March 31, 2008

Winter in the Lost River Range

Ten days ago, Scott, Mike and I climbed the Northwest Ridge of Peak 11,308. This peak sits just Southwest of Borah Peak and boasts a couple of the finest mixed lines south of the Canadian Rockies. The weather was clear and cold, and there was no mistaking the fact that Spring had NOT sprung in the Central Idaho mountains.
Although the ridge is not technically difficult, don't be lured into thinking it is an easy objective. The ridge requires mountaineering skills, knowledge of avalange terrain and conditions, route-finding skills, and the ability to negotiate the knife-edge ridge while maintaining your composure. The ridge is wildly exposed which makes it quite possibly the most aesthetic ridge climb I have ever done.
Views of Borah, Sacajawea and Mt. Idaho are impressive along the full length of the climb.
We encountered mixed conditions and spent an hour or more slogging through the sugar snow of the lower ridge. At times we were chest deep in the loose powder, and had to worm our way over steep steps and around gnarly trees that reached their branches toward us like something out of a J.R.R. Tolkein novel!
Once we attained the upper ridge (above tree line) the exposure became even more dramatic. Large snow bowls line both sides of the serrated ridgeline and hold HUGE amounts of snow, hanging precariously above gigantic avalanche chutes. At one point, we were forced to drop off the ridge for about 50 feet and ascend the very top margin of one such snow bowl. As we sunk to our waist in the soft powder, our hearts skipped a beat and tense moments ticked away to the rhythm of our punding hearts...we waited...hoping our footsteps hadn't triggered an avalanche. Then, clinging to the rock wall of the ridgeline that loomed above us, we pressed on and again regained the backbone of the ridge.
A series of false summits made it evident that we still had a long way to go. The summit view was definitely worth the effort and we spent an hour on top eating high fat foods and taking photos. When we couldn't stand the extreme cold any longer, we descended. The radiant heat beating off the limestone wall was a welcome sensation. We took 12 hours from car to car, a little slow given the length of the ridge, but not bad considering the depth of the snow.
Experienced mountaineers have wisely backed away from climbing this dramatic ridge. We felt a true sense of accomplishment in having reached the summit and, most importantly, getting back to the car safely.
Our hope is that the mixed climbing on 11,308 is in fat condition in another 2 weeks. Even if it's not, this trip marks only the beginning of great adventures in the gem known as the Lost River Range!

The Ultimate Expedition

We take many side trips during our journey through life, but remember, your life is unique and the outcome each day is up to you. Find greatness every step of the way as you undertake the ultimate expedition - your life!