Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pioneer Mountains

The Pioneer Mountains contain Idaho's third-highest peak, Hyndman Peak.  These are the mountains one sees to the east of the Sun Valley ski resort, and in fact, before ski lifts became what they are today (due to their invention in Sun Valley) people would ride on horseback up to a cabin in these mountains and ski on the summer snowfields and canoe in the cold alpine lakes.

The ski lift was invented by a fellow watching bananas being loaded onto ships.  He mounted a chair on the front of a car and drove it toward a person (from behind).  The person was wearing skis, and the impact broke their legs.  It was decided that the experiment should have been done on snow.

There is a trio of peaks that hold a special place in many a heart, mine included:  Hyndman, Old Hyndman, and Cobb.  These peaks were glaciated and you can find horns (as in "Matterhorn") and spitzels in the Pioneer Mountains.  Hyndman is a bit over 12,000 feet in elevation.

Below is Hyndman Peak in July.  I would often trek to the mountains on my birthday, and the wildflowers were often near their peak at that time.  I carried both 35mm and 4"x5" camera equipment on this trek, so have this image on 4"x5" film as well.

Here is another view of Hyndman, looking at it from the north, looming over Wildhorse Creek with Old Hyndman just visible to the left of Hyndman's massive pyramid.

Below is Old Hyndman with its distinctive notch at the left.  This peak is a fin, very narrow in one direction.  At the edge of the clear meltwater Bitterroot are in bloom.

Below you can see Old Hyndman at the left and the massive pyramid of Cobb at the right.  My friend Karl and I climbed Old Hyndman with his dog Max.

Can you believe that I would get on my bicycle on Friday after work, pedal out the dirt roads, leave my bike and backpack toward the peaks, camping and hiking and soaking in the cold (very cold) meltwater streams, picking the forget-me-not burrs from my socks, getting baked in the sun until I would begin to climb these giants?  I would come to some sheer cliff and turn back.  Or get mired in stinging nettles in the creek bottoms.  One day I decided to splurge the $5.95 it would cost to purchase a topographic map, and went to the local sporting goods store.  The fellow behind the counter asked me, "Are you going to the backcountry?"

"No," I replied, "just to those mountains over there."

That was me, some very long time ago, on the side of Hyndman, with Old Hyndman in the background.  Silk shirt and rock climbing shoes.  No mountain in Idaho is a technical climb, by which I mean one never needs a rope.  They're all a long, hard, tiring walk and scramble to the top.

So, now that I have introduced you to the peaks that dominate this range, perhaps you can see them near the middle of the photo below, taken from a ridge to the south of the East Fork of the Big Wood River at sunset. 

The basin between the peaks was (and still is) an enchanting place.  The barren rock and ice morph into a wet, green, subarctic environment of lichen and heather, divided by deep, clear, meandering streams.  In the distance one sees the fertile earth of trees and sagebrush, but here life struggles in a harsh environment, just gaining a foothold.

Arctic White Heather.  Cassiope tetragona

Lewis's Monkeyflower.  Mimulus lewisii

Elephanthead.  Pedicularis groenlandica

Put them all together with Bistort and Paintbrush and Lupine and Cinquefoil and too many others to name ... and you get a slice of heaven.

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