Monday, March 30, 2015

Climbing Mount McCaleb, and Little Mac Trip Report, Lost River Range, Idaho

Drove to Mackay after work on Friday. The drive is about two hours from Rexburg. I hoped to photograph both McCaleb and Little Mac before nightfall. The light was not the best nor the worst.

Mount McCaleb is the distinctive Mountain towering over the small town of Mackay. It sports a gnarly looking crown which makes it one of the most recognizable summits in the Lost River Range.

Here are a some Friday evening images made of McCaleb and some nearby peaks.

Little Mac, 11,071, Mount McCaleb, 11,682, Little Mac, and USGS Peak, 11,982 
Invisible Mountain, 11,330 center
Mount McCaleb and Desert 
Peak 10,552 south of McCaleb
Peak 10,552 south of McCaleb
Lost River Mountain in Distance With False Summit
Last Light on McCaleb's Crown
I think the most direct route to the base of the Mount McCaleb is neither the upper or lower Cedar Creeks roads; I have been on both. The best way is to turn right on Main Street in Mackay. Proceed to the foothill. Instead of curving right, stop at the green gate. The sign on the gate identifies the road leading up to a communications tower but there is no indication of trespassing. As always, make sure the gate is closed behind you.

I parked on the flats near a small hill to make some photos and bed down for the night. If you have a good 4WD, you could knock off eight-tenths of a mile by actually driving to the tree line. See image above. Although, less than a mile hike up a moderate slope is not too bad of an approach!

The evening was very enjoyable. About an hour after the sun went down, I rolled out a pad and a bag in the back of the Forester and left the hatch open to the fresh air. Fell asleep listening to Ed Viesturs book, The Will to Climb and Coyote calls from Lower Cedar Creek.

Awoke a bit after 6:00. Ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, got dressed, and was on the trail by 7:00. The hike is pretty straight forward. I debated the line I should take once past the tree line and decided I would go up the ridge to Little Mac, hoping the light would be good on the northern mountains for some photos.

The Pioneers and Mackay Reservoir
Mackay Mountains and Ridge to Little Mac
Near the Top of Little Mac
The Northern Mountains
Lost River Mountain on right, Donaldson, Church, and (I believe) White Cap

This one includes the false summit of Lost River Mountain, far right
The wind picked up on the ridge and I welcomed the leeward side of large rock formations near the top of the mountain. See image above. There were sparse pockets of snow on the leeward side of the ridge but nothing that required any special consideration. Once at the summit, I ate the second half of my peanut butter sandwich drank some Gatorade and began the descent to the pass between Little Mac and McCaleb. The descent was a bit dicey without crampons. I know; I should have thrown them in my pack; I am a slow learner. The snow had not warmed up and was often so solid that I could not kick in a step, I did, however, bring my axe! I prudently traded my poles for the ax and slowly descended using the pick firmly planted in the surface.

USGS Peak Over the Saddle Between Little Mac and McCaleb
The Summit of Little Mac and Ridge Leading to the Col
Loose Snow/Point Release Avalanches off the ridge north of Little Mac.
Ridge Detail
Once on the pass, I enjoyed the views to the east. The snow was firm enough to walk on comfortably with very few post holes. I decide not to follow the ridge to the top. Instead, I opted for a direct route up the northern face of scree and snow.  I had to pull out my axe only one more time on a snow field. Not sure if I saved much time. Climbing up this face, the wind picked up I could see spin drift rising from ridges in the southeast. Slowly the clouds darkened and lowered, always an ominous sign. I was a bit disappointed thinking that by the time I reached the summit the views would be gone. I made the ridge and walked up to the top.

View From Upper Ridge of Mount McCaleb
View From Upper Ridge of Mount McCaleb
Once on top, I ate some cashews and peanut M&Ms. It was about 11:30, and I was in no hurry to descend. I laid down out of the wind and rested for about 10 minutes, hoping the weather would change.  Then, I reluctantly started down. About fifty feet off the ridge, it was like a switch was flipped. the clouds disappeared and the wind died! I quickly ran back to the top for some photos.

