A challenging climb up the loose-rock north side of Idaho's second tallest peak for spectacular views from the "roof" of Idaho.
Idaho Summits (see Categories in sidebar)
Cowboys and Hotsprings
Alpine Peak 9,861' - Sawtooth Wilderness: Never Stop Climbing Mountains
Reward Peak: 10,074' via Upper Redfish Lakes, Sawtooth Wilderness
Lunch spot on Leatherman Peak's north slope
Mt. Borah, Idaho's tallest peak at 12,667' on horizon
Road approaching trailhead at upper right; trail goes through pleasant forest in valley
Location: Leatherman Peak, Idaho's second highest, is located in the Lost River Range in the Salmon-Challis National Forest just northeast of Mackay in east-central Idaho. This rugged range includes seven of the nine "12ers" - the highest peaks in Idaho. Two main approaches: south approach from Leatherman Pass (Lost River Valley) that climbs the west ridge, and north approach from Pahsimeroi Valley and West Fork Pahsimeroi Road climbs the east ridge (our approach).
Distance: 8.7 miles round-trip.
Elevation Gain: Trailhead = 8,171'; Leatherman summit = 12,228: Gain = 4,000'.
Date Hiked: July 7, 2021
Difficulty: Moderate Class 1 for first 1,000 feet gain, then Very Strenuous Class 2 on loose rock with some route-finding.
Considerations: This is a very strenuous hike that is exposed most of the way - start hike early! Obvious trails extend through the talus and on the ridge. Experience with steep loose-rock climbing and route finding is essential.
Coordinates: Trailhead at end of West Fork Pahsimeroi Road: 44.1292 N 113.7271 W.
Leatherman Peak: 44.0820 N 113.7330 W.
Maps: USGS Leatherman 7.5 min quad topo. Interactive Map and Google Earth image of our GPS tracks below.
Geology: Sedimentary rocks - marine limestone of Mississippian carbonate banks and turbiditic sandstone and mudstone and conglomerate of Antler flysch trough ~350 Ma (Million years ago). Crinoid and coral fossils. Leatherman Peak is a sharp horn carved from Mississippian Scott Peak Formation. Some of these rocks were intruded with dikes that baked the rock ~ 45-50 Ma, producing flourite veins. This section of the Lost River range rose due to the Mackay section of the Lost River Fault.
History: Leatherman Peak is named after Henry Leatherman, one of the Lost River Valley's pioneers from the 1860's. For more interesting history of this region, see last photo below.
The raw and starkly beautiful Lost River Range that rises steeply from the Lost River Valley in east-central Idaho contains seven of Idaho's nine highest peaks over 12,000 feet. It reflects the complex geological processes of folding and faulting that have occurred over eons, creating formidable steep talus slopes, cliffs and crumbling limestone; however each year sees more climbers logging in their nine "12'ers". These giants make up the roof of Idaho. Leatherman Peak can be summited from either the Pahsimeroi Valley to its north, or Lost River Valley to its south. Idaho's highest, Borah Peak at 12,667', has gotten so popular that the campground at its trailhead is being enlarged.
After Fred and I summited Borah Peak years ago, I had heard that the second highest peak, Leatherman involved more "technical" skills. So I put that climb into the back of my mind, subconsciously knowing someday I was bound to do it, but the word "technical" prevented me. We each turned 60 this year, felt it was time to climb another Lost River range peak, so Leatherman it was. We climbed the "easier" eastern route that included a slow and steady slog for a 3,000-foot gain on steep loose scree and rock, at times grabbing for fossil-covered limestone outcrops for stability. There was no "easy" part except for the walk back down through the forest; this was a challenging climb for us. As we got within 500 feet of the summit, distant purple-blue skies to the north rumbled with occasional thunder, so our scramble to the top had to be quick but also careful.
Morning glimpse of our goal: the far dark gray peak on horizon, left side of saddle.
