Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Trip Report: Shoshone John (11,212), Lemhi Range, Idaho

Shoshone John from the east ridge
  • April 5, 2016
  • Team: Ryan Hagge and Myself
  • Summit: 
    • Shoshone John
  • Route: Bunting Canyon
  • YDS: Class 2
  • Total Elevation Gain: 4,876 ft.
  • Total Miles: 8.16 miles
Ever since I read Dave Pahlas' TR of a Big Boy to Shoshone John traverse from Bunting Canyon, I have kicked around the idea of bagging my last 11,000 foot summit in the southern Lemhis, Shoshone John, from the same canyon. I contemplated a similar traverse last spring from Black and White Peak. After summiting Black and White, I continued toward Shoshone John. When the ridge got hairy, I dropped off back into the canyon. For me, the sense of doom is always more intense when alone on a precarious ridge. This year, after standing on the summit of Shoshone John and studying the gnarly line that Dave and a friend tackled last May, I concluded that their traverse was most certainly an epic adventure.

When Ryan Hagge suggested we climb a peak over spring break, I knew just the mountain! Ryan is a technical climber and strong mountaineer. I was super happy to have an accomplice for a respectable mountain like Shoshone John. 

We left Rexburg a little after 5:00 A.M. heading for Badger creek on the Little Lost River side of the the Lemhi Range. The goal was to summit and be back in town by late afternoon. I had studied the route and thought it to be straight forward. We drove to the first makeshift bridge across Badger Creek and made ready for the hike in. All went well for the first 20 or so minutes. About then the deepening snow foreshadowed what was to come. I had mistakenly assumed the snow levels would be low and hard packed. Who would need snowshoes for such a hike? The calf deep snow soon gave way to post holes up to our knees. Then the snow came up to our thighs. We knew we in for a struggle when we broke through almost to our waists. My overacting mind imagined Ryan mumbling cursed thoughts about Prescott's planned route up Bunting Creek. This hike turned out to be the cruz of the entire trip. Needless to say, we did not make our planned return time back to town.

We passed by what, I believe, Dave referred to as the "Pearly Gates." An entrance that led to the west slopes of Big Boy Peak was guarded by massive walls. Beyond this opening, a large gaping hole appeared in the mountain side. A thick limestone slab curved over the entrance into the mountain. It looked like something out of The Lord of the Rings. I think a trip back to Bunting Canyon to explore this impressive feature would be well worth it.

The Pearly Gates

Farther up the canyon, Nicholson Peak presented itself on the west side of the canyon
Nicholson Peak

Nicholson Peak

We were much relived to leave the canyon floor and begin the hike up the drainage to Shoshone John. Here the snow was hard enough to support our weight. The initial slope was gentle and easy going.

Leaving the canyon behind, Ryan begins the ascent 
Soon after, we put on crampons. Then, a bit later, traded the poles for an axe. At this point the hard snow was perfect for crampons. The spikes bit solidly with each step with a reassuring thwack. Anyone craving a great climb in the Lemhis will find the hard packed snow a welcomed surface rather than the endless scree in this approach. Just make sure you take snowshoes for the next few weeks.

Walking up the drainage we were treated to one of the best shows I have seen for a while. The north/south ridge was blasted by high winds sending spin drift in geyser like twisted plumes high into the sky. The cloud like whirlwinds of snow spun dramatically against the blue sky. We watched, mesmerized by the display. 

The north side of the drainage entrance

Leaving the gentle slopes, we soon began the steep climb to the ridge. We zigzagged up gullies avoiding the exposed slabs and their iced over surfaces.

The slope steepens
We headed for the V shaped gullies just under the ridge. In the spin drift photos above, the gullies are just left (north) of center. We opted for the gully on the right (south) and pushed towards the ridge top. This last gully was the steepest part of the ascent. Once on top, the views were stunning.

We came through the above opening on the ridge
Notice Ryan's footprints ascending the ridge in the foreground
View from the ridge looking north
Diamond Peak barely breaks the east ridge of Big Boy Peak
For some reason I had the idea that the actual summit was a bit to the east. I spotted what looked like the high point and began a traverse to the southeast up and across a steep slope of scree to what I believed to be the summit.

Finally, the summit
 Or not
Once on top of the above high point, I was basking in summit achievement and enjoying the views. Suddenly, Ryan asked what the peak was behind us. I turned and was surprised to see the summit of Shoshone John up the ridge to the west! In my zeal to reach "the east summit" I had overshot the path to the actual summit. In fact, had we stayed on the path, Ryan's footprints, shown in the third photo above and not traversed across the steep icy scree and ascended the slope above, we would have went directly to the summit. I immediately began the walk up the east ridge with Ryan coming up behind. Again, I imagined Ryan thinking that darn Prescott and his routes. Now something great became of this faux pas. since I was out in the lead, I turned to wait for Ryan so we could summit together. A great photo presented itself...

Ryan coming up the east ridge
The summit cairn of Shoshone John from the east ridge
Splattski summit shot
Again the views were tremendous.

Looking towards Black and White and Little Diamond
Nicholson Peak on the right
Big Boy, The Riddler, Diamond

Coming off the summit 
Over the edge back into the gully
Coming down was great. Again the snow cooperated and heel stepping most the way down was possible. There were only a few short stretches of  hard ice that required careful stepping. Soon I was ready for a glissade, the best part of spring climbing. I am not sure how far I slide but it was a heck of a long way. At times, I rolled on my hip to lessen the surface area and cruised at a pretty good clip.

I began the glissade above the top of the first gully heading to the right
If you look closely, you can see the beginning track of the glissade
I snapped one more photo before leaving the drainage and entering Bunting Canyon.

Bunting Canyon ahead
It was then back into the canyon and slogging through the softening snow. For some reason, it always seems to take longer on the return trip even though Ryan was in overdrive on the way back. We reached the car enjoyed a cold drink and headed for home.

GPS Track
Click for an index of peaks

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