Hi Again to Ryan - July 5th, 2014This most recent 4th of July in 2015 I debated going home or venturing north for some peaks in the Adirondacks. My heart said home, and home won. As I sat contently drinking and BBQ’ing in Mass for the long weekend I reflected that I had made the right choice. Despite passing up three days of rare perfect weather in upstate New York and further delaying getting in shape for my upcoming August trip west, I realized that it was precisely these moments, holiday weekends, time spent relaxing and doing not much else with friends, that I had missed so much back west.
My mind flashed back to a year ago, when even a most productive weekend in Sun Valley proved bittersweet as I logged onto facebook before, during and after peaks, sad that I could only experience vicariously the good times everyone was having back home.
Ryan Peak meant redemption from an attempt in 2013, when skimming over already inaccurate directions on the SP page resulted in me taking the wrong trail out of the trailhead, north from the parking area to the east Wood River trail, rather than east from the parking area up the North Wood River trail.
2015 I took a rest day Friday in New Jersey before heading back to Mass, following my 2014 routine, when I similarly stayed and rested up in Salt Lake on Friday the actual 4th before heading up to Ketchum and beyond early Saturday morning.
Embarking on the right trail this time I endured the immediate ascent the drop into a narrow slope above the most scenic North Fork of the Wood River and embraced by the ridges beyond.
I was keen not to miss the trail junction right towards West Pass, and was concerned about not spotting it right away after clearly passing only creek and drainage coming in from the right.
Eventually I found the clearly marked sidetrail, and began a steeper ascent up several switchbacks and into the remarkably pretty circle below Kent Peak the Cone, and I struggled with my camera to adequately capture both the angular ridges above or the sinewy stream and cascades pouring down in the ravine to the right.
Eventually the trail merged with the creek as both turned left, passing under the rugged south face of Kent to meet their headwaters at West Pass.
At this broad intersection the loose slope to Ryan beckoned right and a few hundred feet of shallow talus left, connecting the massif to Glassford and further peaks west.
The next 600 feet or so of scree were as bad as you’d expect, but nothing too annoying or treacherous. Gaining the ridge presaged a long and equally taxing ascent to the summit, though ameliorated by a climber’s trail.
The views west towards the scattered maroon ridges of the Boulders were reminiscent of the Gores, and of course Castle loomed most aggressively to the north.
Kent was the most eyecatching sight, but this most centrally located stoop had the advantage of perspectives towards most all of Idaho’s major ranges.
I descended the trail a few hundred feet before deciding to descend straight down, due west, to follow a small bench forming the headwall of the West Pass Creek drainage to the north and somewhat parallel to the ascent ridge.
This was a good decision; the scree made for fast skiing, and the cozy confines of the bench a different tableau from the scree further up that I had left for good.
A peer north, then a gentle descent towards West Pass requiring no additional elevation gain.
The return trip was just as gentle and scenic, with ample time for pictures.
Most of the route is open, with ample views even when you’re in the trees. Despite the scree, the trail makes most of the going easy, and the stats (11 plus miles and 5,000 feet gain sneak up on you).
The summer heat was in full swing as I hopped down the switchbacks back to the main North Fork trail, and the last few hundred feet of gain exiting the river drainage taxing. More so was following a slow crew of ATV’s back out the dirt road towards ID-75 who refused to yield despite my very demonstrative and vocal impatience. Assholes.
Saviers and Smokeshows - July 6th, 2014I had some time in town to hang around. The area is expensive enough for me to forsake a motel and do another night of sleeping in the truck, especially considering 3 day weekend rates. Continuing my revelation from the prior week of using hot springs as a means to wash off the sweat and grime from a day on the trail, I took the good dirt road west from Ketchum to Frenchman Hot Springs. The springs themselves were hard to find; cars were parked in the area but there were no signs indicating where they were, but once there they were comfortable enough.
