Is there anything of possible interest slightly off your normal path that you have yet to investigate? I chose to take a side trip and investigate one of them – the reward was great.
Leatherman Peak (12,238 ft.) is one of nine peaks in Idaho that top out at 12,000 feet or above in elevation. Eight of the nine – including Leatherman – are located in the isolation of the Lost River Range just to the east of Sun Valley. The 9th is Hyndman Peak (12,009 ft.) in the Pioneer Mountain Range in Sun Valley. The Lost River Range is best known for Borah Peak (12,662 ft) – the tallest in the state of Idaho. I summited Borah decades ago (via is a long steep trail covering almost 5,000 vertical ft.) and last climbed Hyndman in 2012 with my son Kyle and previously with Mike and John Andary.
The vast majority of people who have seen the Lost River Range in person view them from U.S. Highway 93. The view – of the western wall – is nothing short of impressive. However, the even more isolated and significantly less visited interior route – via the east – is nothing short of awesome. The driving time from Sun Valley via the interior route is six hours versus the western wall which clocks in at a time of two and one-half hours. For people who love the back-country the extra time is worth every second times ten.
For this back-country jaunt it is Leatherman Peak via the interior route – both firsts for me. Friends Jonas Loffler and Nick Lovett who are currently scholarship athletes on the cross-country ski team at the University Alaska, are with me for this endeavor. Our only disappointment is that family friend Deedra Irwin – currently a three sport star at Michigan Tech – could not make the trip after planning to do so.
A key driver for this trip is Nappy Neaman of the Elephant’s Perch. Nappy is a big supporter of the MESH Art Gallery (owned by Kyle and myself) and my photographic work. However, on the Ketchum Gallery Night Walk two days previous Nappy points out that my body of work on display includes nothing from the Lost River Range let alone shots of its interior or Leatherman Peak. The following afternoon (and day before this event) I stop into the Elephant’s Perch to visit with Nappy. I point out to Nappy the irony of his comments from the night before and inform him of Sunday’s climb. Nappy and I spend time going over (with USGS Quandrangle maps) the access roads for the interior approach and the route to take to the summit. Although all of the descriptions on my reference sites and materials state the planned route includes – for about 1,800 vertical – a Class 3 (rock scramble with some exposure) and Class 4 (rock with all four limbs exposed) experience. Nappy has climbed Leatherman and this route specifically and says it is a great route and truly a Class 3 in his opinion. He also points out to return down via the Class 2 route of Sawmill Creek – which is safer and faster – but in many respects is a bigger pain in the butt for an ascent (given all the loose shale and granite).
Jonas, Nick and I leave Ketchum at 5AM and arrive in the Pahsimeroi River Valley (aka the interior route) as the sun is about to start its day. The sunrise is mesmerizing. All three of us are awe-struck at the beauty of this wide river valley at 7,500 feet elevation that is surrounded by magnificent peaks. The trailhead for Leatherman Peak is on the West Fork of the Pahsimeroi River.
The 4.2 mile and 4,000+ vertical ascent of Leatherman Peak is a blast. The first two miles (trailhead to Sawmill Creek Canyon) are traveled on a nice hiking bed. The third mile is cross-country. The flowers in this section are off-the-charts beautiful. The next seven-tenths of a mile (up to Leatherman Pass) is a straight forward class 1+, class 2 standing scramble. The final 1,800 vertical feet (.5 mile) from Leatherman Pass to summit is the actual climb. With Jonas at the front, the three of us work up section-by-section as there are many route finding tasks with rock-fall for the last 1,200 vertical feet. I will leave it to the experts as to the class grading for this route. However I can say without qualification, the ascent is challenging on some superb rock and quite a bit of fun. I never felt as if I was overly-exposed or at huge risk.
The route down is fast, but given the it is mostly on loose shale – not a lot of fun. Although we have planned for the effort to take 8 hours round trip, it takes the three of us about 6 hours 20 minutes to complete the route.
The ride back home is just as beautiful as the drive in.