Sunday, August 28, 2016

Trip Report: Lemhi Enchainment, Little Sister to Foss Mountain

High Point on Little Brother (10,737)

  • August 27, 2016
  • Team: Solo
  • Summits: 
    • Little Sister
    • Big Sister
    • Little Brother (10,737)
    • Midway Mountain (10,751)
    • 10,681
    • Foss Mountain
  • Route: Mud Springs to Lemhi Crest
  • YDS: Class 2
  • Total Elevation Gain: 7,310 feet
  • Total Miles: 13 miles

A Class 2 Grand Slam and a Double

Drove to Mud Springs Friday evening. Arrived just before dusk. The hazy conditions did not bode well for photography so I just bedded down for the night. Slept under the stars. Watched the sky darken and the pin pricks of light appear. Mars and Saturn shone brightly in the southwestern sky long before stars and the Milky Way lit up the dark night. The faint white noise of crickets hummed in the desert silence.

Woke up at 4:30 and thought once about beginning the hike. Just once. Fell back asleep and woke at 6:30. Boots on the ground at 6:50. The goal was to make Little sister and then head for the main crest. Next, continue north as far as 10,681. From there I would head west along the ridge to Foss Mountain. Drop off Foss and hike back to Mud Springs.

From Mud Springs, I hiked up the gentle ridge shown below. The goal was to thread the space between the two sets of cliffs near the top. Once past this point, a rocky ridge leads to the lower slopes of Little Sister. At the end of the ridge, I came across what looked like a rusty gold pan. Decided to hang it in a tree marking the route up Little sister.

The way to Little Sister
On top of Little Sister
Big Sister looms ahead
The Lemhi Crest. The goal was to make the pointed peak on the left and then head west

Dropping off Little Sister I spooked 5 or 6 mountain goats. They fled up the rocky slope making a galloping ruckus in the shale.

Goats disappearing over a ridge
Little Brother (10,737) was next
Heading north off Big Sister, 10,737 was next. The Idea of calling it Little Brother just seemed fitting. For me have a moniker to remember the peak is just easier to remember and talk about than a number. Having Big Sister stand between both Little Sister and Little Brother was in keeping with the family theme already in place. Those who know Ben might agree. 

On the ridge, I passed this interesting rock. A large slab of limestone sits balanced on an outcropping. How in the world?

The Lemhi's own Balanced rock
I determined the high point of Little Brother to be this rock, and, yes, climbed out to touch the top.

Looking south towards Diamond Peak

The next summit would be 10,751. I was in the name game mode and dubbed it Midway Mountain because of its location about midway between the 2 most notable Lemhi Peaks: Bell and Diamond.

Midway Mountain (10,751)
Two views of Rust Peak along the way.

Rust Peak

Rust Peak
The next destination was 10,681. It was the most impressive of the enchainment. Yet, I was without another name. I made several images of this peak:





Heading east now, I made for the long west ridge in the above photo.

West ridge of 10,681
Made an image of Bell Mountain and The Clapper in the foreground.

Bell Mountain and The Clapper
Looking back at the route, I made these images:

Little Sister far right and Midway Mountain center left. The rise on the right does not have 300 feet of prominence.

Midway Mountain, Little Brother, and Big Sister

Ridge line from Little Sister to Big Sister and Little Brother on left
The east ridge from 10,861 leads directly to Foss Mountain.

Foss Mountain center mid-ground
There is an actual road that one can drive to the top of the mountain. I came across it and followed it for a bit and then took a more direct line to the summit. Once summited I now needed to descend southwesterly and meet the road for an easy path to the mouth of the canyon. My map showed a possible route between 2 sets of formidable cliffs. I got really lucky with this descent. I found a scree run that was perfect for sliding down the mountain. Then, with some moderate bushwacking, I found the road and the way out.

Looking back at the face I came down
 Coming out of the canyon I was impressed by this very thick oasis.

Spring at the canyon mouth leading up Foss
I began the long walk over the foothills back to Mud Springs. Often following faint roads or stepping through sagebrush, I headed south. the hike was punctuated by several lush areas fed by small springs. Although, barely a trickle this time of year, the areas were surprisingly verdant. I did see 5 more mountain goats on the upper foothills and counted myself lucky to come across such magnificent animals.

Looking back at Foss Mountain
The rolling foothills pushed my total elevation gain to over 7,300 feet and the distance to 12.97 miles. Finally I saw the green line of Cedar Run Creek in the far distance. I had rationed my 3 liters of water to just make it back to the truck and was motivated to reach the cooler and down a cold Mountain Dew Kickstart and a protein drink.