I headed into town, grabbed a cocktail at some fancier place in town that was way too ritzy, then dinner and burgers at Lefty’s, which apparently had the best burger in town. The set up was a little weird…cash only, long lines, but a relaxed atmosphere that allowed me to enjoy a beer and watch the Sox on TV while waiting an absurdly long time for my food, thought it was pretty good.
I found an open camping spot on the highway between town and Galena summit, stretched, and enjoyed the sights of the sun setting on the Boulder mountains on the other side of a creek.
The next morning I hoped to grab a quick breakfast and coffee at the Galena Lodge but they apparently weren’t open yet, so I had to fuel my Titus to Saviers traverse entirely on granola bars. The trailhead at Galena Summit should be obvious, but I had a little trouble figuring out the right trail since the only one leaving the highway at the actual pass itself seemed very narrow and not well travelled, in contrast to the wider and busier Titus Lake trailhead a little further down.
It was the right trail, starting off very steeply immediately off the highway, then leveling off a bit through open woods, and eventually views of some wooded summits ahead. Though not a P2K, Saviers was on my list due to its status as the highest peak in the Smoky Mountain Range, and the traverse over the Titus’s and Bromaghin seemed to be the best route considering the easy access off the highway and the promise of a long day of views and fun scrambling. Since it was exposed, I waited for a perfect forecast for this one, which is partially why I did Ryan on the 20-30% tstorm forecast Saturday.
The first summit attained was 9,921, an unranked wooded bump that yielded never the less the first great views of the Sawtooths. Then followed a very light descent through grassy meadows, then huffing and puffing up to Lower Titus.
The rest of the route to Saviers looked pretty damn far away still, but it was an improvement from the first glances on the last summit. I usually prefer my peaks, like Ryan, straightforward…one up and one down. Seeing Saviers in the distance reminded me more of my New Hampshire days, when multipeak traverses were all the rage.
There’s many a spot between summits where on paper the topo maps tempt you to cut off the one off summits and try and sidehill it while trying to maintain the same elevation. Both Lower Titus and Titus proper dare you to cut left; while I was determined to hit each summit at least once on the way up, thoughts of cutting off Bromaghin on the way back weighed on my mind upon surveying the territory.
Equally fascinating were some tufty volcanic rock in the circle north between Bromaghin and the two Titusi (is that the plural of Titus?), but unfortunately after a relatively pleasant traverse I found myself trying to climb likely the same loose shit just below the summit of Bromaghin. Nothing difficult, just annoying trying not to lose your footing, and I was soon treated to the similar yet different sights on the next to last peak of the traverse.
All in all, pretty easy so far, but I was to find out that at least in my experience, the toughest stretch of this route would start the moment I left the views from Bromaghin's summit.
First off, the descent off Bromaghin was rather sketchy, more so than the climb up as you find yourself perched on a narrow ridge of the same loose stuff, but now the moderate drop offs on either end enough to intimidate the timid (ie me).
Then a typical talus/climber’s trail slog up the right side of the ridge to the top of Saviers, or so I thought. But for the first time in a long time I was fooled by a false summit!
To my chagrin, the top looked quite far away, and what was more, I had to contend with a with a sharp rocky tower with no way obvious way around. I scrambled to the top, and fortunately found that despite its precarious appearance, rather than cliffing out it offered easy steps down connecting to the final summit ridge.
More loose rock, one more odd rock tower to bypass, a few more rocky steps, and the last new summit of the day.
Ryan with its centrally located eastern location allows for great views east to the Lost Rivers and Lemhi’s not visible from Saviers…but this centrally located western summit gives you equally enlightening views into the heart of the Boise Range and north to where they incongruously fade into the Sawtooths, as well as good perspectives of the Smoky Dome, the Soldiers, Pioneers, Boulders right next door, and of course, a perfect angle of Castle almost exactly the same as the one I remembered coming down into the Chamberlain Lakes basin less than a year ago from the Washington Lake approach. Ah, good memories, that one.
Perfect weather on a perfect day on a perfect summit to cap a perfect weekend; sometimes it all comes together. Despite the grand views, what made the Smokies unique I thought were the quaint cozy ridges and drainages on the flanks of these peaks.
On the descent I chose to traverse one of them upon coming down to the saddle between Saviers and Bromaghin, dropping down some snow and good dirt slopes to the small basin between the three culminating peaks of the traverse that also serves as the headwaters for Owl Creek below.
Unlike the rotten rock above near Bromaghin, the scene was tranquil, gentle, lush and peaceful.
I stood on even ground by strategically picking my route managed to stay only a few hundred feet below the Bromaghin Titus saddle, thus starting the first of several regains.
Enough extra up on Titus and I traversed left to avoid just the tip of the summit. Then downwards, trying to avoid the pain in my boots slowly chapping away at my delicate feet, enjoying the views all the while. As if Idaho could have yet more underrated mountains, the Smoky's would be it, and the Saviers traverse gives you all that you could ask for and more. A diet of only P2K's would cause one to miss this range, though ironically a county highpointer would hit it (though they'd get the lower Camas HP south of Saviers, and miss the grandeur of the traverse itself).
Even the best peaks drag in the afternoon heat, and once departing the open views of the traverse forever I got the feeling that the last few miles through the woods were taking forever. However, having missed Titus Lake on the way up, I did make a point to look extra closely off the edge to the right of the descent ridge to eventually spot the lake shortly before jogging steeply back down to Galena Summit.
Just a few days ago I was sitting in the office making a list of non P2K's I'd eventually have to come back and get in Idaho. Certainly a bunch in the White Clouds, to see those spectacular lake basins and also to get the views I missed out on on a super cloudy day on Castle. Glassford maybe in the Boulders, much to choose from in the Pioneers...but I didn't forget the Smoky's. Norton and Baker seem to be nicely spaced out peaks, named, prominent, and nicely spaced out to give you an even view of the entire area. One day, God willing.
But first, a stop back at the almost as spectacular Starbucks in Ketchum, then yet another melancholy lonely drive through the barrens between Twin Falls and the Utah panhandle, happy to have gotten more than my share of peaks, but facebook commenting on stupid bachelor threads (mind you, making stupid comments and emoji’s on a show I never watch), still missing out on everyone and everything back home.
Old Tom Foolery - July 20th, 2014Fast forward a couple weekends. The following one I spent three days in the Lemhi’s and Beaverheads, and for geographic porpoises will be saved for another TR. Organizing all the July Idaho peaks I realized that I should sort them somewhat chronologically, but also somewhat by location, so I’ll stick a couple western/southern ones in here.
After the Lemhi weekend I made my most regretful decision of the month…coming to Idaho. Really Victor? Yeah, but it’s complicated. Both the smog and the weather for Saturday was extremely iffy; plus Greg and Kadee, staying in town for the weekend, were having a BBQ Sunday afternoon. Up until this point I had felt little urgency to go after Kings Peak, but with it being my last Utah ultra left, the feeling was creeping. I had bookmarked Saturday a perfect day to go after the peak if weather cooperated, which would allow me to pick up something quick nearby (Eccentric BM?) or local Sunday before heading over to Greg and Kadee’s. 4 AM wakeup and the weather for Kings had deteriorated overnight to 40% tstorms, so I headed north for Idaho instead.
It was too late when I checked the weather past Pocatello just out of curiosity, finding to my chagrin that the forecast had reversed course and improved for the Uintas. Idaho, by contrast was hazy, and weather.gov indicated slightly lesser haze on Baldy Peak in the Snake River Range over North Twin in the Lost Rivers, my other alternative. I went after Baldy and will save that for the next TR.
Coming back, I spent the night at the TBird in Pocatello…and it was a rough one.
The night started off well enough as I finally got around to sampling beers and a good sandwich at the Portneuf Brewing Company. Cheap menu, friendly staff, live music out back…not bad. The only drawback to the place was the lack of TV’s, which caused me to pass on a beer and a meal the past fall while looking for a bar with the Bama Texas A&M game, but that would not pose a problem on a slow July sports night.
I headed back to an early curfew but didn’t get a good night’s sleep due to the possibility that the room may have been haunted. Thusly I was slightly disturbed mentally as I drove down the backroads towards Old Tom Mountain, my first destination of the day.
The sideroad leading to the saddle between Old Tom and Scout got pretty rocky and rough, so I parked at a tight spot a few switchbacks below the saddle, followed the road until the terrain opened up on my right, then headed cross country past the saddle south towards the peak.
Most of the route follows the jeep track through various up and downs…pretty boring, but gorgeous with the morning light. Scout by far dominates the view to the north, as does Bannock and Deep Creek to the west.
Upon nearing the north summit, prominent from the road thus far, you follow the track as it gets real steep before ending with a whimper.
Some light bushwhacking and cross country brought you to the top, which had some good views both towards scout, Bonneville Peak to the east, and the traverse to the true summit south.
The traverse took a little longer than expected, with a few minor up and downs but slightly material amounts of brush and little rock ledges to venture up and down through.
I took in the views, slightly obscured by haze but more so to the east by the rising sun, and enjoyed the scenic traverse back, finding the north summit to take a few pictures before heading back down the saddle.
What frustrated me was the lack of good views to the valley east of the Portneuf Range; I had never really gotten a good grasp of that area, with haze on South Putnam in 2012, and clouds and fog on Bonneville in 2013. If I and when I ever did Sedgwick I’d have to pick a perfect day, as that would be my last shot to see that area from above.
Surreal Samaria - July 20th, 2014Back in the 4Runner, I continued south to follow the main dirt road as it swung down then east around the south side of the peak back to I-15. My sojourn with the interstate was temporary; looking up the directions for the Samaria highpoint, I exited past Malad and drove up the dirt road through forest charred by the past year’s State Line Fire (which I recalled seeing on my way up to Castle Peak and down from North King in August of 2013). After some low switchbacks in the ravine the road deteriorated; the fire and resulting washouts since certainly haven’t helped the cause. Slow and rocky progress, but the 4Runner endured, and I parked maybe 600 feet short of the summit, hopping up the terrain in sneakers trying to avoid twisting my ankle or stepping on the occasional northernly cacti, normally not an issue with hiking boots.
The views were a little surreal with the afternoon haze; I could see the surrounding areas well, but not with clarity.
Though the blurred colors made for some interesting, almost pastel like pictures, I could hardly tell what was where and where was what, with the exception of the Wellsvilles south along I-15 back in Utah.
I survived the day with no ankle twists, my 4Runner survived two rough access roads unharmed, and we both made it back to Salt Lake early for a summer Sunday but in time for Greg and Kadee’s BBQ, where I rued my decision not to go for Kings (which would have an impact for events down the road as my time for hiking uncrippled was running out), I told stories about my possible ghost encounter in Pocatello, and we made tentative plans for a more ambitious trip the following weekend.
A postscript to the preface. Weekend of the 4th - 2015: late Sunday night I was back in Jersey, drinking with friends when I got word that Greg had taken down Montana’s Granite Peak with Sam Grant. Due to a miscommunication in texts I had thought he was going for Cloud that day, and had barely mentally prepared myself to the concept of missing out on that one before being blindsided by one of the great peaks of the lower 48. Severe FOMO clouded my mind the rest of the night and week, stirring in me even more restlessness and a need to get back to the Northern Rockies. But still, I had and have no regrets for spending quality time at home, something equally precarious in time…must it be so hard to strike a balance between life and mountains when you crave both yet by nature find both to be mutually exclusive?