Time: 9 hours
Distance: 12 miles
Elevation gain: 4950' (cumulative)
Class (difficulty): 2
I hadn't been on a real trip since October, so I was anxious to get into the mountains. In recent years, I've been trying to find peaks above 10,000' to do in the winter. I cruised around in my Topo! program until I found several options. I then posted questions about access roads and got a few ideas. Jeremy from Mackay contacted me and let me know he'd gotten way up Rio Grande Canyon Road near Mackay Peak. That made up my mind that Mackay Peak and White Knob Mountain would be a challenging, yet doable and safe trip.
I then contacted some people to tag along. 3 people ended up coming, John from Boise, Sean from Ketchum, and Jeremy from Mackay.
The group came together fully in Mackay and we drove right up to the trailhead as Jeremy had said. While temparatures in the valleys were as low as -16°, the temparature was around 20° at the trailhead. We started hiking at 8am, following one of the dozen mining roads in the area. We followed a snow-covered jeep road that led us to the north ridge of Mackay Peak, going near several open mine shafts and old mining ruins en route. Once near the ridge, winds that had been blowing moderately started to intensify.
The north ridge of Mackay Peak started out barren and snowless, then became entagled with trees and large drifts, and eventually gave way to a very rocky summit area. Changing snowshoes on each of these terrain changes became a hassle. We didn't stay long on Mackay's summit, and quickly started looking for a route down to the ridge between Mackay and White Knob. We could tell that once we got to the saddle the hike over to White Knob would be blown clean of snow. We found a gully to descend. We all knew returning up this gully in a few hours would be the most brutal part of the day.
As anticipated, the ridge to White Knob was clear of snow and pleasant. However, just before the summit of White Knob Peak, the wind really picked up and knocked us around a bit. Being a big guy I wasn't worried about becoming airborne, but I was worried a bit about Sean, beings he probably weighs 75 lbs less than I do. While the pictures don't show it, there is a rocky section right below the summit of North White Knob Mountain which offered us a nice shelter from the wind. This is where John shared some hot tea with us and brought life back to my cold body. Nobody hung out for long on the northern (named) summit of White Knob and we quickly started heading over to the unofficial, but higher, middle summit. The feeling of accomplishment was great once we made it to the true summit, having braved harsh winds, a lot of climbing, and deep snow in places. The views of the Lost Rivers that had been with us all day were even more incredible know. We headed back excited, but knowing we still had wind and that steep 500' climb left to get back to the truck.
We made the return climb and started a fast descent. I stopped on several occassions to capture the incredible lighting created by the now setting sun. This was my first hike with John and Jeremy, and both turned out to be in great shape and terrific partners. Add Sean's enthusiasm and humor to the mix and you get a perfect day in the mountains! Yep, perfect... what wind? Cramps? Don't remember having those... 10+ miles of tough hiking? Don't remember it being that long, I just remember the incredible views. 6 hours of driving? Seemed like only 1 or 2 hours to me...