McDonald Peak


A perfect day in the Sawtooths, McDonald Peak makes for a safe snow climb.

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

After doing another fully-loaded lap of Cervidae on Saturday, I was having trouble getting motivated. Plus, my feet hurt. So I procrastinated a bit on finding a partner for Sunday. As a result, about 10pm I finally got excited about getting up high in the Sawtooths, but it was too late to wrangle a partner.

So when I left Boise at about 5am, I was solo. Stanley weather was predicted to be mostly sunny with a low of 10 and high of 51°.

This pic, shot through the window of my car as I drove, shows McDonald, the high point near the middle.


When I left my car at a little after 8am, it was 3°. Not a cloud in the sky and no wind. With the newly-risen sun, I had a great view right from the road of the day's objective.



Except that last view didn't show that you start with about a 3 mile slog across the flats. And of course, you end with the same slog.

Knowing this ahead of time, I took my metal-edge touring skis and lighter boots, not my full tele setup.


It took me about an hour to get across the flats, including several changes of clothing and a bit of wandering trying to find a snow bridge across the Salmon River (more on that later). But soon enough I was skinned up and gaining altitude on the crest of the east ridge.

In retrospect, I think it would have been faster to stay in the drainage to the south, then gain the ridge up high. The ridgetop was very drifted with constantly changing snow conditions. Climbing over and around all those drifts probably added 20% to the distance traveled (the picture shows an unusually good section).

As I worked my way up, I spotted some gnarly ski tracks in this couloir to the north (heavily photoshopped to show the tracks- click on the picture to see a bigger version). Approaching

And then I ran out of trees. It was a little difficult telling exactly how much elevation was left. But it was getting close.

I stashed the skis and booted from here. For the most part that worked pretty well, but there were a few icy patches that I really couldn't make a dent in, even with my plastic boots. And as I hadn't had the forethought to bring crampons or ice axe, it was a little... interesting.


But I made it to the top.

Until this point, it had been dead calm all morning. On the summit there was a slight breeze, and with a temp probably in the 20s, it got cold quick. So I opted to climb back down (carefully) to my skis before I had lunch.

I actually took a lot of photos, but you'll have to go up yerself to see how awesome the views are. But I've included this one of Perfect Peak, one of my new favorite climbs. Approaching

I had intended to have a long, leisurely lunch, but it was obvious (from the fact that lunch was eaten shirtless) that the snow was going to "go south" quickly. So I quickly gobbled just an apple and geared up for the descent.

After this set of turns, I was forced to the south side of the ridge (the north side looked totally sweet, but it was very steep and I was solo.....) where the sun had already turned the snow to Idaho's finest mashed potatoes.


It wasn't much longer and I was back to my snow bridge over the river. In the morning it had been frozen solid. When I snuck across it in the heat of the afternoon, just as I hit the middle it issued a loud, disconcerting "crack." If you try this peak next weekend, you'd be well advised to try to find the bridge about 1/2 mile down stream, shown on the map.

Other trip reports of this route:


Mr. Natural Home | 2009 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski