Kelly Lance, a 49-year-old endurance runner from Pocatello, climbed Idaho’s nine 12,000-foot peaks (the 12ers) in a 119-mile, 78-hour push starting on Sept. 2. Unlike the others who have climbed the 12ers in a single push, Kelly did it completely self-propelled.
The 12ers are Mount Borah, 12,622 feet; Leatherman Peak, 12,228; Mount Church, 12,200; Diamond Peak, 12,197; Mount Breitenbach, 12,140; Lost River Mountain, 12,078; Mount Idaho, 12,065; Donaldson Peak, 12,023; and Hyndman Peak, 12,009. These peaks are located in three eastern Idaho mountain ranges, with one each in the Lemhi and Pioneer ranges and seven in the Lost River Range. The fastest time for the 12ers utilizing a vehicle shuttle is 1 day, 4 hours, 18 minutes by Luke Nelson of Pocatello and Jared Campbell of Salt Lake City in 2014.
While discussing his motivations, Kelly said: “... A couple years ago, some guys I know did a fantastic job with the speed attempt. And kind of jokingly I said, ‘Nobody’s ever done it without a car.’ Once I said it, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I had to do it.”
Decision made, Kelly jumped into planning his climb. Finding the correct route along the crest of the Lost River Range was the crux of the planning stage. Dave Bingham and Rob Landis from Hailey had pioneered a route that linked together the seven Lost River Range 12ers by staying as close as possible to the crest. Kelly set out to explore their route, climbing each peak in the process.
After two years of planning and reconnaissance, and with a support crew of family and friends lined up, Kelly was ready to go. On Sept. 2, he started up the east side of Diamond Peak, in the Lemhi Range. After two and a half miles and 5,100 feet of steep climbing, he reached the summit. One 12er down, eight to go.
Kelly descended Diamond’s western slopes into Badger Creek, which empties into the Little Lost River Valley, a wide, high desert valley. Unseasonably warm temperatures wore at him as he reached the Little Lost River, where he was greeted by his support crew.
From the river, his route continued along the flanks of Hawley Mountain and then crossed the broad plateau between Wet Creek and Dry Creek, where the support team had set camp. He arrived shortly after 9 p.m.
Kelly remembers: “I had originally planned on four to five hours of sleep at this stop. Sleep never came. ... . I gave up at 2:30 a.m. Behind schedule, I started out at 3:45 a.m.” The first peak on Day 2 was Lost River Mountain. Kelly ascended a difficult route that climbs up the peak’s east face. Lack of sleep, distance, heat, trailless terrain and obstacles slowed Kelly’s progress. It took seven hours to reach the summit at 10:56 a.m. Two 12ers climbed.
Kelly followed the rugged ridge north to the next 12er, Mount Breitenbach, in 2.5 hours — reaching the summit around 1:30 p.m. The ridge connecting Breitenbach to Donaldson Peak is barred by a series of cliffs and a ragged, intermediate peak which Kelly avoided by descending into the rugged Jones Creek cirque, losing 2,000 feet of elevation. He then climbed 2,000 feet up Donaldson’s east face to its summit arriving at 4:30 p.m. From Donaldson’s summit, he climbed the convoluted connecting ridge to Mount Church in 45 minutes. It was 5:15 p.m. This spot was the theoretical midpoint of his journey, but in reality the most difficult terrain was still ahead.
Between Mount Church and Mount Borah, the Lost River crest contains six rugged peaks, two of which — Leatherman and Idaho — rise above 12,000 feet. The other four peaks, all nearly 12,000 feet high, form obstacles that blocked Kelly’s path. He would spend the entire night negotiating his way around the blocking peaks, climbing up and down from drainage to drainage.
It took four more hours to summit Leatherman Peak at 9:15 p.m. after moving in difficult terrain for 17 1/2 hours. From Leatherman his up-and-down path skirted White Cap Peak and Peak 11967. At 11 p.m., he arrived at Pass Lake where his friend Doug Lawton was waiting. They continued the long night slog together. Kelly remembers, “The traverse . . . was slow, tedious and time-consuming. It was like I was stuck in a time warp.” They arrived on Idaho’s summit at 4:05 a.m.
From Idaho, they skirted Sacajawea Peak by dropping into Cedar Creek where, after nearly 27 hours of continuous movement, Kelly slept for one hour. After this nap, Kelly and Doug climbed due north toward Borah’s summit, 2,800 feet above, arriving at 11:15 a.m.
Kelly descended the conventional climbers trail to the Borah trailhead, arriving at 2:05 p.m. Except for the one hour nap in Cedar Creek, Kelly had been awake for 55 hours. He fell asleep, waking at midnight, feeling refreshed, and “immediately felt like running.” He remembers, “The road’s center line, the moon, and a cold headwind was my world until dawn.”
At dawn he entered the Wildhorse Creek drainage, one of Idaho’s most impressive locales with steep, glacially carved peaks on all sides and Hyndman Peak at its upper terminus. To exit the drainage, Kelly climbed a steep rib on the north face of Old Hyndman Peak. He reached the crest less than 400 hundred feet below Old Hyndman’s summit. He then turned north, dropped down Old Hyndman’s northwest ridge and climbed up Hyndman’s south ridge to the summit, arriving at 3 p.m.
All the 12ers were climbed but he still had to descend to the trailhead, which he reached an hour and half later. His ordeal was over. “I was greeted by my daughters, wife and dogs,” he said. “They had decorated the trailer with signs and flags. Michelle sprayed me with champagne. They all made it very special.”
Looking back on his accomplishment, Kelly found that the journey was more important than the feat.
“The unfamiliarity of the route beforehand,” he said, “the people I have met in the process, conversations, exploration, overcoming uncertainty — coupled with the overwhelming support from my family and friends — made me recognize that no man walks alone even when he is struggling solo up a difficult rock face.”
Tom Lopez, a Boise mountain climber and guidebook author, runs a website dedicated to mountain climbing in Idaho, idahoaclimbingguide.com.
Kelly Lance’s daily stats
Day 1: 32.1 miles; 6,522 feet of elevation gain.
Day 2: 42 miles; 20,640 feet of elevation gain.
Day 3: 44.9 miles; 6,603 feet of elevation gain.