Category Archives: Type II fun

Goodsir (19.8mi, 9300ft, 13h13)

Goodsirs and Ice River from Chancellor

The Goodsirs are one of the great landmarks of the Canadian Rockies. Though not quite as high as Mount Assiniboine, their distinctive two-horned shape, massive east face, and position west of the main range make them clearly visible and easily identifiable from the Kananaskis region to the Columbia Icefield, and even from the neighboring Purcells and Selkirks. They have a reputation for bad rock — a real distinction in the Canadian Rockies! — with Corbett’s guidebook claiming it as “among the rottenest of all the 11,000ers, rivaled only by Alberta and possibly Deltaform,” and calling the main (south) peak “among the most nerve-wracking of all the 11,000ers.” That and an approach involving a swamp keep the crowds away from these peaks, despite their lying only a handful of miles from the Trans-Canada Highway and the excellent Beavertail Forest Service Road.

It’s lush here

The two summits have been traversed in a day from a camp at their base, and I had at one point hoped to do this from the car myself, but old age and fatigue have tempered my audacity, and simply tagging the main Goodsir seemed like enough. This took me a bit over 13 hours, so in retrospect the whole traverse would almost certainly go in under 24, and probably more like 18. I found the rock no worse than average for the Rockies, though some of the choss knife-edges looked unnerving. And while the swamp did indeed contain standing water and squishy muck, the Ice River trail was fairly fast despite the blowdowns, and the old trail around Zinc Peak is excellent for a climbers’ route. Had I not lost the route in a couple of places and had to course-correct through truly wretched terrain, I might have been a half-hour faster.

Start of trail

As it is the closest convenient camping to Yoho Park, I had been staying along the Beaverfoot Road for a few days to do some other nearby peaks (about which more later), so I drove another ten miles, then turned on the obvious but poorly-signed Ice River road. I poked my hood down the road a bit, then decided to bike it in the morning, pulling off to camp just off the main road. I had seen the Goodsirs the previous day from Chancellor Peak, and while there were bits of fresh snow in north-facing corners, they looked unsurprisingly dry, so I left my crampons and axe at home, packing just wading shoes and a bunch of calories. While the days are rapidly shortening, there is still about fourteen hours of daylight, so I figured I could leave at first light.

Unnecessary signage

I set off riding the road, which started off excellent and slowly deteriorated as it wound its way uphill past a gravel pit. By the time I reached the clearing with the quad track heading off to the left, it was grassy and looked seldom-used. There were several blowdowns on the quad track, and I almost left my bike there, but the disused logging road beyond was still quite rideable. I left my bike at a tree freshly blazed with an “I” and an arrow, then followed a nicely brushed-out trail down to the Ice River, where I picked up the old trail just after it crosses to the right side. Though it has been freshly flagged, this trail has not been maintained in years or perhaps decades, so I immediately began hopping blowdowns. Most climbers, coming in with overnight packs, would find this laborious, but with a day-pack it is usually quick and painless to size up the tree, then either crouch under or vault over with barely a pause. The trail enters Yoho Park in less than a mile, and while their is an old “no bicycles” sign, there is no more evidence of maintenance than outside the park. Perhaps Parks Canada could divert some of their Gun Ranger budget to hire a few trail crews…

Patrol cabin

It is about four miles to the old patrol cabin, and it took me about two hours at a steady pace. The cabin and storage shed were apparently still in occasional use: both were locked, but I saw a COVID fact sheet through one of the windows. I sat on the porch for a minute, then followed Corbett’s advice to take a use trail down to the river rather than trying to find the old trail up-valley. I found a single piece of flagging by the water, but no use trail beyond there, and things seemed little better after I cut a bend to regain the river farther up. It looked like things might be more open on the other side of the stream, but I did not want to cross once only to have to cross back later, so I set out for the old trail. I found it, but it quickly turned awful, with little tread and endless blowdowns, so I returned to the flats.

Sunrise up-swamp

After a bit of experimentation, I learned that the best course was to stay right on the bank of the river, where there were few willows and often a bit of a game trail. The normally marshy ground was mostly dry in this drought year, but that did not matter, because the thigh-high grass had collected dew overnight, and the frigid early-morning leg-washing was far worse than mucking through a calf-deep swamp. Venturing away from the edge of the woods, I made my way through open fields to get around a lake, and finally found the bog. It was little more than ankle deep, and my feet and legs were already wet enough that I did not care. I had not bothered to put on my wading shoes, and at this point it would have been a waste of time to do so, even if my hands were warm enough to deal with wet laces. I eventually found a flowing stream, and stayed on its bank for drier and more solid footing.

The guidebook mentions going up the north side of an “obvious” slide path and angling left to pick up an old trail. So when I saw a big slide path, I gratefully left the frigid meadow and began climbing. I did not see any obvious exit to the left, and eventually realized that I was higher than I wanted to be to reach the fork in Zinc Creek. I brutally corrected my course, thrashing down and right through Cascades-level alders, pushing one down with my foot and another up with my hand to squeeze my body through. I eventually reached the woods on the other side, and immediately saw some old flagging. I thought I had found a mere use trail, but some sawn branches and a bit of a tread suggested that this had in fact been an old build trail, perhaps put in by one of the Goodsirs’ first ascent parties.

North Fork Zinc Creek

I easily followed the trail around Zinc Mountain’s shoulder to where Zinc Creek becomes faintly visible and audible, but missed the indistinct turn down to the crossing, instead following fading trails upstream. Realizing my error, I thrashed down to the creek, easily hopped across, then made a long, grim traverse across forested slopes thick with deadfall, thrashing down the steep bank to cross the north fork, then climbed the open ground on its left side into the bowl below the peaks. Rising 5000 feet above in a short distance, they are seriously foreshortened, and I had to look at my map to recognize the sharp-looking peaks in the broad slope ahead of me.

Goodsirs from bowl

Finally above the green hell, I steadily made my way up and right toward Goodsir’s southwest ridge. While the terrain was open and relatively easy, it was a long climb, and the meadow hid bits of loose rubble. It was also infested with burrs, which quickly infested my pant legs and shoelaces, and which I ignored with some difficulty. I knew they were using me to spread their seed, and hated rewarding that bad behavior. Toward the top of the vegetation, I crossed a minor stream to the right, angling just below a small cliff-band toward the ridge. This looked like the obvious route, as was confirmed by finding a minor use/game trail.

Lower SW ridge

While Goodsir has a reputation for bad rock, that really only applies to the last 2500 feet or so. The bulk of the southwest ridge is fairly solid rock covered in turf, reminiscent of many Colorado peaks. While this made for efficient progress, it was also somewhat discouraging: I come to the Canadian Rockies for sprawling glaciers and terrifying choss-cliffs, not gentle strolls through flowers and grass, which I can find in the Weminuche without driving several thousand miles north. Corbett’s “shortcut” couloir, to the left, was rubble topped with dirty ice that periodically ejected deadly rockfall, so this was the only way.

Arch at south ridge

The gentle ridge eventually steepened and merged into a face below where several minor ridges join to form a single south ridge. I found a few short fourth-class steps here, but nothing particularly difficult, and the rock remained decent, with the bedding angled favorably. This was the worst part of the climb, more tedious than treacherous, a steep slope covered in just enough rubble to backslide, but not enough to plunge-step on the descent. I crawled my way up, pawing at the junk rock, trying to link exposed slabs and solid-looking outcrops. I frequently knocked off rocks, which gained speed and companionship to create deadly showers plummeting down the bowl; fortunately there were no tents below or other cars at the trailhead, so I knew I had the mountain to myself. I eventually traversed up and right, exiting via a bit of a scramble to the south ridge and a small stone arch.

Summit from south ridge

The ridge was impressively narrow for the poor quality of its rock, and steep on both sides. The best route therefore stayed on or very close to the crest, where the rock was most stable. There were occasional bits of fourth class climbing, but nothing too severe, and I only made one mandatory detour below the final scramble, contouring right into a small bowl to get around a tricky-looking step. The rock quality took a final turn for the worse in the final few hundred feet, where the normal gray choss was striped with some particularly rotten red rock. I carefully balance-beamed several sections here, figuring that the crest itself was unlikely to collapse, and that if it did, I could catch myself in some uncomfortable way. I saw some hardware on the final headwall, but opted to traverse right onto the southeast face, where a fourth-class mix of gullies and outward-sloping ledges returned me to the ridge at an old piton just before the top. A couple short steps and some narrow blocks later, I was on the long, narrow summit.

West to Columbias

I glanced over at the north ridge, but it was already almost 2:00 PM, a bit over seven hours since I had left my bike, and the traverse looked time-consuming. I opted instead to celebrate the main summit and enjoy the unbelievably expansive views. To the west, I could see the Columbia Mountains from south of Farnham (highpoint of the Purcells), to the Bugaboos, Sir Donald, Sir Sandford, and possibly even the Monashees. To the north, I could make out Forbes, Clemenceau, Tusk, and Columbia, 70 miles or more away. To the south beyond Assiniboine being its usual obvious self, I could make out Sir Douglas and Joffre. And close to the east I could easily identify the Lake Louise area peaks, all depressingly dry and glacier-free from this side. All in all, I could probably see more than half the Rockies’ 11,000-foot peaks, and a host of others of similar height across the Columbia.

Bowl between ridges

The descent began as slowly as I imagined it would, first with careful downclimbing of the ridge, then endless crab-walking down the choss and rubble-covered slabs, which are so much easier going up than down. Finally back on turf, I was able to make better time, though tired legs kept me at a fairly pathetic pace. I stopped to empty my shoes and refill water at the creek in the basin, then hobbled down the turf with hidden rubble, my shoelaces tucked away against the burrs. This time I descended the north fork of Zinc Creek until the left bank disappeared, then crossed and made my way through dry channels to the south fork. I even found a convenient log bridge, though it involved brief but savage savage alder-tunneling. On the other side, I almost immediately picked up the trail, and proceeded cheerily on autopilot for awhile. I followed flagging and decaying trail all the way to the Ice River bog, thrashing through berries down low and emerging a hundred yards north of the slide path.

Goodsirs from the marsh

I followed a similar path back through the marsh, not caring enough to deal with wading shoes. The Ice River was higher and an angry gray-brown, but the grass was dry and the bog no deeper, so I found the crossing significantly more pleasant. Rather than following the river all the way to the flagging, I thrashed directly toward the cabin at its final bend to the right, and was soon rewarded by picking up the old trail. I sat at the cabin to wring a bit of water out of my socks, ate my last granola bars, then took off down the trail. I felt I was moving quickly, but the four miles still dragged. I wanted to put on some listening material, but was mindful of bears: my bear spray was probably in Kinbasket Lake, and I had left my spare can back in the States. I reached my bike without seeing any wildlife, and had a fun ride and coast back to the car. My legs and hands had the usual scrapes and bruises from a full-on outing in a wet range, but it had been a rewarding day, and a fitting end to my summer in the Rockies.

