June 10, 2009

Spring Alpine Climbing

Spring in the Central Idaho mountain ranges brings ephemeral ice that can be as difficult to catch in good condition as sunny day has been the past two weeks. However, Scott Hurst and I decided to head over to peak 11,308 and take our chances on White Line Couloir.

What we found was fat ice and beautiful weather. Ok, “fat” is a relative term when it comes to alpine ice – and even more relative when it comes to the White Line. But compared to the lean years pictured in Dean Lords’ blog, the pillar on the first technical pitch was huge!

The unusually wet season (which doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon) made for great mixed conditions on the route.

Though both Scott and I had both been to the summit before, we decided to make our first ascent of the White Line in true alpine fashion and trudged the additional 1,500 feet (through knee-deep snow) all the way to the summit.

The descent was beautiful – more post-holing in soft snow that had been rock solid just hours before. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly conditions can change according to the appearance or absence of the sun.

Dean has been recommending this route to us for years now and we have been stymied by either scheduling conflicts or from missing the short window of weather that allows the ice to form on the route.

Though Dean has pioneered more difficult mixed routes in the Lost River Range, this route is a “Dean Lords Gem” that every Idaho mountaineer should experience. The rock was solid, protection was great, though it took some creativity to find, and the aesthetics of the route are unbelievable!

Justin Avenius and Mike Shaw teamed up on the route just six days after Scott and me. They reported similar conditions and also found the route enjoyable and well worth the time taken.

White Line gave me such a bug for spring alpine climbing that I went the following week to Lost River Peak (12, 078 ft.) and climbed Super Gulley (Snow/Class 3).

I planned to do the route solo but just as I was leaving the trailhead, an SUV pulled up and four member of the Idaho Alpine Club poured out in eager anticipation of climbing the same route. They graciously let me join them. At the south summit one finds a long, knife-edge ridge with fantastic exposure on both sides. This last ridge traverse made the slog up the broad gully, which is often skied, well worth the effort.

Not knowing was kind of terrain to expect, I left my snowboard at home and was wishing I hadn’t as I started the descent. I guess I’ll just have to go back and ride the gully another time!

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