This is both a trip report and an album so enjoy the pictures.
What to climb?
I have had a climb for November 21st marked on my calendar for a while. The problem was I didn't know what I was going to climb. My first choice would have been Lost River Mountain since I'm trying to finish off the 12ers, but after talking with my climbing partners Zach and Rob we decided it wasn't going to work. It was too far away for the amount of daylight left. We tossed around other ideas but never came to a conclusion. Finally I emailed John (Splattski) asking for suggestions. Since I haven't climbed with him for almost two years now I invited him to come. After a few more days of debate we finally settled on a suggestion from Splattski: The Box in the Pioneers. The forecast for the weekend called for cold, cloudy, and windy weather with a chance of snow. Zach said the cold didn't appeal to him so he opted out of the trip and headed South to the Owyhees. That left Rob, Splattski, and I to tackle The Box (11,305 ft.).
We left Boise just after 5 am and headed to Sun Valley in the dark. Just outside of Mountain Home where highway 20 climbs into the mountains there was a little less than an inch of snow on the road. It looked like it had snowed the night before all the way to Hailey. As we drove and it got lighter the clouds started to break up more and more. Finally it was mostly clear with a few clouds hanging around the mountaintops.
McIntyre in the Clouds
We got to the PK pass parking area just before 9:30 AM and since we were in the mountains now it was a little cloudy with blue sky and sunshine occasionally taunting us through the clouds. At about 9:30 we left the truck in our snowshoes and headed up the canyon towards The Box but because of the mist and clouds we couldn't ever see it. We saw giant rock walls on the sides of the canyon but the tops disappeared into the clouds.
Farther on the Little Matterhorn poked out of the clouds as the day began to clear up more. To my right I spotted 5 mountain goats walking along the ridge above us heading the same way we were. Rob saw them but Splattski didn't catch them.
After about an hour the clouds closed in a it started to snow pretty hard but as soon as it had begun it ended. The clouds parted and the blue sky and sun broke through. It was bright and clear for the rest of the day.
Cold tree Little Matterhorn and McIntyre
At the end of the canyon we climbed a rocky wall the led into a hanging valley between The Box and Big Basin and McIntyre peaks. Here the wind began to blow. We picked a spot at the base of The Box's SW face and took off our snowshoes for the climb.
We stashed them here and began our climb up the SW face. As I stood up one of my water bottles fell out of my backpack and went skidding down the snow into the ravine below. I lost sight of it after a while and it was too far away and too far down to go after so I had to leave it.
The Box's SW Face
The crux of the climb was right at the bottom of the face where we had to climb across a slab of rock. In the summer it would have been easy but because of the snow it was slippery. After that we made our way to an area with some trees clinging to a rocky rib leading up to the summit ridge. For me this was the hardest part because the snow was deep and powdery and I was getting hungry. Splattski was ahead, followed by me and then Rob. Finally we decided to stop and have a bite to eat. That rejuvenated me quite a bit and I was ready for more. By this time we had to make a choice: walk on snow covered loose rock or walk on snow. The snow turned out to be pretty stable so we put on our crampons and headed out onto it. This was infinitely easier than the deep powder we had just been through and we made excellent progress.
Even though the footing was easier with crampons it was still steep and physically taxing. The sun was shining but it didn't do much to warm things up and the wind didn't help much either.
Splattski reached to top first and his camera stopped working in the cold so he wasn't able to get any pictures. We met him on his way down because it was so cold and windy at the top that he couldn't wait for us. I made it to the top of the ridge and had one of those self reflective moments that went something like this:
Body: "Stop! Stop! It's cold and miserable! I have no energy! This hurts! Why do you even do this! You're dumb!
Brain: "C'mon just a little more! The top's not that far away."
Body: "Are you crazy? Look at it! It's forever away!"
Brain: "Stop whining, you have to make it!"
Body: "NO! Give up!"
Brain "Ok fine! I'm tired too."
Just as I was about to give up I saw Rob's head poke up from the top. The summit which had appeared to be at least 20 miles away was actually only about 20 ft. in front of me.
Brain: "Ha! Told you so!"
Body: "Hey you were gonna give up to!"
Brain: "No way! I just said that to get you to shut up!"
Body: Fine whatever!"
Rob and I reached the top about 15 minutes after Splattski. It was sometime between 2:30 and 3:00 PM. The view of the Pioneers in every direction was amazing! The lighting was perfect and the wind and wispy clouds made for some great pictures. I was so tired by that time that I only snapped a few pictures and just sat on a rock for a few minutes. It was cold and very windy so we left quickly. I was glad that I hadn't given up and turned around. I pushed through the misery and made it!
The views from the summit were so good I had to put a lot of pictures up here.
South View South View 2 Pioneer Beauty Central Pioneers 2 View North Down the East Fork
The Box's South Ridge Panorama by Brendon
I was delighted to find that going down was much easier than going up. What had previously taken me an hour to do only took me 10 minutes. At one section near the top where the snow was a little more unstable I got a little "practice" with self-arrest. The snow slid out from under me and I couldn't get my footing so I fell and started sliding. I rolled onto my stomach and drove the pick of my ice axe into the snow. I stopped almost immediately, as I wasn't even sliding that fast, and got back to my feet. So that was my first real go at self-arrest. I probably wouldn't have gone far anyways as there wasn't a whole lot of snow and there were plenty of rocks to grab onto but it still made my heart pound a little.
Final look at the big Pioneers
After that experience the descent back to the snowshoes went pretty fast. By this time the sun had dipped behind the ridge to our west and the temperature started to drop quickly. (As if it wasn't cold enough already!)
Sunset on the Box Sunset in the upper East Fork
We headed down the mountain and back in the canyon towards the truck. Around us the setting sun lit the mountains on fire with glowing red and orange. We were back at the truck by 6:15 PM and had we been out any longer we would've needed to break out the headlamps.
It was a fantastic day in the mountains! Everything seemed to work out for us and we got treated to some of Idaho's best scenery! Oh, and if you're ever up there and find a white Nalgene bottle with a blue lid, it was mine. You can probably have it though....
Me on the Summit