An Idaho Interlude
Pt. I Here
Monsoon season had arrived. A major storm front seemed to encompass the entire Western USA, as I observed T-Storm forecasts stretching from Colorado, through Utah and eastern Nevada, and up into Wyoming and the Yellowstone area. There seemed to be two slightly clearer spots as the weekend approached: either western Nevada, or the Boise area. I was leaning towards the former at first, possibly Granite Peak up in north central Nevada, but eventually decided upon Idaho, figuring I could grab some easy, low-stress peaks while visiting an area new to me, and a trip involving more hiking than driving.
Harrison & Shafer - July 14th, 2012I drove through the early AM drizzle and reached the Idaho border along I-84 as the sun rose. As I drove towards Burley I noticed an odd, terraced-looking peak on the left. I stopped in town in order to find and buy a Benchmark Idaho Atlas and looked, just out of curiosity, to see what was the behemoth now looming from the south. Mt. Harrison…isn’t that a P2K? I looked it up on SummitPost. A road to the top. Hmmm.
I backtracked to the east then south and drove through the charming countryside and up towards Lake Cleveland. With only a vague idea of the area and the terrain, I remembered seeing something about being able to make Harrison a quick hike from the lake. Well, I parked at the lake and found a faint trail going up towards a prominent looking rocky summit.
I scampered up to the faint end of the trail, and scrambled up some rocks and brushy areas to reach a flat topped summit with several radio towers on top. As I surveyed the scene I noticed a peak to the south that seemed higher. Not only that, but the main road seemed to lead to that summit, whereas mine's barely had a dirt track. I realized that I had climbed the wrong summit, and hurriedly backtracked down through a surprisingly steep and loose gully to return to my car. At least I had gotten a workout in as well as some good views to the north.
A short drive later and I soaked in the views from Harrison.
The weather was iffy even for Idaho, but it was better than the rest of the west, and right now things were still looking good. I was glad that both my Camry and my loafers now had the opportunity to stand at a summit of a P2K for the first time.
I made my way gradually towards Boise, noting the change in scenery as I passed Mountain Home. The city of Boise seemed to me a delightful and vibrant metropolis, especially contrasted to the drab and dull “city” of Salt Lake. I checked out the famous Boise State Stadium with the blue turf, walked around downtown, had a coffee, and could have stayed longer, if it weren’t for the prospect of 2 more P2K’s before the day was through.
The surprisingly steep drive up from the city to Bogus Basin offered ample views of the city and the valley below. The ski lodge was nearly empty though there was supposedly a “BBQ” going on and music was playing outdoors. Based on the signs a wedding was supposed to take place there later that night. I bought and housed a fresh grilled burger, then gave my sneakers its first hiking workout with a quick hike up Shaffer Butte, another P2K right outside the city.
The hike was basic, but the views were magnificent, especially east into the interior Boise Mountains.
Could I get one more P2K for the day? Hawley Peak was maybe 20-30 miles to the north via dirt roads. I decided to test my Camry through this surprisingly remote section of Idaho. It was driveable, but barely, for the Camry, as it gained a few more bumps and bruises from the ordeal. And all for naught too, as five miles or so from Hawley a large felled tree blocked progress. I could have walked, but it was getting late and the thunderheads were finally catching up. I turned around and took the dirt roads back towards ID-55 for the drive north along the Payette River. Boise intrigued me, and honestly I would have stayed and checked out the city had I not already reserved a motel room further up in the town of Cascade. The drive up the Payette was quite amazing, as within minutes the landscape transformed from the dry basin foothills into the great Northern woods, with raging rivers, giant rapids, and calming lakes lined against endless rows of tall, thin evergreens. I felt like I had entered a different world.
The weather forecast for Sunday was interesting: morning showers and t-storms, but clearing around noon. Well, seeing as for once a late start was called for, I had a few drinks in town to close out the Saturday night while a lightning storm raged outside.
