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Lost River Suffering
By Erik Leidecker

We are drowning in an ocean of scree.  Billions of limestone rocks the size of bowling 
balls are everywhere—thousands of feet up and down, thousands of feet north and 
south—and we've been struggling through it for what seems like days.  The summit of 
Mt. Church, one of the highest in Idaho, looms above us like an ogre with only slivers of 
its rock ramparts and ridges illuminated by moonlight.  It's the next summit we want to 
climb.

But right now my brother and I are absolutely destroyed.  We've been swimming in the 
loose rock underneath the summits of Leatherman, Bad Rock and Church for two miles 
and now, at three in the morning and with the summit of Church in sight, we plop down 
because we need to stop moving.  

There is no flat ground.  We kick the loose rock around and excavate small platforms and 
sit on small scraps of ensolite.  I pull my pack up over my legs and we each cinch our 
down coats.  The cold wind blows across the endless expanse of rock.  The moon shines 
down and the miles of scree that surrounds us looks more lunar than earthly.  We start 
shivering.  I see the headlights of a car driving north from Macky on U.S. 93.

Not yet ready to accept full responsibility for my current suffering, I blame our 
predicament on Matt.  Climbing this ridge from Borah to Lost River Mountain was his 
brainchild and moving through the night is part of the plan.  People who know Matt know 
that he has a fetish for ridgelines.  He wants to see if we can climb this one, with its seven 
peaks over twelve thousand feet, in twenty-four hours.  At this point it's three down 
(Borah, Idaho and Leatherman) and four (Church, Donaldson, Breitenbach, and Lost 
River Mountain) to go.

We start as deliberately as we stopped.  We're so cold we have to get moving and soon 
we're climbing the limestone steps to the high saddle between Church and Donaldson.  
We reach the col, drop our packs, and run the perfect aręte to the summit of Mt. Church.  
The eastern horizon is turning orange.  Back at the col at 7:00am we realize our goal of 
climbing the ridge in twenty-four hours is unattainable.  So we rest again, this time in a 
comfortable site improved by other climbers.  

Again we wake shivering.  But Donaldson is close—only five minutes from our bivy--
and we start moving, thankful that it's daytime again.  From Donaldson we see that our 
ridge route to Breitenbach is again impractical and although we dread the prospect of 
more scree we agree the smart move is to climb Breitenbach by dropping off the ridge.  I 
wonder if the smart move is to not climb Breitenbach at all?

But we both realize that if we descend now, getting to our car may be as challenging as 
completing the route.  We have to keep climbing and now the true absurdity of this 
endeavor begins to sink in.  My shoes are in tatters.  I have cuts on both ankles from the 
dagger-like limestone.  I have a blister on my left hand, the uphill one, from struggling in 
the same position across miles of scree.  We have holes in each of the twenty fingertips of 
our gloves from clawing our way through much of this terrain.  And we are tired.  We've 
covered nearly 15,000 vertical feet over about 17 miles.  This isn't mountain climbing.  
This is suffering.  And from Breitenbach to Lost River Mountain we see only more 
suffering to come.

So we bail out when we reach the first drainage, called Pete Creek, north of where we left 
a car.  It's only appropriate that to descend we must walk down another four thousand 
feet of scree.   I can barely keep my eyes open during the drive back to the Wood River 
Valley.

It's been a little over a week since we got back from our epic thrashing in the Lost River 
Range and I've already forgotten about how bad it was.  In fact, sometimes when I'm 
warm in bed, I long to be back in the middle of that sea of scree, shivering in the 
moonlight, with the tall peaks towering above.