Idaho offers an enticingly broad array of terrains and challenges for those of us lucky enough to live or explore here. Luckier still that Idaho’s very tallest mountains are climbable for people who have the time, interest, skill and preparation.
So, if you’re thinking about trying Idaho’s nine 12,000-foot peaks, I offer my nine reasons to consider 12,009-foot Hyndman Peak this summer.
1. Do Hyndman first. Of the nine 12,000-footers, it’s the closest to population centers and the easiest to get to, just east of Hailey. Other reasons to make it your first 12er: A long approach gives your body more time to adjust to the elevation; the elevation gain is reasonably gradual; and there is a well worn trail practically to the top. You can’t say that for all of the Idaho 12ers. It is doable in one long day, although see Point 3 for other options.
2. Two modes of getting there: On foot or mountain bike. You can cycle the flatter, two-mile beginning section of the trail then lock up your bikes and hike on. The pay-off is a sweet coast home after the climb.
3. A three-day option. The traditional climb for Hyndman is to travel to the trailhead, sleep there, rise at dawn and do it as a long day trip. And it is a long day — a 13- or 14-mile round-trip, which can be a dawn-to-dusk trek for slow hikers. I’ve done Hyndman in one-, two- and three-day versions, and the best trips were the leisurely ones.
Backpacking into Hyndman Basin lets you enjoy the sunset that lights the surrounding peaks like the backdrop for a Hollywood epic. This has the added advantage of giving your body one more day to acclimate to five-digit elevations. After the climb, you can hoof it home or return to camp for one last relaxed night in the gorgeous basin. Take that opportunity to contemplate Old Hyndman and Cobb, two adjoining peaks worthy of a return trip of their own.
4. Fourever views. (Am I fourcing this gimmick?) From the top of Hyndman Peak, you can see the rest of the Pioneers, Wildhorse Canyon, the Boulders and White Clouds, Sawtooths, Smokies, even north to the Lost River peaks. One might argue this the best view in all of Idaho.
5. Five thousand feet in elevation gain. You don’t get to the top of a 12,000-foot peak without climbing uphill. But while this trail does have a couple killer pitches, these 5,000 feet are more steady than steep — at least by Idaho 12er standards.
6. Six distinct terrains, which for me is one of the most appealing parts of this trip. You start at shady, cool Hyndman Creek, a great place to cool hot feet on the return. Leaving the creek, you hike into sagebrush and grassland; then through aspen groves, carved with the names of Basque shepherds.
When the creek turns, so do you. A dusty, steep section gets you quickly into alpine country. Enjoy the shade. When you finally leave the trees, you emerge into a terraced snowmelt-fed basin meadow. Lastly, you traverse talus and boulder fields to the ridge saddle and summit. Much of the way you’re along creeks, falls and ponds. I think of this walk as an Idaho hiking sampler, with a 12,009-foot summit at the end. Something for everybody.
7. As in miles. One way. See item No. 2 above for ways to recalculate this math.
8. Eight more 12ers to go. Summit Hyndman and you’re ready for Borah Peak. Knees and nerves still intact? You’ll be ready for Leatherman, then Breitenbach. If these tests don’t deter you, the rest of Idaho 12ers beckon.
9. At 12,009 feet, Hyndman is Idaho’s ninth-tallest peak, and the shortest of the 12ers. But difficulty doesn’t correlate to height; Borah and Hyndman, the first and the last of the 12ers, are the two easiest.
Note: Easiest does not mean easy. Climbing at 10,000, 11,000 or 12,000 feet and spending a day (or two or three) in the Idaho high country can never be taken lightly. Read up and be prepared, with the right food and gear. Better yet, ask an experienced friend to let you tag along for your first mountain summit. Before long, you’ll be the experienced friend.
Climbing Hyndman Peak
Getting to the Hyndman Creek Trailhead: The quick, easy access is via East Fork Road from Idaho 75 north of Hailey, then Forest Service Road 203. The road is rocky with a creek crossing, but OK for any car except a low sedan. The turns are not well-signed, so get a good map or app for navigating northeast of Triumph.