Mt. Church (1)/Donaldson Pk. (1)
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Base Camp

  • Statistics:
    • Date Hiked:  September 14, 2002
    • Miles Hiked:  8.6
    • Elevation Gain:  5,100'
    • Hiking Partner(s):  Bruce Eames
  • Description:
    • There are 9 peaks in Idaho over 12,000', and Mount Churh and Donaldson Peak are number three and eight on thf at 12,200' and 12,023'.  Five down, four to go.  I climbed these mountains again on 07/04/2003.
    • Because I have been unable to get out as often as I would like, I have been very selective in my hiking selection.  This trip allowed me to get to the top of two 12ers in one hike.  The eighth tallest mountain in Idaho is Donaldson Peak at 12,023' and Mount Church, the third highest, reaches 12,200'.  Although this was by no means the most physically challenging climb that I have been on, it was definitely the longest.  Bruce and I spent 14 hours on the trail with limited summit time.  Hiking in the dark, no trail, going through a creek bed, steep scree slopes, loose and falling rocks, difficult route finding, and considerable elevation gain all contributed for a long hard day.  Did I forget to mention loose rotten talus?
    • Anyway, we drove to the trailhead northeast of the Mackey Reservoir on Friday night.  We camped at the mouth of Jones Creek and started up the creek at 5:00 with our headlamps glowing.  After getting our boots wet a couple of times and hiking in the dark for a while, we finally saw the sun start to appear and made our first course change at a small cascading creek.  From here, there was a long steep scree slope to hike which got us to a saddle at 10,000'.  The scree and talus here was considerably stable and solid footing was not a problem.  Once at the saddle, we saw 4 elk and a party of seven in a meadow several hundred feet below us to the northwest.
    • From the saddle, we zeroed in on a notch to the northeast that we had to traverse over to.  The notch is actually an outlet for a small pond that sits in a cirque below Donaldson and Church.  I would have to say that this section of the hike continued in terms of steepness, but the footing was a bit less stable and more difficult to get through.
    • It was at the dried up pond were we first visited with the other party that we had seen at the saddle.  They too thought that they were hiking up Jones Creek.  After reviewing the maps, we determined that Bruce and I were definitely in the correct drainage, however that did not ease our minds.  It seems as though they actually started hiking approximately one and a half to two hours after us and reached the base to the two mountains at the same time as us.  It was a bit disgusting to learn this especially after following our guidebook's directions to a T.  Needless to say, from the timing difference and description that the other hikes gave us, I would certainly recommend their route.  Basically, they bushwhacked up the drainage to the west of Jones Creek below point 10,705'.
    • The nine of us stopped for a break in the pond and shared maps with each other in order to determine the route we were to take to the ridge between the two peaks.  Relying on a photo from the Lopez climbing guide we came to a conclusion and started up what became the most difficult section of the climb.  From the pond to the ridge was an extremely difficult and dangerous climb.  In addition to the steepness, the rock was very unstable and loose so we tried to spread out in order not to kick rocks on one another.  The going was very slow as we picked our way up the mountain trying to choose the path of least resistance.
    • Two hikers from the other party made a tactical error in deciding to go too far to the right ending up on a very steep and exposed scree slope.  The rest of us stayed farther to the left and made it to the ridge and eventually to Donaldson at approximately the same time as they did, although the other two hikes had a considerable head start over the rest of us.  Bruce and I spent less than 15 minutes on top of Donaldson taking a few photos before heading back down the ridge.
    • The ridge between Donaldson and Church is less that .5 miles apart, but it takes a long time to negotiate.  I have to say that the rock is solid and it wasn't extremely difficult hiking, but it was very narrow in sections and the exposure on both sides was high.  It took over an hour to get to the top of Church where we signed the summit register, took photos with the old axe handle that remains on top, and celebrated our climb.  At this point, we learned that three individuals from the other party turned back and decided that they were hikers and not climbers or scramblers.
    • Although happy with our accomplishment, the work was not over.  We still had to get back down, and at this point, we were beginning to get tired.  The ridge back towards Donaldson proved not to be that difficult, we simply took it slow and made sure we had solid holds.  However, getting from the ridge back down the pond was another story.  The four of us descending spread out again which ended up being a very wise decision.  About half way down, I nearly took out another climber with a basketball sized rock and only minutes later it was my turn to play "dodge rock".  Missing me by less than a yard, another rock almost hit me.
    • Needless to say, by the time we reached the dried up pond we were very happy to be down so we stopped to rest one last time before the final hike out.  The scree on the way out wasn't as difficult as on the approach, but since we were fatigued, it still required plenty of attention.  We got back to the saddle and eventually Jones Creek.  Surprisingly, the creek hike seemed almost as difficult coming out as it did going up in the dark.  But eventually, we made it back to the truck and hit the road for Boise.
    • My main recommendations for this hike would be to go slow and leave enough gas in the tank to get back down, take plenty of water, and most importantly, do not climb these two mountains alone.  The fact that there we saw a total of 9 other people on the route was reassuring and helpful. 
  • Maps:
    • Click here to view a 2D map of the area where this hike is located.
    • Click here to view a second 2D map of the area where this hike is located.
  • Photographs:
    • This was our first look at Mount Church and Donaldson Peak.  It was taken from the saddle at 10,000'.  You can barely see the notch that we traversed to because of the shadow.
    • This was the incredible knife edge ridge that you scrambled from Donaldson to Church.  The rock was solid on this section, but it definitely was very narrow.
    • This is to the south at the dry pond sitting in the base of the cirque below the two peaks.  The rock casting the shadow in the middle of the pond is about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.
    • Bruce is picking his way up to the ridge near the summit of Church.  You can faintly see two additional hikers coming up behind him.
    • Donaldson Peak from the top of Mount Church.  You can also see another 12er, Mount Breitenbach in the background.
    • Here is the beginning of the approach route that we hiked to access the peaks.  You can see the Jones Creek drainage and the saddle at 10,000'.
    • Yours truly bagging his fifth 12er.





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