Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Sunset Mountain 2-13-2016

Almost three years after my first attempt, I returned to finish the last mile to the lookout tower on the summit.

Partners: N/A.

Stats: 8.6 miles and 1,700ft of gain to summit elevation 7,869ft in 5 hours round trip. Class 1.

Gear notes: Snowshoes.

Links: Sunset Mountain on Idaho: A Climbing GuideSunset Mountain on Summitpost.orgSunset Mountain on

Pilot Peak.

From Mores Creek Summit, you have two main options for peaks: Pilot Peak to the west and Sunset Mountain to the east. I've done Pilot's a few times before and prefer to go late season, after the snow mobiles stop using it. Sunset is relatively benign and makes for a great snowshoe outing to a lookout tower on the summit. Three years ago, I made my first hike up it, but unfortunately we picked the warmest day so far of that spring and were stopped about a mile from the top in deep mashed potato snow that was non-conducive to the cause.

Sunset Mountain zoomed out.

I arrived at MCS about 8:45 and the parking lot soon filled up as it often times does on the weekend. The quiet morning was soon pierced by the cacophony of the ever growing snow machine population.

Sunset Mountain zoomed in.

After the road up Sunset Mountain passes over the first hill, the noise died down and the peacefulness of a quite morning on the trail alone was restored.

Looking up the north slope.

This hike doesn't have much gain, but the mileage is no joke. Mostly cloudy skies and low lighting wasn't the best for picture taking early on. There was an obvious trail broken up the north slope to the lookout, but I stuck to the road on the way up.

Looking southwest from the trail.

The route was easily followed, but I could see how some difficulty would arise after heavy snowfall. This was simply a matter of following the tracks to the top.

Looking up the trail.

Little sunlight and a cold breeze made for a chilly hike near the top.


Soon the lookout came into view and not long after that, I was standing on it.

Looking south from the summit.

It is a fine spot for a lookout tower indeed. These are not the tallest peaks, but the view is quite expansive and worth the effort to attain it.

Looking southeast from the summit.

The clouds were beginning to break up which helped open up the view a bit.

Looking south with peak 7,460 in the background.

Peak 7,460 was not far due south, but I decided to not get greedy and didn't go for it.

Looking west from the summit.

A stiff and cold breeze was still present, so I hunkered down on the leeward side of the lookout for a break with an eastern view.

Looking east from the summit.

Sunset Mountain is definitely not a bad spot to have some lunch.

On the lookout.

After 30 minutes on top, I figured I might was well head down.

Hey, how about that shortcut?

Looking down the north slope.

The steep north slope was still shaded and had deep powdery snow. This track probably saved about 1.5 miles and soon rejoined the road right at the base.

On the trail.

The sun finally broke though and the day began to warm up.

Southwest view.

I forgot just how busy MCS is on a weekend and I'm glad my car didn't get boxed in; that's happened before. There were a lot of people out near the parking lot, but I had the upper mountain and summit all to myself.

Another benefit of an early start!

Happy trails. Granola, out.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Shaw Mountain aka Lucky Peak 2-7-2016

Partners: N/A.

Stats: Class 1. 10.8 miles round trip. Total time 4hrs 51min. Elevation gain approx 2,900ft to summit elevation 5,908ft.  

Route: Highland Valley from Hwy 21. Note - this had been known to be closed to all uses during the winter months, however, per the Ridge to Rivers map and website, it is only closed to motorized use. Avoid this route after the road opens. I prefer the Homestead trail route from Council Springs. It's a little more pedestrian friendly, has higher mileage and has more elevation gain, however the soil at the base of the trail has a high amount of clay and remains far too muddy to use well into spring and after precipitation events. This peak is best done in the spring, before the roads open to motorized use. 

Gear notes: Snow shoes.

A nice start to the day.

I refer to this peak as Lucky Peak, but some people get confused and think I mean Luck Peak the lake. When I say Shaw Mountain, some people have no clue what I mean. I'm sure that you, my mountain friends, or one of the three people who read this, will know right away what I mean if I say either, so I don't feel the need to explain it further.

Lucky Peak is a monster hike with lots of mileage and gain. Even if one doesn't reach the summit, it's a great training hike to prep for the big peaks. Prior to this hike, I've made the top four times. Around Christmas time, I went up the Homestead trail route twice when the mud was frozen. Both times my intention was simply to push the route as high as I could, with the second ending just below the base of the southwest ridge of the peak. The snow was really deep and sugary, so I felt that I had reached my suffer limit for the day. 

I've never been up the Highland Valley route, so instead of another hike up Cervidae and lack of planning another peak, I opted for this.

The summit is visible.

The road sits right off highway 21 where I parked just below the gate. The road is pretty level to start off, but that changes in about 2 miles.

Where the smart people turned around.

I'd like to give a shout out to the lobe finned fishes, Oreopithecus and all the other hominids that made this possible. 

As I plodded along just like our first primitive bipedal ancestors had began to do more than 2 million years ago, I encountered several mountain bikers and a few other pedestrians. I chatted with a few of them and none had said they went much higher than the snowline. 

Snow covered road.

After about 3 miles, the last of the human tracks in the snow stopped. Since my plan only involved pushing the route as far as it would go I continued forward with my snow shoes on.

Breaking trail.

There were plenty of drifts to break through along the road as I crested hill after hill.

Looking back.

I kept thinking well, I'll get to the top of that one and see what it looks like from there...

Corniced drift.

I knew I was getting close to the radio towers that more or less mark the summit, but I was also getting close to my turn around time.

Looking up.

I planned to push on to the trees, if I could, and take a break in the shade. With the glaring sun and the high albedo effect of the snow, it felt like it was about 117 degrees. Shade sure sounded nice. 

Looking toward the summit.

When I got to the top of the hill near the trees, I found tracks leading to the summit about a quarter of a mile away, so I figured why not go for it.


The snow was getting pretty soft so I wanted to tag the top and get down before the misery that is postholing really began, even though it already had.

Radio towers on the summit.

I passed the gate and followed the tracks to the top.

Yay, I made it to the top.

The glaring sun meant lots of sweating off sunscreen and there was no shade to be had while I enjoyed the views from the top.

Lets try that again.

Looking east.

A couple of skiers showed up for their second lap on the north side from Rocky Canyon.

Looking at the southwest ridge route from the top.
I didn't hang out too long since I figured the descent might be pretty miserable, err, fun, I mean fun, so I just did that.

East from the top.

Looking east.

Just below where my tracks met the others, I ran into a group of 3 coming up in my tracks. We talked for a few, and they thanked my for breaking trail. Hey, at least it didn't go to waste!

Upper mountain.

It looked like they topped out, so congratulation to them. This is a tough hike when it's dry, now its even more so with soft snow.

Kodiak Peak.

My only break on the way down was to take off the snowshoes, then I ran most of the dry section back to the car. I encountered a few more people on their way up the trail. A pretty busy day, but a fine one at that. 

As of late, there is a snowshoe track all the way to the top, so get on it. Don't forget your sunscreen.

Happy trails! Granola, out.