From Mackay, we drove 2 hours and 10 minutes to our trailhead at the end of the West Fork Pahsimeroi Road, via Doublesprings Pass and Horseheaven Pass in the Pahsimeroi Valley. Here, steep limestone cliffs, some folded and tilted loom above a pleasant sagebrush steppe. A high-clearance 4WD vehicle is recommended as there are a lot of rocks on the last half of the drive with some slow-going. I entered the coordinates for the trailhead into Avenza and also followed the directions from the guide book, "Trails of Eastern Idaho" by Margaret Fuller and Jerry Painter. Included in this guide is a section Scrambling up Idaho's 12,000 foot Peaks . A few scenes from the drive into the northeast side of the Lost River Range:
The first mile of the hike climbs a manageable 1,000 feet in 2.5 miles along the clear and rushing West Fork of the Pahsimeroi River through a beautiful forest that opens up onto a spacious wildflower-filled valley. Ahead, the black, towering spectacle of Leatherman Peak rises straight up from the meadow, connected to White Cap Peak by Leatherman Pass.
Just after trailhead, cross stream coming from Merriam Lake that flows into West Fork Pahsimeroi River.
Our route takes a left (east) to hike Leatherman's north slope, leaving the Pass Trail before it reaches Leatherman Pass. Sawmill Gulch is the southern approach from Lost River Valley.
Thank-you for the bridges!
The first glimpse of Leatherman (left); and White Cap Peak on the right.
Continue on trail until you reach a large valley opening and the steep gray gully of Leatherman to the left.
We went too far up-valley toward the pass, so we had to back track to find our gully route, east of the prominent north ridge. Not the best thing to do, since time is precious in the mountains above tree line. Once you get to the large meadow, 2.5 miles from the trailhead, leave the trail and start hiking left toward the steep loose-rock gulley below the ridge made mostly of talus that takes you to the ridge. A human-made trail winds up through this immense gray slope. After getting up the first steep part of this gulley, doing the rest-step to conserve energy, we took a brief rest to scope out a route to the top. A trail heads straight up to the lowest part of the ridge line through what seems acres of loose talus. Fred would have no part of that, so instead we climbed more to the right, using a combination of talus and stable limestone outcrops to scramble up to the ridge. As we got to almost 12,000 feet, sheets of rain extended in slight curves from blue clouds and distant thunder rumbled. We climbed to some protective outcrops in case we had to hunker down because of weather. The storm seemed to be moving across Pahsimeroi and Lemhi Valleys further to the east. We kept our focus up the steep slope, for looking down with sketchy footing was a bit unnerving. Glad the limestone, besides having some cool fossils, was rough and grippy.
Leave trail to make initial steep climb into Leatherman's northern gulley; this leads you to the cirque under the ridge.
Leatherman is behind the black outcrop.
A "sea" of rocks - initial talus climb to gulley
Wait - why do we do this again?
Navigating through a gray rock sea - 3,000' gain
Yes! It was worth it
Near summit of Leatherman Peak looking north onto gulley we ascended from forest below
Final ridge climb - Leatherman Peak summit
Sue and Fred at 12,228' - another Idaho 12'er for the books!
Bad Rock Peak on ridge between Leatherman Peak and Mount Church
Tom Lopez, in his book Idaho: A Climbing Guide says of this peak, "Every approach crosses loose scree/talus that will make some climbers sob."
Leatherman Peak's summit - 12,228'
A few bypasses on the rocky road out helped to avoid a few slippery and steep sections. The gravel road passes through Mahogany Creek, which had not gained water volume since our morning crossing.
Getting down slope from ridge; route in gully below
Now we have summited three of the nine Idaho "12'ers". Getting to the top of the rest of the six: Mount Church, Mount Idaho, Lost River Peak, Donaldson, Diamond Peak, and Mount Breitenbach would surely qualify as a "kedge", especially for a couple of 60-year old "geezers"!
That night in Mackay, we celebrated with pizza and beer at the Bear Bottom Restaurant's bar and talked to some of the "locals" who had finished their day's work. We got some tips on great things to see in the area, like the Mackay mine tour which deserves its own post on this website. So much to explore, so little time. We are lucky to have opportunities and freedom to explore our beautiful state and also this beautiful country. Never stop exploring and climbing mountains!
Red Columbine after rain shower
A welcome sight after all of that gray limestone!
