Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Skiing the Sawtooths and Lost Rivers, Idaho

Posted By on Tue, Apr 30, 2013 at 4:21 PM

In an effort to stay in the sunshine, leaving our beloved Montana for Central Idaho was the weather forecasted direction we headed.

Our first stop: the hot springs of Stanley Idaho. With many to choose, we camped at the Salmon River Campground about three miles north of town and soaked in the tub springs by the side of the road. It was perfect temps, no one there, and a half mile from camp.

Miles Morris at Mount Heyburn, Sawtooths

We got a late start in the morning, leaving the Redfish Lake gate at 10:15 bound for Mount Heyburn. The SNRA abounds in pavement, campsites, and with the trail into Bench Lakes Basin relocated, we bushwhacked from the point campground to the ridge trail. With no snow on the road, we were a bit disappointed that the gate was still locked, especially as folks with keys kept coming through, though none offered our ski crew a ride. This trip was a lakes tour as we strolled by Little Redfish, Redfish, and the five Bench Lakes. When we arrived in the upper basin under Heyburn's summit in the early afternoon, the sun had been on the lower main couloir and it had been skied. The left hand fork would have been a good option, but we chose the next couloir west which accommodated our party of four best and held good north facing powder.

Atop the Western Couloir, Mount Heyburn

We considered another run in the eastern couloirs, but decided against it due to energy and timing. Something to return for someday.

Back to camp and the hot springs for a cold night by the river. In the morning with fair skies continuing, we drove to Galena Summit and bowl bounced along Titus Ridge for a mellow day. The terrain again was short, but adequately featured and enjoyable. The views were great and we had a relaxed day.

Atop Titus Ridge looking west at the Titus Lake Gully run
  • Atop Titus Ridge looking west at the Titus Lake Gully run

We left the Sawtooth area that evening bound for the Lost River Range and some longer vertical runs, more like what we are accustomed to in the Bitterroot Ranges.
Borah Peaks West Face
Camping out at the base of Borah Peak, we were ready for a early departure for this iconic ski peak and highest point in Idaho, 12,662 feet. There were others to share the trail with in the morning and we enjoyed some mountainside conversation and meeting a group from south Idaho out in front and a group from Bozeman coming up from behind. Ascending Borah is fun with a good desert trail at the bottom, beautiful old Whitebark Pine forest above, giving way abruptly to the alpine, where a short flat stretch of trail allows the catching of breath.
Borah Peaks west face from about 10,600

Along Chicken Ridge, 11,250

Then it's into the technical part of the route where scrambling along the ridge includes dozens of class four rock moves and maybe a fifth class move or two right along the ridgeline with heady exposure off both north and south aspects.
Another ridgeline traverse puts the climber at the base of the final thousand feet at 11,500' elevation and these steps include postholing or heading for the scrambling route which I preferred. We reached the summit after about six hours ascending at a nice pace, high fived, took some photos and carefully switched into our skis.
Mount Borah Summit
The descent from the summit involves skiing small patches of snow between the rocks, but is linkable to the two main gullies southwest of the peak. The fall line run cliffs out about 200-300 vertical feet below the summit, but then enters another nice gully system. Only for the extremely adventurous.

Once into the gully, the skiing is direct and beautiful, alpine and confined, through two chokes the first one long and skinny the second twisting and off fall line.

Kevin Freund in the West Scythe Gully
First Choke of the Scythe Gully
Below is an amazing open moderate bowl where yodeling is encouraged and letting the skis run is the idea. Enjoying ourselves in the lower basin we watched the Bozeman crew through part of their descent and soaked up the sun while rehydrating and snacking.

A beautiful schuss downhill empties the skier into the forest around 9,000' and a traverse at 8,800' requires one downclimb into a gully on a rocky rib followed by a posthole factory around the face, through a draw, and back to the trail where it first meets the ridge bounding the south side of the gully at 8,600' on ther USGS quad. All in a great ski tour, my second time visiting and summit skiing, and very worthy for subsequent visits, as there are further summits at 11,000'-12,000' just to the south of Borah worth exploring.

On a personal note, Borah Peak was the last place I skied with my good friend Chris Spurgin in 2010 before his untimely death on Lolo Peak on June 14th. I thought about him often while on the tour, how inspired he was to explore the mountains, and how willing he was to go where few venture. I will always remember his good cheer and steady companionship in the mountains.

Chris Spurgin in April 2010
  • Chris Spurgin in April 2010
Chris skiing the Scythe Gully, April 2010
  • Chris skiing the Scythe Gully, April 2010

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