Fadgen's Adventures

Fadgen's Adventures
Green Creek Lake

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Mount Church Ski - May 29, 2017

With three Lost River Range 12,000 peak ski descents on our resume, Dylan and I set our sights on number four – Mt Church.  At 12,200 feet, Mt Church is Idaho’s 3rd highest peak and the best skiing to be had on Church is on the north face, which necessitates the slow, bumpy drive to the West Fork of the Pahsimeroi River.

After the tortuous drive, we arrived Sunday evening and set up camp at what we assumed was the trailhead.  While looking for a spot to cross the creek, I met up with the only other camper in the valley, Dan, a bat biologist from Pocatello.  While pointing out the creek crossing, Dan told me that there had been 6” of fresh snow on the ground a few days prior and that he had seen quite a few wet slides while out ski touring.  With this knowledge, and bellies full of KFC, we hit the sack in anticipation of a pseudo-alpine start.
Looking enthused!
Our pseudo-alpine start ended up being a bit leisurely, a little after 6AM.  After the precarious creek crossing, we wandered through several sagebrush filled moraine meadows before entering the trees.  With skis on our backs and no trail to follow, we picked our way through the trees trying to minimize the amount of overhead obstacles.
Precarious creek crossing first thing in the morning. Can you see the log?

We eventually reached the first patches of snow and found some footprints to follow.  At this point in the morning the snow was relatively firm, with only an occasional posthole.  Until it became much more than the occasional posthole – at this point we transitioned to skis and ditched our boots to minimize the cursing.  It felt great to get the skis and ski boots off our backs.

During our conversation the night before, my bat biologist friend, Dan, had mentioned encountering a waterfall on the way to Church.  We passed several smaller waterfalls earlier in the hike and were a bit perplexed when we came upon the forty foot headwall featuring, “the waterfall”.  
"The Waterfall"
We slipped off the skis, threw them over our backs and climbed the steep scree to the right.  After getting above the waterfall, we scrambled down through the trees and were on what looked like continuous snow at 9200 feet.
Bypassing the waterfall

Mt Church coming into view
Now that we were out of the trees and on good snow, we made relatively good time skinning up into the cirque. The views of Church were pretty intimidating.  It looked steep and the recent slides on the surrounding peaks and face we were climbing and planned to ski raised some goosebumps.
Damn, that is steep!
When we reached the 10,600 foot level, we removed our skis, attached crampons to our ski boots, strapped the skis and poles back on our packs, pulled out the ice axes and started booting up the face.  By this time (10AM), the north face of Mt Church had been in full sun for the last three hours.  The firm snow we had been traveling on was starting to soften considerably.  Though becoming soft, the snow was consolidated enough to ease any fears we had.
Heading up...

And up...

Tele boots and crampons don't mix
In the bright sunlight we, too, were starting to melt and our pace slowed.  This was one of those great days in the mountains when there was no wind, but with the sunlight bouncing off the snow, we were getting very hot.  As clouds started moving in, we both hoped that they might block the sun.  The mountain gods did not grant us our wishes though.  So we took turns leading up the steep north face in the softening snow.
Note the vented pants.  These resulted in sunburn!

Still more up
With about 50 vertical feet to the summit ridge (12,100 feet?) , immediately below the last band of rocks, Dylan encountered some unconsolidated snow that raised an alarm.  This snow, which had been in the shade of the rocks, was sticking to his ski boots, rendering his crampons useless.  We looked to the left and realized we would have to down climb quite a bit to bypass this band of rocks.  However, there were other rock bands to the left.  To the right we had untouched snow on a 45-50 degree slope with a cliff band 50 feet away.  Facing into the slope, I started to the right.  After a few steps I wasn’t feeling too sure about this option, so retreated.
We stopped just below the rock band above Dylan
We looked at each other and decided that this spot would be our summit for today.  Dylan dug us a nice long ledge in the snow and we sat down to have some lunch and admire the views.

Our "summit for the day" shot

Getting ready 
After lunch it was time to pack up, strap on the skis and go for it,  After a quick tap of our ski poles, Dylan dropped in for some Mt. Church buttery mashed potatoes!

I followed Dylan and though a bit steep and soft, the turns were not all that bad.  We leap-frogged one another down the 1800 foot face and the skiing only got better.

A tele-turn!
Once we reached the cirque the snow turned to slush and it was difficult to maintain any speed.  We had the option of trying to pond skim on a partially frozen body of water, but the lack of speed and "partially frozen" pond made the decision for us.
Looking back.  Notice Dylan in the bottom center.

Our tracks are up there somewhere

Slip sliding up 
We did our best to remain upright through this slush and eventually found ourselves at the top of "The Waterfall".  Time to drop the skis and walk down around the 40 foot drop off.  A quick ski after this brought us back to our boots.
Glad that is over
The rest of the walk out was as pretty close to hell as you can imagine.  The morning's hard snow had turned to mush and it was impossible to not sink knee deep.  We quickly realized that we would not be able to keep our feet dry and just plowed through the wet snow to get out as quickly as possible.
Damn pants are too hot
We eventually reached the creek and crossed it "Brett Style" - just waded right through, boots and all.

As I mention in the first paragraph, this was our fourth and probably final 12er ski.  The four we have achieved: Church, Mt Breitenbach, Lost River Peak and  Leatherman Peak all had relatively easy approaches.  The other five will be more of a challenge to get to and/or ski off of.  At least for me!

Time: 10.5 hours car-car
Distance: 13.5 miles
Elevation: 4100 feet

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A team of adventurers consisting of John, Tamara, Taylor, Dylan, and Shadow Fadgen