Watson Peak


Bitter cold and lots of hard work on a Watson Peak attempt.

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

Dave and I had been talking about this one for several years. We committed to the dates a couple months prior, then crossed our fingers on conditions. As the week neared, NOAA was showing a beautiful, sunny weekend, predicting temps in Stanley ranging from -1 to 33. Folks, it doesn't get any better than that. Rolling out of Boise at 5am, we were stoked. We knew it would be tough to get in, climb, and get out, all in just two days. But we agreed that it would be a grand adventure regardless of the summit.

When we passed through Idaho City, it was just 6 degrees. As we continued along, we watched the mercury slide further south. And then when we got to Stanley, it was -22. That NOAA... such a sense of humor!

Crossing the highway

But the good news: at the Fisher Creek pullout, it had warmed up all the way to -15!

Getting dressed and ready at these temps is a little time consuming. Crossing the highway

But it was still early light when we got on our feet at about 9am. It was a little frustrating that we would have to ski the plowed road for the first mile and a half, but there isn't any closer place to park without possibly causing an affront.

Crossing the highway

But even on the plowed road, you can't beat the views.

Dave hadn't been on skis for almost 20 years, but he seemed to be a natural.

Once we started breaking our own trail, we kinda missed that road. But now we were in the silence of the winter. Not a breath of wind, and it was starting to feel absolutely balmy; probably all the way up to 0°. Uptrack

From the car to the pass at the Aztec Mine, it's about 6.5 miles and 1200' gain. At this point, we're just short of the pass. All the snags are from the big White Clouds burn.

Unfortunately, just above this point we lost the road and ended up doing a slight detour. We figured out we were in the wrong drainage, but it seemed like it was working. By the time we got back on track, we added at least an extra mile. A mile we didn't really need.

And an extra hour that would come back to bite us before the day was through.


As we proceeded down the valley toward The Meadows, we were watching the clock pretty closely. We were also getting tired and slowing down. We knew we should be setting up camp before the temperature started to drop too much, but we also knew that The Meadows was just around the corner. Or maybe the next corner. Surely the next one.

The sun had dropped, along with the temperature, when we finally got our first view of Watson Peak through the snags.

We hurriedly set up the tent and then started the lengthy process of melting snow and cooking. By now, the temp was well below 0° again. Well below.


During the night the moon came up, making it so bright inside the tent that you could easily find your stuff. After our studious re-hydration, I got to go out and check the moonlight several times. Then slither back into my sleeping bag and shiver a bit. My bag, rated at "just" -5°, wasn't quite up to the task, so I was wearing all my clothes and then putting the big parka over the top. And still shivering a bit. When I heard the alarm peeping at 5:30, I was still tired so ignored it.

When 7 rolled around, there was a little light that encouraged me to start the stove again. We left the tent at about 8:30 and headed for our peak. Brutally cold.

When we got to Warm Spring Creek, there was no easy way across.

But we didn't look for long- after just those 10 minutes, Dave was already losing feeling in his feet. Then he said something about a burning sensation. We turned and ran for the 'warmth' of the tent. Uptrack

I was wearing my big double boots that I got for Denali, so my feet were OK if a little chilled. But Dave had a choice of either his hiking boots or the ski touring boots I had loaned him. The idea was to put on the dry hiking boots for the snowshoe/climb, but his orthotics had frozen into the ski boots. So to protect his arches, he was wearing the cold ski boots. That didn't work so well.

So while Dave tried to get some feeling back into his feet... and when it did come back, it hurt.... I started breaking camp.

And taking a few more pictures as the sun finally came up. Uptrack

At about 10am, we finally rolled out, now heading back for the car. The first couple miles went back and forth from shade to sun, teasing us with brief warm spots (meaning slightly above 0°).

We hit the saddle at about 2:30, and then got to coast back the last six miles in a packed track, arriving at the car around 4:30.


When we got to the car, it was 6°. Dave's intro to winter camping was a bit more extreme than we had anticipated, but other than some sore muscles and a lot of fatigue, it was a great trip. And Watson Peak will still be there for another time.

Epilogue: After we got over Banner Creek summit, we finally saw our first double-digit temperatures in a couple days. 11 degrees- it's a heat wave! Woo hoo!

Dave's trip report

Mr. Natural Home | 2012 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski