camp Creek and up the southwest face of Mount Hoopes, gave me a good look at the ridge I attempted to navigate through. Another part of the Lemhi puzzle gained by experience.

West ridge of Great Western Peak
I planned this winter approach back up Camp Creek and to the Lemhi crest several weeks ago. Yet, though I don't mind going by myself, I have limits as to what I will attempt solo. This winter trek was out of those limits. I tried selling the idea to anyone I though might be able and willing. James Helfrich was interested but not firm. Then out of the blue, Jeremy Smith contacted me asking if I had any winter climbing plans. did I have plans! I met Jeremy on the top of Hyndman Peak earlier in the year and we went down together. We exchanged contact information and said we would have to climb together sometime. I was thrilled by his contact and even more thrilled that he was actually excited about the possibility of such an adventure. James later committed to going up with us the first day. He wanted to join us for the two days, but had family commitments on the 22.

The morning of the 21st was overcast, blustery, and spitting snow. We parked up North Creek by Dave's large garage. Yes, Dave actually lives in the middle of nowhere. One of the reasons I picked this approach was I knew the county maintains the six miles of road from the highway to Dave's house. This provides a convenient way to get to the mountains all winter.

From North Creek, we hiked south to Camp Creek. Following the drainage east, we eventually left the sagebrush and were soon in conifers. Donning snowshoes we continued up the canyon.

James Helfrich and Jeremy Smith at Camp Creek
About the point where James turned back for the day
James was in his element. He happily plodded through the calf deep snow breaking trail the entire way! Jeremy and I were super grateful. We carried heavy packs, planning on spending the night. My packed topped out about 42 pounds. Jeremy's had to be 55 plus pounds. despite his heavy load, he muscled his way up the drainage with ease. I lumbered after rocket man and atlas. James eventually said goodbye and bid us a safe trip before heading down.

Soon the pitch became more steep and the snow much deeper. We labored in knee deep sugary powder. Our plan of making the crest that evening began to fade. Finally, we reached the head wall. If I remember right, we had less than two hours of light and about 1,300 feet of elevation to the crest. To make matters worse, we could not see very far due to the low clouds and light snow. We just did not know exactly where to begin. Jeremy wisely suggested we make camp and wait for morning to make the ascent. At a little over 9,100 feet we dug a platform for the tent and built a short wall around the windward side of the shelter.

We watched the sun set in the west and crawled into our bags around 5:00 P.M. Our bags felt so good, we didn't even crawl out to make dinner. We dozed off and on till morning. Jeremy has done a lot of winter camping and came prepared for the night. He took his pee bottle to bed with him. At about 10:30 I emerged from the tent to relieve myself. In driving wind blown snow in about 10 degrees, I thought I've got to get one of those bottles!


Fading light in the west

Last light on the Lost River Range
We awoke to patchy blue sky. A good omen. Boiled some water and enjoyed oatmeal, two cups of hot chocolate, and a chocolate pudding cup. The half frozen consistency of the pudding was pretty good. We broke camp and prepared for the climb. Our plan was now to summit Mount Hoopes, continue on to Tyler Peak, and check out the ridge to Daisy Black.

We went up the southwest face of the box canyon. I kept looking back at Great Western. Rick Bauhger told me that he had skied from the summit of Great Western into Camp Creek. I tried to pick out his possible descent line. Snapped a few pics for Rick to revisit his run.

Great Western Peak from the north

Great Western Peak from the north
The ascent to the crest just seemed to take much longer than I expected. We picked lines of exposed rock to avoid deep sugar snow. I think this strategy paid off. Of course breaking trail with heavy packs surely slowed us down. We traded off leading to give one another a rest. It was amazing the extra effort required to break the trail. When following, it seemed like a walk in the park. I think Jeremy bore the brunt of breaking. I really appreciated his stamina.

Our first line to the crest through the exposed rocks in the center
Looking down into Camp Creek
Jeremy making the first ridge to the crest

Spin drift
Saddle Mountain on right
By the time we reached the crest, The sky was clear in the north and the sun shone brightly. We couldn't have asked for better weather. It was a bit blustery at times making for some dramatic spin drift blowing off the mountains to the east. We were greeted by stunning views of the mountains to the north.

