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Peak performance: Idaho man climbed, skied all 9 of Gem State’s peaks over 12,000 feet

Dan Noakes, of McCall, climbed all nine of Idaho’s tallest mountains, each of which exceeds 12,000 feet. Noakes also skied the mountains, a feat accomplished by very few others. | COURTESY OF DAN NOAKES
MCCALL (Idaho Statesman) – Clinging to a steep snow-covered mountainside near the apex of Idaho, Dan Noakes peered down as his fear and self-doubt plunged to the mountain floor in a procession of snow chunks and pebbles.
“I mean, these peaks could gobble you up in a second if they wanted,” said Noakes, 35, of Donnelly. “If the snow fractures or a loose rock gives out, you could just be a goner.”
“They’re almost like a loyal friend that notices your full potential,” he said.
Noakes recently completed a personal quest to climb and ski all nine of Idaho’s peaks that measure 12,000 feet or higher, a feat known to have been completed by just a few others.
The idea was born in a waiting room at St. Luke’s McCall a year ago as Noakes’ wife was in labor with their first child and he was watching a ski movie that featured Mount Church in Idaho’s Lost River Range. The mountain range is home to seven of the nine peaks.
Noakes tackled that peak almost immediately last spring, and within a year managed to climb and ski all eight others, some accompanied by friends and others alone.
Collectively, the undertaking took Noakes a total of about 80 hours, 92.2 miles of hiking, skiing and bicycling and one calendar year.

Now Noakes is releasing a docuseries on YouTube chronicling each peak. New episodes are released Wednesdays on Noakes’ YouTube channel, which can be found here.
Each of the nine peaks offered unique challenges, but the toughest peak for Noakes’ money was Diamond Peak, the last he completed, and on his 35th birthday no less.
Rocky and near-vertical terrain covered by a couple inches of fresh snow made finding footholds sketchy at best, even with the use of crampons, which are spiked cleat attachments for ski boots.
While walking the tightrope ridgeline, Noakes’ right foot slipped and brought him face-to-face with the prospect of a 2,000-foot tumble to the mountain’s base.
“The main thing that caught me was my whippet, which is an ice axe connected to the handle of a ski pole,” he said. “That was really scary.”
That experience was the only true close call of Noakes’ journey, though much of it was a balancing act eerily similar to navigating icy, narrow ridgelines.
“It was a battle of is this intuition or is this fear?” he said. “With each step forward, I said, ‘I think it’s my fear, I’m gonna go for it.’”
That lesson is applicable not only to skiing Idaho’s tallest mountains, but also to the challenges people encounter every day, Noakes said.
“If you just go one step closer, then you find out, ‘Oh, I can go one step further,’” Noakes said. “And then you keep going and you find out, ‘Oh, it’s not as bad as I thought.’
“You can take that energy and put it somewhere else, whether it’s a relationship or starting a business,” he said.
Noakes is not producing the docuseries for profit, but in hopes that it inspires others to derive self-worth from fulfilling personal goals rather than letting their net worth or career dictate it.
“You come back with a sense of self-confidence and self-peace,” he said. “But I think what a lot of people struggle with is that society doesn’t really reward you for these endeavors.”
Powder conditions made Mount Idaho’s nearly 50-degree slopes the best of the nine peaks, while Mount Church claimed the title for longest outing at 14 hours and 23 miles round trip, Noakes said.
Each mountain ascent was plotted using Google Earth and uploaded to a GPS device Noakes used to keep him generally on track for each peak.
Noakes owns a local animation company and is known locally for his pursuit of extreme outdoor activities, including in 2018 when he hiked the 1,000-mile Idaho Centennial Trail.

Dan Noakes approaches Idaho’s Hyndman Peak. Noakes climbed and skied each of Idaho’s nine “12ers,” or mountains measuring more than 12,000 feet. | COURTESY OF DAN NOAKES

Mount Borah: 12,667 feet – Custer County, Lost River Range
Leatherman Peak: 12,228 feet – Custer County, Lost River Range
Mount Church: 12,201 feet – Custer County, Lost River Range
Diamond Peak: 12,197 feet – Butte County, Lemhi Range
Mount Breitenbach: 12,140 feet – Custer County, Lost River Range
Lost River Mountain: 12,078 feet – Custer County, Lost River Range
Mount Idaho: 12,064 feet – Custer County, Lost River Range
Donaldson Peak: 12,023 feet – Custer County, Lost River Range
Hyndman Peak: 12,009 feet – Blaine County, Pioneer Mountains

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