During a very hot stretch of weather, I was eager to head to the mountains and
check out the upper reaches of the East Fork of the Wood River. On the
early AM drive over, I pulled off just past Fairfield at the Moonstone Landing
road. Much to my amazement as I drove down the desolate dirt road to the
outhouse there was a party or rave going on at sunrise. Or perhaps I should say
a party was winding down. Nonetheless, it was an interesting observation
and way to start the day.
I reached the trailhead exactly 3 hours after leaving
Boise. I fully expected a really poor road from the descriptions, but it
actually wasn't too bad. There was just one other vehicle in the small
turnout where the trail began. I took off at 8:15 am and it was already
60F at 8000 feet- it was going to be a warm one!
Being a relatively late lingering snow year (from a cool late Spring, not
excess snow) I packed an ice-axe, a small rope and alpine harness, just in case.
Still my pack was relatively light and it was fast going in the beginning. I
stopped after a short time and took pictures of Pikas that were chirping at me.
These small creatures have always fascinated me. After a short time the trail
crossed the river and started to climb away from the East Fork toward Johnston
Pass. The trail is very washed out here and a massive swath of scoured earth
comes down off of the mountain. Near here, I left the trail and climbed
just east of the River toward the base of the sheer cliffs of the south slopes
of The Box.
Just below the southwest slopes of the Box near a few small trees, I found a
steep series of ramps leading upward. These solid ramps soon gave way to
some of the worst scree ridden slopes I've ever been one, and I've been on some
real bad ones. The scree was just small enough to slide on with each step,
but not small enough to create a step. So with each step, a portion of the
hillside would slide away and I clung on to whatever in this reddish section of
mountain. Eventually I reached the ridge and the relatively solid slabs of
gray rock just south of the summit. Looking back down the southeast ridge
toward Johnstone Pass, the going looked very exposed and difficult. At the
summit, I read the signatures- the last one being Splattski. Taking in the
views was impressive- Brocky looked hulking and big. The Cobb, Old
Hyndman, Hyndman area was equally impressive. While it was quite warm, a
steady breeze kept it cool on the ridges.
After experiencing that scree, I decided to find an alternative descent.
I followed the northwest ridge for a short time before finding a pretty decent
series of more solid ramps. I reached the beautiful upper basin and true
beginnings of the East Fork of the Wood River. The heat was creating
massive waterfalls from the melting snow, but there was still tons of
snowfields, perhaps about 65% of the terrain above 10,000 feet was still snow
covered. I decided to have a look at the base of
Basin Peak since it was so early still and see if I might be able to get up
that from this side. I contoured up behind the Little Matterhorn and found
really solid gray rock. Generally speaking in this valley, the reddish
rock of the eastern side is rotten and the gray rock is really solid. But
soon enough I was on snow and poking through every 100 feet or so. Water
was raging below these snow fields. I spied an obvious low notch on the
south ridge of Big Basin.
Since Big Basin was an afterthought, I hadn't done the proper research and I
headed up to the lower broad notch. To get there, I had climb a steep snow field
and I was glad to have the axe, but the snow was soft enough to create giant
steps. At the notch, the ridge toward the summit was vertical and Class 5.
I descended slightly over to the west side (Big Basin) and still wasn't able to
find a good route. I retraced my steps up and over the broad notch and climbed
north toward the base of the summit. I did find a series of ramps heading up to
the base of the summit, but with all the back tracking it was now getting late,
so I retreated before getting too close. I stashed away this info for
later use. The descent back down to the trail was enjoyable.
Trip Stats: 8.3 miles, 4494 ft, 7 hours