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Idaho man climbs state's 123 highest mountains

Derek Percoski successfully summited all nine Idaho peaks over 12,000 feet and all 114 over 11,000 feet, finishing last week on his 41st birthday.
Credit: Courtesy of Derek Percoski
Derek Percoski on top of Gabriels Horn. The Hailey resident has climbed all 123 of Idaho's tallest mountains.

HAILEY, Idaho — Seven years of driving down bumpy and remote dirt roads, bushwhacking through underbrush, trudging up scree fields, and standing finally at the breathtaking apex of mountain after mountain after mountain came to a joyful end last week.

Derek Percoski of Hailey has climbed all 123 of Idaho's tallest mountains, successfully summiting all nine peaks over 12,000 feet and all 114 over 11,000 feet. He wrapped up his final climb - the Pioneer Range's 11,220-foot Alcyon Peak - on July 15, his 41st birthday. 

Percoski is only the 10th person to summit all of Idaho's "11ers," as the mountains are known in the climbing community. Many of the peaks are very remote, and unlike Colorado's popular 14ers, none has a trail to the top, demanding a "choose-your-own-adventure" style of picking your way from foothills to slope to ridge to summit. 

But the difficult access and rugged terrain can hide tremendous natural beauty. 

"You start hiking off-trail, and you see these places that you just wouldn't otherwise see," Percoski said. "If you weren't going there to climb the mountain, there wouldn't be another reason to otherwise visit. That is probably my favorite thing about the project." 

A cartographer by trade, Percoski did not grow up as an avid hiker or peakbagger. His curiosity about mountains was sparked during long motorcycle rides across the country, when he spotted interesting-looking peaks and wondered what it would take to get to the top. 

"I didn't really do any of the 'put on the backpack, and do the research and take a trail,'" he said. "That didn't really come for a while - I would just look at something and want to hike up it." 

Percoski would do a lot of looking, and a lot of hiking up over the years to follow. 

Occasionally, he would hike two or more 11,000-foot mountains in a single day, studying ridgelines and distance to determine how they could be linked. About half the summits were solo trips, on which carried an InReach communication device for safety, while the other half were completed with friends, his wife, or his brothers-in-law, he said. 

Percoski named 11,650-foot Cobb Mountain, located about 20 miles east of Ketchum, as his favorite from the project. The Lost River Range's notoriously sketchy True Grit - the only peak to require ropes and rappelling equipment - was the hardest.

"It's not a particularly appealing technical climb," Percoski recalled. "It's just sort of rotten rock. It's crumbling as you're climbing it, it's hard to place protection."

Miraculously, Percoski finished all 123 climbs without ever taking a bad fall or suffering an injury more severe than cuts and scrapes. 

The project did not begin with an intention to knock out all of Idaho's tallest mountains. It was not until he was building a map of the 11ers at work, having already sunk his teeth into peakbagging around the Wood River Valley, that Percoski realized he had a shot at completing all of them. 

"The idea of the checklist kind of satisfies our modern minds," he said. "It's easier to stay motivated when it's like 'I've got this list, and I can check something off this list, and I can feel satisfied doing that.'" 

The "dash to the finish line" came in late 2020, when later-than-average snow and a flexible work schedule aligned to allow plenty of time to head into the Idaho wilderness. Percoski successfully summited one peak after another before winter hit, and his focus turned to snowboarding for the season.

Just three or four 11ers were left unfinished at that point, he said. Percoski's goal was so close, it felt like it was already his. 

And then, last week, it was.

Percoski 's wife and his four-and-a-half-year-old daughter Remi accompanied him on the July birthday trip-turned victory climb. The ascent of Alcyon Peak, mountain number 123, went off with surprisingly little fanfare.

"It was kind of weird. It would have been more of a buildup if I had, say, 20 peaks to do the last year," Percoski said. "To me, the last day, it became more about me helping my daughter, and that was the focus."

The completion of one checklist sometimes turns into the creation of another, and Percoski has no plans to hang up his alpine aspirations just yet. 

There are the peaks near Hailey he hasn't climbed. There are the 11ers he has summited, but not snowboarded down. Then, there is another crop to check off one by one: Idaho's mountains above 10,000 feet. 

"There's 358 of those. I've climbed about 100 of them," Percoski said. "There's always some new place to visit."

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