Parting shot of Leatherman Peak with clouds rolling in
Our route up Leatherman's north gully/eastern ridge approach
We went too far toward Leatherman Pass, so had to backtrack.
Custer County, Idaho, GenWeb Project - Mackay's Mount McCaleb
Geologic Map of the Borah Peak, Burnt Creek, Elkhorn Creek, and Leatherman Peak 7.5-min quadrangles, Custer and Lemhi Counties, Idaho. Idaho Geological Survey.
Link, P.K., and Janecke, S.U. 1995. Geology of East-Central Idaho: Geologic Roadlogs for the Big and Little Lost River, Lemhi, and Salmon River Valleys.
Henry Leatherman - Find a Grave website.
Explore this "hidden gem" in the Red Mountain Wilderness; a primitive trail that quickly elevates the traveler from city to a spectacular and peaceful plateau in the southern Utah red rock wilderness.
Utah's Red Rock Country
Mount Kinesava - Zion National Park
Burger Peak: 10,320' - Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness, Utah
On top of Red Mountain overlooking Three Ponds Trail (wash), part of the Padre' Canyon Loop in Snow Canyon State Park.
Overview: Within a few steps of Red Mountain's steep cliffs overlooking the bustling desert cities of Ivins and St. George, Utah, enter a quiet and sublime wilderness of pinyons, junipers and mule deer that is unmarked except for an occasional cairn. The Red Mountain Primitive Trail extends for 11 miles in the Red Mountain Wilderness through saddles crossed by washes and slickrock basins between rocky sandstone spires and crags, with spectacular views of Snow Canyon State Park We hiked this trail's southern 3.5 miles.
Location: Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (BLM) in the Red Mountain Wilderness north of Ivins, Utah. Southern trailhead starts at intersection with Toe Trail, at the north end of North 200 E Street in Ivins. North trailhead is just off Highway 18, 15 miles north of Bluff Road in St. George, north of Snow Canyon State Park.
Distance: We hiked 3.6 miles of the 11-mile trail, out and back for a total of 7.2 miles.
Elevation: Southern trailhead = 3,189': our top point = 4,930'.
Difficulty: Mostly strenuous Class 1 on first 0.8 miles; a short section is Class 3 using hand- and foot-holds to maneuver up rocks with mild-moderate exposure. Once on top, navigation and route-finding on unmarked terrain Class 2.
Lat/Long: Ivins Trailhead (south): 37.1754 -113.6772. Top point of our hike overlooking Snow Canyon: 37.2129 -113.6707. Trail at Ivins descent (top out onto plateau): 37.1842 -113.6783.
Considerations: The first mile from the Ivins trailhead is Class 1 with two short Class 3 maneuvers. Once the trail tops out, there is no marked trail. Experience with navigation and route-finding using a compass/GPS is a strongly recommended after top of Red Mountain is reached. Experience with this terrain and topo maps needed to avoid getting stuck. Dogs must be kept on a leash. A sign at this trailhead reads, "Hazardous, unmaintained route with steep exposed slopes: your safety is your responsibility." Search and rescue operations for lost hikers have occurred.
Water: Plan on packing in your water.
Date Hiked: May 9, 2021.
Maps: Google Maps Interactive map below
Trail Map and Guide for: St. George, Hurricane and Zion NP, Utah - Adventure Maps.net
Santa Clara 7.5 minute topo map (PDF).
BLM Red Mountain Wilderness Map. See maps of our tracks below.
Geology: Red Mountain's lower slopes are from the Kayenta Formation, the oldest rock in Snow Canyon State Park (190 million years). The horizontal sediment layers are made from rivers depositing mudstone, siltstone and sandstone. The upper slopes, cliffs and top of Red Mountain are a great block of Navajo Sandstone that is younger (180 million years), also seen as a major rock unit of Zion National Park. This Navajo Sandstone exhibits large, sweeping cross-bed features - horizontal and dipping layers of ancient sand dunes deposited in a vast eolian (wind carried) dune field. Red Mountain is bounded by the Gunlock Fault on its west side. It merges with an extensive field of 2.4 million - 2,000 year old basalt flows to the northeast. The Gunlock Fault is a normal fault with the down-drop on its west side (See references below).
Desert Tortoise Habitat Conservation and Large Solar Plants
Mojave Desert Tortoise near Toe Trail at base of Red Mountain
Don't get to see these very often - as tortoises can spend as much as 95% of their lives underground in burrows.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed this species as "threatened".
Recent News: The Sierra Club is one of several environmental groups opposing the massive solar plant project, "Gemini", which would cover 14 square miles (the equivalent of 7,000 football fields) with solar panels, northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada, prime desert tortoise habitat. The Interior Department approved the project, stipulating Arevia Power would have to relocate tortoises to a new habitat. "U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates 15,390 tortoises stand to lose nearly 70,000 acres of habitat in solar projects planned for the Southwestern Deserts."
- From The Wall Street Journal, 6/5/2021.
Sunset at Ivins Reservoir - Red Mountain
Snow Canyon State Park
The southern end of Red Mountain
A good example of two different rock units: the older Kayenta Formation deposited in large streams at the bottom, and the Navajo Sandstone vertical cliffs and ancient sand dunes deposited mid-slope and on top by wind-carried sand.
Our Hike (from Ivins trailhead)
It looks impossible to climb, but If you can get up the steep side of Red Mountain and maneuver through its short sandstone cliffs to the dune-like pink-orange sand at the top, you will enter into a beautiful and seldom-visited shrub and woodland ecoregion. Most are satisfied to end their hike in this soft sand to see the cities of Ivins and St. George sprawling 1,400 feet below. Very few venture beyond this onto Red Mountain's long plateau made of washes, spires, wildflowers, pinyon pines, junipers, scrub oak and slick rock basins. This is designated as a "primitive" trail; it is not officially marked. If you want to get some mileage in, you must hike pretty much due north, avoiding deep canyons to the west and east. We found saddles and washes to get us to a large sandstone ridge with a faint trail on top and killer views of Snow Canyon State park to the east, where we stopped for lunch. Occasional boot print paths in the sand go a short distance and then disappear; rock cairn trail markers are few and far between.
What makes this hike exquisite is that it combines vegetation from both the Central Basin and Range to its north and Mojave Basin and Range to its south, creating a great diversity of flora and fauna. This, along with dramatic views witnessed in solitude makes this hike special.
Initial Climb - 1,400 feet in 0.8 miles
The initial climb to the top of Red Mountain from the city of Ivins is nearly 1,400 feet in 0.8 miles. Someone during the past year has expertly placed rebar and other metal posts to hold the fast-eroding slopes in place. Rock cairns mark the initial trail. Fun Class 3 climbing (I say "fun" because there are enough hand-and foot-holds so it's not too scary) is required in two spots mid-mountain to get through its cliff band. The path has a few switchbacks, but mainly climbs straight up. At the top, progress is slowed as you trudge through deep pink sand; then there is suddenly no trail. Junipers, prickly pears, yuccas and manzanita are scattered about in the sand and on sandstone bluffs and ledges.
Rebar holding rocks in place on the steep initial ascent
The trail tops out on ridge overlooking Ivins and Santa Clara, Utah (left), and Class 3 climbing (right).
Class 3 climbing through cliff band
Climb through cliff band: Trail on ridge below
Lots of foot and hand holds
Final climb to top of Red Mountain entry onto its plateau
Journey on top of Red Mountain
At the entry point onto the plateau, it's a good idea to take note of landmarks around you such as mountains - stay oriented. I also take a waypoint on my GPS.
Leaving civilization and steep slopes behind, we entered a colorful and sublime woodland - shrub "ecoregion" filled with manzanita and junipers and started heading north. A high point of sandstone is reached 1/4 mile after entering the plateau, and then a beautiful sandy basin opens up 100 feet below, surrounded with rock piles and small domes. Descend down into the basin through short sandstone steps and shelves, turning from an easterly direction to a northerly direction. This little basin lulls you into it and makes you want to stay and enjoy the complementary colors of sky and sand, of juniper and bright red firecracker penstemon. Once in the basin, we aimed due north for a low, shrub-filled saddle on the horizon; we startled a mule deer that trotted away. We began heading north to this green saddle stretched between red and orange ridges and rock piles.
Trudging up soft sand washes, we tried to stay close to the ridge on the right which had amazing views of Snow Canyon State Park's basalt flows and orange sandstone formations. We could see that by venturing too far to the left, we would run into Red Mountain's west cliffs. A slight movement in a shrub alerted us, and then a snake's head poked out. We stood and let it cross the wash in front of us as it gave a cursory rattle; it didn't appear too threatened.
Navigating through unmarked wilderness takes more time than following an established trail, as we check topo map and compass a few times. It was not too difficult in this case because the "trail" heads north. The trick is to avoid getting sucked into cliff walls and canyons on the west and find the best way around high points on the east. It's satisfying to be able to figure out a way through unmarked territory, to become more wary of the terrain and to know chances are that where your boot falls, no other has fallen before.
Within 0.25 miles of arriving at top of Red Mountain, reach a rim of weathered sandstone encircling a small sandy basin - head left through basin up saddle to the north.
Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness on horizon to the northeast (Burger Peak, 10,320').
After topping off on plateau, reach this sandy basin surrounded by sandstone
On the east side of the sandy basin reached shortly after topping off onto Red Mountain. Aim toward the light-green shrub covered saddle on the horizon.
Cryptobiotic (biological) soil crusts, made of cyanobacteria, lichens and mosses. These form on easily eroded soils and increase stability and help provide more water infiltration and are the dominant source of nitrogen in pinyon-juniper ecosystems. These crusts hold the soil in place. Recovery of crusts that have been destroyed takes at least 45 years.
One of the first views of Snow Canyon State Park from ridge of Red Mountain primitive trail.
Once we ascended the "green" saddle, we stayed to the right, avoiding slickrock basins to the left. We saw a faint trail that ascended through a beautiful steep-sided arroyo and followed it out onto a rocky hillside. This wash had funneled hikers and created a more defined trail at its head, where we negotiated a few rolling rock hills and topped off on the ridge overlooking Snow Canyon State Park where a few faint trails were present. Pinyon pines became more prevalent at we approached 5,000 feet elevation.
A thorough look at Red Mountain Trail's 11-mile north/south traverse on Google Earth shows that there is no defined trail to follow on its southern end. However, a defined 2-track trail coming from Red Mountain's north trailhead can be seen. We ended our 3.6-mile hike on the ridge overlooking Snow Canyon, with a view of Three Ponds Trail, a sandy wash that is part of the Padre' Canyon loop hike. Looking at Google Earth, I can see that the 2-track coming from the north can be reached through slickrock basins further to the left/west of our route, avoiding some of the high points along the ridge. Future goal: hike the entire 11-mile Red Mountain Trail.
Once over the initial saddle, more washes and shrubs to traverse. Head north through a network of washes and shrubs to rock saddle between two high points on the horizon.
One of the few rock cairns along the way
Finding a route through soft sand
A beautiful example of a Pinyon pine
Pinyon pine - pine nuts were a staple food of Native Americans
Lunch break view of Snow Canyon State Park and Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness on horizon
Basalt flows fill sandstone valleys
Jurassic sand dunes on top of Red Mountain
Turnaround - return to Red Mountain Trail trailhead in Ivins
Our lunch rock was elevated 1,550+ feet above the dramatic terrain of Snow Canyon State Park. The red and white Navajo Sandstone is cross-bedded and vertically jointed - remnants of ancient sand dunes. Water has cut valleys that were filled in much later with black basalt flows from the northeast. Looking to the northeast horizon, we could see Burger Peak in the Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness, elevation over 10,000 feet - a peak we climbed last year. Elevated above the surrounding desert, we had an airy 360-degree view. The sandstone we were sitting on was warm from the day's unobstructed sun.
We used GPS to track back and use a waypoint to reach the sand dunes at the opening of the steep trail onto the plateau, overlapping our ingoing tracks a few times. The sun had warmed the orange-pink fine sand. I watched a fly, or was it a bee, or maybe a "bee-fly" with a long black proboscis collecting nectar from a yellow flower. It kept a connection with the flower as they both swayed back and forth together in the breeze.