High Council & Snowbank - July 15th, 2012Morning I drove up towards Donnelly and took the extensively wide array of mostly gravel and passenger car friendly dirt roads to the Council Mountain 2WD trailhead. I had some apprehensions about this hike as, not knowing it had a page on SP, I had only Ken Jones’s peakbagger TR and Lopez’s book as beta (ie, no visuals). The hike itself should have been fairly easy, with a trail most of the way to the top. But the remoteness of the peak combined with the ominous low hanging clouds gave the morning an edge to it. I started walking down the 4WD road and noticed electrified fences lining the side. I wondered if it was for the bears.
I made quick progress under the pleasantly cool and damp conditions, similar to a New Hampshire morning. Being nervous about the weather, I told myself that I would turn back at the first sound of rumblings, especially as I approached higher ground.
After a pleasant trail hike through the woods and past some waterfalls the higher ridges began to reveal themselves as the trail began to climb higher, reaching a pass and traversing around a ridge. Council popped into view, looming large and far as it flirted with the clouds. But it looked further than it actually was.
The trail traversed around a ridge and I found myself at an interesting sidehill section where a still melting snowdrift enveloped the trail and turned the surrounding landscape into a mucky, slippery, terraced labyrinth of mud. I made my way around, then climbed over the drift to eventually rejoin the trail.
The weather showed occasional signs of improving despite the lingering clouds, and most importantly perhaps I had yet to hear the sound of thunder. I wonder though, this close to the summit, how hesitant I would have been to beat a retreat. I left the trail at the base of Council and advanced up the steep but short slope to reach the elongated summit. Lopez had mentioned some class 3 cliffs below the summit, but I didn’t see any. I wonder if he was referring to a nearby subpeak.
I stuck around the summit for quite a bit. With clouds blowing out and the sun show signs of life I stuck around hoping for some open views in between the groups of clouds. And I did, to a certain extent, getting decent shots of the immediate area, but ultimately limited views south towards Snowbank or west into Oregon (a place that especially fascinated me since I still have yet to set foot in that state).
It was sunny as I beat a retreat from the summit, traversing below the snowdrift on my way back around.
The descent was pleasant and the gently laid trail allowed me to jog a few sections back down. I made my way through the crisscrossing roads, picked up a pizza in Cascade, and moved towards my last destination of the weekend.
Snowbank is the highest peak in the West Mountain Range, and yet a drive up. I motored my Camry up the dirt road, steep at times but never too much to handle.
The road goes up to both summits (which are nearly identical in height), so I made nuzzled the Camry up both. The views from the top were spectacular, and I noticed Council standing tall to the north. Were I on the summit of that now I would have had the unencumbered views that had eluded me earlier.
Little did I know that such elusiveness would accompany me through the rest of my summer trips into Idaho.
On the way back down the road I stopped and scampered a few hundred feet to the top of Granite Peak, a ranked subpeak to the south of Snowbank and right off the road.
All that remained was the drive back. It was pleasant driving down the Payette into Boise, and I relaxed and coffee’d up for the final, brutal 5 hour stretch as night finally caught up with the weekend.
Hazy Old Borah - August 4th, 2012I found myself back in Idaho a few weeks later. Indecision had given way to Borah around 4 AM on a Saturday morning, when I woke up, checked the weather (clear for the day) and made the final call. The main issue was the haze. Salt Lake City was covered, and it was in this past week that the giant haze cloud of 2012 stemming from the late summer wildfires was just starting its rampage through the Western US. Borah promised to be hazy early but clearing later, so with a good weather window I decided to take my chances with it.
I arrived at the trailhead a few minutes before 9 AM and got ready to test out the legendary steepness of the Chickenout Ridge Route. There were maybe 50 or so cars in the sizeable parking lot, and I was definitely among the later starters, but I knew I would catch up. Besides, I had all day weatherwise, and the haze was supposed to clear up later after noon.
It was still cool enough in the morning as I ascended the first shaded mile or so of the route. It does gain quick and is steep, but didn’t seem any worse than any other steep trail. I guess it’s more so how sustained the steepness is.
