Standard Route - W Fork PahsimeroiLeatherman Peak
August 11, 2010
This is a trip report of my successful summit of Idaho’s second highest mountain, Leatherman Peak.
My colleague and climbing friend, Randy Hickman left Blackfoot Tuesday afternoon and headed to Arco and then up to Mackay along the Lost River Range. We passed the western approach to Leatherman Peak about eight miles north of Mackay.
Leatherman can be climbed from either the west or east but there are tradeoffs for both options. From the west side, the access road is much shorter and in better condition. The downside from the west is that there is an extra 1,000 feet of elevation to be climbed and there are much more technical sections up the mountain.
From the east you have 1,000 less feet and no technical sections of any kind on the way to the summit. The tradeoff from the east is a very long drive, 25 miles, along an unpaved road with some very difficult sections. Most of the problems stemmed from large rocks sticking up out of the road and gullies from recent rain storms. A high clearance 4WD was essential. The last three miles were the worst and the absolute worst the final mile to the end of the road. There were lots of big sharp rocks waiting to blow out a tire. Signs along the will warn of things to come. We chose to battle the road rather than the extra 1,000 feet of elevation.
From Highway 93 it took us two hours to cover the 25 miles to the end of the road. It was a good thing we had good directions as there were many forks along the path of the road. We drove very cautiously and easily could have lessened the drive time had we not been so paranoid about getting a flat tire or puncturing the oil pan. One needs to be aware that we had no cell service and were a very long way from help if any mechanical problems developed.
On the approach we got a good view of the Leatherman Pass saddle and Leatherman Peak to the left side of the pass.
We saw lots of antelope and elk on the way to trailhead. Got the tent set up, ate a quick dinner, and were in bed shortly before 10:00.
Got up at 5:20 Wednesday morning, broke down camp, powered down some quick food, and were on the trail by 5:50. The first two miles is a very enjoyable hike through forested areas intertwined with small meadows before breaking out into a wide open area heading towards Leatherman Pass.
Once near the base of the mountain the real we were able to map out the route up to the top.
There is very little solid rock until the ridge above the snowfield. Normally the path goes straight up the gully containing the long snowfield so we had to skirt the snow (more like ice) to the right side. The first part of the climb was very steep with lots of loose rock.
After gaining some elevation, we got a great view looking back down the valley we had hiked up earlier in the morning.
A little further up, the grade began to give a little and we wound through the hilly moraine left from when there was a glacier coming down the mountain. There lots of marine fossils including brachiopods, horn corals, and gastropods.
Once past the hilly moraine, we reached base of the snow field. Here the grade steepened considerably and again there was no solid footing. We estimated the snowfield to be between 1,200 and 1,500 feet long. On the way down, Randy dislodged a rock about the shape of an old encyclopedia – about three or four inches thick and pretty much shaped like a book. It started out rolling like an angular wheel down the slope. We expected it to bury itself into the snow and stop but instead the snow hard as ice and the rock accelerated. Amazingly gravity and inertia kept in going right down the snowfield. We could see pieces break off but the main core piece kept right on going until it crashed into the rocks at the bottom. It would have been a great video. Better a rock than one of us.
Above the snowfield, we finally reached the ridge. The altitude and gradient really slowed us down along the snowfield, but once we made the ridge and although looking far away, we reached the summit relatively quickly.
There was a little exposure along the summit ridge but nothing real spooky. At 10:05 after four hours and fifteen minutes of hiking, we reached the summit of Leatherman Peak.
The view from the top was awesome. We got a completely different perspective of Idaho’s highest mountain, Borah Peak and its famous Chicken Out Ridge.
We spent 50 minutes on top taking pictures, calling our wives, and refueling our bodies for the trip down. To get cell service, I had to move about 40 feet west of the summit to the edge of the mountain. Good to know that Verizon has service at the highest points of Idaho.
We left the summit at 10:55 and even though we slowed down a little through the moraine looking for fossils, we made it back to the trail head at 1:35, (two hours and forty minutes down).
While physically less demanding, the trip down is always harder on my body. My knees suffer the most, followed by blisters on my feet, and then sore muscles. Don’t know what happened this time as my body fared remarkably well. No blisters, can walk and jump, mowed the yard, and have just a little soreness in my lower quads.
Left the trailhead shortly before 2:00 and made it back to Blackfoot right at 6:00 Wednesday evening.