Friday, September 11, 2015

Hyndman Peak Hike

The weekend before heading out west, I got one last hike in at Mt Kearsarge to maintain the hiking base I built up leading to the Presidential Traverse. There are big mountains in Idaho, and I thought maybe I'd reach a point where I needed a day off the bike and I could go hike instead.

Just outside of Sun Valley, there is a 12,000 footer, of which there are only nine in Idaho. There are no mountains that reach 13,000ft in Idaho. This mountain is called Hyndman Peak. From what I read, maybe 10 people will hike it on a weekend. Compare that to Mt Monadnock in New Hampshire where thousands will hike to the summit on a nice weekend.

Hyndman Peak is the only Class 2 hike of the 12,000 footers. So I thought maybe it was ok to do solo away from home. After seeing Hyndman up close from Pioneer Cabin, I began having doubts about hiking it. It looked big and scary.

It wasn't until a late-start breakfast the next morning that I decided to give it a go. The decision was forced more by dreading getting on the bike and climbing another 5000-6000 feet than anything else. I wasn't going to do nothing with such perfect weather and so much outdoors to explore. Scrambling 5000ft up a mountain is a good recovery activity, isn't it?

Arriving at the trailhead around 9am, there was still frost on the ground. Perfect. I brought my filter along just in case, as it was expected to get pretty warm and there is water along most of the route. I read typical round trip times are around 8hrs. That should get me back to the car around 5pm with 3hrs daylight to spare. I did bring full compliment of safety gear with me, multiple warm long layers, emergency bivy, powerful LED headlamp, first aid kit and more. Makes for heavy pack with 100oz of water, but better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Also brought cell phone in outside chance there would be signal up top (there was none at trailhead).

The first three miles gain only 1200ft or so. I read some ride MTB on this part. I didn't see any tracks, but regretted not bringing my bike. It was completely rideable and the descent would have been a rip. Could have saved 1-2hrs off the hike. But time off the bike was not a bad thing.

At the three mile mark, the grade kicks up from 6% to about 30%. Time to take poles out and get some upper body work. The next few miles went like this. Gain several hundred feet at really steep grade, then level out for half a mile or so. Eventually a level was reached with no trees and Hyndman appeared in full glory. It was nothing but scree! This was going to be the mother of all scree scrambles for me.

I passed a quaint little pond in the Hyndman basin that looked inviting. Made note to check it out on the way back. I was only half way up the 5000ft net gain climb.

The trail starts to peter out as the surface increasingly became scree. I read that you just aim for the saddle between Hundman and Old Hyndman. No way to go wrong here. The saddle sits at about 10,800ft, or 1200ft below the summit. From the saddle, the route follows closely to the knife edge ridge on loose scree all the way to the summit.

The view from the saddle was almost reward enough for the hike. I could have turned around here and played it safe. But where's the glory in that? I began towards the summit, staying just below the precipice to the right.

The off-camber scree field was quite challenging to navigate. A couple times I ended up in precarious positions and had to reroute. This was not fear of death by any means, but what was disconcerting hiking this slope was how loose and unstable it was. Almost everything moved underfoot, sometimes rocks that had to weigh many times what I weigh. A few times large rocks moved and almost pinched my hand or foot. That would hurt at the very least.

Three hours of continuous uphill hiking will put you in a superb flow state. Reaching the summit without another soul around was a divine experience. I basked in the sun and solitude for a good while.

Before heading down, I pulled the devil's tool out of my pack, my cell phone. Not so surprisingly, I had a 4G signal. I remember seeing a cell tower on big hill over Hailey, and no doubt this summit would be line of site to that, although very far away.  Had to let wifey and the social media universe know where I was.

I made it to the top much quicker than expected, and despite late start, had all the time in the world to get back down. It wasn't the climb that concerned me doing this hike. It was coming back down that scree field. That is when accidents happen. You'd think with my GPS, I could follow the same track down and avoid the couple mistakes I made going up. Nope. It was easier to see from above where others have gone, but I still managed to make new mistakes and ended up in tough to negotiate unstable areas. Don't scree fields ever let go and 10,000 tons of rock go crashing down? Those rocks have to fan out at the bottom somehow. The things I think about while hiking.

Back down to the saddle, I breathed a little easier. Pretty sure I took longer to get off the summit than to go up it. Funny how that is. In some cases, I'm the same way on the bike.

Half way down Hyndman basin, I came back by the heart-shaped pond I noted heading up. The water was clear and frigid. I hadn't seen a soul in five hours. An ice bath to sooth hammered legs seemed irresistible. I hadn't skinny dipped in almost 40 years. I couldn't think of a more magical place to go for a dip. I stripped down and stepped in. The bottom was pretty mushy with sharp rocks. The water was so cold it would take your breath away. I didn't stay in long. The dip was a perfect compliment to the summit experience. How often can you strip down for dip in a pristine high-alpine lake without a worry in the world? I've always wanted to do that since I've been going on trips like this.

The rest of the hike down was mostly uneventful. The sun had now moved to an afternoon position and cast Hyndman Peak in a much different light. You can't take a bad photo in these conditions. I had my LX7, a high-end point-and-shoot with me. Hyndman Creek has some nice cascades in it. The sun was now in a favorable position to capture a few photos there too, unlike first thing in the morning.

With just over three miles to go, I encounter a middle-aged couple heading up. They were traveling lightly and it was later in the day, so I doubt they were heading to the summit. Once I got below the last wall, there were bike tracks. Ah, they road bikes in for the first three miles. Looked like one might have been a fat bike. They must have ditched the bikes in the brush.

I got back to the car in about 6.7hrs total elapsed time. Moving time was probably around 5.5hrs, and distance should be about 14mi even though my Garmin showed only 13mi. This was easily my most unique hiking experience to date. Can't really compare it with the Presidential Traverse, as they are very different kinds of hikes, each special in their own way. I would do this hike again when visiting or even moving to Sun Valley.

First full view of Hyndman Peak about hour into hike.

The saddle between Hyndman (left) and Old Hyndman (right) that had to be gained first.

Small lake that would get used later in the hike.

The closer I got, the bigger and scarier Hyndman looked.

Just to get to the saddle, significant talus had to be climbed.

Looking along ridge to Hyndman summit. Only 1200ft to go!

Back side of ridge is precipitous drop.

View from 12,009ft looking mostly north.

View of basin I hiked up from summit.

Panoram from west to east looking north.

Could have spent all day up here, so quiet, weather so perfect.

You know how I said yesterday Hyndman looked scary from Pioneer Cabin? Well, here is Pioneer Cabin at 9500ft from Hyndman summit at 12,009ft.

My route back down. Had all the time in the world, so I was going take it slow. No marked route. Sometimes I found hints of traveled routes, other times I ended up in precarious situations. All of this was loose.

Looking almost straight up at one tricky sections to get around. No fear of death, but just have to be careful. Several times I almost pinched or trapped a foot or hand when a large boulder moved.

The lake again, with peak almost half a vertical mile up.

Ice bath. Oh yeah, I totally skinny dipped this pond. Hadn't seen nor heard a soul in five hours. 

Looking back up at Hyndman and the saddle with Old Hyndman with better later in the day lighting.

Last full view of Hyndman with fabulous lighting and saturated sky.

Hyndman Creek had some very nice cascades along the way. Had to wait for the return trip so sun would not be into the camera.

Another angle of the falls.

I think this is peak just south of Old Hyndman, just under 12,000ft. Touch of fall color in the aspen.

Unusual art and ranch name on the road to trailhead.

Creepy. When you Google Hyndman images, these will come up.

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