With only a day and a half to acclimate, I set off on my only chance to hike on what was to be a long business trip throughout Idaho and Nevada. My target was Grays Peak. I realized that any higher peak would probably be a stretch given my lack of acclimation, lack of training, and lack of time with which to complete the hike before I had to ride off to Boise for a busy Monday of meetings and then a long drive to Elko. However, I also realized that a peak any lower would surely be a let down. Grays Peak turned out to be a perfect balance.
So, at 6am Sunday morning, I left from Hailey and headed about 10 miles up to the East Fork Road, where I turned right and headed East for about 12-13 miles to the Federal Gulch Trailhead.
The temperature was reasonable; about 60-65 degrees for most of the hike. The Federal Gulch Trail is rather overgrown at spots, and at times I just had to trust that I was still on trail, especially when I encountered grass and weeds which were up to my neck.
After winding up switchbacks, I hit an open meadow at about 8,500 feet. Now Grays Peak was in sight. The question was where to begin the ascent. I really didn't see anything clear. I headed for the Western ridge, but I could find no better route to the summit. I backtracked and found a steep gully that seemed to be climbable. This was to be my route to the top. I stood at about 8,600 feet at the start of the gully. The summit was over 1900 feet above me. It was time to start my climb.
In the beginning, the problems were few. I made it up the first 1000 feet rather easily. However, the higher I climbed, the looser the rock became. At one point I decided to try and get out of the gully to try my luck on the more meadowy slope that was adjacent. This was a mistake. When I finally got up there, I got trapped and had to backtrack. There was simply nothing to hold onto to get up the mountain. The rocks were too loose. If I grabbed onto a rock, it would get loose, and I would have no place to put my feet. I had no other choice but to go back and take the gully.
It was about this point that my lack of acclimation kicked in. After I backtracked to the gully, I found that I could only take a few steps before getting tired. I was now probably just under 10,000 feet, but it felt like 15,000!
The Gully from about 10,000 feet
I decided that the only thing I could do was rest. After all, 10,000 feet isn't that high, and my body could recover if I rested for a minute or so. I drank lots of water and plodded up the last 400' or so of the gully in about 35 minutes (with rest taking up about half that time). After a slowed down approach I finally made it up to a small rock pyramid on the left. At this point I realized that the summit was very close. I rested, took some water, and headed up the last little bit (less than 200 feet up to the summit). Once on top of the rock pyramid, all the major Pioneers came into view. The view was truly incredible (see below). Among the peaks that came into view at this point were Brocky Peak, Cobb, Duncans, Hyndman, McIntire, and Old Hyndman. At the summit, Borah Peak also came into view along with the other high peaks of the Lost River Range. I just laid down and took it all in. Unfortunately, it was windy and a bit chilly. By now I had a light sweater on. After I rested on the summit, sucked down water and ate a nutri-grain bar, I was about ready to go.
Gorgeous view from the summit
The way down was treacherous and tiring. I took the main ridge back to the meadow, however I didn't go far enough to lose elevation. I descended too early and dropped about 900' on loose scree. It was brutal. I even ripped my windpants and now have to get new ones! After a seemingly interminable descent, I finally hit the Federal Gulch Trail. Now I was just under an hour from the trailhead.
I never saw another human being on the entire hike until I was 1/4 mile from the car; and that was just a father with his kids throwing rocks in the stream. Despite being a weekend morning with near-perfect conditions, NOBODY climbed the mountain that day. At least it appears that way since I saw nobody on the climb at all, even looking towards the other numerous ridges. All I can say is that these folks missed out.
When I got to my car, I drove about 4 hours to Boise. I was very tired, and very happy to get to my hotel room. This was a very special hike for me. I hadn't been above tree line on any mountain in over a year. I love the alpine wilderness. This was a wonderful, challenging hike. The view is wonderful, and I hope to climb some of the big peaks some day.