Friday, May 16, 2014

Cervidae to Heinen Linkup

When I moved to Idaho in 2011, the first thing I did was get a copy of "Idaho, A Climbing Guide" by Tom Lopez.  I scoured this book, many internet sites, and lots of topo maps looking for potential adventures close to my new home.  The closest steepish named mountain that I could find was Cervidae Peak.
It has one steep trail to the top, as well as a handful of class 2 and 3 routes.    After visiting the peak several times, and hiking several of the routes to the top (The Rocks Route in the winter is sweet Class 3 rock and ice!), I was happy to have such easy access to almost 2,000 ft of elevation gain straight out of my car, and only a short drive from home!

Me on the Rock Route on Cervidae Peak in February, 2012
Cervidae quickly became one of my favorite training spots.  I would frequently load up a heavy pack and hike the steep trail, or the steeper West Ridge route.

Add ankle weights and a heavy pack to Cervidae and you've got yourself one heck of a workout!
While reading up on other peaks in the area, I came across Mount Heinen.  The mountain itself didn't look overly exciting, as there did not appear to be any technical routes to the top, but upon review of the topo maps, I noticed something interesting . . . there was a gradually rising bumpy ridge that arced for about 8 miles that appeared to link the summit of Cervidae Peak to the summit of Mount Heinen.  Visions of a linkup began to dance in my head!

And they danced, and they danced, but I never got around to doing it.  Prior to the recent awakening of my running addiction, I typically tried to prioritize my adventures based on their climbing/hiking ratio, preferring options with more technical climbing, and less hiking.   At 23 miles round trip with not a lick of climbing, this trip never made it to the top of my list . . . and yet, the thought of linking the peaks together via a seldom-traveled, aesthetic ridge continued to stew in my mind . . .

Fast forward to 2014:  My focus has shifted to "running", although my ideal runs still take place in, on, and over the mountains.  With the distances and elevation gains of my regular runs increasing, new mountainous possibilities seem to be opening up that I previously would have deemed too far to travel in one day.

In January, I decided to give the Cervidae-Heinen linkup a try.  Thinking myself fast and invincible, I packed stupidly light for the mountains in winter, bringing only a light fleece and an uber-light windbreaker as a jacket to supplement my t-shirt and soft shell pants.  Since there wasn't much snow in town, I wore running shoes with no gaiters.  I made it about 5 miles along what would end up being an 11 1/2 mile (one way) run, before the shin-deep post-holing and howling icy winds convinced me to turn back.  Mountain travel in January in Idaho demanded more respect than I had given.

A clear but cold and windy January day somewhere on the ridge between Cervidae and Heinen

I tried, and failed.  Now I REALLY wanted it!  Nothing like getting your ass handed to you to motivate you come back and succeed!

This past Saturday I went after it again.  The forecast was still iffy (30% chance of rain), so I traded the wind breaker for a hard shell jacket.  Temps were warm enough that I could ditch all the warm layers and just go with shorts and a shirt.  I thought I'd be running for about 4 or 4 1/2 hours (guessing incorrectly a round trip of 21 miles with 6000 feet of elevation gain), so I decided to pack 9 Gus (figuring 1 every 30 minutes), plus a banana for good measure.  I knew there would be no water on the route, but it wasn't supposed to be too hot and I didn't want a heavy pack, so I brought only 40 ounces total.  That's it.  Such is the beauty of "trail" running, there is no rope or rack to weigh you down!

The trail to Cervidae Peak starts out steep, and stays that way the whole way up!  It gains about 1,900 feet in less than 2 1/2 miles.  I tried to keep my pace in check since this was but the warm up.  Using a combination of hiking and running, I gained the summit of Cervidae in about 47 minutes.  I said hello to a few hikers who were lounging on the summit, and got some weird looks when I blasted past them instead of turning back the way I had come.  From here I would be in no-mans land.  There is no trail other than occasional sections worn in by herds of deer and elk that frequent the area.

The trail to Cervidae Peak
I dropped steeply down the north side of Cervidae Peak.  Then I climbed steeply up to the first of many high-points along the ridge.  I continued this sort of drop 100 feet, climb 200 feet pattern for a LONG time.  The drops were too steep to run very fast on the way down, and the climbs were steep enough to force me to hike on the way up.  Add route finding and bushwhacking to this, and it ended up being pretty slow going.

Blue sky, white clouds, and green hills
I was just starting to convince myself that I must be the first person to travel this terrain in quite sometime when, after cresting another high-point, I spied a huge tent, as well as several huge water jugs, up ahead on the ridge.  What the heck?!?!?  How on earth did someone haul all that stuff into such an inaccessible place?  I passed by tent, but nobody appeared to be home.  My curiosity would have to go unsatiated for now.

