9 Summits of Idaho Record 8/29/03 to 9/1/03
A year ago I thought it would be fun to try and break the record for ascending the 9 peaks in Idaho over 12,000 feet. What was involved along the way could and what would happen if I were to succeed could not be anticipated.
There are 9 peaks in Idaho that stand above 12,000 feet. All of them involve at a minimum a class 2 scramble, and 4,000 vertical feet of climbing. Intrigued by the record setters of Colorado and California I began asking the questions who holds the 9 summits record? How long did it take them? What route did they use? I received the answers I was looking for from Dan Robbins of www.idahosummits.com, Tom Lopez author of, Idaho A Climbing Guide, and Jerry Painter author of Trails of Eastern Idaho. Working with Dan we modeled the rules for the ascents. There was talk all year about the speed record, different routes, best time of year, and then it happened. A 16-year-old kid broke the record 8 days ago, shaving almost 3 days off the previous record . . the pressure was on and I was ready.
Drive from Donnelly to Leatherman Trailhead
Breezing out of work at noon, my girlfriend Jen & I began the cross state trek to the Leatherman Peak Trailhead. Arriving in view of the Lost River Range, my excitement grew even more. The bumpy, twisty, gnarly road lead us back into the Pasmerqoi valley. Facing a steep hill, Mario Andretti (Jen) gunned it and we made it to the top. Looking over I casually pointed out that her bike was hanging off the side of the car. She had busted her rack (the 1st of many problems for the weekend) so we tossed it in back (over all of the gear that consumed the jeep) and headed on. Coasting into the trailhead, we set about sorting, unpacking, and repacking the gear in preparation for what lay ahead. After a great steak and potato dinner it was off to bed. 9:15 pm . . . what lay ahead?
The 2:30am alarm was not well received, but I was up, choking down a bagel and taping my feet and applying liberal amounts of Bag Balm (To prevent blisters). At 3:15 am I started the clock and set out. An old arch enemy of mine returned-NAUSEA, and made me crave a bed. Hiking into the dark by yourself is rough, hiking into the dark when you feel sick is rougher, getting off trail and having to bushwhack in the dark, by yourself, while feeling sick is the roughest! Regardless I found the bowl I was scheduled to ascend and started up. I was able to follow the traces of a trail, until that disappeared. About the same time the trail disappeared it started snowing. The snow coupled with the nausea and disorientation I felt I was straying off trail, I over corrected and ended up ascending a rather tricky section of the bowl. When the sun came up I realized my error but it was too late to traverse across. I reached the summit at 6:45 am, signed the register and established radio contact with my buddy Nate, who was down below waiting for me. The sunrise was quite possibly the best I had ever seen, reminding me there was still a-lot of climbing left to do.
The plan was to descend from Leatherman, traverse across the basin, ascend Church, ascend Donaldson, drop down into the Jones Creek drainage, ascend the steep face of Britenbach, and then traverse across to Lost River Peak. Everything was going to change. The descent off of Leatherman proved to be a little tricky, but after having to re-climb a couple of sections I reached a nice scree field and cruised down to where Nate was. We began our descent through the valley, to set up the ascent of Mt Church. My nausea had subsided by this time, but Nate was suffering now. We were able to find some nice game trails and were progressing along a steady pace. Reaching the bowl below Church and Donaldson we purified some water and carefully chose our route from below. Towards the top Nate began to struggle and we agreed to meet at the Donaldson summit. I took off across the knife-edge ridge that separates the two peaks, and after carefully picking my way across came to the summit at 12:45 pm. The traverse had taken me almost an hour longer than planned but we were still doing okay.
The descent from Church and ascent of Donaldson was rather straightforward and took me about 45 minutes. When I arrived, Nate was looking a little beat up and the traverse towards Britenbach looked almost impossible from our vantage point. After eating it was 2 pm and the thought of ascending all the way up the next basin and possibly having to turn back, was not prudent. We decided to head back to the car, and call it a day for the peaks. Instead of the 5 peaks I was planning to do, I settled for three and accepted that no matter how carefully I laid out the plan, it would and did change. Descending the peak I began to do the math on what I would have to accomplish in the next few days and there was going to be no way around a 2:15 am start for Borah. We arrived at the trailhead at 5:30 pm, where were happily greeted by Jen and some warm food. She had already set up camp at Borah Peak, so we headed out via the bumpy roads, dropping Nate at his truck along the way.
