Just east of the Wood River Valley lie the alpine peaks of the Pioneer Mountains. At the heart of the range lies the highest peak, Hyndman 12,008′. To the south and southwest of Hyndman sits it’s neighbors, Old Hyndman 11,775′ and Cobb 11,650′. Seemingly close enough to touch from the summit of Hyndman, these other summits are blocked steep, technical terrain on their north aspects. Hyndman Peak is a popular scramble route in summer and has seen it’s fair share of ski descents in spring. The Pioneer Yurt, opperated by Sun Valley Trekking, sits at the mouth of this scenic basin at 8700′.
A unique challenge for many locals is to climb/scramble all three peaks in a day. Known as the Triple Crown, this outing requires lots of energy, daylight, climbing skills and a little bit of luck. Old Hyndman presents the crux of the route. Linked to Hanyman and Cobb by way of ridgelines, Old Hyndman sits between the two, but blocks direct passage with vertical cliffs of mixed quality. In summer most people climb Hyndman first, then Old Hyndman via steep scrambling/climbing, then follow the ridge to Cobb and descend the southwest face to finish.
For the past couple of years I’ve wanted to do a ski descent of the Triple Crown. I thought it would be excellent training for my AMGA Ski Mountaineering certification, with it’s combination of technical terrain and lots of vertical. After having passed my Ski Mountaineering Exam this spring, I returned home to Idaho to find the high peaks still white with snow!
My fiance, Aki and I hiked into the Pio Yurt, Friday evening, May 15th. We were lucky to be late enough in the evening that the refreeze was on, and once we encountered snow we were able to skin up to the yurt. Skiing out of the huts has got to be one of the coolest things white man has ever done! You get all the rustic luxuries of home without having to freeze your buns in a snow cave or tent. They really spoil you!
The alarm went off at 3:30 am. I scrambled some eggs, had some coffee and was out the door by 4 am. Due to the steep cliffs on the north side of Old Hyndman, my route was to climb it via Big
Basin and the south face/couloir. From the hut I had to descend 600′ to Big Basin Creek before I could start climbing again. Firm snow make quick work of the descent, and before I knew it, I had skis on my pack and was thrashing through the alders, trying to navigate in the dark. I thought for sure the cougar was going to eat me for br
Back on snow I continued to boot up Big Basin towards Old Hyndman. The firm conditions made travel pretty quick and I was soon using my ice ax and crampons on the south face/couloir. On top by 7:30 am, I radioed Aki at the hut, who had just woken up and was having coffee. A quick transition of top, and I was skiing firm conditions down the couloir and over to Cobb Peak.
Another quick transition while downing some energy bars, I began booting up the southeast face of Cobb. This 1200′ face had been taking morning sun and would
have skied beautifully… Unfortunately I was on my way up and didn’t get to reap those rewards. On top of Cobb Peak at 9 am, my route would take me down the Comma Couloir of the southwest face for about 800′, then I’d sneak over to the skiers right ridge and continue down the North Couloir into the Hyndman Basin. The Comma was firm, rocky and had some avalanche debris part way down… not the best conditions for your first time skiing something, but I was excited to be skiing off peak number two and jumped right in. On the descent I ran into a party of 5 on their way up. I think they were surprised to see me skiing down, especially since things hadn’t softened up yet!
I made my descent down the Comma and headed to the ridge to find the North Couloir. Back to booting, I had to gain a little elevation to where I thought the run started. When I got there it was apparent that I needed to climb even more. I was nearly out of water, breaking through the
crust and wandering on
the ridge of Cobb… fatigue began to set in. I climbed a couple hundred vertical to where I thought I needed to be, only to find out I had gone too far! How about that? At least I didn’t have to climb more… As I descended to the Couloir I realized that I was within ten feet of the entrance the first time! Oh well… Skis on and ready to descend, this was to be the most technical and steep skiing of the day. First turn… chalky snow. Second turn… chalky snow! Could it be? Yes, the couloir had preserved dry snow despite a weeks worth of high temperatures. I felt so blessed to have fine conditions skiing the 50+ degree line!
Cobb Peak with the North Couloir angling up and right.
In the Hyndman Basin I met up with Aki for lunch and a water resupply. I had pounded all my water in the heat, and
she graciously gave me hers. No doubt, without more water
I would have had to turn back. After the snack I made
my way up Hyndman Peak. I managed to skin the 1500′ climb with ski crampons on. It was nice not have the skis on my pack for once. I reached the summit exhausted and out of water again, but totally relieved that it was over, almost. All that was left was a 3200′ descent back to the yurt. The south face of Hyndman was a little softer than ideal, but totally skiable. I linked tired turns down the face and through the basin back to the hut. I was out of my skis at 1:30 pm and in bed for a nap at 2 pm!
All said and done it came out to be 7000′ vertical, 8.5 miles in 9 hours, hut to hut.
Whoo Hoo, the Triple Crown Ski!
I’m not sure anyone has done it before!
I’m not sure if I’d do it again…