Thunderbolt Mountain


Thunderbolt Mountain's NW ridge is more than we expected.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

Dave e-mailed me: Hooky day.

What to do? This one had been on my mind all winter. Close to home. Unknown route. Big day. Perfect: a challenge!

We met in Cascade just a bit after 7 and were on our feet a little after 8am. At first, we were snowshoeing on a hard crust. This could be good.


But as we gained altitude, it warmed up and we were soon punching through. And with all the downfall from the burn and brush underneath, we were punching in deep.

Hey- there's dry ground on the other side of the valley.


Dry hillside

When we ran out of dry ground, it was back to punchy snow.

The little bump just right of center is our target: the northwest ridge of Thunderbolt.

Punchy snow

And here's our ridge again from a little closer. Now that you can see the cliffy areas, you get a better idea of what we had to deal with to get up on it. What you can't see is how tall that little bump actually is. Getting onto that was very hard work and just a bit scary in spots.

Sorry, we were rather preoccupied so I didn't get any photos of the actual work.

Getting closer

But here's what it looked like when we finally got on the ridge crest. This is looking up the ridge toward the hidden summit.

Click for a bigger version, and I think you can just barely see the lookout.

Up the ridge

The ridge was long and challenging. It was never that hard (although at times we were having to scrum up drifts on our knees or grab dead snags to make progress). And don't get too near the edge.

But it was never entirely clear that we could complete the climb. This made it...ummm...entertaining.

Up the ridge
After a few hours of hard work, this is looking back down the ridge. Note the South Fork of the Salmon heading north and down out of the snow. South Fork
And then as the ridge finally mellowed out, we suddenly could see the lookout. I say 'suddenly' because we thought we had farther to go. Lookout

As it turns out, it wasn't THAT close after all. But we did eventually get there.



This is Castle Peak in the White Clouds. The "Dear Tom Lopez book" was right- this place offers an amazing 360 degree view.

We took a mess of photos, had lunch on the catwalk, then tried to figure out how to get down. We were not interested in reversing the climb. Not at all.


The issue is that the summit is surrounded by steep slopes on every side.

The 'standard' trail heads south into steep terrain, and we could see a possible route that way. But that would add two miles of snowshoeing. Possibly unpleasant snowshoeing.

We looked around a bit, and everything looked a little sketchy. The snow was warming up and getting slippery. And it was steep, with unseen runouts. But after removing our snowshoes (it was way too steep), we found a series of sloped terraces and ribs on the east side that got us off. Once that was done, it was simply a matter of going down.


We followed the Roaring Creek basin on our return, moving through in such a way as to avoid being directly under any really steep slopes.

I suspect, based on the lumps and occasional deep holes, that much of what was under the snow was huge blocks and boulders.


Here Dave shows just how deep some of the holes actually were. And no, he is not laying down. That's standing upright with snowshoes on.

He said he was smiling because at least he could feel the bottom.

IN the hole

All in all, it was a great explore. The GPS quit on our return, but this map gives the general idea.

If you're wondering where the heck Thunderbolt Mountain is, head towards Warm Lake, then turn down the South Fork of the Salmon towards Yellowpine. We parked 5.5 or 6 miles down the road. It's not marked and not obvious, so a GPS might be in order.

SuperDave's trip report


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