When we choose

Backpacker - - Editors’ Choice Awards -

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.

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