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

No comments: