Monday, March 21, 2016

Trip Report: Tyler Peak, 10,740 ft, Lemhi Range, Idaho

Tyler Peak, Lemhi Range, Idaho
  • March 19, 2016
  • Team: Myself
  • Summit: 
    • Tyler Peak
  • Route: North Creek
  • YDS: Class 3
  • Total Elevation Gain: approximately 5,172 ft.
  • Total Miles: approximately 12.25 miles

Ascent in magenta. Descent in green
Image was taken from the ridge between Goved Peak and Shrill Peak, October, 2015
Tyler Peak in relation to the southern Lemhi Range
Image taken at 11:00 P.M. June 4, 2014 from the Birch Creek side
Mars is visible in the south

I was on the road by 6:00 A.M. Saturday morning. Said hello to Steve at Ray's and bought a Pepsi for the road. The trip across the desert was punctuated by the collision with an owl hunting over the road. What are the odds of hitting an owl the last two trips to North Creek on the Little Lost River side of the Lemhis! Such beautiful birds, I felt terrible. That small superstitious part in my head hoped it wasn't an omen. Going into the mountains alone always heightens my level of concern and this was not a good way to begin. My rational part quickly dismissed the irrational notion, and I continued on to the trail head at the mouth of North Creek. Driving in, I passed 4 elk.

North Creek is located several miles north of Howe. I always look for the ridge the extends west from the north south running crest of the Lemhis down to the highway. Once past this landmark, a fenced grave site is on the east side of the road. Passing the grave, start looking for a green street sign marking North Creek. The sign is reflective so it reflects brightly in high beam headlights. Turn east and travel on a county maintained road 6 miles to Dave's house. Park on the right side of the road near Dave's large storage shed. There is a place to pull off the road here and park. You may be met by Dave,s large red and white Australian Shepard named Clyde. Don't panic. Clyde is one of the best dogs around and is glad to have your attention. Every time Clyde greets me, it makes my day.

I was on the trail heading into the canyon at 7:30. The temperature was 16 degrees. The forecast called for a sunny day with temperatures getting barely above freezing. Just what I was looking for after last week's attempt of Mount Church. 

An ATV trail leads deep into the canyon. Once past the foot of Gloved Peak (10,604), I headed northeast up the drainage. I was looking for a gully which would lead up to the west face of Tyler. Unfortunately, the forest made finding the right turnoff impossible for me. It's just plain hard to navigate by sight in a thick forest. I was winging this trip without the help of GPS points. I continued up the main well-defined drainage. The snow was fairly good for snowshoes. I remained on top most of the way up this gully. When I did break through, it was often no more than calf deep. I got a good look at Daisy Black to the north. This vantage clearly showed our December folly of finding a way from Daisy Black to Tyler along the ridge. The point where Jeremy scouted the route to the edge of the massive cliff is visible in profile on the left in the photo below.

Daisy Black from North Creek
I went much farther than anticipated. The morning was early and I was in no hurry. Passed Peak 10,172 on my left and turned southeast continuing up the main drainage. The sun was breaking the ridge ahead directly in front of me. I had no idea where I was and decided to make the ridge to get a look at my location in relation to Tyler. This section was slow and arduous. Often I was breaking through snow above my knees, not a happy camper.

Thigh deep snow even with snowshoes
Looking back at the drainage I came up

Walking up the gully, I passed several old avalanche tracts that came down perpendicular to the drainage. Soon I entered  the run-out of a large slide that came down the main drainage. hiking up the debris field, I came to a crown of about 2 feet. By now the snow had formed a cohesive pack and the danger of avalanche was very slim. I felt confident in the continued ascent. Come spring, the slides will begin again.

A slide off to my right
Looking back on the large slide debris in the main gully
Once on the ridge, I was completely surprised to find that I had overshot Tyler Peak. I was on the ridge between 10,172 and Tyler. Now that I had my bearings, I began the march along Tyler's north ridge to the summit. Coming up at this location afforded incredible views of the peak. It was worth any extra effort expended to have this view.

Tyler Peak on left
Trading snowshoes for crampons and poles for an axe, I walked toward the peak. At each bend I was rewarded with more spectacular views of my destination. The route appeared to be quite gnarly as I neared the summit block of layered rock bands. The small dollop of peaked snow on the top added a confectioner's like swirl to the crown.

Walking the ridge
Another bend 
Looking back
At about this point on the ridge, I noticed a group of 6 ewes gingerly making their way down the ridge toward me. I remained motionless to see just how close they would come before they noticed me. Watching them move effortlessly down rock and snow was another treat. I snapped several photos to record their approach.

They finally noticed me and came to a halt. They stared, considering me intently. I thought it was hard for them to imagine finding a strange creature completely out of context on a high snow-covered mountain ridge. Finally, I decided that the staring contest had come to an end and moved toward them. That was all they needed to turn around and high tail it back up the ridge.

Mountain sheep staring contest
Six ewes fleeing the scene
I have decided that one of the reasons I venture out into the mountains is for the views that can be had no where else. Simply amazing.

The back side of the large rock fins that dominate the slope
Tyler Peak on left
Daisy Black on right
Loved this slash of rock
Daisy Black (10,401)
Finally made it to the cliffs at the base of the summit block. It looked like it was possible to climb up and through the rocks. It was definitely approaching class 4 climbing on rock, snow, and ice. I kicked in a few steps and then decided to avoid such a climb. I was not sure, even if I could make the initial pitch, I would find a passage through the top of the rock bands. Also, being alone, I was concerned about keeping myself in one piece for a long descent. I decided to drop off the ridge and skirt the rocks at the base. This was the sketchiest part of the climb. I carefully made my way down the steep snow covered slope. A few times the snow was almost waist deep and I was worried about triggering a slide. The run out was over cliffs! I kept my axe in a constant self belay and proceeded carefully. Was much relieved to leave the deep snow and round the bottom of the rock band. I snapped a photo of my descent line. for some reason it seemed a lot steeper than this image makes it out to be. I guess you just had to be there.

Rounding the base of the rock bands
The next section of the climb was up an incredibly steep scree face with patches of snow and ice. It was so steep that to attack it directly required me to use both hands and feet. I ended up slowly traversing back and forth to reach the summit. It was cool to find a single trail of goat tracks (I think) curved over the summit.

The summit of Tyler Peak
Mount Hoopes 
Saddle Mountain
Daisy Black from Tyler Peak
Rather than retrace my long route back, I decided to drop down the drainage I had originally planned to ascend. This would knock some miles off the return hike. I traversed down toward the dip in the ridge leading to Daisy Black and then headed directly down. When I reached the point where all rocks were buried under sufficient snow, I enjoyed a short glissade.

The point I traversed to on the down climb
Then it was a matter of big steps in soft snow. I knocked off 1,700 ft in an hour. I found myself at the debris tow of a large avalanche field. Rested and again traded my crampons and axe for snowshoes and poles. Then began the long slog over an open section and into the forest. Once I entered the trees, I picked the best looking gully and, once again, slogged on in thigh deep snow down the narrow drainage.

Looking down the drainage I descended
Notice the large rock fins in profile
Looking back from the open section
My tracks can be seen leaving the debris toe of the avalanche
The next part down the narrow gully in deep snow was simply exhausting. I was overjoyed to finally intersect with my trail from the morning ascent. Ah, broken trail! This route had whacked off hours off the morning tangent. In two hours I had managed to converge with my path. I think it was just another hour before I was out in the open of upper North Creek and on the ATV trail. At this point I turned around to see what I could see. Tyler's summit and the drainage I descended were framed with trees. Now if I had made that elusive drainage in the morning, I would have cut my time considerably! Yet, the views of Tyler from the north ridge, the sheep, and my sketchy traverse would have never made it into the story.

Once back at the car, Dave drove over to see how I was doing. We chatted a bit. He said he has been battling high blood pressure for over a year. He didn't plant last spring because of it. Said he thinks he is doing a bit better and hopes to plant this spring. I wished him well and told him I would bring him a print I made of of his little ranch the next time I was in the area. I think he will get a kick out of it. I said hello to Clyde and then made my good-byes before heading back to the Little Lost River Highway and home.

GPS Track

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Trip Report: Mount Church, 12,200 ft, Lost River Range, Idaho

  • March 12, 2016
  • Team: James Helfrich, Meieli Allen, Brenda Cude, Myself
  • Summit: 
    • Mount Church, Attempt
  • Route: Drainage north of Jones Creek via Lone Cedar Creek Road
  • YDS: Class 3
  • Total Elevation Gain: approximately 5,500 ft.
  • Total Miles: approximately 13 miles

Left: Brenda Cude approaching Donaldson
Right: Me taking the photo of Brenda, James Helfrich photo
The idea of a winter ascent of Mount Church has been rattling about in my thoughts ever since I saw a photo of someone making the snow covered summit. The climber and the peak could have been taken in some exotic range anywhere in the world. In my small sphere, it was the sum of mountaineering in the most romantic sense.

After last month's summit of Daisy Black during an attempt of Tyler Peak in the Lemhis, the Daisy Black group decided that a winter summit of Mount Church would be a respectable challenge. A date was set for March, and we anxiously looked forward to the climb.

The day came to depart for the mountain and the group dynamic changed. Jeremy opted out because of illness and James Allen decided to stay home with sick kids and send his wife Meieli. Along with Meieli came her friend, Brenda Cude from Ashton. Both Meieli and Brenda were upbeat and strong. Their effervescent personalities added to the demeanor of the team. 

We drove over to the Lost River Range after work on Friday. Stopped at Pickles for dinner before continuing to Lone Cedar Creek Road and the trail head of the drainage north of Jones Creek. We were in our bags by 8:30 with a 4:00 A.M. wake up time. Despite plenty of time to sleep, I was extremely restless. Still awake at 12:30, I just gave up on the idea of sleep and decided there were worse things in life than climbing a mountain with no sleep. Freed from the pressure to sleep, I think I dozed off for a couple of hours before the 4:00 A.M. alarm.

The early morning sky looked promising. Patches of stars shined brightly through a broken cloud cover. We knew we would be rolling the dice with the weather and were encouraged by this good omen. We dressed, ate a quick breakfast, and were on the trail by 4:45. The route follows a drainage east into the mountains. There is a trail that avoids serious bushwhacking but the snow and darkness made it difficult to find. We often zigzagged up the stream bed through thickets and trees. There is no wrong way up, but when we did find the trail, the hike was much more enjoyable. 

With morning light, we were greeted by the beauty of the narrow canyon. The snow was often deep and trail blazing was slow, but the solitude and views were rewarding.

Breaking trail up the drainage, James Helfrich photo
Meieli breaking trail using the swimming technique, James Helfrich photo
Coming out of the canyon, James Helfrich photo
Once out of the canyon, we noticed the low cloud level ahead. Just the lower bands of rock on Church were visible. We knew that the route would take us to the south round the face of Church to the ridge between Church and Donaldson. Just how far to go and how high we should make our traverse was guess work as landmarks disappeared in the fog and occasional snow flurry.

Finding the route to the upper cirque below the head wall, James Helfrich photo
James had been on this route several times before and had a good sense of where we were. His navigational skill proved to be extremely valuable. Once in a while more of the mountain would appear and we corrected our course accordingly. Soon we found the rocks of Donaldson and knew that the head wall was in our reach.

Heading to the upper cirque, James Helfrich photo
Finally the entrance to the upper cirque lay ahead. We guessed that the entrance was marked by the rock on both sides. GPS later confirmed our hunch.

James Helfich entering the upper cirque
The first crux of the climb, we knew, would be navigating the maze of cliffs up the head wall to the upper ridge. The second crux would be walking the exposed ridge to Church. The ridge would require several short climbs on rock and snow with great exposure. Now we were confronted with the real possibility of not even being able to plot a line up the wall due to the whiteout we found ourselves in.

Increasingly poor visibility, James Helfrich photo
We plodded ahead with the remote chance the clouds would break. Despite the thick fog, other conditions were near perfect. The temperature was moderate and the wind was little to none. The snow was just right for snowshoes. At one point we decided to wait out the fog. we layered up and rested. We discussed the option of climbing the wall if visibility became better. Even if we could make the ridge, we concluded that this may not be prudent. There was the real possibility of being on the ridge and having the clouds roll back in. Trying to thread our way, down climbing, through the maze of cliffs on the wall without seeing would be tense to say the least. At a little over 11,000 ft, we decided to turn around.

Hustling back to the canyon, James Helfrich photo
We jetted down the canyon and back to the car. Once on Highway 93 we had a good look at where we stopped just below the wall. We all felt strong and knew that had the timing and weather been better, the summit would have been a good possibility. We did revel in the chance to be out in the mountains as a group. It was a beautiful day and the experience of being in a white void was aesthetically unique. All in all a great time.

Below the Head wall between Church and Donaldson
We stopped in Mackay for dinner at Mary Lou's. I ordered a rib-eye medium rare. The steak was a perfect meal after the outing.