Monday, April 27, 2015

Saddle Mountain, Lemhi Range, Idaho

Images made of the the peak of Saddle Mountain. Taken from the Little Lost River Valley a little north of Howe. All images are taken from the same spot using different focal lengths to draw attention to different aspects of the scene.

Saddle Mountain Peak at 200mm

Saddle Mountain Peak at 24mm

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Climbing White Cap Peak Trip Report, April 24, 2015

White Cap Peak from the West Fork of the Pahsimeroi
Taken in June

This photo taken in July of the same year shows both the ascent and descent routes of the climb

Last week someone ask me if I ever get lost. I replied, "Not really, there are only two directions, up and down when climbing." Although this is an oversimplification, Its simplicity is often not far from the mark. When climbing you are always looking for a line that will lead you to the top and then for a line that will get you back down. Sometimes they are the same route and sometimes not.

Scott Gifford and I were on the road to the Lost River Range at 4:40 A.M. Saturday morning. The forecast called for snow but only light wind. We felt good about the day ahead. As we approached Mackay, the morning light illuminated the hills and mountains along the way. We stopped a few times and made some images. It was super nice to be with Scott at this time. Scott is a photographer and understands that to make good images requires time, thought, and patience. It was good not to feel like I was a nuisance stopping just to "take" some pictures.

Little Mac, Mount McCaleb, and USGS Peak

Mountains to the southwest of Mackay

Mountains to the southwest of Mackay
Lost River Range south of Mackay
I believe Invisible Mountain is on the left in the clouds
We drove a bit further north and made a few more images. The morning was beautiful. The new snow on the taller peaks and wonderful light made it easy to appreciate where we live. I know there are more exotic and majestic vistas, but we just felt lucky to have these mountains within a few hours drive from home.

Lost River Mountain with the false summit and ridge leading to the summit

Breitenbach in distance and Lost river on right
Herd of Elk, Sawmill Gulch

We approached the White Cap climb via Sawmill Gulch. The turn off to the right, while driving north out of Mackay, is well marked. The road condition starts off well and gets worse the farther you go.  My Forester kept climbing well into the canyon. Scott concluded the road must have been an old mining road. After the climb, while returning to the car, we came across a massive slide of tailings and could see the slope that was washed away in the operation. This discovery confirmed his suspicion.

Mining tailings coming from the above slope
At this time the snow at this lower elevation had melted in the early afternoon
The road eventually became too steep and rocky for the Subaru. We backed down a bit to a more level place to park and got ready to hike. The new powdery snow was an inch or two deep where we began walking up the road and made it look like a fresh winter morning. Hard to imagine it could have been more beautiful.

Early view of the valley
From where we began we did not have a vantage of White Cap. We just knew we need to go up. The road kept ascending so we just followed it and looked for a good line to veer off on. the beautiful weather in the morning was changing. Dark clouds were rolling in and distant views were slowly obscured with fog.

Bad Rock Peak and Mount Church before they disappeared in the fog
We eventually chose a peak to climb knowing that once on the upper ridge we would have a good view of where we were going. As beautiful as the snow was, the few inches made the rocks extremely slick. looking for a way up, we chose from two lines of snow gullies to avoid the steep slope of slippery rocks. One route went to the ridge to the south of the summit block (green route below) while the other wound around the summit and led to the north west ridge (magenta route below). The gully of snow in the later route cannot be seen from this view snapped later as we were hiking back to the car. We chose the magenta route. In hind sight the green route would have been the best choice for the most direct route leading to White Cap. Yet, the magenta route provided us with a bit more technical experience. This was the only class three section of the climb. It is interesting to note that on my topo map the elevation of this peak is listed at 9,957 feet. As we rounded the block north of the summit, both Scott's and my GPS read that we were over 11,000 and we did not even go to the top of the mountain. Could this be a lost 11ner?

Route as we left the canyon in magenta
Unfortunately, when we made the ridge, we were in the clouds. We couldn't see the peak. We knew White Cap was ahead, most likely to the right, and that Peak 11,967 was connected by a ridge to the left. We had discussed a possible traverse to 11,967 but at this point we just wanted to see where we were going. Fortunately, we had windows of visibility. These moments helped us get our bearings and  gave me the chance to make the only images on the way to the top.

Our first view of something ahead
Ridge between White Cap Peak and Peak 11,967
 When the following view opened, we began to reconsider our traverse to 11,967. The ridge looked extremely gnarly. Perhaps the shifting clouds made it look more ominous than it is. In any case we focused on getting the top of White Cap.

Ridge between White Cap and Peak 11,967
Finally, we got a good look and where we were going and set a course up a gentle slop covered with snow. Our crampons bit nicely and it was a leisurely walk to the top. The final big slope is made up of Quartzite, hence the name White Cap Peak. This prompted a geology lesson from Scott, a geology major. A nice bonus.

We get our first look at White Cap Peak

Even as we were ascending the final slopes of the peak, I still wanted to at least start on the ridge to 11,967. I really just wanted to see how far we could comfortably push ourselves. By this time though, visibility had gone to pot, the wind had kicked up, and it began to snow. One of the reasons to climb White Cap is for the tremendous views of Lost River Mountains and of the West Fork of the Pahsimeroi with Pass lake below. The photos would have been incredible. On this Saturday afternoon, the photo gods just didn't smile down on us. We were content to have reached the summit and with the wind, snow, and cold, I did not even want to start walking north to the "gnarly" ridge.

Scott on the summit
We descended to around 11,000 to get out of the weather and ate a large snack. While going down, we began scouting a line to descend. At first we thought that we could drop off the east/west ridge to the south. When we reached this point, it was corniced and the other side was at about a fifty degree slope. We continued along the ridge looking for a place to drop off. Along this line, there is another peak between White Cap and Peak 9,957. We decided to follow the line to the top, Peak 11,045. Coming off the west ridge, we got a good view of a possible descent route. My first thought was that it looked like a perfect glissade gully that dropped to the canyon below. We slid down the slope and cut hours off our return trip.

Scott glissading down the south side of the east/west ridge.
Next we found ourselves bushwhacking through timber to find the road leading to the car. I have to note that although we were climbing over trees and ducking under branches, the air was calm, the forest was quite, the sound of small creeks came and went, and the occasional snowflake floated down. This was one of the most pleasant bushwhacks ever. Despite not having the views from the top, this was a near perfect outing.

Bushwhacking back to the car

Turnoff from Highway 93 onto Sawmill Gulch Rd.
Ascent route

Descent route
White Cap Peak is such a beautiful mountain that the photos of this trip just don't do it justice. I am including some photos from a June hike Ben and I did to Pass Lake at the base of White Cap from the Pahsimeroi side. The photos show off Leatherman, White Cap, and Pass Lake.

White Cap Peak
Leatherman Peak on left
Ben at Pass Lake
White Cap Peak on right
White Cap Peak
Pass Lake
White Cap Peak
Pass Lake
Leatherman and Pass Lake

Leatherman, White Cap, and Pass Lake

White Cap Peak and Pass Lake

White Cap Peak and Pass Lake
Below White Cap Peak
White Cap Peak

White Cap Peak and Pass Lake

White Cap Peak
White Cap Peak
Other Resources:

Tom Lopez Website: White Cap Peak

For more trip reports of other mountains visit

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Climbing Little Diamond Peak. The Making of a Lemhi Traverse, April 17, 2015

Little Diamond Peak on Left and Peak 10,965 on right

Last year after climbing Nicholson Peak in the Lemhi Range, Ben and I stood on the Saddle to the south of the peak overlooking the breathtaking Bunting Canyon. Peak 10,965 (Joker) rose on the south with a connecting ridge to Little Diamond Peak 11,272. These two mountains guard the end of the box canyon. Beyond Little Diamond, the ridge seemed to seamlessly connect to the next tall peak to the north, Black and White Peak 10,970. From there the line continued to Shoshone John Peak 11,212, Big Boy Peak 11,402, The Riddler 11,598 and finally to the pride of the Lemhi's... Daimond Peak 12,197. Standing there last year, an idea of an epic Lemhi traverse was hatched.

To reinforce this idea even more is the fact that I look out of my classroom window every day at this line of mountains in the west.

View from my classroom
I mulled over different approaches. Last year, Ben and I approached Nicholson Peak from the Little Lost River Valley via Fowler Springs. I knew this was very doable and, this time, I would forgo climbing Nicholson to venture on to Peak 10,964 (Joker). I read somewhere that Rick Baugher had dropped the moniker Joker on the mountain when it played havoc with his skiing expectations. Not sure if this is really the case, but in my mind I envisioned a grand traverse from The Joker to The Riddler. This trek had a certain Batman symmetry to it.

Another approach was prompted by the desire to explore new ground. I could hike to the end of Bunting Canyon and then ascend somewhere to reach the summit of Little Diamond Peak and then traverse north along the ridge. I would lose my nod to Batman but would gain a big advantage. I would not have to retrace the ridge to get back to my starting point. The northward traverse would lead me back to the mouth of Bunting Canyon. I was pretty sure I could drop off the ridge somewhere near the end and be close to the point of hiking out of the canyon. That really clenched the plan.

On Friday, April 17th, I took the afternoon off and headed to the mountains. My goal was to bivy that night somewhere along the upper ridge. I think I began hiking around 2:30 P.M. The hike up Badger Creek and into Bunting Canyon was a pleasure. The deeper I went into the canyon, the more I veered east. My goal was to end up near or on Little Diamond Peak at the end of the day. As I approached the peak, I began a long scree slog up and over to Little Diamond. The slope and rocks worked together to make it an exhausting trek.