USGS Peak 
Summit Ridge to McCaleb
Lost River Mountain (center) False Summit and Ridge to Summit
I left the upper ridge a little after noon. I scree skied to the snow fields and then glissaded down. The snow had softened a bit and was perfect...not hard and icy. When the slope was too shallow to glissade, I was able to take big strides in the softening snow, no post holing, just large cushioned steps! Descending was a pleasure. I was back at my car by 1:45. I left for Arco and grabbed an Atomic Burger and chocolate milkshake at Pickles thinking I could afford the calories. Then headed for home.

Other Resources:

Tom Lopez Website:
Mount McCaleb
Little Mac

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Climbing Diamond Peak, Lemhi Range


The Riddler on the Left
Seen From the Eastern Ridge of Diamond Peak
This weekend marked my one year anniversary of going up mountains. What began as a photography project, to photograph Idaho mountains, has now evolved. To photograph mountains, I soon learned that you have to get to know them better. Sometimes just getting close to them is not enough. You have to place yourself on them and all around them. What began as merely a photographic pursuit now continues mainly as a hiking/climbing activity. Images made during these excursion are now of secondary importance. In the beginning I would often hike to a specified location and wait for the light to get good, often spending the night. The vast majority of the time, I would be disappointed. No good images were made and I found little satisfaction in the journey, just frustration. Slowly I let go of the imposed notion that I had to get "good shots" when hiking and climbing. I could then pursue hikes and climbs purely for the adventure, free from the expectation of "good shots." I still carry a camera, but it does not dictate when and where I go. If a good image is made during the outing, I count myself lucky. If the light is terrible, I end up with some memorable snapshots. Being active in the mountains is reward enough.

Last year, during this time in March, I climbed Little Sister a lesser mountain just south of Bell Mountain. This was the third mountain I have ever climbed and the first time I climbed since college days in the early 1980s. Little Sister was my inaugural mountain, during this phase in my life. Since that week last year, I have climbed Diamond Peak, Umpleby Peak, Bell Mountain, Gilmore Peak, Saddle Mountain, Nicholson Peak, Table Mountain, Sphinx Mountain,  Mount Borah, Mount Idaho, Leatherman Peak, Mount Church, Donaldson Peak, Mount Breteinbach, and Lost River Mountain. Yesterday, I went up Diamond for the second time with a group of friends. For me it was a one year commemoration of my climbing progress. I must say I was in much better shape coming off the mountain this time than last year.

Layne Hacking, James Allen, James Helfrich, and myself left for Diamond Peak a bit after 5:00 yesterday morning. Layne drove his truck for us. We were darn lucky to have Layne driving. Without Layne, our one day climb would have proven impossible. He was able to get us to the most common trailhead, the same place I was able to get my Subaru to last year in perfect conditions. We entertained going up the southern ridge for an instant and then opted for the straightforward eastern ridge. Like most Idaho mountain, the beginning is a steep scree slog. Once the ridge is achieved, we followed it upwards and north to the large east ridge leading to the summit. This is where things got fun.

The Curve Leading to the Eastern Ridge and the Summit of Diamond Peak
Layne Beginning the East Ridge
The Imposing Steps Behind
The east ridge is made of series of large steps that must be climbed on the way to the summit. Many of the climbs are near vertical. I am not sure but I think there are at least three major steps to be climbed on the way up and several lesser ones. This ridge involves some route finding and just a bit of confidence with class 3 climbing.
Layne Beginning the Steep Ascent of a Large Step 
Typical Climbing Surface

Looking South
Saddle Mountain in Far Distance
Looking North
Bell Mountain in the Distance
Looking Down

In the Cliffs of the East Ridge

The Last Big Step Has Been Climbed
The Summit is Next
Diamond Peak Summit View 1

Diamond Peak Summit View 2
The Riddler and Southern Mountains

Looking Northeast
The Beaverheads in the Distance
James H. Down Climbing a Steep Section
One More View
James A. Preparing for a Down Climb
We made it off the ridge and into the steep scree. Once off the scree we followed a ridge leading to the top a small hill with forested trees on the northeast side. On top was a great looking cairn with nearby prayer flags fluttering in the breeze. It was a cool way to end the hike before we plowed down through the trees in thigh deep snow.

Other Resources:

Tom Lopez Website:
Diamond Peak


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Monday, March 09, 2015

Climbing Lost River Mountain, Lost River Range, Idaho


Lost River Mountain, Lost River Range, Idaho

Super Gully, Lost River Mountain

The decision to climb the Super Gully in the winter would alleviate the endless steep scree slide of summertime. However, it does come with its own set of problems.

We arrived at the mountain early in the morning. Dusk was on the horizon. Drifted snow across the access road made for about a mile hike into the mountain. While gearing up, I assessed the Super Gully. It looked like we would be able to kick in steps all the way up. Unfortunately, I decided to leave my crampons in the car. James and Allen had crampons loaded in their packs.

The going was easy. It's just a pleasant hike to the entrance of the Super Gully. Allen found a trove of fossils in the scree leading up to the gully. He picked up several good horns. I found a good horn for Jame's daughter. We were enjoying just being on the mountain. Approaching the south side cliffs of the gully, we geared up for the steep climb ahead.

Entering the Super Gully, Lost River Mountain
Once into the gully, it became apparent that my assessment of the snow was dead wrong. The gully was a huge sheet of ice and kicking in was next to impossible. The others donned their crampons and made fast work of the steep icy surface. I did my best to follow in their footsteps. Needless to say, I got plenty of self-arrest practice during the climb.

At one point, the surface was too hard to kick in even a small toe hole; I carved steps up a twenty-foot section with the adze of my axe to continue up the slope. This was great experience. the situation required a bit of skill to navigate the steep icy slopes.

The Ridge to the Summit

Once on the top ridge, we knew there would be a small outcropping of rock that would require dropping off the ridge a bit to go around it. Scott Hurst told us that we should go left when we came to this obstacle. At this point, I saw James, ahead of me, drop off the ridge and proceed on a small ledge around the rock. I followed. the ledge was about 18 inches wide and was comprised of terribly rotten rock. Hand holds on the wall were equally crumbly.  I would test each hand hold, and then each footstep before committing my weight. I proceeded chest against the wall with arms outstretched feeling for hand holds. Once across the twenty-foot section, I scurried back up to the ridge. Walking the ridge required, at times, attention to be focused only on the next step. I was especially aware of the fact that I had no crampons on the icy line.

On the Summit
On the summit we both concluded that we were not looking forward to going back across the narrow ledge. I suggested that although the other side of the rock was steep, it was covered in solid snow and would possibly provide good footing. On the way back, we opted for this route over the ledge. In ten seconds we walked around the rock outcropping without any problem at all! James remarked, "Scott was full of crap!" We both had a good chuckle.

Descending Into the Super Gully

Looking Down the Super Gully
Coming down without crampons was a bit tricky. I glissaded slowly down most of the way. I often stopped to make a photo like the one above. I would carve out a ledge to stand on and snap a few images. One time I was in a hurry and forgot to carve out a place to stand. I plunged the spike of my axe into the snow to secure it. Took off my glove and secured it so it would not slide away and took out my camera. Suddenly, my feet went out from under me and I was headed down the mountain. My first thought was, "How stupid." Next, I was clawing at the icy surface with my bare hand. Quickly, I realized that I was never going to get my fingers into the ice. I rolled over on my back and kicked at the surface with my heels. Within thirty-feet of falling, I caught a heel. I looked back up at my axe and glove and tried to scale the slope to retrieve them. Without crampons or an axe, I had no traction to ascend. Once again luck was with me. Allen was descending above me and was able to bring down my gear. It is amazing how quickly a sliding body can pick up speed. Careening down the mountain without control could be fatal if one slammed into rocks or went off a cliff. Such an experience reminds me that although winter peaks in Idaho are not in the same ballpark as big mountains in Alaska or Asia, they can still be just as unforgiving to careless actions.

The Weather Cleared As We Came Out of the Gully
The weather cleared coming out of the gully. the views were incredible. I feel lucky to go to such places and see such sights. I snapped the above photo of James as we rounded the cliffs at the base of the gully. The image seems to sum up a beautiful day in Idaho mountains.

Other Resources:

Tom Lopez Website:
Lost River Mountain

For more trip reports of other mountains visit