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.

For similar trip reports and resources visit:
Idaho Climbing
Idaho, A Climbing Guide