Al West Peak

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The fall IdahoSummits group climbs two routes on Al West Peak.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

Although it's not quite an annual event, each year the Idaho climbing community eagerly anticipates the IdahoSummits fall outing organized by Big Dan.

Like some other years, the Idaho weather threw a monkeywrench in this year's outing, forcing a last-minute change of plans. Instead of Pyramid Peak in the Pioneers where there was reportedly 2' of snow on the road, we moved to Al West Peak (snowy dome in the center) in the Lost Rivers, where the Willow Creek web cam showed bare ground at 7200'.

Al West Peak from the road

We did our usual car pooling out of Boise, where our conflicting schedules meant that the campfire party didn't really get rolling until after dark.

Campfire fun
Some folks didn't make it until the following morning, forcing a late 8am start to the climb. It was 15°, so we were a little slow in getting ready, and then in hiking. Crack of 8am

The Rock Creek approach has a well-earned reputation for brush.

A little higher in the canyon, we spotted a large group of wild sheep. Unfortunately, I didn't hold the camera steady enough so the sheep look more like furry rocks and so will not be shown here.

 

Brush
Pat was breaking trail, but it wasn't too deep. In the bottom of the canyon, it remained a little dark as the group took their first real break. I'm not sure what Dan was doing here: imitating a bear, telling another fish story, or leading the group in song. Whatever, Dave was amused. In the woods

After a couple hours of slow walking in a couple inches of snow, it was starting to approach boot-top depth. As he posted through the snow, Pat had time to scope out a route that got out of the canyon bottom, but looked pretty steep. So at that point our group split, some following Pat's new route, others continuing up the canyon on the "Tom Lopez book" route shown here. To coordinate our split teams, we agreed to make the it back to the cars by 5.

The upper canyon was steep on both sides with running water in the bottom. It was hard to tell which was easier: the deep snow or the talus above it.

Traversing the canyon

After a brief map and GPS consultation, we identified this gully as the way SawtoothSean had climbed the peak, a way to escape the toil of the canyon and a viable shortcut to the ridgetop.

Gully

We reached the top of the ridge saddle right at 12, running a little late. Plus, the approach had been a lot harder than we anticipated and the cold had kept us from eating and drinking properly. So with a long way yet to go, we were hurting. We stopped behind a tree to escape the wind while we tried to remedy our food/water situation (a bit late). Even so, with a day like this it's hard not to smile big.

That is a smile, isn't it, Steve?

Ridge top

From the snowy saddle, you quickly gain the rocky "crux" of the ridge, which includes some rock scrambling and a couple of catwalks.

Michael's feet had gone cold during our lunch break, so he had taken off early. Dan and Margo followed a bit later while Steve and I tried to get some more food down. Then Steve and I got going. Shortly after, Steve noticed his fuel gauge slipping toward empty and turned around.

So we were a bit spread out. If you click the picture, you can see our dispersed group, including a tiny black dot way ahead on top of the gendarme: Michael.

Ridge top

I caught up to Dan on the way to the rocks. Dan's stomach was hurting and he was considering turning around. I caught Margo just before the gendarmes and joined her for the Class 3 sections. Here she has a go at the rock climbing.

Rock climb

Followed by one of the catwalks.

It was a really nice, scenic setting for a fun scramble. But one also had to pay attention to what they were doing.

Catwalk

After the Class 3 sections, I was happy to see that Dan was still climbing. We could also see Michael up ahead of us climbing up the face, just short of the summit.

When I met up with him, Michael was on his way down, moving fast. He had news encouraging to a tired climber: less than 10 minutes to go.

Face

It was not even that long and I was on the summit. It was absolutely howling, with clouds of wind-driven snow scouring the summit every minute or so. But it was clear and sunny. I shot the traditional summit photo.

In the background of this picture, that's Horseshoe Mountain on the left and Doublesprings Peak on the right.

 

Summit

And this one of the north face of Mount Borah, with a wider view below.

Margo wasn't far behind, and Dan wasn't far behind her. But it was too cold to hang out for more than a couple of minutes so I headed down without waiting.

Borah north face
Snow on the descent

When I met up with Dan, he was suffering. But he'd been rejected by Al West before, so he toughed it out. In the bigger version, you can see that Margo has tagged the top and is heading down, while Dan is still on the way up.

Snow on the descent

I waited for Dan, then we caught Margo in time to downclimb the Class 3 as a group.

It wasn't really quick, but soon enough we were out of the wind and walking back down the incredibly scenic upper Rock Creek, shown in the panorama below.

Descent ridge
Rock Creek view

I got back to the car at 5:15, quite tired. After a mad packing frenzy, we were on our way home.

The boys didn't believe me when I said I could see the tracks of the Pat group on the upper mountain, so I made Dave stop so I could take this picture. Hah! Showed them!

Additional trip reports and pictures:

Tracks

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