Looking southeast
Looking north
Mount Hoopes

The reason for the sacrifice

Jeremy on the summit of Mount Hoopes
Before the summit
The ridge to Tyler Peak
Ridge to Daisy Black from Tyler
Detail of the above ridge
Gloved Peak (center) and ridge to Shrill
The gnarly looking Daisy Black
Once on the summit of Hoopes, I looked longingly at the ridge to Tyler. Now that would be prize to bag Tyler. However, the day had passed so quickly and we found ourselves with only a few hours of daylight on the winter solstice. The views from Hoopes were spectacular and satisfying and we felt content to have achieved this objective. We also knew we would be descending into an unknown canyon to find our way back in the dark. We unanimously decided to call it good and head down. We did, however, study the line from Hoopes to Daisy Black and made informal plans to summit those peaks in the spring. Finding a line between the peaks is on our to do list.

We knew we would have a near full moon and clear skies to help us navigate, but venturing into unknown space at night always raises the level of concern. My fear was that we would end up in a box canyon and have to climb a steep ridge late at night to make another drainage. I am pretty sure Jeremy was thinking the same. despite our worries, the hike through what I now call the middle fork of Camp Creek was idyllic. The solitude, moonlight, and untouched deep snow combined to create a powerful aesthetic experience.

The hike back required some serious bush whacking. The brush and trees were so dense we had to literally squeeze our way through at times. After hours of sustained effort, I spotted a familiar landmark. we had threaded a needle and found ourselves joining our initial route up Camp Creek. Much relieved, we picked up the pace and headed for Dave's house and the car.

Really, the crux of the trip had to be contending with unbroken snow. The depth varied from about five to thirty inches. Since I lost both baskets on my poles along the way, I had a good idea how deep the snow was. Several times I buried a pole completely with no sign of the bottom. The snow pack was mostly uniform sugar with a slight crust on top. Snowshoes broke the crust and sunk in the sugary snow. We tried a few techniques to increase our efficiency and avoid the effort of sinking and then hefting a shoe covered in snow out of a hole. We tried shuffling along thinking that half of the shoe would not leave the already compacted snow behind. If the crust had been just a bit thicker, this might have worked. The most effective technique was stepping with weight on the heel. The shoe would sink at an angle. Less snow would fall in and the final resting angle was easier to slide up and out of the hole. My AT friends think I am crazy to snowshoe. I tend to agree. Next week I am learning to ski!

GPS track of Mount Hoopes Trip
Dropped Jeremy off at Sage Junction and arrived back in Rexburg around 11:45. Craving some calories, I found out that the only place to get something to eat at midnight in Rexburg was McDonalds. A Big Mac and a chocolate shake hit the spot. Much to my disappointment though was the fact that McDonalds had changed the secret sauce on the Big Mac to something more pickle like. Drove home and dragged myself into bed still wearing my base layers.

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Trip Report: Great Western Peak 10,388, Lemhi Range, Idaho

Followed this goat trail until cliffs forced me off this ridge to Great Western Peak, 10,388
  • November 14, 2015
  • Team: Solo
  • Summit Attempted: 
    • Great Western Peak ,10,388, Lemhi Range
  • Route: West Ridge
  • YDS: Class 2 up to 9,950'
  • Total Elevation Gain 3,953'
  • Total Miles: 10.5

Yesterday, went up Camp Creek trying to reach the  Lemhi crest. Camp Creek is one rough approach. Eight inches of powder in the canon over large rocks, log jams, and rock slides made the going slow and tedious. Got lost in the forest and decided to make the ridge to 10,358. That was a mistake. Crampons made the ascent manageable, but the increasing number of cliffs made route finding difficult. Dropping down the south slopes to bypass cliffs was exhausting. One minute I was in 20 inches of powder, the next, I was either catching a spike on a shallow rock or sliding down a lightly covered exposed slab. Finally, I was completely cut off by cliffs at my elevation. I turned around and tried to find a route to the canyon floor below. I cliffed out several times and had to regain elevation each time to continue back tracking. Should have stayed in the canyon on the approach as per my initial plan.  Finally made it down and decided the mountain would still be there in the spring. I made no summit but did get good looks at the incredible cliffy area and some reference photos for another attempt. Also, got a good workout!

