I left my home in Kennewick thursday afternoon and headed eastward. By 10 pm I had driven down to south of Pocatello and slept in my car in a rest area off of I-15. I then got up bright and early and went up to the Pebble Creek ski area to start my day right with a climb to the top of Bonneville Peak. As I got out of the car, it started to rain. Curses. So donning rain gear, I headed up easy slopes to the top of the ski area. The rain turned to snow about half way up the slope and soon I was stopping to take off my boots and wring out my socks, a procedure I repeated several times before this peak was done with me.
Bonneville Peak, is the county highpoint of Bannock county and at 9271 feet, it is lofty enough to be seen from just about anywhere in the area. The view i had hoped for wasn't to be as I was in clouds even before I got up to the top of the ski area. I took some time to warm up in the ski patrol hut (which is left open for the likes of me) and change socks, a rather shortlived luxury. The rest of the route was cross country and involved 800 feet of elevation gain to get to the summit. No trail meant leaving a few cairns along the way since the landmarks were often obscured by the snow and fog. Of course, the rain and snow made the major obstacle of the mountain even more nasty, the talus slopes that abound on the way up. I had to be very careful in every foot placement as every rock and boulder was slippery and threatening. Taking longer than normal, I arrived at the less than spectacular summit and found the cairn that marks the high spot and took the time to wring out my socks again before starting down. Brrrrrr, with the wind blowing, it was not a place I wanted to linger. The point in telling this tale of Bonneville Peak is that it sets the stage for similar weather on Flat Top Peak the next day.
Later in the day I hooked up with Bob Bolton in Snowville Utah as we went together in his vehicle to do the highpoint of Box Elder County, Bull mountain (9920 feet). I won't tell the tale of this effort but a flat tire 50 miles from nowhere made this a little more interesting (think, please spare, don't you go flat too). Together we continued on after doing this to Provo Utah where we hooked up with Adam Helman the next morning to do Flat Top Mountain, one of the 57 5K prominence peaks (not a county highpoint) .
Flat Top effort
My son Brad joined with us as we drove in Bob's trusty 4runner and headed for the little town of Ophir, an old mining community that I'd never heard of before. As we drove through Ophir, I was impressed by the quaintness it still had. A little tourist trap that most tourists wouldn't even know of. It had an RV park at the far end of town and
surprisingly, most of the spots were taken. Our goal was to find the south fork road, just a bit out of town (1.2 miles) and since it wasn't marked, we drove right past it before we realized it. Bob turned around and we headed up the road. It didn't take much time on this road to realize that only a good 4 WD vehicle with good sidewalls and thick tires should even attempt going up this poor excuse of a road. It was basically like driving up a stream bed, all boulders and rocks and very little else. After about 2 miles of this, the road reaches a fork and the road improves. Instead of going right as recommended by others who had preceeded us, we went left following some directions of a person who had done this peak a few months before. All was fine until we came to a gate barring the road that was clearly marked "No Trespassing"
We thought about it and the report Adam had mentioned that you just walked around the gate as the No Trespassing was really there to prevent people from hunting or dumping on the land. We figured if we were just hikers, it would be o.k. (oh yeah, it is amazing how faulty your reasoning can be if you want a peak bad enough).
We went around the gate and headed up the road and made good progress through flurries of snow and hail. When we got to Hall's Basin, we noticed an ATV parked off to the side of the road but no rider. The instructions Adam had were spot on as we found the trail mentioned in the report and a good trail it was. We made our way up the mountain but we held up for awhile while the thunder and lightning show up on the higher ridge and peaks took place. Using that pause to re-fuel and get our hands warm, we soon were working our way up the ridge with generally not much in the way of views. Once in a while the clouds would part and we'd be treated to vistas which were short lived and were over before I could get my camera out.
The trail that had been pretty good soon petered out and it was not difficult to figure out what direction to go as that direction was up. Our GPS data helped keep us on the straight and narrow in the fog and the snow. The thunder had moved off to the east and we breathed a little easier in that regard. Before I knew it, I was soon seeing forms in the fog that were stationary and I knew that the summit was at hand. A mailbox graced the highest point and inside were the registers that we were eager to sign. The wind was very chilling and so we hunkered down and ate a brief lunch in the lee of the peak. The ridge from the peak continued on into the fog but I still got a feel for the route over to Lewiston Peak, about a mile away.
We had put on all our extra clothing and still felt the chill of the wind on this saturday that was the beginning of the Labor day weekend.
Was this an indicator of the winter to come? If so, it was getting an early start. After a bite to eat, a signing of the register and a cell phone call to my wife, it was time to head down. Now I didn't mention that on the way up we met the owner of the ATV. He was bowhunting and not happy that we were interfering with his hunt as we had been talking in normal voices which most likely would have spooked whatever he was stalking. On the way down we were very respectful of the situation and kept our talking to a minimum. The snowing had relented and the sun even started to come out as we gained the road in Halls Basin once again. We made a quick march down the road until we were past the gate and back at Bob's 4 runner. It was at this point that the owner of the ATV caught up with us. He was very unhappy that we had trespassed on his land and cleared up any doubt that hikers weren't welcome either. We were apologetic and conveyed the information that we had been given to believe that hikers were ok and that Kelsey even showed a loop route that followed the path we had taken. He was again, very clear, that no one was welcome on his land (his family's land) and that the guidebook guy should be informed of this. He said that we were very lucky that he didn't have the sheriff arrest us but felt that we weren't up to any mischief and had been misled. He asked us to go ahead of him and he would follow us down to the road and we entertained the possibility that due to his 2 way radio, that he might still have the sheriff waiting for us at the junction. About half way down the road, he zoomed on by us and to make a long story short, we weren't arrested but we were certainly more aware of the intensity that some of these people feel when their land is "violated".
I have since written to Mike Kelsey and hopefully the loop route shown in his book will be eliminated in his next edition. The route I have listed is the only way you can legally access this summit and is the only route I would recommend, although the Hall's Basin route was a very pleasant way to go. (update: take the Lewiston Peak route and avoid Hall's Basin)
After Flat Top, Adam and Bob went on to do Mt. Nebo the next day and I met up with them outside of Wendover in the late afternoon so we could join forces to do Ibapah Peak in western Utah, another of the 57 prominence peaks and a county highpoint, the best of both worlds. It was a great week for me with 4 Utah and one Idaho county highpoints being accomplished and Flat Top thrown into the mix as some frosting.
Also done on this trip by Bob and myself was Deseret Peak and by myself, Mt. Nebo. Bob went on to do 8 of the 57 prominence peaks in record fashion, doing 8 of them in 8 days. An amazing effort that included several peaks in Nevada on his way home.
I'm sorry about not posting pics on this TR but since many of the ones I took were on the "private" land, I feel it best to not include them. The landowners names are found in the register as they visit the top often so I would not encourage anyone to go via Halls Basin (or via the route shown on page 23 of the Kelsey book)