Elevation: 12,023 ft
This peak is found on page 278.
Donaldson Peak is located in the Lost River Mountain Range in the Challis National Forest. One of the nine Idaho 12ers, Donaldson Peak is the 8th tallest peak in the State of Idaho. It is an impressive summit with a long approach and a steep, rotten headwall to climb.
I recently climbed the peak a second time. The traditional approach has been via Jones Creek. [page 292 of Idaho – A Climbing Guide, (B)(10)] Jones Creek is a rugged unstable drainage, which seems to change each year as the spring runoff and healthy vegetation constantly change the stream bottom and erode the climbers’ trail.
Recently, climbers have established a new approach in the next drainage to the north, which is sometimes referred to as North Fork Jones Creek. Donaldson is most often climbed in conjunction with an ascent of Mount Church.
In 2006, a fatality occurred during the ascent of the traditional standard route. As the alternative approach becomes more popular and becomes the new standard route, as I believe it will, it is less likely that this particular accident will happen to anyone else. However, it’s more important to note that the accident resulted from a combination of (in)experience and decision making in unfamiliar terrain. Thus, the lessons that can be learned from this tragedy may be applied to any mountain ascent and is worth the time to read.
USGS Topo: Leatherman Peak
North Fork Jones Creek Approach
This approach is reached via Lone Cedar Creek Road [page 292 of the Climbing Guide, (B)(9)], also see the track below. From the end of the road, a good trail leads toward the mouth of the canyon. Once in the canyon, the trail tread is marked and, for the most part, easy to follow. Occasionally, the trail crosses the intermittent stream and at these spots you might need to look for a cairn to get back on the tread. Once you get above treeline, the choice which way to proceed is up to you. The route to the pond at the base of the headwall is obvious.
The lower sections of the North Fork Jones Creek are covered by a thick forest. As you ascend, the drainage opens up and the trees thin out. The tread is good most of the way.
Above treeline, you will find giant talus slopes to ascend. You can find good footing most of the way on these slopes and any number of lines to climb to the tarn at the base of the headwall.
After climbing over the talus and up a steep and usually dry waterfall, you will reach this pond. This is a good place to take a break, fuel up, and observe the next part of the climb, the headwall.
The headwall is a formidable looking collection of cliffs and talus shoots from the pond. However, from the pond, there are two good lines that lead through the headwall features to the Church-Donaldson ridge.
The traditional approach is shown on the left, in blue. This route climbs a steep talus pile and then follows a rubble-covered shelf up and to the right. The approach on the right, shown in red, follows steeper and more exposed ledges. However, both routes meet above the first series of cliffs about mid-way up the headwall.
The red route climbs talus to the snow patch shown in the prior photo and then climbs this ledge.
From the top of the ledge in the prior photo, the red route turns a hard left and climbs a shorter ledge that ends at the top of this talus chute.
This photo is taken from the point the two routes up the lower headwall meet. From here, the route continues up the base of the line where hard rock and talus meet in this photo from lower right to upper left.
When climbing up the upper half of the headwall, you will find several alternative routes. I do not think one is better than the other.
In addition to being steep, the entire headwall is very loose. Care needs to be taken the entire way.
Helmets should be considered a necessity on a lot of Lost River Range peaks, including this one.
My choice is to avoid the talus whenever possible. So, I scrambled up this rock rib for the final pull up to the Church Donaldson ridge.
The summit will finally come into view, and it is close once you reach the ridge top. You will find that you are well above the low spot of the Church-Donaldson ridgeline.
North East Ridge Route, Class 3
Donaldson’s northeast ridge climbs 400 feet of steep terrain from the ridge connecting the peak to No Regret Peak. I descended and then climbed this ridge with Andrew Chiles and Mark Jones while attempting to climb over to No Regret. The ridge is composed of steep slabs, mostly covered with loose scree and it takes a little time to navigate the lower sections.
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Mountain Range: Lost River Range
Year Climbed: 1987, 2014
First Ascent Information:
- Other First Ascent: First Winter ascent via west face and south ridge.
- Year: 1975
- Season: Winter
- Party: W. March and R. Albano