One of the classic couloir climbs in the Sawtooth Range is the Sickle Couloir on the northeast side of Horstmann Peak. Clearly visible from the Stanley area, and aptly named for it's curved blade-like shape that often appears wider at the bottom to thinner at the top, The Sickle is one of the alpine standards in central Idaho. Other notable couloir / alpine climbs in the area include The Petzoldt Couloir on Mt. Heyburn, The June Couloir on Williams Peak, The Mazama Couloir on Mt. Underhill, The North Face of Tohobit Peak, The Chockstone Couloir on The Grand Mogul, and The Northeast Face on Thompson Peak.When Dusty suggested the Sickle Couloir in October, I knew the route wouldn't be in great snow climbing condition. While the Sawtooths have had several small snowfalls of 1-4 inches, only the north sides were collecting and retaining snow. The recent temperatures were very cold and the north sides were not melting and freezing, so the snow would be mostly powder on top of either last years ice, or bare rock. So we were expecting an alpine climb of varying conditions that would probably include mixed climbing and perhaps some rock moves. We headed out early, saw virtually no cars on the drive up, and headed out just before sunrise on the trail with clear skies and temperatures in the teens.
classic shot of Horstmann Peak. After the trail ends, the best approach for this climb is to stay on the north side of the creek for another 1/2 mile, then cross through a swampy area and Fishhook Creek to the south side of the Creek. Look for a small rise near where the valley east of Horstmann runs perpendicular to Fishhook Creek. Note this drainage as it's the easiest decent route off of Horstmann's south side. Attain the small rise and follow the south side of Fishhook Creek aiming for the basin at the base of the Sickle Couloir. Without visual sighting of the route, it could be difficult to find the base of the climb. At about 8800 feet, we were at the base of the climb with spectacular sun soaked views to the north of Mt. Bush, Mt. Bruce, Harriet's Pinnacle, and Thompson Peak.
The Sickle Couloir tops out on the rugged east ridge of Horstmann Peak. To obtain the summit, follow this ridge up and over several Class 4-5 towers or drop down and find the Class 3 South Side gulley. To descend after obtaining the top of The Sickle, follow the Class 2-3 slopes down the south side of Horstmann as you contour east, then eventually north staying just west of the unnamed creek drainage east of Horstmann. This drainage will eventually bisect Fishhook Creek. Descent off the inside of the Sickle Couloir would be possible, but difficult. Pitons would be the best insurance policy, as most of the nut protection was of small nature.
Climbing a couloir in the Sawtooths in the Fall required
full on mixed climbing techniques and skill. Generally, the high
variability of the snow, rock, and ice this time of year will require
persistence, ingenuity, and having the proper tools. Rock fall and ice
fall are real hazards. It's typically very cold most, if not all of the day as
the sun won't shine on these north sides this time of year. For the alpine
enthusiast, the clear cold days of Fall in Sawtooths on snow, rock, and ice provide
challenging climbing opportunities.