I was eager to get one last high mountain climb in for the 2009 season, so in early November Dave, John, Tom and I got an alpine start out of Boise and headed up to the Lost River Range. Some years you can access the approach roads until late December, other years it could be snowed in by late October. I think this year was close to average, so we would be okay at least getting up Sawmill Gulch. We drove easily to the mouth of the canyon in my Jeep and at the crux area, we wobbled onto 3 wheels. The peer pressure mounted, my manhood was questioned, and ultimately I was able to get past the opening and drive another 1000+ feet in elevation before we started hiking.
Always one to go as light as possible, sometimes to my detriment, I lobbied hard to leave the snow shoes behind. It was a calculated risk, but luckily I had some tepid support from the guys and we were off. The hike up Sawmill Gulch past the road is straight forward and follows a clear path, even with some snow drifts. Near 9600 feet where the trees thin and it opens up, we encountered some pretty deep drifts. I looked over at John and said "don't kill me" Luckily the drifts were manageable and before we knew it we were traversing a steep open slope just southwest of Leatherman Peak. The going was fairly easy, but always noticeable when you have to severely side hill.
Soon enough, John was marching briskly up a snow chute toward the Leatherman-Bad Rock Saddle. He made great steps and no doubt burned more energy than the rest of us. The wind picked up and blew hard onto the right side of our faces. It was cloudy and threatened snow, but the precipitation never materialized. But the wind howled even stronger as we reached the pass. We found a spot at the saddle that offered a little protection from wind. I had a brief flashback to Denali Pass where I encountered similar conditions on similar geography. From here, we just needed to negotiate the summit block of Bad Rock and it looked like it could be "interesting" with snow on it.
John was definitely on a mission and marched ahead, but my guilt got the best of me and I powered ahead to catch him and offered to break trail for a while. He obliged and much to my dismay I was at the crux of the climb- a narrow chute of loose snow over a precipitous drop off. I kicked steps and stemmed up a chimney of loose rock and snow. It was one climber at a time due to the hazards. From here we climbed to the summit and enjoyed the view. The summit wasn't all that big, barely holding all 4 of us. We snapped some pictures and knew it was not a day to linger. I had lugged my Nikon D-90 with a 55 and 300mm lens kit and a bunch of accessories. Yet, I was too damn cold to take it out and mess with it.
Once out of the wind and in the trees on the way down, the conversation picked up and we traded Denali stories. I think I tried to convince Dave to go on an expedition type climb with me. Of course he would have to stomach by George H. impressions and he would probably end up killing me. The drive out over the rutted out rocks was surprisingly uneventful, although lower down I got cocky and we hit a few rocks. It felt good to have climbed a large peak in November.
Trip Stats: 7 miles, 4300 ft, 7 hours