Lemhi Range
Ridge between Daisy Black Peak, 10,401 and Tyler Peak

Daisy Black Peak 10,401

The above photo is of the northern slope of Camp Creek. The many towers dotting the slope are quite impressive.

Looking back at the ridge I ascended, it is easy to see the gnarly cliff strewn upper section of Great Western Peak. Hindsight is 20/20.

GPS Trac
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Sunday, November 01, 2015

Trip Report: Big Boy Peak 11,402, Lemhi Range, Idaho

  • October 31, 2015
  • Team: James A. and James H.
  • Summit: 
    • Big Boy Peak, 11,402'
  • Route: East Ridge
  • YDS: Class 3
  • Total Elevation Gain 5,833'
  • Total Miles: 12.58

Big Boy Peak, Lemhi Range
James and I left Rexburg early in the morning heading to Sage Junction. James A. would meet us at the junction. Next, we headed to the Pass Creek turn-off just south of Lone Pine on Highway 28. The road is marked by a small "Pass Creek" sign. If you miss it, just turn around at Lone Pine and retrace the highway. The Pass Creek Road is in very good shape and ends at a small campground. The Pass Creek Trail begins here and heads south giving access to the many canyons leading to the Lemhi Crest. The GPS tract below indicates in red the Pass Creek Road from the highway to the campground. The green and yellow mark the route we made.

Initially, we were going to climb Shoshone John and then traverse the ridge to Big Boy. That choice put us on the south side of the canyon between the two mountains. Due to our late start time and the fact that both James's had to be back in Rexburg and Idaho Falls to trick-or-treat with their kids at 6:30, we opted to drop down to the north and find a line up Big Boy.

Heading up the south side of the canyon
Considering our line up Big Boy
Initially, we thought that we would climb the southeast face shown in the above photo. We would ascend up the snow filled gully and through the notch in the cliff band and then traverse east through the snow to the ridge above. After dropping down to the valley floor, we thought better. There was just enough snow to make the rocks extremely slippery. We decided that we would avoid a precarious traverse across a steep slippery slope ending in cliffs. Instead, James A. proposed that we head due north to make the main east ridge. Once on the ridge we could follow it to the summit. This east ridge was Diamondesque and promised some fun climbing.

Upper east ridge of Big Boy
We climbed to the right of the rocks on the extreme right of this photo
James A. slogging above the tree line to make the east ridge
Once on the ridge, we had a wonderful view of the cloud covered Birch Creek Valley
From this ridge we had a great view of Shoshone John.

Shoshone John
The fun part of the climb was just beginning. The ridge was a steady ascent of class 3 climbing. There were plenty of ledges to traverse to find routes with plenty of good foot and hand holds.  We were super glad to have taken this route. It provided the needed variety to make the climb interesting and just a bit challenging.

James A. traversing a ledge to find the next line
Another ledge and a short climb
Great fun
Looking down from my ledge. My boot is bottom center
On the east ridge of Big Boy. Diamond Peak in background

The Riddler from east ridge
The Riddler from the east ridge
The final push to the summit
On the summit of Big Boy Peak
Looking south. Black and White Peak (near center) and Little Diamond Peak (upper Left) 
The ridge to Shoshone John
Shoshone John (left mid-ground), Nicholson Peak (right), Saddle Mountain (far left on horizon)
During an August climb of The Riddler, I had studied the north approaches to Big Boy and I knew we could drop off the summit into the canyon to the north. However, the slope was snowy and icy. After a slow careful descent and a couple of butt slides we came to a gully of snow that was deep enough to dig a good heel into. Amazing how much such a find becomes so welcomed. It was then an easy stair step to the bottom.

The day had gone quite well. The weather help up and the views were stunning. We remarked more than once how incredible it was to be in such a space.

Dropping off the northeast slope of Big Boy
Diamond Peak in the clouds
Diamond Peak in the clouds
Once we reached the valley, we put it in high gear to make it home in time for trick-or-treating.

I am adopting a convention used by Splattski on his trip reports. I like how he provides some relevant facts at the beginning of each report. I followed his pattern in this report and think it will make my reports more organized and easier to peruse. If imitation is a sincere sign of flattery, I hope John won't mind this aping of his style and will take it as huge compliment.

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