By Michael Lanza
At a pass just below 9,400 feet on the north side of 10,229-foot Mt. Heyburn, in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, the wind that had been steadily turning the dial upward reached full volume. Another snow squall burst upon us, spraying white bullets sideways and dropping a veil over the rocky, snow-spattered, serrated ridge just overhead. Six of us had labored 2,000 feet uphill on skis in search of a doorway into a secluded mountain paradise of sorts, a high basin known in some circles as the Monolith Valley, though not marked as such on any map. A slender gash between Heyburn and another 10,000-footer, Braxon Peak, the Monolith exists in the topographical shadows, easily overlooked. Most of our group have only seen tantalizing photos that revealed legions of rock spires towering above untracked snow.
As sometimes happens, we had found something in between what we had hoped for and what we expected.
Idaho’s best-known mountain range, the Sawtooths, remains surprisingly, pleasantly uncrowded. I’ve taken backpacking trips on gorgeous weekends at the height of summer without seeing more than a few other hikers. But come here when snow blankets the peaks and you may see no one else for days. And from a spacious and warm yurt at 7,400 feet near the Bench Lakes, below the sharp pinnacles of Mount Heyburn, backcountry skiers and snowshoers can explore a rich bounty of moderate terrain—and have the snow to themselves.
Check out the gallery of photos below from that backcountry skiing trip.
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Read my story about that backcountry skiing adventure in Idaho’s Sawtooths for more photos and a video, as well as info for planning the trip yourself.
Don’t go out in the cold before reading my “12 Pro Tips For Staying Warm Outdoors in Winter” and my reviews of winter shell jackets and insulated jackets.
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