Traversing steep scree to get to Little Diamond Peak
The slope on the left leads to Black and White Peak
The saddle between Joker and Little Diamond Peak
Detail of rocks below Joker
Made it to the base of Little Diamond and made some photos in the evening light before ascending the mountain just east of the ridge, the line of snow leading to the top was ice. This time I had my crampons! However, the last twenty feet were very steep and the snow, for some reason, turned to powder. I would try to get a vertical hold only to end up swimming in deep sugar. eventually, I found a rock that I could leverage off of to make it to the upper ridge.

Ridge leading to the summit of Little Diamond Peak

Ridge detail

Ridge detail
During the trek, I encountered a wide variety of snow conditions. Much of the time it was just soft enough to get a good foot hold. At other times it was so hard that I could barely kick in with crampons.

I made it to the top of Little Diamond Peak at nightfall and looked for a place to bivy. Ended up about fifty feet from the summit on the ridge. I cut out a trough in the snow to place my bag. the last thing I wanted was to slide off the ridge while sleeping. As I cut through the snow, I pushed all the excavated snow towards the downhill slope trying to level out a sleeping platform.

Bivy at 11,200 feet
Nicholson Peak in background
Last photo of the evening
Venus above Nicholson Peak
Despite the 20 degree temperature and brisk wind, I was comfortably toasty. Went to sleep listening to my playlist. Awoke around 2:30 A.M. to a chill. My sleeping pad had gone flat! Without the layer of insulating air, I was in contact with the snow, and a compressed down bag offers very little insulation. Got up and put on all the layers I had packed. This cut the chill but was by no means comfortable. Couldn't get back to sleep so I listened to more music to help pass the time till morning. At daylight, I found a large rip in the pad. I decided right there that I would not be spending a second night on the ridge.

I was anxious to get going and warm, so I packed up and headed down the mountain. I decided I would eat a little to the east of the base of the mountain where the sun was warming the slope. Found a level spot against the radiant heat of some large rocks and ate an energy bar, a snickers, and half a can of salt and vinegar Pringles. I brewed some hot tea and melted snow to fill my water bottles.

Morning breakfast
The false summit of Black and White Peak

It was now up the ridge to Black and White Peak. Along the way, I garnered several lessons. I am new to climbing and learning as I go. The idea that those ridge lines that appear so straight and smooth at a distance are really jagged, convoluted puzzles was hammered into my head. The first ridge "encounter" I call "Close Shave." I have heard of knife edge ridges and have often remarked that I traveled across such ridges. The Close Shave gave me a new perspective. This ridge rose up before me and leaned out over the eastern steep slope of snow leading down to the tops of cliffs below. On my left, the smooth rock wall fell away down the mountain. The only way was to go over it.

Looking back at the Close Shave
I was satisfyingly relived to climb down the north side of this section and continue up towards Black and White Peak. This kind of path is intense. Walking ridges requires concentration with each step. While walking this ridge, nothing existed except the next step! Almost a meditative state.

Looking back down at Close Shave from an east/west section of ridge
A wider view of the above
Upper ridge of Black and White Peak
This east/west ridge turns north and climbs to the summit
The ridge across the canyon
Joker is in center
Once on top of Black and White Peak, I found it to be pretty tame. There is a large flat spot that would make a great place to bivy. Next, I turned towards Shoshone John. The initial path was laden with snow. I put on my crampons and traded poles for the axe before walking the line.

Ridgeline to Shoshone John
About this time, I started to look for a place to drop off the ridge and return to the canyon floor in the west. I knew another bivy was out. I knew that I did not want to down climb in the dark. I also knew from studying the ridge as I first entered the canyon, the day before, that the further north I went, a successful down climb would be all but impossible; the slopes became steeper and riddled with cliffs.

Once across the snow section, I surveyed the task ahead. The line to Shoshone John looked gnarly. Next, the line to Big Boy and The Riddler looked doable. However, The Riddler looked like a massive fortress of cliffs from this angle; it appeared totally outside of my skill set. I had a decision to make. The deciding factor was finding the perfect place to drop off to the west. I decided I would climb both Shoshone John and Big Boy another day, most likely from the Birch Creek Valley. I would be fresh and be able to walk over to The Riddler to scope it out. It is always a bit disappointing to fall short of a goal, but to err on the side of conservative judgment is never a bad idea in the mountains. Anyway, two big peaks and bivy at 11,200 feet is not too shabby.

The daunting line to Shoshone John and then to Big Boy
The Riddler is on the left while Diamond Peak is in the distance

Final image of the trek taken from Little Diamond Peak in the morning sun
For those interested in a GPS track of the trip, I provide the next two images. The first is the track in and the second is the track of the second day.

Starts at Badger Creek and ends on top of Little Diamond Peak
Starts at Little Diamond Peak and ends at Badger Creek 
To get there, drive north from Howe. I am not sure how many miles, but you will see the impressive mountains on your right and the entrance to Badger Creek Canyon in the distance. Turn off on Badger Creek Rd. This road is not marked, so look for the street signs and mailbox pictured here. Once you turn off to the right, hang another sharp right and drive about 6 miles to the trailhead.

Turn off to Badger Creek

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