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

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