Bryce (NE ridge fail)

Bryce from center

Returning to the car from a failed jaunt toward Alexandra by mid-afternoon, I was determined to make the most of my last good weather day with a solid attempt at Bryce. I repacked with a more generous amount of food — closer to 4000 calories instead of the 2500 I had brought the day before — then focused on recovery, eating plenty and going to sleep early. When my alarm woke me again (I was definitely getting run down), I ate a breakfast and a half, then started riding again as soon as it was light enough, taking it a bit easier on the climb to save energy. The previous day’s 4Runner was gone, so I would have the peak to myself.

Smoky dawn on
Rice Brook road

Stashing my bike at the fork, I hiked along the destroyed road, finding some new and useless flagging leading toward the stream crossing. Someone had even done some recent cutting along the bank. Corbett’s guide glosses over the King Edward ford as “short but cold,” while implying that the Rice Brook one is treacherous, so I was worried about how to get across, but fortunately that proved simple. A number of large trees had recently fallen across the main branch, so I could balance across one of them, then switch into wading shoes on a gravel bar to cross the remaining shin-deep channel without even taking off my pants. Too easy!

Glacier below Queant

I left my wading shoes on the other side and took off up the old road. It had looked worryingly green and overgrown from the Alexandra approach the day before, but there was a decent trail, and most of the greenery was just grass and fireweed, not evil willows and alder. I suspected that most of the trail maintenance was done by wildlife, i.e. bears, but someone had recently sawn through some of the deadfall. The trail faded slightly past the cairn parking the south glacier route, but it was still fast walking for the most part to the final cut-block, other than one stretch passing through a collapsed moraine. It was much smokier than the day before, unfortunately, so I could barely make out Bryce’s hanging glacier far above, and the cirque extending from Watchman around to Queant on the other side of the brook, sheltering a badly-shrunken glacier.

Above the green hell

The guidebook instructed me to go to the “upper left” corner of the cut-block, but I was not sure what that meant. I followed a switchback in the road, which looked more used than a faded branch straight ahead, and passed a couple of cairns before it ended. From there I headed straight up through the woods, aiming to get above the green as quickly as possible, then traverse right as necessary. This worked for awhile, as the woods were surprisingly open, but I eventually found myself in a classic thrash, pulling myself up a steep hill through krummholtz. And when I finally emerged above the green, I found myself faced with an extended side-hill across steep dirt, loose talus, and sloping ledges. I found the occasional goat-track, but I had clearly done something wrong.

Traverse below col

I eventually worked my way around a southeast buttress, and found myself at the toe of a small glacier, one of two parts of what was once a larger mass of ice below the base of the northeast ridge. I traversed below it, crossed some tiring moraine and slabs, then made my way toward the other piece of the glacier below the start of the ridge. I found a couple of cairns here, and disturbed some resting mountain goats, but the route was not obvious. At the toe of the glacier, I had a sandwich and debated a bit, then put on my spikes and picked my way up some steep ice onto the glacier’s surface. While it was fortunately largely bare, it was also badly broken up, so I spent some time weaving through a crevasse maze, even ducking through an icy arch, before I reached easier ground. Crossing the flat part of the glacier, I made my way for some northeast-trending slabs on the other side, took off my crampons, and zig-zagged up and back left to emerge near the col.

Ridge from col

Finally, I was at the base of the route. I traversed right below the first headwall, finding some bootprints and a two-pin anchor, then climbed a chossy but dry gully, stemming between the sides to hold the rock and dirt in place. From a three-pin anchor at the top, I traversed back left to the ridge crest, then stayed close to it, steadily gaining elevation on lousy but tolerable rock. I eventually reached the crux, a harder gray band of rock, which I overcame by cutting left, climbing perhaps thirty feet of face, then traversing back right to the crest, finding the promising four-pin anchor. Perhaps there used to be five- and six-pin anchors higher on the ridge, but this was the last one I found.

Center and main peaks from NE

The route is described as a mix of rock and snow, and the first ascent of the complete northeast ridge involved some thirty crampon transitions, but I used my crampons only once, sketched across two flatter bits of ice, and cut a few steps across a couple of ice saddles. Expecting frequent transitions, I had clipped my crampons into my chest strap for easy access, but they mostly just poked me at inopportune times. Above the crux step, the route was rarely harder than fourth class, mostly hiking and staying close to the crest, with occasional short stretches of climbing. The ridge flattened out on some red dirt, then steepened again to the indistinct northeast peak. From its summit I could finally see the central and main (southwest) summits, the former looking mostly dry, the latter still capped in grayish-white. Kaufmann and Outram, on their first ascent in 1902, had dropped left to the south glacier to save time, skipping the central peak, but with the shrunken glacier that looked somewhere between treacherous and impossible now. Besides, the center peak is worth peakbagger points.

Climb to center peak

Continuing, I traversed left of the jagged crest on some remarkably poor gray rock, then dropped slightly before climbing steeper terrain with bits of fifth class here and there to the central summit. While none of the climbing was particularly difficult, the exposure and poor rock demanded constant focus, which was mentally taxing, but which also distracted me from fatigue and hunger. At least as I saw it, the “skill” this route mostly requires is being able to stay “on” for hours at a time. I skirted the center peak’s icy summit blob to the left, tagging the highest rock point, then began dropping to the saddle with the main summit. This part required a few short, steep downclimbs, but the limestone was sharp and sticky. I found a large boulder with a long sling around it, but was not sure which direction people hoped to rappel. The crest cliffs out, so after checking out my options, I retreated just past the slung boulder, downclimbed a loose gully to the north, and traversed along some chossy ledges and extremely rotten rock to the col between the central and main summits.


From the final saddle, I picked my way up some awful, steep, loose yellow dirt and talus, which eventually steepened to the usual mix of walking and short alpine boulder problems. Earlier in the day, I had been worried about how long I had taken to reach the base of the ridge, but it looked like I would reach the goal in less than eight hours from my bike. Estimating that this would correspond to a six-hour return, I would be back to the car around full dark. I was feeling awfully proud of myself… until I finally got a close look at the summit “snow arete.” When the guidebook described an “spectacular snow fin [that] is not as bad as it looks,” I had assumed that it would be something like Eldorado in the Cascades, which requires balance, care, and a head for heights. What I should have anticipated was that, with Canada’s pathetic winter and early summer, the “snow fin” had melted down to its icy core. With boots, crampons, and perhaps two axes, I would have easily and securely traversed across the south face, but I had just my running shoe crampons and a single axe. I started along the ridge à cheval, knocking down the weird fin of snice along the crest to make a better seat, but this tactic would not work on the steeper parts, or on the remaining hardened cornice. With no way to reach the bare rocky slopes south of the summit, no desire to cut steps across the south face, and no other tactics coming to mind, I admitted defeat.

Columbia Icefield

Strangely, I was only mildly disappointed to turn back so close to the summit. I knew what I would have had to do to succeed: carry my heavy mountaineering gear the whole way for the final two hundred yards, costing me an hour or two on the other nineteen miles of the route, some of that by headlamp. I also knew that, in its current dry condition, the northeast ridge was not enjoyable enough to repeat. Going up the ridge and down the southwest glacier might be fun in the right conditions, but I am not expert enough to predict when that will be possible. While some rock routes in the ever-drier Canadian Rockies are becoming easier or better, traditional mountaineering routes like this are usually worse.

Approach glacier

I had my second-to-last sandwich, then began picking my way home. I was sluggish on the climbs by now, but fortunately only had one big grunt over the central peak. Needing a bit of self-manipulation, I promised myself the last sandwich when I made it past the climbing, down the ridge and below the glacier. The ridge went about as expected, slow on the uphills and quickly on the flats and downhills, except when the choss-on-slabs was more difficult down than up. Downclimbing the crux required thoughtful and careful movement, but at least the small holds were mostly solid. The dirt-chute around the first headwall was worse going down, but again just required patience.

Steep part of approach glacier

I was determined not to reverse my route over the glacier, so after retracing my way down the ramps, I continued to zig-zag down and left, searching for breaks in each layer. Some required low-fifth-class downclimbing, but I made steady progress, eventually descending below the glacier’s steep bulge. It looked from above as if I might be able to avoid the ice entirely, but that eventually proved difficult and tedious, so I put on crampons one final time to walk down the low-angle glacier to its toe, where I finally sat down, stowed my axe and spikes, and ate that last sandwich.

Balance-beam moraine

Though the “dangerous” mountaineering work was done, I still had a long ways to go, and more route-finding. I continued down the valley below the glacier, crossing as many streams to the right as I could before they joined to become too formidable. I soaked my feet on a couple, but did not really care, as I did not have too much distance to cover. I traversed back to my upward path at one point, followed it, then left it to follow the crest of an old moraine, which seemed like it would get me well below treeline before I had to engage in vegetable combat. This proved tricky but also engaging and amusing, as the crest of the moraine was balance-beam narrow. I eventually dismounted where it descended into shrubbery, crossed a final cascade, and entered the fight. I had hoped to bash straight down to an old roadbed, but I was not so fortunate. The woods here had much more undergrowth and deadfall than on the other side, and the old cut-block was littered with old debris and badly overgrown with brush and berries. Mindful that I was bashing through prime bear-grazing terrain, I occasionally yodeled, but mostly just let my spontaneous cursing at bashed toes and shins announce my presence.

Queant cirque again

Fortunately I had recorded a track on the way up, so I could just bash my way back to its closest point, finally emerging on the road. From there it was a long but mostly easy downhill walk back to Rice Brook, which was still less than knee-deep, then a short plod up to my bike. Worn though I was, the cruise down to the car still cheered me up. I did not bother with dinner or an alarm: whatever the weather, tomorrow would be a rest day.

PS: If you have some spare time, I encourage you to read James Outram’s account of the same climb in August 1902, from his book In the Heart of the Canadian Rockies.

King Edward

King Edward

The spine of the Rockies forms the boundary between Alberta and British Columbia, so their western side is accessed through what is effectively a giant timber operation. On my first visit in 2014, I was taken aback by the scale and ferocity of the logging, with the landscape checkered in endless cut-blocks, and piles of slash lying in new-growth forests of small trees interspersed with large old stumps. Looking past the ugliness, however, BC’s economic engine has two benefits to the dirtbag mountaineer. First, while the capillary roads are ever-changing as new tracts are cut, the arterial roads are well-built and -maintained, and extend far into remote valleys. Second, while Canada’s National Parks are an extractive industry of their own — pulling money from tourists rather than wood from forests — the BC side of the Rockies is mostly Crown Land, meaning recreation is free and unregulated. I had long meant to visit the network of roads up the Bush River, which extend sixty or more miles from the Trans-Canada Highway near Golden, and I was sufficiently sick of dealing with the parks to make the drive.

Clemenceau and friends

While the Bush Road is well-maintained and suitable for any car, it is long, and I do not have the tires or suspension to drive it at high speed, so I spent the better part of an afternoon puttering north, occasionally pulling over to let someone in a pickup truck blast by. One is supposed to beware of logging traffic, as the trucks communicate with each other via radio and drive like they own the roads (which they do…), but I saw none in over two hours on a Friday afternoon. The road eventually reaches Kinbasket Lake, a long, thin reservoir that backs up into several river valleys, and turns east along the Bush Arm. Where the main roads splits, I continued north up the Bush River rather than looping back west toward the Sullivan Arm, an even longer road that used to offer some semblance of access to the Clemenceau Icefield peaks. The road deteriorates slightly, but remains in good shape past the bridge crossing back to the east bank of the Bush River, where I made my camp for the next few days. The “trailheads” for Mounts King Edward, Alexandra, and Bryce are all within an hour’s bike from this spot, and I was sick of driving.