It was determined that the 2:15 start was what was needed . . which wasn’t good. The only form of good news I received was Jen telling me that my buddy Dave had shown up in the night. Figuring I had pin pointed the nausea previous day (dairy), I ate some oatmeal and set out. I was wrong, the old hag was back. Chatting with Dave on the climb up, only postponed the inevitable. About a ¼ of the way up, I almost turned back but knew that it would effectively end my quest for the record. At the half waypoint I requested that we deploy our emergency blankets and wait for first light. Shivering and disoriented I lay there for about an hour in my torn up space blanket (ripped to shreds minutes after taking it out of the pouch). Either to the rest, or the first inkling of light had recharged me and I rejoined the trail with renewed vigor and determination. The wind kicked up even more when we reached the summit and at 7:57 am, I quickly signed the log and snapped a few pics, and then turned my back on the highest peak in Idaho.
The descent down provided us with a wide variety of people. There was a guy carrying a 8-foot long staff that looked like a oar, and lady with a dog who thought the dog would be able to navigate some of the vertical faces of the route (okay) and a group of kids that responded to everything we said with “you lie” . . .
Kids: Are we there yet?
Nic & Dave: 3,500 vertical to go (no lie)
Kids: You lie!
Kids: What time did you start?
Nic & Dave: 2:15 am (no lie)
Kids: You lie!
Kids: How fast did you climb?
Dave & Nic: (As we are running past) This fast (Okay a lie)
Kids: You lie!
Sacrificing our knees and barreling down the hill, we made it to the car in just over two hours. We headed to Britenbach with hopes of a traverse to Lost River.
After failing to reach the summit via different routes in previous attempts I was eager to finally knock off Britenbach. We arrived at the trailhead at noon (after a series of wrong turns) and rested for about 20 minutes before setting out into the blazing midday sun. We began the bushwhacking approach, Dave paused realizing he had left his headlamp behind, and then couldn’t find he trekking poles. Getting his mind back in gear, we began fighting off the bushes, and trying to avoid the thorns, nettles and thistles. Arriving at the toe of the peak we slowly (but steadily) started the vertical ascent. Pausing to check out the cool rocks (crustaceans, weird colors, etc) took our minds off the task at hand. Nearing the saddle, where we would connect with the final ridgeline, we discovered the true summit was indeed several ridges back like I thought. Dave (who had slept 45 minutes the night before) elected to remain at the saddle. Finding new energy I sprung up the ridge and arrived at the summit at 4:40 pm in good form ready to begin the traverse across to Lost River.
Rather than descend the overgrown under-trailed Pete Creek and then re-ascend the over rocked, unstable Super Gully. I wanted to try again executing the traverse, which I had executed earlier in the summer in the opposite direction. Picking our way across the ridge and ascending a descending a couple of gullies, we completed the traverse in less than 3 hours. This is the amount of time it would have taken us to just descend back to the Britenbach trailhead, plus whatever time would be required to ascend up the scree filled Super Gully. At 8pm we paused on the summit for our last bit of sunlight we gathered our wits and started down. Sailing down the scree filled gully we descended the first 2,500 feet in 30 minutes before having to stop and affix our headlamps and observe the sunset. Soon after we switched from scree to dirt and our pace slowed but we still had descended the 4,000 vertical feet in just over an hour. Phew! Shoveling down some hot food, Dave cracked a beer and informed me that he would not be climbing with me tomorrow. I sipped a beer and for once in my life, it did not even remotely taste good . . . oh well, off to bed I guess.
We awoke at 5:15 am and the just like the previous mornings, Mr. Nausea was conducting class and I was his best student. So I sat in the car till about 7:00 when I had enough of a stomach to give it a shot. Mount Idaho is my favorite of the peaks for it’s wide variety of terrain and the wooded approach. Unlike previous days where I could munch along the way, I had to stop every hour to shovel down a bunch of food. The scramble up the south face of the peak led me to a ridge where I zigzagged around outcroppings before scrambling up some rather fun sections with nice foot and hand holds. Ascending the 5,000 vertical in 4 hours, I relaxed and took one last look at the Lost River Range, it was 11:20 am I had climbed all of its 12,000-foot peaks in a little over 2 days. Setting my sites on pulling off the roundtrip in less than 6 hours, I began the descent. The scree field provided me with a 1,200 vertical drop in 10 minutes. Running as much as possible, I reached the trailhead 2 minutes over my 6-hour roundtrip goal, not bad for day three, I guess. After 2 soft tacos and a burrito in Arco I was napping in the sun as we drove to Diamond.
