There are 9 peaks in Idaho over 12,000', and Mount Church and Donaldson Peak are number three and eight on the 12er list at 12,200' and 12,023'. This was a repeat of my climb last fall with Bruce Eames. I was in contact with Dan and Zack regarding this hike and thought it would be fun to tag along if they allowed. However, since they had plans for July 5th too, I had to drive over separately because I had to be back in Boise, Idaho, on Saturday. We met at the rest stop east of Boise around 5:00 and drove to Mackay, Idaho. We communicated with two-way radios on the drive.
We made it to the trailhead shortly after 9:00 when Zack and Dan found a camp site while I slept in the back of my vehicle. We used slightly different approach than Bruce and I used last year. Instead of going up Jones Creek, as recommended by a couple of guide books, we drove up Lone Cedar Road to Lone Cedar Ranch. Just before entering the actual ranch, turn right and follow a jeep road to its terminus near the mouth of an unnamed creek north of Jones Creek. This is the creek we used to access Donaldson and Church. There appeared to be a defined turnaround spot that was surrounded by ditches on all sides. In order to get out of the wind and allow Dan and Zack to set their tent up with some cover, we crossed one of the ditches and gained a couple of hundred extra feet by four wheeling to some trees closer to the beginning of the canyon.
Dan and Zack got set up as we all had a couple of beers and prepared for the climb the next day. I requested an early start to allow me to get back at reasonable time the following evening, which Dan and Zack agreed to. We conversed until midnight and decided it was time to get some sleep if we were going to get an alpine start the next morning. Dan and Zack agreed to a 2:30 wake up call and a trail time of 3:00. Although none of us got to sleep before 12:30, I didn't seem to have a problem getting up at 2:30. I honked the horn on my vehicle a couple of times as I got ready in hopes that this would wake them. By 2:50, I was ready to go and had all of my other gear put up, so I decided it was time to try again and yell at the them to get up. Although they didn't swear at me, they did tell me to go away and leave them alone. Anyway, they eventually awoke and we were hiking at approximately 3:10.
The first section of the hike was uneventful as we simply made our way up the creek in the dark. Other than a few wise cracks from Zack about how beautiful the area probably was if we could only see it, the early start wasn't too bad. By the time we made it to a small meadow with our first full views of Donaldson and Church, the sun was starting to come up. At this point, the scree section of the hike began and we started our slog up to the unnamed pond at approximately 10,800'. We climbed a set of rock stairs to make it up to the pond, which was actually full of water and had a descent amount of snow surrounding it. We took another break and put on essentially all of the clothes that we had packed along. This is where the fun began. I was in the lead as we started up from the pond to the ridge because I was familiar with the route. We stayed on the ledges and solid rock on the way to the ridge and didn't have many problems.
From the ridge, we decided to go to the top of Church first and leave Donaldson for the return. We rested for a short while near a rock shelter after we gained the ridge. We started up to Church and only after a few minutes, I had to stop again because of extremely low blood sugar. I told Dan and Zack to continue as I regained my strength. I had a sandwich and some PowerGel and after 10 minutes I was feeling better. I caught up to them just as they were negotiating a tricky section of the ridge. We worked our way through it and shortly after that, we ran into the first of several small snow bridges. Initially, there was a bit of concern, but after going slow and kicking steps, we realized it wasn't going to be too difficult to get over the snow. We finally made it to the top of Mount Church where the ritual photo taking began and we signed the summit register. The old axe handle remained on the snow covered summit. We made our way back down to the ridge and up to Donaldson, which proved to be much shorter and faster. After approximately 20 minutes of summit time, we packed up one last time to return to the trailhead.
Getting back down is much easier on the lungs, but you still had to concentrate and remain focused. We decided to ride the scree down where possible and simply hang on to the solid rock that we had climbed on the way up. At one point, I remember asking Dan if he was going to leave any of the mountain up high after he started a scree slide that went on for quite some time. We basically took turns coming down the different sections of the route in order for one person to get through it and then find cover as the next person descended. This proved to work well and seemed the safest way to come back down.
Once we were above the final scree slope that ends at the unnamed pond, I left the group in hopes of picking up some time and keeping in good standings with my spouse. I caught a couple of good glissades and the way down which was a lot of fun. Other than this and running into Vince Lowe and a his friend who got a late start on the peaks, the descent was uneventful. I made relatively good time coming down, but bonked about a half a mile from the vehicles. I stopped for a short break, ate some more PowerGel, and was having another beer before I knew it. It took us 6 hours and 20 minutes to reach the summit of Mount Church. After deducting the 20 minutes of summit time on Donaldson, it took me about 3 hours and 40 minutes to get from Church to Donaldson and back to the trailhead.