Only thigh deep…

I knew I had 2-3 days of good weather, and did not want to destroy myself the first day, so I started with King Edward, which sounded like the easiest peak. Despite being an 11er, it is infrequently climbed thanks to its remote location and uninspiring character. Corbett describes driving to a removed bridge over an unnamed creek, which is crossed by Tyrolean on a cable or a “short, cold ford,” after which one continues along an old logging road. I thought perhaps I could carry my bike across and ride some of the disused road, significantly speeding things up. However his guidebook was published in 2016, and much of its content is based on his climbs in the early 2000s. Thus its information can be badly out-of-date, especially on the BC side, where in addition to receding glaciers and drier winters, changes in logging and fast-growing brush alter the landscape. I found that the last couple miles of road to the creek crossing are, while bikeable, no longer driven, and the road on the other side is severely overgrown. Worse, the creek crossing at the road was at least thigh-deep in the morning, and the Tyrolean cable is a rusting tangle on the near side.

Glacier comes into view

I had taken off my pants, put on my wading shoes, and found two good sticks for balance, but after poking at the stream, I decided I did not want to wade it. I followed a quad track a short distance downstream, but the ford did not look much better there. The brush upstream was brutal, and I gave up one attempt at exploration, but tried again, staying farther from the bank, hoping that I could find a fallen log or reach a point where the stream split. I thrashed through brush and woods for awhile, then made my way back toward the steep bank, and saw a complicated but dry crossing. I thrashed back down to the creek, crossed a short log to a rock, stepped gingerly over to an old stump, then made a slow, nut-crushing à cheval ascent of another log to the other bank. From there, I regained the old road with more grim thrashing, and left my unused wading shoes on a rock.

Alpine donuts

While what I found was hardly a trail, the old logging road was at least level, and some mixture of occasional mountaineers and more frequent animals maintained a sort of path that followed it, climbing steadily up the side of a ridge between the Bush River and the creek I had crossed, which originate in two tongues of the large glacier south of King Edward. The road ends at a cut-block far up this ridge, where I found an old cairn marking the start of a faint game trail leading through the slash and regrowth. Beyond the block, I thrashed through deadfall and blackberries for a bit before picking up a promised quad track. Whoever built this track had gone to considerable effort, sawing through dozens of fallen logs. Though it fades, I saw signs that the track continued well into the alpine — someone had, at some point, even driven donuts in a post-glacial mudflat well above treeline. As I was saving battery by not listening to anything, I had plenty of time to ponder why any of this was built, and found no good answer.

Columbia and retreating glaciers

The long ridge I was following ends in the icefield lying south and west of King Edward, which used to connect to the Columbia Icefield via their exit glaciers in the valley to the east. These glaciers are now much diminished, with old moraines hinting at their former extent, and it seems that the ski traverse between the Clemenceau and Columbia Icefields, which passes through here, will soon be impossible. Passing through the quad playground, I made my way across slabs and debris toward the point of rock closest to the peak, where I donned crampons and easily mounted the ice. I zig-zagged my way north, avoiding some long and obvious crevasses on my way to more level ground. Fortunately for me, the holes were mostly open, so I was able to plot a safe course through the regular holes, which appeared even in the flatter parts. Part of this safe course led me through some knee-deep slush near the peak, evidence of relentlessly warm days and a lack of overnight refreeze.

Approach ridge from climb

I was worried about the transition to the rock of the peak, but fortunately the snow and ice had not completely separated from it, and I was able to weave through the more broken glacier near the base. The initial climb up the near corner of the southwest face was outward-facing slabs, but they were relatively clean and made of sticky limestone. Above, I stuck near the right-hand side, where there was the most exposed rock, but still had to deal with some horrible loose limestone scralus. I listened to the steady rattle of rocks down the southeast face, and admired the turquoise terminal lake slowly emerging from behind Columbia’s snow-free east west face, in the hole between it and the Twins. I found a bit of fourth class climbing getting through a short cliff band, but nothing particularly difficult until reaching the tilted summit knob. As I had read in the route description, I contoured around to the right on a rubble-covered ledge, then stemmed and climbed my way up a short pitch of low-fifth-class rock of poor but adequate quality. Beyond, it was an easy trudge up more scree to the highpoint, at the near end of a long, rotten, serrated ridge.

Columbia and its icefield

It was fortunately not too smoky, and I could admire the expansive and seldom-seen view in all directions. To one side were the “backs” of Columbia and the Twins, at the northwest end of the Columbia Icefield. To their north I could see Woolley and Alberta, looking just as unassailable from this side, with the headwaters of the Athabasca River seven thousand feet below the peaks. Far to the other side, I could make out Tsar, Clemenceau, and Tusk, the three most remote 11,000-foot peaks. Between me and Clemenceau lay a lifeless landscape of lesser peaks and glaciers. I tried to enjoy the summit, but was mindful of the long return. I skipped down the scree, carefully downclimbed the crux, then thankfully found more boot-skiable scree than I had expected on the way down. At the small intermediate cliff-band, I removed and packed up an enormous wad of tat wrapped around a boulder, doing my mitzvah to atone for other climbers’ sins.

Bryce on return

I followed my out-track most of the way down the glacier, then headed right to the top of the ridge rather than returning through the post-glacial plain. This turned out to be no easier, and did not save any time, but at least it was different, and gave me a better view of the large and fractured glacier at the head of the Bush River. I rejoined my outward path before reaching vegetation, and followed it back to my wading shoes, which I strapped to my pack unused. I thrashed down through the woods to the river, and most of the way upstream to my previous crossing, then stopped in dismay. The river was flowing much more strongly than in the morning, and the already-precarious step between the rock and old stump was awash in churning water, making the crossing useless. I retreated a bit, then returned in disbelief to take another look. Other than waiting until the middle of the night, my only option was to ford the river at a safe-ish place.

“Safe-ish” meant reasonably calm with a decent runout, and the former bridge location seemed like the best option. It had been at least thigh-deep in the morning, and would be significantly worse now, but it had to be done. I returned to where I had left my shoes, then thrashed downhill until I hit the old road-cut, which I followed to the bank. In preparation, I took off my pants, put on my wading shoes, and double-bagged my phone in my pack. To save weight, I dropped the mess of tat I had harvested on the bank, undoing the good I had done. I also grabbed a stout pole as tall as I was, intending to use it to brace myself against the current in the deepest part. Before I could think too much, I strode out for the other side. The water soon came to my waist, then to my chest. The pole worked for a few plant-and-pivots, but the combination of current and buoyancy eventually overwhelmed me, and I was swept downstream when about halfway across. I had some runway before joining the Bush River, and began swimming toward the far bank, but progress was slow. Fortunately the river is shallower downstream of the old bridge, and after a couple of tries, I managed to steady myself and plow ashore through knee- to thigh-deep rapids. I had lost my bear spray, sunglasses, and some granola bar wrappers, but fortunately still had the rest of my gear.

I followed the quad track back to the road, stripped naked to wring out my clothes, then fetched my bike and re-dressed for the ride back to the car. Somewhat to my surprise, two guys on motorbikes passed me headed toward the creek, perhaps out for a joyride. I passed the same assortment of cars parked at a junction along the main road, presumably mountaineers headed to peaks along the Icefield. Back at the car, I lay my gear out to dry as much as possible, then made sandwiches and plans for the next day. I was tired and somewhat shaken, but determined to make the most of the good weather.

Henry MacLeod, Valad, Brazeau

Brazeau summit

Mount Brazeau lies southeast of Jasper above an icefield of the same name, the largest piece of ice east of the Continental Divide. While it was once reached via the ferry across Maligne Lake, these days it is more often approached via the Poboktan Creek trail off the Icefields Parkway. While Brazeau’s south face is itself just a scree-slog, reaching its base requires crossing most of the Brazeau Icefield. This would normally be the kind of glacier travel that I would not want to do alone at this time of year, but two factors seemed to make it feasible: first, the dry winter and hot summer were likely to have melted the lower icefield bare; and second, by traversing neighboring Henry MacLeod and Valad, I could avoid the upper icefield at the cost of some additional elevation gain.

Everything is wet

After a day in Jasper resupplying and relaxing in its pleasant public library, I drove back down the Parkway and pulled into the large Poboktan lot. It is the starting point for some backpacking routes, but features no major tourist attractions, so it is dirt with a primitive outhouse, and was mostly empty. I put some sandwich cookies in a bag (an affordable substitute for granola bars in Jasper), spread peanut butter on bread for sandwiches, spread a bit more on a mousetrap, and was asleep by 9:00. My sleep was interrupted by an overnight thunderstorm, which fortunately subsided well before my starting time.

I was moving again by 5:00, walking back down to the road and north across a bridge to find the somewhat obscure trailhead in some kind of small administrative complex. I was pleasantly surprised to find that bikes were allowed on this trail, and thought about returning to get mine, but quickly concluded that it would not have been worth it. Perhaps the trail would have been a good ride when dry, but it was muddy, slick, and intermittently boggy, with wet brush encroaching in places. It had been awhile since I had showered, and longer still since my last Cascades-style leg-washing, and I was soaked from the thighs down by the time I turned off on the obvious climbers’ trail, just past the first campground.

Coronet Glacier appears

This was, of course, more overgrown than the official trail, and I was getting cold, so I picked up a long switch to beat the accumulated water from the pines and bushes before bashing through them. This effectively spared me much fresh soaking, but was significantly slower than just bashing through normally. The trail climbed past a jagged-edged slot canyon, then climbed steadily along the tributary creek to eventually emerge in a broad gravel flat. This could have been a miserable bog earlier in the season, but was mostly dry and sparsely vegetated, making for fast, pleasant travel and no need for my water-switch.

Upper scree bowl

Where the valley narrows again, the percolating water once again becomes a stream. After a half-hearted attempt to find a dry crossing, I simply rolled up my pants and waded across calf-deep in my shoes and socks, then wrung them out on the other side. My feet were already about as wet as they could get, and would either dry out or not on the remaining hike to the glacier. The once-clear use trail mostly fades above the gravel flat, but I found a few cairns leading up the bank left of a cascade, then back down to the streambed. I followed some treads on the left side, then hopped across on a few rocks to follow the right, eventually leaving it to climb up a bowl before the watercourse again narrows. Above, I could see a lobe of the Coronet Glacier and the tip of Henry MacLeod’s southeast ridge.

Edge of icefield

I found a bit of a trail again here, climbing the right side of the bowl to traverse above a cliff-band, then climbing again to the lateral moraine of one shrunken tendril of the Brazeau Icefield. I put on crampons to descend to the ice’s surface, hopped over small rivulets while crossing it, then took them off again to scramble up ledges and gritty slabs right of an ice-cliff to where I could easily reach the main icefield’s surface. A few pieces fell off the cliff as I climbed, and I stayed well out of their way.