The only peak I had never seen up close. Would I be able to pull it off with darkness approaching? The drive in was bumpy and I was transfixed on the giant peak of the Lemhi Range. It looked big, but nothing I couldn’t handle right? By this point in time I had told Jen it was “like a job”, but I had taken the job so I had to finish it. I went through my rituals, bag balm for the feet, tape for the top of the shoes, gaiters, then double check the gear, determine how much food I thought I would need, and last but not least kiss Jen goodbye. At 4:45 pm I set out on a old 4-wheel drive trail that soon gave way to no trail and lots of side hilling till I reached the ridgeline where there was a well established trail to follow. The last 1,000 feet was some of the best scrambling I have ever done. Having a blast but wanting to pass back through this area before darkness I kept a fast pace. I reached the top in 2 hours and 50 minutes (My fastest one yet). At 7:35 I reached the summit and glanced at the Lost Rivers behind the setting sun, not even taking off my pack before heading down. Down-climbing the sections proved to be less of a problem than I thought, and I soon reached the main face and began my descent. By this time it was dark and Jen commented that it looked like I was on a bike, by how fast the headlamp was bobbing and weaving. Guided by her flashing headlamp off in the distance I navigated through the trees and emerged in 4 hours and 46 minutes. Before starting the late hour trek across the state the Hyndman, I eat a much-earned dinner and realized the end was near.
Cramming me into the back of Jen’s jeep and praying she wouldn’t fall asleep while she drove we set out. I fell asleep for a while and when I awoke Jen couldn’t make heads or tails of the directions for the trailhead. Being way out of it I suggested to just park it here and we would sort it out in the morning. Figuring she had taken a wrong turn she backtracked and we eventually just ended up parking on the side of the road. We ripped the stuff out of the car and lay down for a few more hours of cramped rest. We awoke at 6:30 and drove to the trailhead. Today was a struggle, Hyndman has a very long approach (12 miles roundtrip) and the lactic acid in my legs was preventing me from moving too fast. Like the previous days hike I had to eat large amounts of food (even by my standards).
I trekked and the steeper it got the faster I moved. I encountered Joe from Boise, out hiking solo (without trekking poles I might add). He asked me what time I had left, I told him 7:30 (it was now 10:30) to which he responded in a nice way “Showing off aren’t you?” to which I responded “No showing off we be telling you that is my 9th peak in the past 3 days” He did a double take and then smiled and said “Guess that means you won’t wait for me at the top” We talked for a while and I recommended trekking poles and he recommended Advil. The final 1,000 feet of Hyndman, like the other peaks involves scrambling, but unlike the others the exposure on Hyndman is non-existent. The excitement in me was building, I would get to fidgety when I would stop, so I kept pushing on. At noon on the 1st of September I reached the summit of my 9th peak. I let out a yell of excitement and then plopped down to sign the summit register and eat some food. I radioed to Jen at the bottom and announced “Nic’s Stover’s legs in association with Jen Garretson’s support, is proud to announce a new 9 summits record” She called me a nut (like she usually does), and I told her I would see her soon!
The descent out was long! I began to develop knee pain on my right kneecap, and could no longer stomach the idea of what I had left to eat. Running the last section actually made my knee feel better . . . and the approach that had seemed so long was almost done. I arrived at the trailhead where I was greeted by my awesome support. I kissed her and then touched the car to officially stop the time. 3 days 11 hours and 16 minutes after beginning my odyssey I had completed it and broken the previous record by almost 2 days. We sat at the trailhead while I removed the last of my stinky clothes . . . and reflected back on the 3 days of non-stop action I had been part of. It was good to be alive!
Well my Leki trekking pole baskets are almost worn off, the shafts are bent, and one won’t tighten. My shoes that were less than a week old were already coming apart at the soles and the tread was almost gone. I had only one blister . . but I was a nasty mix of gel, bag balm, sweat, and sunscreen. The trip had it’s share of adventure, flat tires, the gas light was on the last 40+ miles, and check engine light the last few days. I saw two people outside of Borah peak, two people in 3 days of climbing on one of the most glorious weekends of the year. The most beautiful peak was Hyndman, the most technical was Diamond, and the hardest was Borah.
Arriving back at work on Tuesday I announced it receiving some kind words of praise . . . the nicest came from Brad Darrington (the father of the former record holder Matt) . . he quoted Matt’s grandfather. “Flatlanders can't ever really appreciate what climbing these mountains is like. The mountains look pretty impressive in a photo, or even from the highway. But only when you get out on them do you realize how truly vast they are.”
Ultimately it wasn’t me versus the clock or me versus Matt Darrington it was me versus the mountains. This time I had gone head to head with the mountains and won!
33,380-Vertical Feet Ascended
33,390-Vertical Feet Descended
83 hours & 16 minutes-Final Time
1-More incredible adventure