January 6, 2017
By McKenna Peterson. Photos: Drew Petersen
Turning around from a mountain objective provokes mixed emotions: a jumble of disappointment and questioning, pride and relief. Once the decision to turn around has been made, it is the right decision. Questioning what might have been is inevitable yet inconclusive. Some questions will never be answered and the resulting ‘what ifs’ are insignificant. The disappointment fades as comfort is found in knowing that the right decision was made. The truth of the matter is that the mountains aren’t going anywhere…objectives remain.
It was May 2015 and spring ski conditions were looking prime in Idaho. My brother, Axel, was feeling the urge to get out of Bozeman and was all fired up on setting out for a ski mission. Axel and I have had our sights set on Idaho’s The Devil’s Bedstead for years, so naturally we veered in her direction. The Bedstead sits on the Eastern edge of the Pioneer Mountains and can be seen from the dirt road that connects Sun Valley to Mackay, Idaho. Axel and I grew up with a framed image of the peak hanging in our Sun Valley home.
The Bedstead’s North face is one of the 50 classic ski descents of North America. An impressive line that boasts un-skiable looking steepness littered with rock and ice, she is captivating and beautiful.
I woke minutes before my 4 AM alarm clock, as I usually do on the day of a big ski mission —probably due to nerves. The pre dawn morning was dark and cold as my good friend, Cody Barnhill, and I scarfed breakfast burritos while driving out Kane creek to the trailhead.
The 4×4 road that accesses The Devil’s Bedstead trailhead is a rollercoaster of rocks, dips and fallen trees. Axel and Randy Evans had camped at the trailhead the night before and were booting up as we arrived. Navigating forested slopes in early morning darkness is tricky and we wandered in the wrong direction a few times. It was early spring and our uphill progress was slowed by the tedious transition from snow to dirt and back to snow.
A wrong turn had us ascending a steep icy gully only to learn upon topping out that we were not on the correct slope. Frustration turned to light hearted laughs as we analyzed our mistake and the rising sun warmed our toes. Ascending the wrong slope had added an extra couple of hours to our ascent time. Shit.
Axel said out loud what we were all thinking, “we are late, and we blew it by missing the turn off”. I nod in agreement and assess our options. We can both ski back down to the basin and start up the correct side of the Bedstead or we can call it a day and ski back to the car. Collectively, we knew it would be impossible to beat the heat if we attempted to summit. So we transitioned, high fived, and with one last look at the majestic North face, we skied to the car. It was the right call. The Bedstead remained for another day.
Fast-forward 12 months and there I was again, driving out Kane creek’s 4×4 road in the dark toward the Devil’s Bedstead trailhead. This time my mission partners were Terry O’Connor and Drew Petersen. The same headlamp start and nervous energy had me reminiscing about the previous year’s mission. Less snow and improved navigation preparation had me appreciating our ease of travel.
Terry, Drew and I smoothly sailed our way to the top of the Devil’s Bedstead with a fast pace and zero hiccups. A spring storm from a few days prior piled a good eight inches of cold smoke on the north slope. The snowpack was solid, the weather perfect and I was in great company. It was one of those days where all factors aligned to create the ideal circumstance. We topped out much earlier than expected and, taking our time, thoroughly enjoyed every knee-deep powder turn provided by the North face of the Devil’s Bedstead.
I had finally skied a peak I had been looking at for years…and it was easy. Patience was key in skiing the Bedstead. Patience, good partners and willingness to turn around from my first attempt set the stage for the flawless #sendandreturn second round with the mountain.