Payette Peak


Sitting above several drainages, Payette Peak offers one of the best views in the Sawtooths.

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

Tom was late picking me up, so we didn't leave town until almost 7am. But the road was empty, so Tom made good time in the "Lucitania."

When we got to the Hell Roaring turnoff, we finally remembered to set our watches: 32 minutes later, fully rattled, we were at the trailhead and the boys were racking gear- they were doing the Open Book on the Finger. I had declined being a third on the rope, citing the slow speed as something I didn't want to be part of. I waited for them to finish and we all walked up to Hell Roaring Lake together.

Note: Although the FS has put in a new trail here, they haven't done a thing to the awful road. The best rig for this awful road? Someone else's!

Racking up at the trailhead

30 minute later at Hell Roaring, we parted ways. I lit the afterburners and flew up to Imogene in 1:15.

It was a beautiful morning, if a little warm and humid, so I stopped and took a few pics. This one shows the gap in the ridge that I was hoping would allow me access from Payette to Cramer (more on that later).

Notch between Payette and Cramer

And this shows Payette Peak from Imogene Lake.

Note that the trail up to Imogene isn't like anything shown on the map- they have added about a billion switchbacks with very little gain: sort of a pain. Then they moved the trail to the opposite side of Imogene lake (this is good) from what the map shows (Natl Geo Topo maps).

Payette Peak from Imogene Lake

Imogene seems to be very popular with the horse crowd. But to leave the trail and continue up the basin at the end of the lake you have to climb some very smooth glacial-polished slabs, which eliminates any sign of horses. And most people. But once up the slabs, there is a fisherman's trail all the way up the basin. Hint: If you can't find the trail, remember that fishermen are looking for water, not hiking up the bloody hillsides.

There are five good-sized lakes in the basin, and numerous smaller ones. The panorama below shows the view of the summit (just left of center) from the highest of the big lakes at ~8800'.

Slabs overlooking Imogene Lake

The Lopez guide suggests climbing to the saddle of the north ridge (right), but I thought the face looked pretty fun. It's a maze of ramps and short Class 3 or 4 connections. You can kind of go wherever you feel. I really enjoyed it.

This picture was taken later in the day, thus the change in sky between here and the panorama above (the obvious rain in the picture should foreshadow things to come).


This gives a good idea of what is involved in climbing the face: smooth, white granite interspersed with grassy slopes.

Somewhere in here my motor died. It could have been because I had hiked really hard up to this point. It could have been because the day before I had gone for a pretty hard bike ride, and the day before that an even harder one. It could be that I wasn't drinking enough in the humidity. I'm definitely getting old. Perhaps I drank a bit too much wine last night while I watched the football game. Or all of the above.

Upper mountain

So although it seemed I had come to a crawl, I still made the summit in about 3:45 from the car.

And about those views:

That's Snowyside behind me, and I think Edna Lake at my shoulder.

Upper mountain
Ever wonder what the route on Elk Peak really looks like? Elk Peak
Here's the chain of unnamed lakes on the approach, with Imogene Lake at the end and Imogene Peak above it. Imogene Peak

1. Mt. Underhill
2. Packrat Peak
3. Tohobit
4. Warbonnet
5. El Pima
6. Old Smoothie (Baron Spire)

Upper mountain

So after a lunch and change of socks, I was off for more exploring. That's Cramer, shadowed in the background. My original plan was to climb from Payette to Cramer, then loop back to the car. By staying high on the ridge, I would limit the gain of Cramer to just a few hundred feet. But I didn't know if it would go. From the top of Payette, I could see an obvious goat path up to a notch (marked in red). But first I had to traverse the ridge.

Like I said earlier, I was exhausted, so this ridge was not easy. Plus, traversing the ridge was quite interesting. Instead of the usual talus and towers, I was climbing over blocks, sized from microwave to family sedan. And none of them looked too solid. Climbing under a block of granite, as big as a car, looking like it's itching to get to a lower position, is a little intimidating.

As I started up the ridge, I could see rain clouds off to the west, and I was clearly in their path.

Upper mountain

Although it wasn't the easiest path, I stayed on the ridge so I could see the weather coming. It was spitting just a bit, but so far no real concern. I wondered how the boys were doing in the Book, which faces north so they would have no view of incoming weather.

When I finally got to the notch, I wasn't too excited. I could see where the goats had gone: a dirty, loose traverse down disconnected ledges, then down this nasty looking, bottomless chute. Can you say "bowling alley"? Between my fatigue, the nasty view, and the thunderstorms rolling in, I left it for another day.

I had been keeping an eye out for a fast descent route off the ridge, and when the thunder started up a few minutes later I made good use of the planned exit.

Upper mountain

When I got back down to the top lake, the slight drizzle turned into a momentary hailstorm. The rain stopped every time I put on my jacket, but it was still warm and very humid, so the jacket kept coming off. At any rate, I was now on my way home.

As the rain and hail fell, I was doing mental calculations about where Tom and Sam would be right about then. Before we left Boise, I had reviewed my trip report for the Finger and knew pretty much where they would be... on the lichen of the unprotected slab? (picture at right) In my mind, it seemed grim.

Finger of Fate

As I got nearer to Hell Roaring, it became apparent that a lot more rain had fallen to the north (nearer the Finger). There were standing puddles in what had been a dry trail. It was with some relief that through the damp haze I could hear voices on the other side of the lake- but I couldn't see them because my glasses kept fogging up every time I stopped to search for movement.

We hit the end of the lake about three minutes apart. Amazing timing. As it turns out they had just finished the climb when the crap hit. At the same time Tom was getting off belay at the summit, he was threading the rappel. The rappels were soggy and very slippery. Going light in their rock gear, they had to take the hard rain in just t-shirts. And when they got back to their walking shoes, the shoes were full of water. Still, a great day!

Finger of Fate

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