Giant tent in the middle of nowhere (lower left)
I continued onto a portion of the ridge where all the the ups and downs seemed to ease up.  It was flat for probably a quarter mile (I got run, imagine that!), and then it started a steep but sustained climb that lasted for about a mile and a half.

The lone pine tree that marked my turn-around point in January
Looking back along the bumpy ridge.  The top of Cervidae Peak can be seen peaking over the top of a spur ridge middle left.
When I finally crested the top, I arrived at a dirt fire road and my first real view of Mount Heinen.  I was struck both by how prominent it seemed towering above the other nearby high-points, and by how freakin far away it still looked!

Mount Heinen is in the far distance middle right.

The next three miles of dirt road running would be the easiest and fastest portion of the route, despite the fact that I still gained over 1000 feet of elevation.  It was sometime during this portion of the run that the clouds turned from white to dark.  They appeared to be unleashing heavy rain in the distance, but thus far I was still dry.  I kept moving.

Eventually the road petered out to nothing.  Mount Heinen looked close now, except that it was on the other side of a steep and deep drainage!  To get to the summit ridge, I would first have to find my way up and over the high-point at the top of that drainage which linked my ridge to Heinen.

Mount Heinen.  So close, yet so far away!
I would have to travel to the head of the drainage to get around and onto Heinen's summit ridge.
Thus far in the adventure, bushwhacking had been kept to a minimum thanks to ample game trails along the top of the ridge, and only low knee to thigh high bushes to navigate when the trail vanished.  The hill in front of me, however, looked heavily wooded.  I started to pick my way up, and was optimistic when I located another decent game trail through the now thick bushes.  Unfortunately, the trail didn't go very far, and before I knew it I was was thrashing through dense brush up a steep hillside that seemed to have no end.

Better living through bushwhacking!
Fortunately, it did have an end though, and eventually I emerged onto the highpoint, and then moved easily to the summit ridge.  From here it was just a few more minutes of ridge running until my vision was realized, and I stood on the summit of Mount Heinen!

Summit Marker
Summit baby, yeah!
I glanced at my watch, and realized that I had been so absorbed in the linkup, that I didn't even notice the large amount of time that had passed.  It took me about 3:45 to reach the summit.  My 4 hour car to car plan was clearly way off!  Plus, I still had a lot of elevation to gain on the way back down!

Looking back along the summit ridge to the top of the drainage that I would need to cross on the way back.

I ate my banana and took stock of my Gu supply.  3 left, plus about 10 ounces of water.  I made a game plan as to where I thought I would consume the 3 Gus on the way back, and made sure to conserve enough water to wash them all down.  Yippee!  The adventure continues!

On the way back down I managed to find a better way through the brush, but the going still was not terribly fast.  I was getting fatigued, and there was still a lot of climbing!  I ate one Gu after finding my way back across the top of the drainage and onto the main ridge.  I ran the road, and then ran fairly quickly back down the long descending ridge.  It hailed for a short bit on my way down, and I thought perhaps one of the large storm clouds that I'd seen floating around all day had finally caught me, but after about a minute it stopped.  That was the only precipitation I encountered all day.

At the bottom of the ridge I had planned to eat another Gu, but realized that one of them had fallen out of my pocket on the run down.  Oops.  Better wait awhile for that last Gu . . .

Tired and hungry on the run back out.
Eventually I found myself approaching the camp that I had passed earlier.  It no longer looked deserted.  There were about 10 horses grazing nearby, which explained how they got all the heavy equipment back here.  It occurred to me that this might be a good place to hide out if one were on the run from the law, so I approached the camp cautiously.  I didn't hear any noise, so I quickly jogged past the large tent.  There was a pile of saddles next to the tent, and two people asleep inside with the door open.  They were probably just two people out on a hunting trip, but I decided not to wake them, and kept moving.

As tired as I was I still had to stop and admire the wildflowers.
Up and down, up and down, and up.  Eventually I staggered back onto the summit of Cervidae Peak.  At this point I was hungry and thirsty.  As I approached I had a fantasy about finding a spare bottle of water that someone had left on the summit, but when I got there I only saw a pile of rocks.

Third summit of the day (2nd time on this one)!
From here I only had to run down the steep trail back to the car.  I got a bit sidetracked by all the flowers on the way down though . . .

It's hard to beat springtime in Idaho!

Finally I arrived at my car, 6 hours and 55 minutes after leaving.  I celebrated a most excellent adventure with a chocolate milk on my way back home.

Final stats were 23.1 miles with about 8,900 feet of elevation gain.

Strava run data


  1. Wow!. That is awesome. Been up both peaks numerous times and have travelled off the Cervidae ridge a couple of times, but 23 miles! All I can say is wow.

    1. Thanks! At 7 hours it was a big day! It's fun to get out and explore remote places!