Partners: Deb and Brett (Ex Flatlander).
Stats: Class 2 snow. 3,500ft gain to summit elevation 9,529. 10.25 miles and 8 hours round trip.
Gear notes: Carried snow shoes, crampons and ice ax; never used them.
Links: Lists of John. Idaho Summits Soldier Mountains overview page. Idaho Summits trip report. Splattski's trip report.
Spring time is a surprisingly hard time to climb bigger peaks. The snow melt typically means access gets better and routes get safer. However, the changing conditions are always a factor. How soon is too soon? How late is too late? Spring time energy and a need to train means over exuberance when it comes to choosing objectives. Since spring is still considered a shoulder season, all the extra snow gear must be carried, such as snow shoes, crampons and ice ax's even though it might not get used.
I was wanting to get the high point of the Soldier Range, 10,095 foot tall Smoky Dome. I was eyeing a system of ridges that connects North Smoky Dome, Smoky Dome, 3rd and 2nd Peaks. Over exuberant; yes. Doable; I had no clue. I had planned to drive as far past the ski area as I could and start from the north. It turned out that the road shown on the map was in fact a trail. I was really hoping, and the planned route depended on driving about 2.5 miles farther than was possible. Our new starting point meant we were adding about 5 more miles to whatever else the day had in store for us.
|After the creek crossing, gaining the ridge.|
We left the car at 8:00am sharp. I felt slightly disappointed about the added extra mileage but then I remembered that any training is good training; now there would be a lot of it. Objectives of the day were simple: positive vibes, stay safe and get as many peaks as we could. Spring climbing can be tough and summits are often hard to get.
So after the initial 2.5 mile hike down the trail, which burned precious time, we had to do Deb's favorite thing and cross a raging creek. That also burned more time. By the time we were finally across the creek and headed up the ridge I had planned to descend, it was 10:30am. Time to move!
|Hyndman, Old hyndman and Cobb.|
Once we started the actual climb up to Second Peak, the view did not take long to slow us down. To clarify, I wanted to ascent the ridge to N. Smoky and descent off Second Peak. We discussed and felt it was more efficient to just stay on the ridge we were already on.
|High on the ridge.|
Slow is fast in the mountains, so we usually maintain the slow and steady pace to not burn out too early in the day. Brett is just plain fast so it didn't take him long to leap out in front.
The snow was in good shape and supporting our weight without snow shoes. I guess we'll just have extra training weight.
|Just a few more feet to go.|
Once we were past the steep part of the slope and out of the trees, we got a good view of the parallel ridge that would have been our descent route from North Smoky Dome.
|Ridge of off N. Smoky Dome.|
Enough about that ridge. We'll get to that later. First thing's first, we gotta get up Second Peak.
|Last steps of the northeast ridge.|
I did a poor job of hydrating and getting enough rest the day before, so I was feeling sluggish and slow on the final push up to Second Peak.
|Second Peak weather station.|
We topped out at 12:45 and elected to take a 15 minute break, our second of the day, before going to Third Peak. We quickly munched and drank while taking pictures.
|Summit of Second Peak.|
After a few hours of hard work, it was nice to finally feel like we had gotten somewhere. Time was ticking and we needed to get moving if we wanted to get Third Peak and Smoky Dome. We decided that the connecting ridge to N. Smoky would require a closer evaluation, but we could see overhanging cornices from Second Peak.
We geared up and headed down 2nd and headed for 3rd knowing that if we didn't go over to N. Smoky, we would have to reclimb 2nd and 3rd to get down.
As the saying goes; you don't know until you go. We decided to go for it.
|3rd Peak on the left, Smoky Dome in the center, N. Smoky Dome on the right.|
This route would be quite simple with less snow. With the ever softening snow and the hour growing late, the effort to do it was increasing.
|Headed down 2nd Peak.|
We were down 2nd and starting up 3rd when we decided it was simply going to take too long and be too much work to get up 3rd, let alone Smoky Dome, back up and down both peaks then and back down to the creek crossing.
Considering the potential for wet slide avalanches, we pulled the plug. There was still a lot of distance to cover just to get back to the creek.
|N. Smoky Dome.|
We trudged back up to 2nd for a lunch break. After all, that was all we really came to do right? Walk uphill for a long time with a heavy pack, right?
Lunch with a view is always welcomed but I was still feeling lousy and ate what little I could. Soon we were heading down and the postholing began. We stuck to the trees where we could for the shade and firm snow, but I still punched though down to my knees a few times. On one thigh deep plunge, my leg instantly seized and I got to enjoy a fairly pervasive leg cramp, unlike anything I've had in a good long while. It lasted about thirty minutes longer than I would have liked.
We reversed the ridge of ascent back to meet up with Deb's nemesis, the raging creek. Brett, being the turbo machine he is, was across it before Deb and I were even ready. I scooted across the log and Deb followed.
We all managed to stay dry and the raging creek soon became an afterthought while we endured the slushy and hot hike out. Somehow, the 2.5 miles of trail from the creek crossing to the car turned into 7 on the way out. Or at least that's what it felt like.
I can smell the car! we're getting close!
For being the first time I've ever poked my head into the Soldier Mountains, I think its easy to say that it's hard to beat. It's two hours away to a beautiful area with several fine peaks to be had. I think we fulfilled the training mission since we did 3,500 feet of gain with all that extra weight. I got a good first hand view and lots of pictures for beta.
Summit or no summit, training is still money in the bank.
Happy trails! Granola, out.