The line of cedars in the distance leading to Mud Springs
Reaching the car at 5:40 gave me plenty of time to make it to Mud Lake and order a Hawaiian pizza before the pizza joint would close at 8:00 P.M. Perfect timing and a perfect day. 

Finally, had a rare optical experience driving across the desert. Artists and photographers are keenly aware of different changing light temperatures from dawn to dusk. For example, Monet was a master of seeing the light for what it is. Most people never have the optical experience of seeing the light because of an overriding auto white balance in the brain. 

For some reason, I was able to really see the light that evening. Artists know that as the sun sets and the colors change, the shadows cast by the sun will appear as the complement of what ever light the sun and atmosphere transmit. That evening the sun set in the smokey haze from the numerous wildfires in the area. It glowed red. Hence the shadows of objects should be a vivid green. Most will never actually see this as their brain prevents this visual feast. However, that evening as I drove across the desert, I was ecstatic to see the shadows as green as can be. Wow! a final treat to a great day.

GPS Track from Mud Springs

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Trip Report: Great Western Peak (10,358), Lemhi Range, Idaho

Great Western Peak

  • August 20, 2016
  • Team: Solo
  • Summit: 
  • Great Western Peak
  • Route: Bartel Canyon
  • YDS: Class 2
  • Total Elevation Gain: 4,200 feet
  • Total Miles: 6.7 miles

It was 2:00 Saturday afternoon. I was antsy. Without too much thought, I grabbed some donuts and water and drove to the Lemhis. I had been saving Great Western Peak for just such a day. In proximity it was the closest, still unclimbed by me, peak in the Lemhi Range. I also knew that the map showed one could drive a good distance up Bartel Canyon. Perfect for a late afternoon climb.

The drive just to get to Bartel Canyon is a considerable feat across the desert. Reflecting back, I think it was about 45 minutes from highway 28 to the trail head. The turnoff is well marked with a brown sign identifying several of the canyons on the east side of the southern mountains. Going into the canyon, the road narrows quite a bit. Expect scratches on the sides of your vehicle if you drive in all the way.

I was on the move around 4:00 and headed up the drainage to find my way. I had an idea of finding a gully that would take me up Great Western. What I found was a drainage choked with trees and brush. There was no way I could guess a turnoff in such a thicket. The one gully that I could see presented a tall cliff face from one side to the other. I thought this must be quite the sight during spring runoff. It also gave me pause to think of coming down such a gully and finding such an insurmountable obstacle.

I conceded to head further up the Bartel drainage. Did I say that this was the mother of all bushwacks? After what seemed forever, I came out in a bowl between 10,194 and Great Western.

The upper bowl

The area was riddled with impressive formations and cliffs

I decided to head northwest to make the ridge. I calculated that the peak was more north than south from this point.

Glimpse of Great Western

Stopped on some rocky outcroppings and rested a bit. Made a cairn on the high point of the ridge. 

Cairn on the ridge to Great Western

North ridge of Saddle Mountain
Splattski on the ridge
Stellar cliffs were all around

Then had a hair brain idea. Why not retrace my steps and stand on top of 10,194. I knew it was technically not a peak but thought what the heck. I reversed course and headed south. Now the idea of bushwacking in the dark pushed out any thoughts of enjoying this tangent. So, I turned around and headed north. This time I stayed the course to the top of Great Western. 

I had tried to climb this mountain from the west ridge last year and encountered a series of impassable cliffs. Now, from this angle, I could see more clearly what turned me around.

West Ridge of Great Western on left

Detail of cliffs

Detail of cliffs

Once on the summit, I could not decide the high point. There is a tall rock outcropping right at the top of the south ridge. However, the east point of the mountain was a possible contender. There was no summit cairn at either location. The only other person I know to have climbed Great Western was Rick Baugher; yet, no cairn. I walked out to the point and gave it my best guess. The rock outcropping was it. I walked back to the top of the rocks and left a cairn...anxious to get down. You can see my dilemma in the third photo above. If anyone climbs this mountain again, build a respectable cairn for the register.

Looking north from the summit
Looking south from the summit

By this time the sun was sinking fast and I quickly dropped off the mountain to a small saddle just at the base of the south ridge. Anxious to get down I descended off this saddle and into the gully. The going was great and I whittled down the elevation quickly. Then came the brambles and the fight began. For some reason a line from the Authority Song played over and over again in my head..."I fought authority and authority won." The thickets got the best of me. Navigated the last hour in the dark forest. Was glad to see the ol' red truck.

Map Track and Stats

Index of Peaks

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Trip Report: Swanson Peak (10,808), Lemhi Range, Idaho

Swanson Peak from the north ridge
Swanson Peak taken in 2015, south ridge

  • August 10, 2016
  • Team: Ben and me
  • Summit: 
    • Swanson Peak
  • Route: South Ridge
  • YDS: Class 2
  • Total Elevation Gain: 4,072 feet
  • Total Miles: 5.83 miles
This summer has sped by without many mountain outings. I busied myself with projects around the home...reworking the irrigation system, building two decks, and prepping for a concrete pad and footing for next year's shed project. I hope to make up for it by getting out as much as possible during the next week. Yesterday, Ben and I went to the Lemhis to climb Swanson Peak and make plans for collecting the summits of Sunny Bar and 10,965. 

Sunny Bar Peak from the north ridge of Swanson Peak

Peak 10,965 and the impressive east face of Nicholson Peak 

We drove to the trail head of Uncle Ike Creek just north of North Creek. To get there travel north from Howe on the Little Lost River Highway. Look for the point where it looks like an ancient slide carried part of the Lemhis to where the road was built. Pass this point and soon you will see the marked North Creek Road. Continue past and get ready to turn right on the next available road. 

The road is very good for Lemhi Standards, although a high clearance 4X4 may be preferred for the last part leading to the small oasis at the entrance to the narrow canyon from which the creek once flowed. A trickle still can be found there; the creek is diverted upstream into a presumable irrigation system. Do not make the mistake of trying to get to the higher green areas to the north. Stay on the desert floor and park in a grassy area before entering the canyon. 

From here it is 2.3 miles to where we left the trail and entered into Sunny Bar Canyon. For this trip, we brought the four-wheeler and made quick work of those miles. Right before the Sunny Bar Canyon you will cross the creek. We made the mistake of trying to bushwhack here through the dense growth and marshy ground. On the return trip, we learned that if we had followed the road just a bit more we would have found a great place to cross the stream. 

The plan was to start a traverse up the western slopes of the mountain. The ground was good and going easy. We made the southern ridge at about 9,200 feet 1 hour and 15 minutes into the hike. The rest was simple, just follow this meandering ridge to the summit. Once we left the tree line, the rocky ridge was solid. The scree/talus was blocky and provided good footing. What could have been a long scree slog was surprisingly pleasant. 

Ben on the south ridge of Swanson Peak
Once on the summit of Swanson, we eyed a high point on the ridge to Little Diamond. Wanting a bit more of a challenge we dropped off Swanson and headed north to what we called Red Shale Point. This ridge was class 3 with several spots of exposure. At one point, we came across an interesting natural arch.

North ridge of Swanson Peak, Red Shale Point in front of Little Diamond Peak
Ridge line between Red Shale Point and Swanson
Arch in ridge
Ridge line looking south back towards Swanson
Ben striking a pose
The high point of the day at 10,922
From Red Rock Point to Little Diamond would be an easy stroll
Boulder Creek drainage to the west
Having reached the day's high point at 10,922, we rested on top of Red Shale Point taking in the views. Heading back, we carefully walked the ridge line. Our goal was to make for the saddle that sits west of Swanson on the ridge leading to Sunny Bar Peak. Once we reached the low spot on the ridge, we began a traverse leading to the saddle. First, we found a game trail that seemed to be going our way. All was well until I dropped off the trail and made straight for the saddle. Here, the challenges began. Traversing the steep slope of rocks was terrible. The rocks were just the right size and shape to roll under each step. Stubbornly, I slipped and teetered to the saddle. Ben was smart enough to stay on the game trail, and, although he gained some elevation, he beat me to the saddle in much better shape.

The saddle between Sunny Bar Peak and Swanson Peak

View looking south from the saddle between Sunny Bar and Swanson, Buckhorn Peak in the center distance

The initial gentle slope leading into Sunny Bar Canyon was a welcome change. We dropped elevation quickly and though how smart we were to have taken this path. Then we came to the dry creek that drained the canyon in the spring. Ben got a good lesson in extreme bushwhacking. Fallen twisted trees, dense vegetation, and irregular rocks challenge our progress. Ben ended up covered in spiky seeds and face planted into a tangle of dead trees. He was not a happy hiker. His hand was scratched and bruised when he caught himself and prevented his stomach, from being "impaled"...his words. 

I was so happy to finally come out of the thickets and walk through tall grass and sagebrush back to the creek. Ben's sprits improved greatly during this last quarter of a mile. All in all, a pretty good day with a summit of Swanson a visit to Red Shale Point at 10,922.

A closing shot of me in front of Little Diamond Peak thanks to Ben