Monday, July 19, 2010

Wildhorse Revisited

Wolf, stoked upon entering the alpine cirque above Wildhorse Mines.

Last week my good friend and neighbor, Wolf Riehle and I returned to the alpine cirque above the Wildhorse Mine for two days of alpine adventures. We got an early start Tuesday morning and hiked in to established camp at lake 9238'. Our agenda for the first day was to climb the impressive stepped ridge of peak 11,108'. I had spotted this dramatic line when Drew and I climbed Sky Pilot the week before and was eager to give it a try.

Peak 11,108' - Step n' Wolf climbs the obvious stepped ridge/arete.

After pitching our tent and dropping our overnight gear Wolf and I headed for the route. The stepped ridge was our main objective, but wanting to climb rather than scramble over scree, we went for lowest point of climbable rock at 9600' and began roped climbing. The rock was well featured, of good quality and took gear reasonably well. I headed for the middle rib, which after 5 pitches took us to the base of the first step.

The summit blocks of the first step looked steep and imposing, but we managed to find a way up the north east arete, pulling a few 5.7 - 5.8 moves. We continued along the ridge crest, short roping and short pitching when things got steep until we reached the third step. From below there is an obvious left facing corner that overlooks the lakes and I was keen to give this a try. A short traverse led into the bottom of the corner and 5.7 moves up relatively good rock for 60' brought us to the top of the third step. A bit more short roping brought us to the actual crux of the route, the forth step - the longest and steepest of them all.

Wolf cruising the corner pitch of the third step.

The rock was well featured but slightly deteriorating in quality. My biggest concern was whether I would be able to get gear or not. I set off again climbing the north east arete of this headwall feature, finding descent pro and easy climbing. About a quarter of the way up the route things began to change: the cracks were either flared or seams and gear became harder and harder to find. In addition the angle steepened and there were a few loose holds. Fifteen feet above my last piece I could see features above that might take gear. I renewed my focus, took a breath and lead out in a sequence of 5.8 moves on questionable rock. Finally reaching a small stance way out from my last piece I placed a marginal cam and took another deep breath. The climbing above looked easier but the rock was more broken. I continued on, gently pulling down on holds rather than out and soon topped out on the forth step. Wolf easily cleaned the pitch and we high fived on the summit. Another first ascent(?) in the Wildhorse Basin, "Step n' Wolf" is grade III, 5.8 R and from our start about 1500' of climbing.

Step n' Wolf III, 5.8 R

After enjoying some food and water on the summit, we descended easily to the southwest and were back in camp in an hour. A quick dip in the lake, an evening meal and a spectacular display of light on the peaks ended a fantastic day.

The next morning we were up at dawn for breakfast and cappuccinos then shouldered our packs for the 5 minute approach to Sky Pilot. Quite a bit of snow had melted since Drew and I climbed it. Wolf and I were able to avoid snow completely on the approach and climb the route in our approach shoes. Knowing the line and having a solid partnership, Wolf and I made great time on this 2000' climb, summiting in 4 1/2 hours. We enjoyed clean rock and great exposure on this alpine ridge at upper elevation.

Mid route on Sky Pilot.

Sky Pilot III, 5.6-5.8

We basked in the sun on top and signed the summit register. This descent is a touch more complicated than Step n' Wolf; not having our alpine boots we avoided firm snow and stuck to the talus and boulders. Having a camp in the adjacent drainage meant that we'd needed to return to retrieve our gear. This task was not so easy, as the entire north face of peak 11,280 (Sky Pilot) is steep rock and snow couloirs. While climbing yesterday's route I spotted a weakness down the ridge where the cliffs gave way to steep trees and vegetation. A long traverse around the east ridge brought us into back in to our intended cirque where we navigated game trails ad-mist steep terrain and short cliffs. Soon we were back at camp and couldn't resist another dip in the lake's icy waters!

Coffee and a ciggy on the summit! So Euro!

After a quick pack, Wolf and I descended to our car at the mine and returned to Ketchum for a feast in town. Thanks for an amazing trip, Wolf!


  1. Really great stuff Marc! I love the mid route shot on Sky Pilot, I've been scratching around for someone to make a run at that. Keep it up!

  2. Thanks Wes! The Pios have been really good to me this year. I can't wait for the next adventure!

  3. IMPRESIONANTE !!!!!! Tini

  4. Unglaublich! Wir müssen mal zu dritt mit Jan hiken gehen! Wir hoffen mit Dir mithalten zu können...Minchen

  5. C' est magnifique, j'espere que je peus venir avec vous la prochaine fois! Grand bis, Annabelle

  6. New route, mate! The Pios deliver again! Sick!

  7. Hey Wolfi,
    Das ist ja toll! Der Step n' Wolf(i)Peak! Ich glaub da müssen wir dann auch mal rauf oder??! Elisa und Ich sind ja jetzt schon mal "Alpen-Approved" mit ein bisschen Übung schaffen wir das dann vielleicht auch?!
    Liebe Grüße und hoffentlich bis bald!