Underwriting provided by:
By Sauni Symonds
People ask me which story is my favorite, but I honestly can't pick a favorite. Each climb was a challenge in its own unique way. It was immensely fulfilling on a personal level to test myself and succeed. I think it helped me begin to understand why mountain climbers become addicted to the hunt for elevation. The accomplishment of setting a goal and pushing yourself to the limit physically and mentally to reach it mirrors our life path in many ways. And the fact that you can be in nature while doing so is even more gratifying.
It seems every adventure sport has its iconic figures, or features. Mountain Climbing is no different. In Idaho, the serious mountain climbing community is relatively small; so if you've been climbing for a few years, you have most likely run into each other, or at least, have heard of each other. One iconic figure, and one of my first contacts, was veteran mountain climber and guide book author Tom Lopez. His book, “Idaho, a Climbing Guide,” is considered the climbing bible of Idaho. He has personally summited hundreds of peaks around the state, and has met and climbed with most of the state's seasoned climbers. After describing to him the type of show I would like to do, he came up with some suggestions for peaks and a few people I should get in touch with. From there the program began to take shape.
You can train, you can plan, but you can't understand what it's like to climb a mountain on snow shoes until you've done it. Following our three climbers, Dave Pahlas, John Roache, and George Reinier up Vienna Peak gave me new respect for the dedication, conditioning, and fortitude required to take on a mountain in the winter.
The journey started at first light on a frigid morning in the Sawtooths. We had to get to the top and back before dark fell on the short winter day. We bundled up for the cold snow mobile ride to the trailhead, but soon discovered that the layers had to come off as we climbed up the steep hillside to reach the first ridge.
As the sun started to rise over the mountain, I could tell it was going to be a gorgeous day, always a good omen for a shoot. I thought I was in pretty good shape for this venture, but soon discovered I was not. I had snowshoed many times before, but not straight up a mountain, for hours. My short legs could not keep up with the men, so myself and two of the crew fell behind.
But the most important person, our long-legged and well-conditioned photographer, Jay Krajic, made it to the top with the climbers and the camera. If you don't have the pictures, you don't have a story. Not just any photographer can keep up with a mountain climber. All the other climbs would seem easy after the Vienna climb.
Gilmore Peak in the Lemhi range was not our first choice for a climb in eastern Idaho, but it became a very rewarding back-up. Our plan to climb the very challenging Saddle Mountain was abandoned when an unseasonable heat wave in late June made it clear that over-exertion, especially with heavy camera gear, could be dangerous. Jay and I knew that we would barely make the summit by the hottest part of the day with all the stops and starts required for shooting. After a discussion with trip leader Dan Robbins we decided to head north about an hour to cooler temperatures.
When I first saw Gilmore peak I was bedazzled. Maybe it was the late afternoon light, or maybe I was just glad we didn't have to climb Saddle Mountain; but whatever the case, the glimmering quartzite rock towering over a pristine high mountain lake seemed like the perfect iconic mountain to climb. The group of seven climbers Dan had assembled were relieved too, I think. They quickly set up camp and made dinner while Jay and I did a few pre-climb interviews.
The next day we were greeted with gorgeous skies and cool temps. The climb was steep at times and had some scrambling at the top, so even if it wasn't Saddle Mountain, it still provided a great adventure; and, best of all, no one suffered from heat exhaustion. The views were spectacular, looking into Montana, and the back side of the Lost River Range. I love it when the back-up plan turns out as good as the original.
He Devil Peak
The Seven Devils Mountain Range has always intrigued me, maybe just because of the devilish name, but I think also for its remoteness. The range lies along the western edge of Idaho's natural border with Oregon: Hell's Canyon, in the Hell's Canyon National Recreation Area. I wasn't even sure this shoot would happen because of early forest fires in the region. But, as luck would have it, the fires died down, and we proceeded with the trip.
To get to the Seven Devils you must take a long, winding dirt road up and over a mountain west of Riggins, Idaho. The dirt road ends at a campground at the edge of the Wilderness area. This would be our first backpack trip to climb a peak, and it would prove to be an exhausting, but exhilarating few days. After an overnight at the edge of the wilderness, we started out early for Sheep Lake, which lies at the base of He Devil and She Devil. Climbing He Devil was actually Bruce's idea. He had always wanted to do the trip and we needed to shoot an introduction standup with him anyway, so I was glad to have him along.
There are two approaches to Sheep Lake. The official trail is about 8 miles long; but another one goes over the mountain instead of around it, and is only about 3 miles long. This trail, such as it is, is not recommended for the casual hiker or backpacker. Unless you have a map and know how to read it, you will probably not find your way to He Devil, but end up wandering around and possibly get lost. Our trip leaders, Judi Steciak and Carl Hamke, knew the way; and with a little bit of bushwhacking and a lot of huffing and puffing, they finally got us over the mountain to the lake. We pitched our tents for the night and set about exploring the area. There was only one other party nearby, so we essentially had the wilderness to ourselves, except for several mountain goats sniffing around for our salty leftovers.
We rose to another gorgeous day in the mountains. The hike around the lake, across boulder fields, snow fields, up and down scree slopes, and finally to the ridge leading to the summit took about four hours, with many stops for shooting. It was similar to the previous hikes in preparation, effort, and views from the top, which were enchanting, even if a bit hazy. But what we didn't include in the story on the broadcast program was that after climbing to the top of He Devil and then back down, we also had to load up our backpacks at camp and hike over the mountain back to the road. The fairly warm afternoon tested all of us, especially Jay, who was loaded down with extra camera gear. What a work out!
North Idaho is known mostly for its big lakes, but there are also some amazing mountain ranges and peaks worthy of climbing. Jay had driven by Scotchman Peak, the highest point in Bonner County, many times and had always wanted to hike to the summit, so I decided to look into it. I made contact with some folks who are very involved with the effort to preserve the Scotchman Peaks as true wilderness. They very eagerly accepted my invitation to lead a trip up the mountain. The trail is considered the hardest Class 1 walk-up in the state, which means that it is a groomed trail, but a pretty steep grade.
We met up with our group of locals and started up the trail at about eight o'clock in the morning. Some recent rain and fairly warm temperatures made for a pretty humid climb. I will always remember that it was the hottest climb of all the peaks. But once we reached timberline a cool breeze dried us out, making the push for the summit more enjoyable. The views became more and more breathtaking as we reached the top. Below us was Lake Pend Oreille, and blue, hazy ranges and peaks surrounded us, looking into Canada, Montana, and Washington. As Jay worked to capture the views and the climbers on video, I quickly snapped as many photos as I could for the web and printed materials.
On top we were greeted by some very gregarious mountain goats. Mr. Scotchman, the grand old goat of the peak, even posed on a rock while I took his picture with Lake Pend Oreille in the background. He became the cover shot for our Channels magazine and has essentially become the mascot for the show. Jay was so captivated by the goats and the late afternoon light that it was hard to drag him off the mountain. The views, the mountain goats, and the company of people so connected to the land made this a summit that was truly inspirational and rewarding.