Lower icefield

I was relieved to find that, as I had anticipated, the surface was mostly bare, with the crevasses either open or clearly visible as white stripes of fresher snow. Trusting a snow-bridge after a warm and rainy night would be folly, but it was easy to wind around the slots as I climbed up and right. The icefield is much longer than it looks, so I had plenty of time to watch clouds envelop the summit of Henry MacLeod. This was discouraging in a number of ways: I was unlikely to get a view from Brazeau, glacier navigation could become trickier, and I did not look forward to another soaking on the return if it rained.

MacLeod summit view

As I climbed toward MacLeod’s glacial shoulder, the icefield began to hold a layer of mushy snow, masking the crevasses and making travel unpleasant. My plan had always been to climb MacLeod and traverse the dry ridge from there; with the weather, I thought I should at least tag it as a consolation peak, even if reaching Brazeau seemed unlikely. I turned back left, continuing on mostly-bare ice until I could dismount to choss to the right. I slogged up scree and outward-facing ledges to the ridge, then backtracked a short distance through the clouds to MacLeod’s summit cairn. The views were everything I imagined, i.e. uniform gray outside the nearby rocks.

I dithered for awhile on the summit: on the one hand, it wasn’t all that pleasant, but on the other, it seemed harmlessly misty rather than stormy, it wasn’t that cold, and I would likely never return here. I eventually decided to keep going, and set off down the ridge, jogging through some of the loose scree. I could not see too far, but it was easy to navigate by skirting the edge of the glacier, and the terrain was all easy. Eventually the ridge leveled out, and began to climb toward Valad over similar terrain. The glacier disappeared, but it is easy to stay on course while ascending a ridge: follow the steepest gradient.

Brazeau’s south face

It is a mystery why Valad was named, because it is a boring bump on the ridge, but I think I walked over the highpoint of its broad summit in the fog. Continuing toward Brazeau, I was surprised to find that the easy travel abruptly ended. I was briefly dismayed by a sheer step, which I downclimbed in a chimney with a detached flake on one side, and annoyed by some transverse rock fins, but the difficulties eased as I neared the saddle and rejoined the standard Brazeau route.

Northern icefield

I was expecting something grander for an isolated 11er with its own icefield, but Brazeau is just a big pile of scree. No doubt it is more impressive when you can actually see its surroundings. Climbing in the clouds, I did not find the use trail until about halfway up, and even then, the backsliding was tedious and exhausting. The clouds thinned intermittently as I neared the summit, but only enough to make things a lighter gray, and I did not have much hope of seeing anything. I slogged on, eventually reaching the snowbank lining the summit ridge, then turned right and was soon at the summit cairn. To my delight, the clouds were breaking up, granting me brief views of the summit itself, and the terrain to the north, east, and west. North, I could not see Mount Warren, the next peak north and likely an 11er, but I could see the sadly-diminished icefield. West, I caught some glimpses of lower peaks with their own lesser glaciers.

Peaks east of icefield

Now it was time to get home. I enjoyed plunge-stepping down Brazeau’s south face, all the while dreading the rolling return back over Valad and most of MacLeod. Fortunately the clouds continued to break up, so I could distract myself with the views, even getting a brief glimpse of Brazeau behind me. The icefield to my left past Valad looked reasonably treacherous to traverse, discouraging me from returning via the standard route. Crossing Valad, I was surprised to find a flock of dozens of small birds, swarming and chirping, eating who-knows-what above the rock and ice. I did try to shortcut MacLeod, but soon found myself blocked by a weakly-bridged crevasse, and retreated to follow more or less my route on the way out.

Parasitic plant

After that failed experiment, the rest was long but straightforward: a plod down the glacier, scree-bashing down to the woods, then a much faster hike along the climbers’ trail now that it was downhill and the brush was dry. I jogged parts of the main trail out of habit and boredom, and reached the parking lot a bit over twelve hours after leaving. There were different cars in the Poboktan lot, but still only a handful, and I passed another quiet night before continuing south.

Lost River 12ers finish (Lost River, Breitenbach, Donaldson, Church)

Donaldson and Church from Breitenbach

With a drying trend delaying thunderstorms until mid-afternoon, I finally had a chance to finish the southern half of the Lost River 12ers, from Church through Lost River Peak. The Lost River Valley had been my home for a few nights, and I wanted to be gone before the locals began to resent my presence. I now knew the approach for Church, and had a GPS track for Lost River (via the unsigned but public road), so the task was straightforward in theory. Looking at Lost River from the road, I saw that the upper route was steep snow, which would probably be more efficient going up than down, and therefore decided to start on the southern end. I drove through the ranch gate, found a flat spot off the road to sleep, readied my bike and pack, and once again set my alarm for 4:00 AM.

Upper Lost River Peak

I began riding up the road by headlamp, skirting a couple of fence corners on the way to near where I had stashed my bike last time, then continued on a steeper road toward the base of Lost River that had me in my lowest gear. Right where the track indicated, a trail left the road to head straight for the prominent basin and gully leading to the summit ridge. This trail, like the Borah trail, was wonderfully efficient, heading nearly straight up through the scrubland and sparse woods to their highest point before traversing into the scree gully below the snow. There was a distinct path in the scree, but it was still fairly loose, so I was happy to reach the lower margin of the snow and put on crampons. The snow was firm and supportive, providing good purchase for my crampon points, and I steadily French-stepped up the remaining distance to the summit ridge, pausing to admire the serrated layers forming the ridge to the south, and proceeding with more caution on the final, steeper, wind-packed slope.

Lost River summit ridge

From where I gained the ridge, it was a long, gently undulating walk to the summit cairn. Overnight clouds had left a coating of frost on the rocks, further lubricating the already-slick limestone talus, but this did not cause much of a problem on the flat ridge. Looking north, I could see the remaining peaks and some of the connecting ridge, with Church in the distance looking notably snowier than the rest. The register was an ammo can with a well-made flag showing the peak’s name and elevation, and a damp book which I did not try to sign in the cold. I took some photos, then began the traverse toward Breitenbach by skirting a subpeak, where easy travel came to an abrupt end. The usual loose side-hilling was made somewhat slower by the frost, and the small snow-tongues were hard, requiring me to move cautiously and kick forceful steps to avoid frequent, time-consuming crampon transitions.

Some interesting ridge

Once back on the ridge, I found myself fighting the short cliff-bands, dodging left again to get around a couple of vertical drops. As I neared the lowpoint, the crest featured several knobs that I had to either attack directly or skirt to the left. None of it was particularly difficult, but it was all slow, either thoughtful on top, or tedious and tiring around the side. On my previous attempt to traverse from Borah to Lost River, I had guessed that I had reached the midpoint in time at Leatherman Pass, but now I was less certain. How long would it have taken me, fatigued from a full day on the move, to deal with this terrain in the other direction?

Easy final ridge to Breitenbach

As the ridge climbed back toward Breitenbach’s false south summit, it turned to scree, and a welcome use trail emerged. I followed this at a tired pace, then happily hopped along the flatter ridge to the true summit. Looking at my map and Brittany Peterson’s downloaded track, I saw that she had dropped 1500 feet west from the summit and regained the ridge east of Donaldson. She had done something similar at almost every opportunity, skipping peaks between the 12ers as if they cost her points, and while it sometimes made sense to me, in my tired state I preferred to trade technical difficulty for elevation loss and gain. The saddles on either side of No Regret Peak were high, so it made sense to me in this case to stick to the ridge.

I soon began questioning my choice. The rock layers here slope up from west to east, making the west slope a steep slate roof scattered with loose shingles, and the right a staircase with a tread filled in with rubble and hard snow. As the ridge drops to the north, the layers step down in sometimes-sheer cliffs. I had been able to wind through similar terrain descending from Lost River Peak, but this time I was stopped by a 40-foot step without an obvious downclimb, to small to be obvious on a topo map. Because of the shape of the rock layers, this cliff band extended well down the west side, and did not look easily avoidable to the east.

I scrabbled down some snow to the west, returned to the edge of the step to reconfirm that there was no sneaky downclimb, then regained the snow to descend facing in through a narrow snow-filled chute. Peterson had continued this way (in the other direction), but I did not want to lose another thousand feet, preferring to regain the ridge. Traversing north, I ran into another small cliff-band, but was able to scramble up some slabs, dodging loose rock and melting snow, to regain the ridgetop. As I had hoped, it offered quicker and less strenuous travel than side-hilling, and I made encouraging progress through the lowpoint of the ridge.

Donaldson and Church from No Regret

There seemed to be two vertical steps on the way to No Regret, and I thought I might have to contour left around its summit, but I found that, on the crest of the ridge, both were no worse than fourth or low fifth class. I was fatigued, but the engaging scrambling distracted me and cheered me up on my way to the summit, where I found a cairn but no register. Donaldson and Church now looked within reach, but the clouds were building, and I feared being chased off once again by electricity. Barely pausing, I headed west down the ridge, finding helpful downward ramps, but also a few steep steps up that I had to climb or dodge to the left.

Church from Donaldson

The ridge became more frustrating near the saddle, where the ramps turned upward and hid steeper drops on the other side. I downclimbed some, got cliffed out by others, and generally made slow, trial-and-error progress until the terrain steepened on the final climb to Donaldson. This was on some unpleasantly loose rock covered in places with marbles, but at least it was straightforward chossineering. I took a short detour to tag the summit, then returned to a faint use trail leading toward Church, its snowy summit intermittently hidden in clouds. They did not seem to be building to a thunderstorm, but it would likely rain or snow later.

Church summit

I passed a bivy shelter on the ridge, then lost the trail somewhere before the high connecting saddle. The terrain was thankfully much simpler than most of what had come before, though I had to take some care to stay away from cornices on the intermittent snow. The final summit ridge was all snow, but soft enough not to require crampons, and I reached the summit without much difficulty. The views in all directions were partly and intermittently obscured by clouds, but I could occasionally see as far north as Borah, and it was thankfully clear down the slope to the west where I had to descend.

Sketchy scrambling

Without a track, I would have returned to the Donaldson saddle or slightly south, but my track indicated that a steep chute just south of the summit led down about a thousand feet, whence I could probably continue to the valley and rejoin my Jones Creek escape route from the northern 12ers. The descent was surprisingly spicy in places, with a couple of steep steps requiring careful downclimbing on outward-sloping limestone. I picked my way down the scree, snow, and rock to the base talus fan, then made a descending traverse south to intersect game trails just below the Jones saddle. The familiar route back to dirt roads was long, but much more pleasant without rain or hail.

Typical Lost River storms and cows

I knew my bike was around 7600 feet, so rather than diligently following the roads, I contoured through the low, sparse sage, following cow-paths and roads when they seemed useful. The terrain was not quite runnable, but I was in no shape to do much running, so the brisk cross-country walk was little slower than I could have managed on a road. I found my bike where I had left it, and had a wonderful time blasting down a thousand feet of dirt roads to my car. After a quick change of clothes, I made coffee and a snack for the road, and drove north then west through a vicious downpour, happy to be done with the Idaho 12ers. I am curious how quickly I could do the whole traverse from Borah to Lost River in dry conditions, but not enough to return. Once was enough.

Lost River 12ers bail (Borah, Sacajawea, Idaho, Leatherman)

Ridge to Sacajawea and Idaho

The Lost River Range is home to most of Idaho’s 12,000-foot peaks. It combines the uplift limestone of the Canadian Rockies with the dry climate of the Great Basin, meaning that while the scenery can be spectacular, the terrain can be slow. The 12ers can all be done in a single traverse, from Borah to Lost River Peak, so that was my plan. I was on track to do so, with a bike shuttle to close the loop, but the Rockies’ typical thunderstorm cycle unfortunately caused me to abort just before Church Peak. After seeing the terrain, I am even more impressed by Cody Lind’s 20h23 and Brittany Peterson’s 28h29 speed records for the Idaho 12ers. I might be able to touch the latter, but Cody’s time is absolutely insane; both deserve more recognition.

There are a couple of roads leading to the base of Lost River Peak, where I needed to stash my bike, and I chose the better-looking one, labeled with a BLM sign for Upper Cedar Creek. It was a slow but easy drive in my low-clearance car, passing through a couple of wired-shut ranch gates and skirting a log cabin with all of its windows either boarded up or broken. I left my locked bike and helmet near an irrigation canal, then drove back to the highway and up to the Borah trailhead to sleep. The next day’s forecast was mediocre, but I hoped for the best, and in any case was somewhat committed with my bike now twenty miles away.

Sunrise below Borah

I woke to my alarm at 4:00, and hit the trail around 4:30 by headlamp. The Borah trail was every bit as steep as I remembered, efficiently gaining over 5000 feet in only a few miles. I ground it out at a steady pace, reaching the summit in about 2h30 from the car and 2h15 from the trailhead. Along the way I watched the sun rise on the peaks to the south, and the pointy shadow of Borah approach across the plains to the west. Borah is fairly popular even early in the season, so I had a nice boot-pack to follow across a few stretches of snow, one of which might have been “chicken-out ridge.” The footprints scattered on the several use trails up the final talus-slope to the summit, so I followed one for awhile, then headed to the ridge for the final bit to avoid hard snow.

Scrambling on Sacajawea

From Borah, I retraced my steps on the ridge and talus, then made the mistake of traversing around the southern subpeak on hard snow instead of going over. I saw another hiker lower on the trail, but left it before meeting him to head south along the ridge to Sacajawea. The rock on the ridge was fairly good, and I found some enjoyable bits of class 3-4 scrambling on the climb to the not-quite-12er’s summit. I had downloaded Brittany’s track, mostly to pull in the relevant topo maps, and was surprised to see that she had dropped east around Sacajawea. This looked absolutely miserable to me, and slower than following the ridge, but perhaps she had done the math.

Borah from Sacajawea

Getting down Sacajawea to the saddle with Mount Idaho was tedious, with too many gendarmes on the ridge itself, and a lot of variably-loose scree and hard snow on the slopes to the right. I returned to the ridge where it became more tame, and followed that to the lowpoint. From there, Mount Idaho was a fairly straightforward if loose scramble. I briefly entertained the idea of sticking to the ridge, but was concerned about my time given the distance left to travel and the chance of afternoon storms. Seeing that I would have to drop all the way to 10,500′ at Leatherman Pass no matter what, I figured it would be faster to follow the track and skirt Peak 11,967′ and White Cap to the east, via Pass Lake. I plunge-stepped down some loose scree, then made a sliding boot-ski traverse south into the unnamed drainage. The snow was somewhat sun-cupped, but seemed better than the underlying loose junk. I put on my crampons for the first time to climb to a notch in the ridge north of Pass Lake, then slid down the south side, grabbing water near the spring north of the lake. From Pass Lake, I contoured down and around a spur ridge, then joined the faint trail to Leatherman Pass.

Leatherman Pass from Idaho

I was feeling slightly slow on the slog up to the pass, but was pleased with my time upon reaching it. I believe Leatherman Pass is roughly the halfway point in time and distance, putting me on track to finish in something like thirteen hours. Cody probably had to do this section in around ten to complete Hyndman, Pyramid, and the drives between in twenty hours, which would have required not just superior aerobic capacity, but excellent scrambling skills. The rock quality deteriorated significantly on Leatherman. I followed a faint use trail up and right through the scree, then slogged up a somewhat more stable rib back to the ridge. I stayed on the crest until the final vertical section, then traversed right and climbed some sketchy fourth class back to just below the summit. There might be a summer trail to the left/east, but it was covered in snow, and I did not want to make more crampon transitions.

Downclimb from Leatherman

I found old tracks on the summit, but they led strangely to the northeast, while I wanted to head south. I briefly headed down the next ridge east of the one I wanted, then made a steep, inward-facing crampon descent of the couloir between them to return to the correct ridge. I was already displeased with the rock quality so the fact that the next peak was named “Bad Rock Peak” was somewhat unnerving. In my opinion this whole section should be named “Bad Rock I,” “Bad Rock II,” etc. like the Gasherbrum peaks.

Bad side of Bad Rock

I briefly considered going up and over Bad Rock, but chose instead to follow my downloaded track on a traverse around the right side, figuring there was a reason for doing so. While I did find some faint sheep trails and easier travel at the base of some small cliff bands, the going was every bit as miserable as I feared, swimming sideways through ankle-deep flowing scree. Brittany had continued this way all the way past Church before climbing a gully just east of its summit, but by the time I passed Bad Rock’s summit, I was too unhappy to continue. I found some more solid ground leading upward, and followed it back to the ridge. Looking back, I saw that the other side of Bad Rock is a nightmare of complicated gullies and buttes, which is supposedly fifth class. As bad as the traverse was, figuring my way down it would have been probably slower and definitely scarier.

Looking ahead, I was confronted with a steep step in the ridge, and once again began traversing right. Fortunately, however, I found a decent ledge system leading around the step and subtly up, and was able to regain the ridge closer to Church. There appeared to be one more steep section to be overcome, but it looked avoidable on snow to the left.

Final bit of Church totally goes

I was just congratulating myself on my route-finding when I heard a strange hissing noise, a bit like air leaking from a wet tire. Pulling my ice axe from behind my back, I realized that it was the source of the sound. I could not think of a way that air pressure could build up inside the axe, and it soon dawned on me that this was probably the so-called “buzzing” of an ice axe in the presence of too much electrical charge. There was a significant thunderstorm building to the southwest, but it did not look particularly bad overhead, and I had not heard any close lightning. I did some experiments, and found that the noise ceased when I touched the axe to the ground, and became more intense when I raised it. I was in no position to abandon my axe — the Booty Gods had only just given it to me, and I might still need it — so I continued until I found a flat-ish spot off the ridge, then set it and my crampons in a pile before taking a seat a respectful distance away.

Time to bail?

I was loath to abandon my traverse, since from this point it would be nearly as much work to bail to my bike as to complete it, and the storm might pass, but spending the rest of the afternoon on a ridge with only intermittent chances to escape toward home was not reasonable. I put on my rain jacket and stress-ate for ten minutes or so, then picked up my metal things — yep, the axe still hissed — and started down a convenient scree gully. As if to mock me, the sun came out on the ridge only minutes after I headed down.

Getting soaked

The descent was more of the awful same, with not quite enough loose stuff to scree-ski on top of outward-sloping ledges and steep hard-packed dirt. I angled generally toward a notch between the main ridge and Williams Peak, figuring that since there was a jeep road to the mouth of Jones Creek, there was probably some kind of trail in the valley. I found an encouraging cairn at the saddle, then picked up a faint trail and occasional cairns again once I was below the snow. Right about then the skies opened, and I was drenched in rain and graupel the whole way down the canyon, grateful that I was not back up on the ridge. The canyon seemed to go on forever, but I eventually emerged at the mouth to find a rubber water pipe and disused quad path.

Lupine ditch and Jones Creek

Little did I know at the time, but the valley bottom is a crazy quilt of BLM, Forest Service, and private land, with different maps showing different roads, and some of the labeled BLM/Forest roads crossing apparently-private property. This would not worry me in a place with fewer guns, but this was Idaho, and I felt like an easy target in tights and a bright orange hat. I tried to stay away from both buildings and cows, clearly neither hiding nor threatening someone’s property. I soaked a foot jumping the irrigation ditch, but made it back to my unmolested bike without incident.

Biking toward Borah

Now I just had a 20-mile ride back to the car. Descending the way I had driven the previous day, I was slightly alarmed to find that the two ranch gates, previously just wired, were chained and locked. Seeing as how I was on a signed BLM road, I figured someone was just asserting an illegitimate property claim, but did not want to meet him in any case. Fortunately I was on a bike, so it was easy to cross both gates and speed down to the highway. As I paused there to prepare for the ride back north, a pickup turned and drove up the way I had come, thankfully not stopping to ask any questions. The highway ride north was chilly but thankfully dry, and I took it easy on the climb back to my car, enjoying the afternoon sun on Borah after the storms had calmed. I would have to come back for the rest of the 12ers while I was in the area, but that would have to wait for some recovery and a better forecast.

Goddard divide

Goddard from turnaround

[A few other outings have been temporarily skipped, because this one is more interesting. — ed.]

Mount Goddard is a landmark in the middle of the Sierra, a black pyramid rising well above its neighbors west of Muir Pass, which separates deep Le Conte Canyon from the Evolution Lakes. Lying well west of the Sierra Crest, it is moderately difficult to reach from any trailhead; the most common approaches start at North Lake and Lake Sabrina. I had first climbed it in 2010, going out via Sabrina Basin and Haeckel Col, and back over Huxley, Warlow, and Fiske, then down Wallace Col. I was looking for one more deep Sierra outing to end my ski season, and Goddard would take me to a region I seldom visit.

Drained Sabrina

Though the road was well-plowed past the Sabrina campground to the first bridge, it was still frustratingly gated at Aspendell, so I had to start my day with a couple miles’ road walk. Unlike the last time, mine was the only car in the large parking pullout when I pulled in the evening before, and I was again by myself as I readied my pack by headlamp at 4:00 AM. I did not feel like I would save much time biking the road, or spare my feet significant abuse starting off in trail runners, so I clomped up the road in ski boots, walking until the plowing gave out, then skinning the last bit of road to the Sabrina trailhead.

Midnight Lake

The Sabrina Basin approach is tedious even in the summer, with little parking at the trailhead, a long hike along the reservoir, and much rolling terrain on lousy packer-built trails. It is worse on skis, where the terrain is rarely conducive to efficient skinning on the approach, or fast gliding on the return, and I found it even worse than I remembered. They had drained the reservoir in anticipation of massive snowmelt, so instead of a smooth surface to skin across, the empty basin was a mess of dirt and broken ice. It was also late in the season, so the traverse along the summer trail was melted out. Once I struggled past the lake, I found that the woods were too steep for skinning, but the snow was still punchy and melted out in places. I ended up booting most of the way to Blue Lake, where the flat terrain begins.

