When we choose
a destination for the final round of testing for our Editors’ Choice Awards, we want the right terrain and conditions to vet the gear. And, like you, we’re backpackers who cherish wilderness solitude, so we seek out locations far from the crowds. Idaho’s Pioneer Mountains, often overshadowed by the neighboring Sawtooths, prove perfect on both counts.
At the trailhead a few miles southeast of Sun Valley, low hills block the summits behind them. But skin a few miles up Hyndman Creek, and the wild country starts to reveal itself through a set of mountain lion tracks and glimpses of ragged, snowy peaks. We land at Pioneer Yurt, a cozy, wooden hut nestled in a copse of trees along the edge of a snow-blanketed meadow. From there, we stage missions up valleys that dead-end in cathedrals of rock and explore open faces that cloak the shoulders of 11,000-foot peaks.
On the fourth day, we rise early for a summit attempt on Hyndman Peak, the range’s 12,009-foot highpoint. Ski crampons scratch still-frozen hills as we climb to reach the mountain’s southeast face, where a near-perfect, 1,600foot ramp leads straight to the top. We drop our packs and switch to boot crampons for the slog up the 40-degree slope. After an hour and a half, we reach the summit block, a crow’s nest that rises among a sea of peaks that look more like they belong in the Alps than in Idaho.
It’s the kind of peak where the descent must wait while you savor the view. We stall long enough for the snow to soften into spring corn. At the bottom, we point out lines we want to tackle later in the week—or in the years to come. The Pioneers are exactly what we were looking for.