Into the Pioneers

By Peter Morrill, Idaho Public Television Volunteer

April 28, 2017

Fog, rain, snow and blazing sun…these were the crazy winter conditions thrown at us during a three-day video-shoot for a new one hour Outdoor Idaho program about the Pioneer Mountains, coming in December.

If you haven’t heard of the Pioneers, don’t feel left out. Most people that I've mentioned them to haven't either.

The Pioneer Mountains, or “Pio’s” as they are known locally, are a little-known mountain range located east of Hailey, Idaho. But what they lack in notoriety, they make up for with breath-taking grandeur.

Cobb Mountain, Pioneer Mountains

The Pioneers possess some of Idaho’s highest peaks topping 12,000 feet. Some people who have been to Mt. Everest compare the Pioneers to the Himalayas. Whether one agrees with that comparison, there’s no denying that they are a special part of the state.

Our goal was to capture the challenge and excitement of backcountry skiing and mountaineering in the Pioneer Mountain’s alpine reaches.

Director/videographer Jay Krajic and I began our trek with a drive to the trailhead east of Hailey in the pouring rain. Happily, the moisture tapered-off, as we parked the vehicle.

When you shoot video, you must contend with a lot of equipment. In this case, it meant the use of snow machines to move our gear six miles to our basecamp at Pioneer Yurt. From there, it would be human-powered.

As we left the trailhead for the mountains, the weather turned to snow and fog. By mid-day, we reached Pioneer Yurt.

Nearing Pioneer Yurt

For this project, we brought two full-size HD cameras, tripods and an assortment of smaller specialized cameras. We wanted to “double-cam” video-shoot each skiing sequence from different perspectives. Given the high elevation and weight of the equipment, each scene required two or three people packing both sets of cameras, tripods and support gear to separate, photographically desirable spots on the area’s steep slopes.

Once we dropped the bulk of our gear-off at the yurt, we were back out for an afternoon of filming. It continued to snow with “white-out” conditions, but it produced a fun, but eery visual mood.

Our evenings were spent in the spartan, but comfortable one-room Pioneer Yurt. Warmth was provided by a wood-burning stove, melted snow was our drinking water, and a solar panel powered a few dim LED lights. We slept soundly in sleeping bags on bunk beds. (No, I wasn’t the one that snored part of the night!)

Inside Pioneer Yurt

The second day was a brilliant, blue bird day without a cloud in the sky. What a change!

We started-out early trekking-up the mountain on skis before the snow turned slushy. Joe St. Onge, co-owner of Sun Valley Trekking, led the group to a couloir at the foot of summit of Moose Butt Mountain, which sits in the shadows of the 12,008 foot, Hyndman Peak. Once there, he and two members of the group grabbed ice-crampons, ice axes, safety ropes and strapped skis to their packs to scale the couloir.

Climbing Moose Butt Mountain's couliar

Later in the day, we filmed a spectacular descent on skis back down to the yurt.

We’re excited about the stunning footage that we captured. Over the next few months, Outdoor Idaho will be returning to discover more fascinating stories for the new, one-hour “Into the Pioneers,” coming this December.


Photos by Peter Morrill

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