Treeline seemed to come quicker than I had expected, and with it came what was probably the halfway point elevation gain wise. The trail was good and actually eased up a bit before ascending towards Chicken Out Ridge, still high up. At this lower elevation the seemingly smooth and multicolored northeast face of Mt. McCaleb dominates the view, while the gigantic eastern face of Borah loomed like a giant vertical pile of choss and rotten clay. My first and still lasting impression of this impressive range is one of rawness, a landscape untamed yet by the gentling effect of natural corrosion.
And the haze. Whereas I could see across the valley in the early morning towards the White Knobs and the Boulder Ranges, the haze was intensifying now as I finally approached the class 3 section. The first part was easy scrambling up a protected face as I went around some more apprehensive groups. Then I found myself a little more apprehensive as I suddenly found myself at a ridge crest, with hundred foot drops on the right and thousand foot drops on the left. There seemed to be a way to ledge traverse below the crest on the right, but the rock was good, so I stayed along the ridge crest.
I soon rejoined the now well formed climber’s trail below the ridge crest to the highpoint. First, a fun scramble up a wide and solid chimney, then the time came for the downclimbing “crux” of the route down to the snow bridge. I descended, hesitating briefly at one spot before a climber down at the snow bridge pointed out an unseen foothold. I stayed and returned the favour for the climber behind me, walking him through the holds for the descent before continuing on to the last 800 ft or so.
And this last stretch was a huge pain in the ass. It was loose, gravelly, and steep, and, having made decent speed up thus far to the start of the class 3, found myself slowing down here under the soon to be noon sun. I huffed and puffed it up to the crowded summit three hours after departing my car.
And what a frustrating summit it was. Atop the crown of Idaho, and yet due to the haze I could not even see the Lemhi’s across the valley (a range I had never before beheld). Views west were limited as well; really all that was visible were the immediate peaks and valleys on either side. It was just immensely frustrating as I waited atop the peak for about 90 minutes, chatting with the other climbers while waiting for the haze to clear. It never did, and I grumbled and vented to myself in anger all the way down.
The initial descent was annoying to the snow bridge. The climb back up the “crux” was pretty easy, and the remaining class 3 descent through the chimney then down the ridge required careful awareness of the exposure but not much else. I stayed mostly along the climber’s trail below the ridge crest on the way down.
I made my way slowly and tentatively along the talus laden trail after that until the trail turned from rock to dirt.
Still angry, I jogged most of the rest of the way back down, making it back to my car less than 2 ½ hours after leaving the summit. Thanks to a tip from Matt (mtybumpo) I enjoyed a delicious Burger at Pickles in Arco (apparently a popular post climb spot), then made the long drive to Pocatello, where I found a cheap motel for the night.
Going Deep - August 5th, 2012I was sore hips through to the legs the next day from jogging down half the descent from Borah. Thankfully I had a much easier peak lined up for Sunday. It was a quick drive from Pocatello down to American Falls, then a pleasant one through the surprisingly scenic (and very importantly, haze-free) Rockland Valley. The gravel road was smooth and easy to drive as it ascended into the forest towards the “trailhead” for Deep Creek Peak…ie find the right approximate spot along the road near its highpoint, park at its side, and start cross country towards the slightly pointy thing.
Having had a later start and driven down in a leisurely manner it was quite hot and humid by the time I started. There was a slight chance of afternoon tstorms, but I didn’t expect to take that much time on this peak. I knew the route involved a lot of ups and downs, but was still dismayed discover that much of first half of the route is a bumpy descent to a saddle west of the peak.
There were herd paths at times, but otherwise mostly cross country sidehilling on the slightly steeper portions, and some moderate bushwacking in the little wooded saddles between bumps on the way down.
Easy peak though it was, my body was pretty fatigued and, with the hot weather, I progressed quite slowly up the ascent, grassy ledge by grassy ledge, to the summit.
The views were great, with a spot amid all the prominent ranges of Southern Idaho, and the green linear ridges of the Deep Creek Range stretching up to Bannock Peak made a sight for sore eyes as well.
While quite different from the high alpine views of its northern Idaho brethren, there is a calming quality to these high hills in the southern part of the state.
It was nice to behold hazeless views. Alas, this would be the exception to the rule for the rest of the summer and fall.