Haeckel Col

After struggling for so long to cover so little ground, I almost gave up, sitting on my pack in the sun to consider my options. I could try skiing a line on the north side of Powell, but that was not inspiring. Reaching Haeckel Col required an annoying side-hill and more rolling skinning, but I ultimately decided to continue that way and see how I felt. I made my meandering way to Midnight Lake, then skinned across and booted up a couloir to join the summer route to the col. Were I to return this way, this short couloir would be the last good skiing before an hour or two of reversing the misery I had just endured. That fact set my mind to considering other options, and by the time I reached Haeckel Col, I had decided to return via Lamarck Col and North Lake, which conveniently shared a “trailhead” with the road closed at Aspendell.

Far side of Haeckel Col

I found some old bootprints and ski tracks on the other side of the col, but I remembered the route being slightly non-obvious in the summer, and now it was more complicated. The snow had begun exfoliating from the slabs below the notch, which are split by a maze of small cliff-bands. I cut way right, then all the way back, finally side-slipping my way down a semi-scoured chute between rock bulges. Though the snow is still deep west of the crest, it is obviously past its prime, and passages like this are becoming trickier as they melt out. Below the headwall, I slid and made some turns toward the John Muir Trail, enjoying the relatively soft and smooth snow, a marked contrast to the textured ice I had dealt with a few weeks earlier.

Goddard Divide, Goddard at right

Reaching the JMT, I could have turned down Evolution Valley toward the Darwin Bench, but the scenery gave me new energy. Thanks to with my early start, it was still well before midday despite the time wasted escaping Sabrina, so while I had no idea how long it would take to return via Lamarck Col, I figured I had time to do more. I picked out a minor peak with a skiable face in the direction of Muir Pass, and set out skinning in its direction, but soon my ambition soared and I decided to go for Goddard. It would be a long outing that would leave me unable to do anything decent the next day, but it would be awhile before I returned to this area on skis.

Charybdis and Scylla

I skinned up to the low saddle between the JMT and Davis Lakes, then followed the broad ridge south toward the Goddard Divide. There were two ways to reach Goddard: a north-facing couloir leading directly to the southeast slope, and a traverse along the south side of the divide. The couloir was still connected, but looked thin and possibly unpleasant, so I opted for the slightly longer but gentler traverse. Looking at my topo, it seemed I could cut the corner reaching the traverse, so I headed right where my ridge joined the divide, skinning across a cirque and booting up the headwall. This turned out to be quite a bit steeper and harder than I anticipated, and I wasted time kicking steps in the hard crust, and carefully edging my way along exposed rocks. By the time I reached the crest, my drive had been diminished, and Goddard was still over a mile away.

Evolution Crest

Looking for some sort of consolation prize, I booted up the ridge to the next highpoint, which for some reason someone had added to Peakbagger, and decided that was enough. The summit of Goddard looked to be another hour away, and while the southeast face looked like good skiing, I had nearly the same view from my lower perch, recalling pleasant memories of earlier summer outings. Across the Davis Lakes to the north, Mount McGee reminded me of a failed one-handed and successful two-handed attempt. To the southwest were the Le Conte and White Divides, home of remote peaks including Reinstein and Tunemah, which I had visited on a wild backpack loop. To the southeast lay Ionian Basin, with Charybdis and Scylla guarding the entrance to Enchanted Gorge, from which I had emerged on that same backpack. Charybdis itself reminded me of an early Sierra Challenge, when I had climbed it along with Black Giant via Echo Col. And of course to the east lay the whole Evolution Crest, which I had traversed in a day after scouting it piecemeal over several years.

Lake/creek emerging

I did not have much time to linger, though, as home was far away. Switching to ski mode, I dropped down the south side of the divide a bit, then traversed as high as I could to the easier col I probably should have taken on the way out. From there I made a long descending traverse, skated across the northern lobe of Wanda Lake, then traversed again down Evolution Valley, skating across Sapphire Lake and descending more before giving up and switching to skins at Evolution Lake. I had been skimping on water all day, so when I saw several clear rivulets pouring down from the Evolution Crest, I stopped by one to drink my remaining liter and refill. Then I began the climb up to Darwin Bench, first gradually, then in steep switchbacks well south of the summer use trail.

Lamarck Col

I remembered coming this way after the Evolution Traverse, and felt similarly triumphant despite not having accomplished anything of note. I was thinking back to the remote central Sierra basins I had just seen, and forward to an enjoyable ski down the other side of Lamarck Col. The lakes were showing turquoise in places, but still solid enough to cross, making the Bench much more pleasant than in the summer, when a faint use trail winds through tedious talus. I found a well-used but faded skin-track up the col, and followed it as my energy faded and the wind picked up. Behind me thunderstorms were building over the western Sierra, and I could see wind-blasted clouds on the eastern side of the crest, but the storms stayed at bay.

Emerson, Piute Crags, White

Pausing on the other side of Lamarck Col, I put on another layer, but my hands had already gotten unpleasantly cold carrying my skis up the final scraps of rocky trail and removing my skins. I stayed high and right to keep coasting on the initial descent, and just managed to keep my skis on and thread through a few emerging bands of rocks. The snow was wind-sculpted and suncupped like last time, but much softer, so while I was not able to go terribly fast, the skiing was still fun. I threaded my way through the woods to Grassy Lake, then followed the right side of its outflow stream to within a few hundred feet of the North Lake Road.

The rest was ordinary suffering. I thrashed through some brush to reach the partly-melted road, then skated and poled through endless mushy suncups to where the road turns right in its long traverse above Bishop Creek. I had hoped to drop directly to Aspendell here, but that had melted out, so I followed the road, mostly walking to the junction, then slowly sliding down the uphill side to within a few hundred yards of the gate. I passed a guy out walking his dog, who weirdly pointed at me, normally said “hi,” but did not seem to want to talk. That was fine by me, as I was happy, spent, and not feeling a need for company. I pulled my shriveled and battered feet out of my boots and soaked socks — fourteen hours in ski boots take their toll — and drove to a quiet spot to sleep.

Ritter, Banner, Carson Bowl

Skinning across Thousand Island Lake

While the Sierra are known for their white or golden granite, the Ritter Range is made of a much older black metamorphic rock. The granite is generally solid and therefore draws climbers from around the world, but the Ritter rock is fractured and frequently frightening. I first climbed Ritter in 2010, via the route John Muir memorably described when writing about his first ascent of the peak:

Ritter from Banner

The tried dangers beneath seemed even greater than that of the cliff in front; therefore, after scanning its face again and again, I began to scale it, picking my holds with intense caution. After gaining a point about halfway to the top, I was suddenly brought to a dead stop, with arms outspread, clinging close to the face of the rock, unable to move hand or foot either up or down. My doom appeared fixed. I must fall. There would be a moment of bewilderment, and then a lifeless rumble down the one general precipice to the glacier below.

When this final danger flashed upon me, I became nerve-shaken for the first time since setting foot on the mountains, and my mind seemed to fill with a stifling smoke. But this terrible eclipse lasted only a moment, when life blazed forth again with preternatural clearness. I seemed suddenly to become possessed of a new sense. The other self, bygone experiences, Instinct, or Guardian Angel, — call it what you will, — came forward and assumed control. Then my trembling muscles became firm again, every rift and flaw in the rock was seen as through a microscope, and my limbs moved with a positiveness and precision with which I seemed to have nothing at all to do. Had I been borne aloft upon wings, my deliverance could not have been more complete.

I have since climbed most of the Minarets that form the southern part of the range, and with a few exceptions have been struck by their variable and unpredictable rock quality.

Mount Ritter itself is also a classic ski by its southeast glacier, normally approached from Mammoth Mountain via the road to Agnew Meadows. It can be done this way in a long day, but is notoriously unpleasant thanks to the frequently-boggy Meadows and a long road-slog back over Minaret Summit at the end of the day. So when John mentioned an alternative approach from June Lake, I was intrigued. Not only could I check a long-sought goal off my to-do list, but I might actually have fun doing so. Better still, John was willing to do it for a third time and, in classic style, wanted to add on Banner and Carson to fill out the day.

Dawn on Banner

With the stars thus aligned, we set off from the Fern Lake trailhead slightly after 3:00 AM. The Rush Creek trail is never useful: in the summer it is faster to walk up the cograil, while in the snow one can climb straight up left of the creek below Carson Peak. We hiked through the woods for a few minutes, then found the end of a slide path and put on crampons, efficiently gaining elevation while avoiding small cliffs by headlamp. We were looking for a low-angle route above Agnew Lake leading toward Agnew Pass, and found it without much difficulty. Unfortunately part of the west-facing traverse had been wind-blasted, exposing loose and shockingly unstable talus. Traversing this at night in ski boots was unpleasant, and the sound of the slope above me shifting when I stepped on some rocks was disconcerting. Fortunately this stretch was relatively short, and by the end of headlamp time we were skinning through rolling terrain toward the outlet of Thousand Island Lake.

San Joaquin poking through

From near Agnew Pass, we glided generally downhill toward the upper San Joaquin River, which was just beginning to poke out between deep snowbanks in a few places. We reached the lake just as the sun hit us, too late for perfect alpenglow photos of Banner’s impressive north face, but still appreciated the awesome scenery and deep snowpack as we skinned across the lake. We made a few transitions crossing Garnet and Whitebark Passes, finding some strenuous booting up the latter, then made our first good turns past the invisible Nydiver Lakes to Ritter’s base.

Pre-installed bootpack

By now the east-facing snow had been cooking for awhile, but fortunately there was a fresh skin-track and bootpack from the day before. A group of three skiers had apparently come in from Mammoth and suffered mightily, excavating a knee-deep trench up the first steep headwall. We gratefully took advantage of their work, sweating our way up to the flatter section where the pieces of glacier supposedly reside. We continued following the fresh skin-track up the far-left chute, taking off our skis to cross some final rocks to the upper face. Here we rested and admired the view; while the Minarets look like a single steep, rotten mass from this angle, Point 12,821′ and the pinnacles extending south of Ritter are striking. Farther south and down we could see Shadow, Ediza, and Cecile Lakes, all still solid white under snow.

Skinning upper face

We continued following the skin-track up the lower-angle upper face, eventually emerging on the summit ridge east of the peak. At last we could see Ritter’s precipitous north face, and the southwest chute we planned to ski on Banner, which looked in fine condition. We booted the final few feet to the summit, then set down our packs for an extended break. The peaks to the west around Foerster Peak were solid white, being on the leading edge of this snowiest section of the range, and we could see far down the San Joaquin and out to the west. We had vaguely contemplated skiing the north face directly to the Ritter-Banner saddle, and it seemed like there might be a line heading northwest, then booting back over a ridge, but I was not up for that level of steep and consequential skiing on hard snow, so we clicked in and returned the way we had come. With 3000 feet of elevation to lose on a variety of aspects, the skiing was variable, with heavy snow on the upper face, good corn in the east connecting chute and on the shaded side of the glacier, and deep sloughing glop lower down. A couple of skiers were just about to start up the lower headwall as we skied down it, but they wisely thought better of that after watching the small wet slides we kicked off.

