Little Sister and Big Sister




The IdahoSummits spring group climb.

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

Super Dave, Steve, and I went early for a warm up hike on the other side of the valley, which gave us a great view of the Big Sister on the left and Little Sister on the right.

After our hike, we drove back up to Mud Springs for the second time, along the way getting an up-close demonstration of pronghorn speed.

We had just started setting up our tents when more of the group arrived, the start of a steady flow of vehicles; probably the most traffic this road has seen for years.

Bottom of the ridge

This was a perfect spot for our group. It had a great view of the east side of the Lost Rivers, a wide, fairly flat "grassy" area, and enough cow pies to make us feel like we weren't causing any environmental damage.

When I say it was grassy, it was. But the grass was tinder-dry and quite dead.

If you zoom in, you can sort of see Steve's kitchen. He set up two stoves and made massive servings of his world-famous Wild Jalapeno Mushroom Salmon with Rice (not sure which part is wild, or perhaps it's the chef?)

Bottom of the ridge

Several folks had brought loads of firewood, so we smoked our clothes for a couple hours, enjoying the opportunity to make fun of each other live instead of over the internet.

We were all looking forward to tomorrow, even though it was spitting a light drizzle occasionally. I finally hit the hay a little after 10. Just about then, Michael showed up after his tour of the lower foothills. Then Matt rolled in somewhere around midnight (?). We were expecting a couple of stragglers the following morning, but they never showed.

Anybody notice Zach's resemblance to Alex?

Bottom of the ridge

Speaking of the next morning... Dave, Michael, and I rolled out of camp at about 5:15 (the others had a planned 7am departure). Dave and I had plans to attempt the "Home Run" peaks after Little and Big Sister, so we needed the alpine start. Michael just liked the sound of walking around lost in the dark.

During our climb of Taylor Mountain yesterday, we had identified the correct route of several up the ridge. In the dark, we couldn't tell which one we were on, so of course we chose the incorrect one. A little extra bushwhacking and thrashing through the trees eventually got us back on track about the same time we turned our headlamps off.

Note Michael's hood- it had started to snow.


As we got higher, we climbed into a cloud/fog bank and the snow picked up.

Then we left the easy snowshoeing and came to the headwall, a 600' steep section with difficult snow conditions. On top of knee-deep (and deeper) unconsolidated sugar there was a slab of between 3 to 8" that would not support us. Each step involved retracting your snowshoe from beneath the slab, lifting your foot to approximately the height of your crotch, and then trying to stand on the crust-- which would almost always break, sometimes causing your other foot to simultaneously slide downhill in the sugar. In a word: heinous. We dubbed the result of our passing the Marianas Trench.

Although we were still trenching a bit here, this picture shows the ridgetop section above the headwall. This area was really cool, and some of the pictures on the descent show why.

Mariel on the ridge

After the ridge, there is an easier slope to the summit. The snow was also much firmer. So although we had that to be thankful for, the visibility was still not so great.

Pioneer views

However, the weather was starting to turn around, and for the better. This is 9:30am, with Dave and Michael on the summit of Little Sister. Note the blue patches.

Also note the background: the slightly dark area in the clouds is actually the Little Lost valley. Hooray!

Summit splattski

Even better, the clouds briefly parted enough for us to locate our next peak for the day, Big Sister.

But the clouds rolled back in, so when we started heading that way in the fog, we almost walked off the summit cornice. Yikes! The actual route follows the ridgeline, which we figured out starts way off to the left.

To get to Big Sister, you have to drop down about 600', then climb back up the other side for about 800'. The ridge has a curve such that it is initially not bad but ends up quite steep, but then finally shelves off to a mellow angle for the last 1/4 mile.

Summit splattski

Here Dave and Michael enjoy that shelf. We tried to enjoy the terrain, because our blue patches had disappeared and we still couldn't see much.

We topped out on Big Sister at about 11am. Feeling tired. No visibility. Possible additional heinous snow conditions (which was also potentially hazardous). So Dave and I gave up our ambitions for a loop and our trio started back toward Little Sister with the hopes of meeting up with the rest of the group on that summit.

Summit splattski
As we started back, the clouds began to lift in earnest. Here you can see our ridge back up to Little Sister, with the Lost Rivers in the background. Summit splattski
This is looking back up the ridge to Big Sister. I think it was steeper than this looks. It was steep enough that Dave opted to remove his snowshoes on the descent. Michael and I instead chose to very carefully bang our toes in the ends of our boots.
Summit splattski

We had hoped to catch the group on the summit of Little Sister. We hadn't been so bold as to wish that would happen under beautiful blue skies.

We were guessing that would be around noon, and here it is 10 minutes after.

Summit splattski
Here's our summit group, except Alex, who was sleeping somewhere behind the group and couldn't be bothered. Summit splattski

So here's Alex*, and my chance to give him a hard time as if he was one of my own kids (although he is the son of Standard Dave)

When I got to the top in my slightly hypoxic state, I didn't notice him as being him. Instead, thanks to the low oxygen in my brain, I did a flashback to a fuzzy duffle bag (if you click the link, select "Immigrants" to hear some National Lampoon stuff that only old farts like myself may remember).

And you thought I gave YOU a hard time with that Monty Python stuff, Matt!

*with apologies to Alex...

Summit splattski

We hung out in the sunshine for some time. We ate. We laughed, talked, and hugged. Matt called Russ on the radio.

Then it was time to start back down. But before our descent, we each took a knee to ask for a safe return, as Margie does here.

Summit splattski
The is the narrow ridge section. It was really cool, with rocks and cornices guarding drops on either side. Very scenic (now that the fog was gone). Summit splattski
Steve and Rob had each made it above 10k, but not the summit. This was a tough climb, so gaining over 3k in bad conditions showed they had each made a solid effort. When Steve saw us coming down from the summit, he wisely turned around despite being so close to the top. Here he shows off our trench. Summit splattski

On the climb, we knew we were breaking the slab occasionally. But in the fog, this section hadn't seemed that steep to me so I had used the border of this open area in an attempt to find snow that was more consolidated by sunshine. On our return I realized two things:

  1. It was probably in the low 30° range instead of the 20s I had assessed in the fog on the way up.
  2. The slab had cracked well out into the meadow.


Summit splattski

The ensuing hour or two was your normal east-Idaho descent through steep open forest, strategically-placed dead fall, and unavoidable patches of loose talus.

This day had it all. It had been foggy and snowed in the early morning. At noon, it was sunny but quite cold. By the time we got back down into the sagebrush, it was hot. And when we got back to camp I pulled off several ticks.

Ah, spring!

Other trip reports:

Summit splattski

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