Saturday, July 9, 2016

White Clouds Trip

A base camp at Fourth of July Lake provides great access to several peaks in the White Cloud Mountains.

Trip dates: July 2-3.

Partners: Deez and Ketchum the birthday dog.

Stats: Approx 9.5 miles and 3,800ft gain round trip.  See below for individual peak details.

Peaks climbed: Fourth of July Peak - 10,713. Patterson Peak - 10,872.

Gear notes: Glad we brought the bug spray.

Links: Area map on Listsofjohn.comFourth of July Peak on Summitpost.orgPatterson Peak on

Fourth of July Peak over Fourth of July Lake.

The White Cloud Mountains need no introduction. This range is famous for its jagged white-colored limestone peaks that give the area its name. There are several lakes that are easily accessed, and several more that require more effort. For this trip, we chose to camp at the very easy to access Fourth of July lake. The easy access makes it quite popular so we weren't too surprised when we found the trailhead full of cars. We began our walk to the lake under mostly sunny skies with warm temps and a welcome occasional breeze.

We saw a few groups heading up and passed a few more on their way out. All in all, the traffic really wasn't bad. We didn't have the pleasure of sharing this section of trail with any dirt bikes which was a bonus in itself. Upon arrival at the lake, we found it oddly vacant. We had first choice of camp sites and quickly snagged up a primo spot for the night. Not long after, a couple more groups showed up. We quickly realized that there was an over abundance of these annoying little blood sucking vampire bugs that fly, more commonly known as mosquitos. In Idaho, July means bugs, just as November means cold. After getting the tent up, I took off for Fourth of July Peak and naturally, the dog followed. We went light and fast for the 1,300ft climb up the northeast ridge.

Looking up the northeast ridge of Fourth of July Peak.

Upper ridge.

Ketchum apparently enjoying the view.

The route was straight forward class 2 with one short section of borderline class 3. In one hard push from camp, we hit the top in about an hour where there was a stiff and cold wind out of the west waiting for us.

Summit of Fourth of July Peak.

Patterson Peak above Fourth of July Lake.

Castle Peak standing tall over Washington Lake.

Ivory Peak and Ebony Peak.

Summit selfie with Dog.

Summit register.

After all the summit duties like signing the register and taking pictures, Dog and I zipped back down the ridge and were back in camp after about a 3 mile round trip in just over 2 hours. It was kind of like a speed lap of Cervidae Peak, only way cooler.

Fourth of July Peak hovering in Alpenglow.

The blood suckers tried to get the best of us and did manage to score a few direct hits while we got the fire going to smoke them out.  After dinner and our chosen liquid libations, we got to enjoy one of the finest things the mountains have to offer: Alpenglow.

The next morning warmed up quick as we ate first breakfast. The days objective; Patterson Peak with a possible side trip to Blackman peak. Deez was looking to set her PR for altitude so we were going to head to Patterson first.

Patterson over the unnamed lake along the trail.

Following the trail to the pass that leads to Born Lake was easy enough, stopping once for second breakfast and some pictures. Once atop the pass, we had a clear view of Blackman peak to the north. Patterson Peak sits higher and further from the saddle so we kept to the plan and headed south along the ridge to tag it first.

Blackman Peak from the pass.

Sawtooth Mountains.

Patterson Peak from the pass.

We skirted below the crest of the ridge and aimed for the base of the main ridge to the summit. There were a few rock towers to move around and the ridge stays fairly flat so we made good time.

Boulders along the ridge.

We had a nice break and first lunch before the summit push and I offered up a pep talk to Deez who was having a mental struggle and doubting her ability to make the top.

This is 60% mental toughness and 40% physical ability. We'll go slow, one small section at a time. Your mind needs to be stronger than your legs and you have to be prepared to suffer a bit. The pain is an illusion; the summit glory is reality and only comes after putting one foot in front of the other.

Deez heading up the ridge.

We pushed on and the wind was increasing as we gained elevation up the ridge. I was keeping a watchful eye on the large cumulus clouds building to the west, and noted the lifting condensation level was getting lower as the clouds pushed our way. To the east, I could make out Borah Peak in the Lost Rivers. The sky was dark there and I could see streaks of precipitation falling. This meant the clock was ticking and the race was on to get to the top and down before thunderstorms started. I'm a little vulgar and pretty harsh when I go Drill Sergeant and yell at myself in my head. Deez got the nice Drill Sergeant motivation.

Ah, you can do it. Keep going, one foot in front of the other. There you go...

Looking north northeast at the White Clouds.

The remainder of the ridge was mostly class 2 with a fun and short scramble up to the true summit. I don't think Deez realized how close we actually were and it wasn't long until we were standing on top.

Summit ridge.

Looking east.

Deez on the summit of Patterson Peak.

By the time we got to the summit, the wind was probably a steady 30-40mph and gusting higher than that. Those occasional strong gusts threatened to knock us off our feet so we tried to stay low.

Looking west at Fourth of July Peak.

We had just enough time to get some pictures and not much more. Kind of a bummer after the effort to get there, but sometimes that's part of the deal. Sometimes you get a couple of hours, and sometimes only a couple of minutes. With conditions not getting any better and not wanting to test the chance of thunderstorms, it wasn't long until the nice Drill Sergeant initiated the PUHA descent. In case you don't know, PUHA stands for pack up, haul ass.

White Cloud Peaks.

Summit of Patterson Peak.

Looking north towards Blackman Peak.

Four Lake Basin.

We zig-zagged down through the rocks and made it back to the last good sheltered area for a break and second lunch. Now, the pep talk turned in to the I told you so talk. Even if she didn't think so, I knew she could make it. Deez tested and pushed beyond what she thought was the limit of her mental strength and I'm pretty darn proud of her. Our thoughts shifted to Blackman Peak as we made our way back to where the trail crosses over the saddle.

Deez descending the summit block.

Dog in full sprint a little close to the edge.

When we got back to the saddle, Denise said she was done and didn't want to go for it. Time wise, it wasn't too late, but those pesky clouds were still getting bigger and I didn't want to be up there if the thunder storms started. Not wanting to physically overexert myself going for it so close to a major objective, I called it off and we headed down, stopping at the unnamed pond along the trail for a short break.

Ketchum at the lake with Patterson Peak in the background.

After a 3.5 mile round trip with 1,400 feet of gain, we had a few rain drops on the way back to camp, and by the time we were breaking down the tent we had strong wind gusts and a rather loud, although solitary clap of thunder. We turned over our camp site to a couple from Portland with the blood sucking vampire bugs included at no charge.

Ketchum displaying the "bait and switch" look.

Deez got her highest peak yet so she was stoked as we packed up and headed out. For some reason she still felt a little intimidated by Patterson and didn't want to look back on the peak. Hey, look! You just climbed that!

Ketchum the crazy birthday dog (July 4, age 5) got a backpacking/peak bag trip and also got to set his altitude PR. Dog was actually worn out when we got back to the car. A tired dog is a quite dog, and we like it when he's quite.

Back at the trailhead.

The success of trips like these comes down to doing things right. Starting at the right time; bringing the right equipment; taking the right amount of steps. If you do enough things right, you may find yourself at the top of a peak, and more importantly, back in the parking lot where the real celebration can begin. I feel that strength exists on four levels: Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. I have had all of those levels of strength tested at some point on every trip I've ever done, and in life in general. When we test our strengths, we found out where our limit is. When we know where our limit is, we can learn when to push beyond it, or pull back when we need to.

Happy trails!

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