Back at Ritter-Banner saddle

Sliding as far toward Banner as we could, we put skins back on for the long, hot, sheltered climb back to the Ritter-Banner saddle. I anticipated this being grim, but it felt surprisingly painless, perhaps because I was distracted by the scenery and company. The final climb through the choke next to Banner got a bit sketchy, with non-supportive slush over a hard crust, and I had to make a precarious transition to skis near the top to get enough support not to slide back from whence I came. From below, we confirmed that the north line on Ritter would go, but it looked less fun than what we had skied. From the saddle, we booted across some terribly slick talus to reach the southwest couloir. This was frustrating, as it would have been easy and mindless wearing running shoes in the summer. We must have looked like newborn colts stumbling across it in ski boots, and John took a solid fall, though he suffered no permanent damage.

Good turns on Banner

Once past the rubble, it was a straightforward boot to just below the summit, where we stashed our skis for a bit of boot-scrambling to the summit block. I was disappointed not to find the 2010 register from my first climb, but I signed the new one, and took an identical photo of Ritter’s north face, albeit with much more snow. Looking the other way, I could see all the way to Carson Peak and the head of Rush Creek, the white expanse of Thousand Island Lake, and the two thousand rugged feet of Banner’s steep north face. By now the sun had cooked the southwest-facing chute, so the ski down was soft but not yet sticky. Unlike John’s previous two times, the constriction at the base of the chute was filled in, presenting little difficulty.

Banner and San Joaquin

We continued northwest to Lake Catherine, finding good skiing beneath Banner’s north face, then had a gloppy skate across the lake to North Glacier Pass. The south side of the pass was scoured mostly bare, but the slope on the other side was buried, and we had a fast ski back to Thousand Island Lake, in my case marred by a wipeout when I caught an edge on the somewhat grabby snow. Though it was strenuous to skate back across the lake, it was much faster than skinning, and avoided a transition before descending the upper San Joaquin back west.

Carson Bowl view

Finally switching to skins, we roughly followed the summer trail back to Agnew Pass, gaining a long ridge and plateau leading back toward Carson Peak. We were over twelve hours into the day, and I was beginning to feel worn down, with tired legs, sore feet, and a probably-burnt nose. There was one final battle with krummholtz and scree beyond the pass, as the southwest side of the ridge had been melted and scoured. This part began to feel endless, and a final descent and 300-foot climb to the head of the Carson Bowl had us both retreating into our own heads.

Devil’s Slide

The view from the head of the bowl, however, instantly cheered us up. June Lake is at the southern end of an odd valley with exits at both ends, wrapping around Reversed Peak. From this vantage, it looks almost like a photo taken with a fisheye lens, and the afternoon light on the lakes, with Mono Lake in the distance, gave the terrain more definition and warm colors. The bowl had just gone back into the shade, and the slightly-refrozen snow made for fine skiing. The traverse around right to the head of Devil’s Slide was slightly obnoxious, but we were both blown away by the perfect corn in the 1500-foot gully. From the top of the bowl to the avalanche debris at the base was twenty minutes of the day’s best skiing. I hardly even noticed my fatigue or the subsequent minor swamp-thrash back to the trailhead. We savored the day for awhile, then John took off to drive back to the Bay Area, while I happily crawled into my car for the evening.

Buddha Temple

Buddha from Schellbach

Buddha Temple is one of the major landmarks looking north from the tourist part of the South Rim. It and Brahma Temple are the highest buttes on either side of Bright Angel Creek, and unlike Brahma, which is partly obscured by shorter but more dramatic Zoroaster Temple, Buddha stands by itself. I had seen much of the approach via Utah Flats when doing Isis Temple last fall, and Pete had mentioned a loop going in Utah Flats and out to Bright Angel Creek. It is a long haul across fairly serious terrain, though, with climbing up to 5.5 and several rappels to avoid downclimbing closer to 5.9, so I was apprehensive. I reached out to Pete, and he helpfully provided me with a detailed description so I would at least know what gear to bring, and probably not waste too much time route-finding.

O’Neill Butte, with Buddha just in the sun to its right

I knew it would be a long day, but I was camped outside the park, and did not get started until almost first light. I was surprised to learn that there is predawn shuttle service, so there was already a small crowd of people milling around the trailhead. Starting down the familiar trail, I carefully picked my way through the ice, then tried to run as best I could. Carrying just a light running pack, I made it rim to river in just under an hour when I did Brahma Temple last year, but I had much more weight on me this time, in the form of a 60-meter cragging rope (the only rope I own), harness, and rock shoes, so running the rough and eroded trail was unpleasant and exhausting. Just past the ice, I found a nicer headlamp than any I own lying in the trail, a positive sign from the Booty Gods at the start of what I expected to be a long day.

Verdant cactus-lawn

I passed various hikers, a mule train, and the trail crew working on the inner gorge trail, crossed the bridge, and continued to Bright Angel campground to fill up on water, as I had started with almost none. The use trail out of the campground leading to Utah Flats was easy to follow, and I noticed a few sets of recent footprints. When I was last there in the fall, the flats were a dense cactus-lawn, healthy but dry. This time they were lush and green, with flowers and grass sprouting around the cacti, whose lobes were noticeably fat with water. I continued on the nice trail along the south side of Phantom Creek, which I found more pleasant than the Kaibab mule highway, then dropped steeply into the upper creek. This was my last good water source for awhile, but it was cool enough that I had hardly drank since Phantom Ranch, so after a snack I hopped the creek and headed out cross-country toward a Redwall break between Buddha and Schellbach Butte.

Back down Redwall break

My pace instantly slowed dramatically, as I began the expected side-hilling through loose rubble and spiny plants. I tried to contour as efficiently as possible into the wash leading to the break, but progress remained tedious. The wash itself was depressingly brushy at first, but soon became somewhat more efficient, containing mostly loose river rocks with occasional steps to be overcome. I again saw some recent tracks, and wondered who else would be taking advantage of the fine weekend to tackle such an obscure objective. The wash climbs gradually until it is deep between two Redwall arms, then turns steep but seldom difficult. I ran into only a couple of steps that required fourth class climbing, and most of the elevation gain was on relatively stable talus. This surprised me as one of the easiest Redwall breaks I have taken, little harder than the Boucher Trail, and much less treacherous than the one leading to Isis.

Isis from Schellbach

Trending left, I emerged on the saddle between Schellbach and Buddha, where I found more tracks… and some stashed gear! Not only had someone been up here recently, but they were likely climbing Buddha at this very moment. However much I disliked my heavy pack, it was nothing compared to theirs, as in addition to climbing gear they had lugged sleeping bags and over a gallon of water up from Phantom Creek. Had I not been day-hiking, I would at least have done the butte in a day from Phantom Creek to avoid such needless suffering. Dropping my hateful pack, I took a “twenty minute” (at Pete speed) detour to tag Schellbach Butte, though I suspected I was already in for a long evening. There was a bit of trickiness finding my way up the first cliff band to the right, but all was fairly straightforward after that. The summit held a small memorial for Preston Schellbach, who may have been a ranger, and a register with the usual suspects. It also had great views of Isis and Buddha Temples to either side.

Returning to my pack, I trended up and left through the Supai toward the day’s main event. The lower Supai bands were short and easily breached, but one larger one near the top, sheer and overhung beneath, promised more of a challenge. Contouring around its northern base, I was worried that I would encounter slick snow, but it had mostly melted, and the resulting mud rarely caused trouble. After passing one bay, I rounded a corner and found that the single cliff band split, and with some class 3-4 climbing, I was able to reach the base of its steep but much shorter upper part.

North fin of Buddha

Pete mentioned a handline on this part, Tomasi’s book described a “shallow, loose chimney,” and I could follow the tracks ahead of me in the snow and mud to get some idea where they had climbed. They seem to have used a steep but fairly clean fist crack, and I started with that, first in my trail runners and pack, and then in rock shoes and packless. Neither felt secure, so I backed off and, as I changed back into trail runners, watched a chipmunk wall-jump and chimney his way down the crack, perhaps curious if I had food. I wasted much more time traversing right and left near the crack, and almost gave up and turned around. Instead I continued farther left, where I found what was probably Tomasi’s chimney. It was full of mudstone and loose flakes, and after a brief attempt I decided it was not for me. Looking even farther left, I saw that the upper band seemed less sheer. I thrashed my way through the woody brush at its base and, after considering a few options, made my way up via a short lieback into a foot jam where, had I fallen, it would merely have hurt.

Route on Buddha

By this time I had come so far north that, instead of following the standard route around the south side, it seemed quicker to go up and around the north prow. Reaching it involved the expected loose dirt and brush, but was not difficult, and contouring around the base of the Coconino on the other side was reasonably pleasant. Coming from the other side, I had a bit of trouble identifying the ledge and dihedral that start the route, but did not waste too much time. My guess was seemingly confirmed when I found a pair of climbing shoes on the ledge. Had one of the party decided to leave his shoes because the climbing was too easy? Would they bomb me with rocks and dead branches on rappel?

Trailhead from Buddha

I put on the rock shoes I had dragged all this way, and stemmed my way up the dihedral until I could exit left. I checked out a few options, then made an awkward mantle onto a ramp back right, and continued on a ledge around the corner into the shade. Another dihedral here, this one fairly loose and brushy, led me to a manzanita-covered ledge with a slung tree. I bashed through more brush on a stepped ramp, then recognized the awkward chimney/corner from the route description. It would not have been particularly difficult had I not been carrying a giant pack full of rope. I removed the left shoulder strap to make chimneying a bit easier, then made my way up to get a no-hands rest where, with much grunting, I managed to put the pack back on. None of the climbing beyond that was particularly hard and, with rock shoes, I took a more direct line to the summit plateau. While I was occasionally glad for the shoes, I feel like the climbing would have been manageable in good trail runners, especially had I been carrying my normal daypack.

Brahma and Zoroaster, with Clement Powell and Hillers below

Buddha’s summit is underwhelming, a small cairn in the dirt with scrub pines obstructing the view. I popped open the register canister to find that the party of two had come and gone, and I had probably missed them by going around the other side of the butte. I signed in myself, then made three rappels to get down, the lowest from a tree that required some thrashing to reach, and that just barely got me to moderate ground with a stretched 60-meter rope. I coiled my rope, shoved it and the other party’s shoes in my pack, then headed east toward Clement Powell. Just as promised, there was a rappel anchor on the north side of a small saddle, a couple of middle-aged slings and a rap ring around a tree. I lowered myself gingerly, coiled the rope again, and continued to the base of Clement Powell to again drop my pack.

CP tunnel

While not difficult, Clement Powell was a fun “adventure scramble.” Just north of the prow, I found a narrow slot behind a detached flake leading to a corner up the first Supai band. Returning to the south side, I climbed another corner with an awkward start leading to a tunnel beneath a giant balanced rock. From there, I followed a broad ledge around the south side of a subpeak, then crossed some flats to the summit blob, mentally apologizing to the cryptogamic soil I crushed with every step. I found the register in a cairn on the highest boulder, which had much better views of upper Bright Angel Creek and Brahma and Zoroaster Temples than the higher Buddha. I would have had a great view of Buddha’s climbing route as well, but the sun was already low enough that it was in the shade. It was time to move.

Potholes before Hillers

I returned to my pack, then diagonaled across to the ridge connecting to Hillers Butte and Johnson Point. I made a short rappel off a sturdy- but dead-looking sagebrush (hey, it had a fairly new-looking sling…), then stopped to suck water out of the large potholes on the plateau. I eventually found the awkward chimney leading to Hillers’ summit, with the large and teetering cheater step beneath it, but did not even give it a try. I wanted to do all the cross-country navigation by daylight, and changing into rock shoes, trailing my pack, and rappeling off the summit would be time-consuming. Also, I was mentally done for the day. Continuing around to the butte’s southeast side, I scouted the side of the plateau and found a tree with a fresh cord attached. I added a carabiner I had bootied earlier, then made a short free-hanging rappel to easier ground. Thankful to be done with the day’s rappelling, I coiled the rope a final time, took off my harness, and shoved everything into my pack.

Ridge off Powell

The hike out to Johnson Point was long but pleasant, with excellent views of the setting sun and rising moon on Deva, Brahma, and Zoroaster Temples. The ridge down from Johnson Point was surprisingly easy, with excellent position and views. I found a large cairn where one leaves the ridge, and a few more winding down through the cliff bands below. I even found a bit of a use or game trail on the talus fan leading toward the Tonto Plateau, but soon lost it, and made an unpleasantly loose and spiny descending traverse to the head of the creek to the north. This at least was easy going, and I picked up the game trail along the base of the Tapeats leading around the corner to the final drop to Bright Angel Creek. The final descent was again wretchedly loose, and it would have been difficult to spot the correct line by headlamp, but it was just slow going in the evening light.

Final Bright Angel descent

I had hoped to rock-hop across Phantom Creek, but after finding a braided section, I partly soaked one foot when a rock rolled, and stupidly waded the other branch with my socks and shoes on. I wrung them out on the side of the trail, figuring the desert air would dry them quickly, but I would regret the damp feet on the hike out. I made it to Phantom Ranch right around dark, grabbed two liters of water, drank one, then hit the trail as the guests wandered off to their cabins. The Grand Canyon, and Phantom Ranch in particular, are filled with nostalgia for me. Growing up, I would have been one of those guests headed back to the cabin after eating my fill of beef stew, to relax and play cards. Now, I was putting on a headlamp I had found on the trail to hike out of the canyon while eating a bag of peanut butter pretzels. Where I had once experienced type I fun, I now sought Type II.

The Phantom

The moon was close to full, and I quickly realized that outside the shadows, I could easily hike the well-maintained trail without a headlamp. I turned it on though the tunnel and on shady slopes, but mostly left it off, enjoying the Canyon drained of its color. The winds of an approaching cold front began hitting me on the Tonto Plateau, but I was comfortable hiking in a t-shirt until just below O’Neill Butte, where I put on my hoodie and gloves. The wind became fierce near the Hermit Shale toilets, where the Kaibab switchbacks across an exposed ridge. A powdery mix of sand and mule manure intermittently blew into my eyes, forcing me to squint and shield them with my hand. The gusts were strong enough to make me stumble, and at one point the sustained wind was strong enough that I had to stand still with one hand on the wall next to the trail for balance. Fortunately the upper traverse through the Toroweap, and the final Kaibab switchbacks, were at least somewhat sheltered.

I had expected to see at least one other crazy person on a Rim-to-Rim mission, but no one else was out on this lovely night. I hobbled the road back to my car, threw my pack into the front seat, and stripped off my filthy and still-damp shoes and socks. I prefer not to stealth camp in the Park, but it was after 10:00 PM, and I felt I had earned it. I had deliberately put this outing off until the end of my stay, because I knew it would leave me physically and mentally drained. These type II fun outings make meaningful memories, and allow one to profoundly experience a place, but are not sustainable.

Valois, Florida, Bullion, Kennedy

Valois from Trimble Pass

Several of my remaining Weminuche 13ers are unfortunately “orphans” I skipped on various long dayhikes, meaning they are both deep in the wilderness and cannot be easily combined with other peaks. Of these, Peaks Eleven and Twelve are probably the most interesting, and could be combined on a loop of Chicago and Ruby Basins out of Purgatory, but the short days and recent snow put that long grind out of reach for this season. Two others, Valois and Peak Twenty-Two, are only a couple miles apart in the less-visited southern Weminuche, so I thought I might be able to combine them. I have previously reached the area from the Endlich Mesa trailhead, but I do not have the vehicle to drive that road, or the energy to hike it again.

Sunrise on La Platas

I decided instead to come in from the Lime Mesa trailhead to their southwest. This is a ridiculously long drive on dirt roads, and not worth repeating, but it is easy driving for any car up to Henderson Lake. I started the drive in the evening, finished it in the morning, then hung out until around 8:00, when it was finally warm enough to ride with mitts and a down coat. It is peak redneck season in Colorado, the time to harvest meat and wood between when the hikers leave and real winter sets in, so there were several large, aggressively-styled trucks with horse- or ATV-trailers parked at various pullouts.

Maybe they won’t chew your face off

The road remains decent for a few miles beyond the lake, then deteriorates into a mix of slabs, jumbled rocks, and ruts. I had to push my bike in a few sections. I was impressed to see a bad-ass old Mitsubishi van parked at the top of the final climb, which looked like Jeep terrain. I sort of wanted to meet its owner, but he seemed to be just waking up, and you don’t disturb someone in their home like that. The road remained terrible as it rolled across the mesa to the trailhead, and I debated stashing my bike, but pushed and carefully rode all the way to the trailhead, where I found two stock-looking Tacomas. Clearly my judgment of what a vehicle can handle has become poor.

Chilly junction

I stashed my bike in the trees, then started out north along the Lime Mesa trail. There were a couple sets of footprints in the fresh snow, but they seemed to be going out and back, so I did not expect to meet anyone. I soon turned east on the City Reservoir trail, which joined the Burnt Timber trail to meander east toward said reservoir through gentle ridges and valleys. I saw a large tepee-shaped tent in the woods off the trail, and was surprised not to see a horse to carry it nearby. Soon after, I spotted a hunter couple talking to each other on the trail ahead. I half-waved as I approached, but they did not notice until the woman turned around and startled. I found it funny that they hoped to track and surprise an elk, but had not noticed a middle-aged guy traipsing along the trail listening to a podcast.

Slabs up Valois

The human tracks soon gave out, and soon after I saw fresh tracks of elk using the trail, though I neither saw nor heard the animals themselves, despite passing through several meadows that seemed like ideal places for bull elk to scream their aggression and lust. I eventually reached the reservoir, noting that the hike from Lime Mesa was only about a mile longer than from Endlich Mesa. I continued up the trail toward Lake Marie, then left it near Logtown (a very Mad Max-sounding name) to make my way up Valois’ south ridge. I found an old trail at the start, then followed a mix of game trails and common sense through the grass and granite outcrops to the upper talus. I felt pathetically slow on the climb, weakening my will to add Twenty-Two to the day.

Valois catwalk

Valois’ summit plateau is connected to a false summit by a narrow catwalk, which I enjoyed despite the lingering snow. Once past this bit of fun, it was an easy plod to the summit cairn. The peak is utterly unimpressive from this side, but its steep north face is more dramatic, and it has an excellent view of Johnson Creek to its north, bounded by the Grizzly-McCauley-Echo ridge, descending to the deep Vallecito. I looked across Castilleja Lake toward Peak Twenty-Two, but it was hard to even pick it out among the Emerson Peaks and other unnamed bumps. I lacked the will to put in the work to tag it, especially since my late start would put me at risk of a headlamp bike descent.

This sucked

I decided instead to make a loop, traversing over Florida and Bullion to Mount Kennedy before returning to the trail via what looked like easy terrain on West Silver Mesa. The ridge to Florida started out miserable, with slick talus lubricated by fresh and softening snow. In my worn shoes, it made for tedious and cautious climbing, moving crab-style along the ridge. At the saddle, the ridge turned so that the snow melted, and the minor climb to Florida was much easier. From its summit I could clearly see the Trimble Pass trail, covered in snow, traversing toward Columbine Pass. I also saw a well-trodden elk- or sheep-path near Lillie Lake to the south.

Valois from Trimble Pass

I followed what might have been a faint trail to the pass, then climbed more easy talus along the ridge to Bullion, another unranked 13er. I had already somehow done Aztec on a previous outing up Johnson Creek, so I skipped the tricky ridge, dropping to the grassy plain to its south. The descent off Bullion was the day’s misery crux, a steep slope of large, shifting talus covered in slick snow. Too many things moved that should not have, and even crab-walking, one boulder bit me on the back of the calf. It shredded my pant leg, but fortunately I was wearing tall socks, so I got off with no more than a small bruise on my Achilles.

Big NM skies and storms

Relieved to finally be on low-angle grass, I was heard rushing water, and was surprised to find an old pipe sticking out of the ground, with water still burbling out. I saw a tailings pile below the Bullion-Aztec ridge, but no ruins of a building or other detritus nearby to justify the effort of improving this spring. I stopped to fill my water, then hurried on with an eye on the increasingly serious-looking clouds to the south and east. The forecast had called for a slight chance of showers, and it seemed increasingly likely I was going to feel some precipitation.

Pigeon through Eolus

Kennedy has an exceptional view of the central Needles, from Pigeon to Windom, and I took some time to admire and photograph them in the dramatic partly-cloudy light. It also has cell service, from which I learned that a couple of prolific Colorado peak-baggers had been just behind me on my White Dome excursion a couple days earlier. The weather was deteriorating as I descended West Silver Mesa, but fortunately the travel was as easy as I had hoped, with mostly open country and very few willows. I was surprised to find quite a few more boot-prints on the trail, but met no one on my return to the trailhead.

Needle Creek to Animas

It started graupel-ing a couple of miles out, and gradually grew more intense. I was not looking forward to the ride back to Henderson Lake, especially since the clay-rich soil had turned to slick mud. The two trucks were still at the trailhead, and the Mitsubishi van’s resident waved as I passed, riding cautiously over the mix of mud and limestone. I was impressed at how well my bike’s tires handled the surface, despite their lack of aggressive tread. I initially tried to avoid the puddles and the worst of the mud, but gradually gave in to the fact that both me and the bike would be filthy no matter what. My hands ached with the cold, and I needed to get back to the car before dark.

Aftermath of bike descent

I managed to ride most of the upper rocky section, picking my way cautiously and riding the brakes. I put on a bit more speed on the lower, smoother part, as the graupel turned to rain and my brake pads wore down from the grit. Finally reaching the car, I leaned my bike against the side to deal with later, and was happy to find I had just enough manual dexterity to unclip my keys from my pack and unlock the doors. I crawled inside, frantically stripped off my wet clothes, put on a dry t-shirt and sweatshirt, started water for cocoa, and curled up in my sleeping bag. I had a painful ten minutes as my hands came back to life, but suffered no permanent harm. I made dinner, read a bit about Harvey Butchart, then went to bed early, leaving the problem of dealing with my wet, muddy bike and clothes to the next day.