In full sun on the west side of Red Mountain, we made it through the Class 3 section, climbing down through the rocks backward and finding enough foot- and hand-holds on grippy sandstone layers. The square houses and street grid of the flat valley below are such a contrast to the irregular and varied shapes on Red Mountain. Back to busy civilization from the serene and beautiful world atop Red Mountain.
An added bonus to this hike: buy a thirst-quenching drink from a turquoise-painted refrigerator with the red words, "Cold Drinks" at the side of the house next to the trailhead. That is among the many things to look forward to on this adventure.
Back to civilization: Descending cliff band of steep side of Red Mountain overlooking Ivins
Cold Drinks at southern trailhead - just deposit 25 cents for water and $1.00 for energy drinks!!
Snow Canyon State Park, Utah
Our hike (red line) on southern portion of the Red Mountain Trail from Ivins, Utah.
Elevation and distance profile of our hike from top point back to trailhead. We gained almost 2,000 feet total in 3.65 miles.
Google Earth image of our GPS tracks from southern Red Mountain trailhead in Ivins, Utah .
Bugden, M. Geology of Snow Canyon State Park
Cryptobiotic Soils: Jayne Belnap. Holding the Place in Place - USGS: Impacts of Climate Change on Life and Ecosystems.
Red Mountain Wilderness Maps - Wilderness Connect
Ecoregions of Utah - usgs.gov
Geologic Map of the St. George and East Part of the Clover Mountains 30' x 60' quadrangles, Washington and Iron Counties, Utah. Biek, R.F., and others. USGS publications.
Miller, R. Our Geological Wonderland: Snow Canyon State Park
Mojave Desert Tortoise - Nevada Fish and Wildlife Service
Get a taste of true Idaho wilderness on this short climb to a lush and undisturbed summit with a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) history. Just be prepared for some challenging bushwhacking!
Bald Mountain via Station Creek, Garden Valley, Idaho
Jackson Peak Lookout: 8,124' - Boise National Forest
Wolf Mountain and Point 8,610 via Jennie Lake
Buckwheat on ridge between Big Gallagher and Little Gallagher Creek drainages
Undisturbed by fire - Gallagher Peak - 6,100'
Trip Stats for southeast ridge access/Little Gallagher Creek
History of Gallagher Civilian Conservation Corps Camp
In 1933, the Forest Service established a CCC camp at Gallagher Flat, near trailhead parking. The CCC was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the 1930's Great Depression to assist young men in learning skills and finding jobs in the Emergency Conservation Work Program. Their labor was utilized in constructive improvements in public forest, park and range lands. In return, they learned valuable skills such as carpentry, heavy machinery operation as well as journalism, first aid, and photography. Donald Tanasoca, a Payette National Forest CCC worker from New Jersey wrote in his journal:
Gallagher CCC troops built a new guard station and improved the Banks-Lowman road (called the South Fork Payette River Road at the time). They also developed "public service sites" at campgrounds and built the Deadwood and Scott Mountain fire lookouts. Gallagher Camp was closed in 1939.
More history and photos on the Historical Marker Database
What it lacks in summit grandeur, Gallagher Peak rewards with solitude and a grand view of the rugged Salmon River Mountains, the second largest of the Idaho Batholith mountain groups. The combination of lush wildflower-filled forest and open grassy slopes undisturbed by fire is the most remarkable feature of this short and steep hike. You won't arrive to a towering granite outcrop; instead, the partially-hidden summit benchmark sits under shrubs. The forest understory was so abundant that we got stuck in thickets a few times trying to navigate. When we hiked in August, large patches of yellow, orange and crimson buckwheat wildflowers topped granite outcrops on the ridge. The Boise National Forest Large Fire History map - 1980 - 2018, shows that Gallagher Peak has managed to escape past large fires.
The Salmon River Mountain Range covers a massive territory in central Idaho - 8,900 square miles. The main Salmon River and its tributaries defines the boundaries of its six subranges. Numerous waterways form a natural maze through Idaho Batholith rocks that ultimately drain into the Snake River. The Middle Fork of the Salmon River is famous world-wide for its week-long raft trips through mostly untouched wilderness. The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness covers nearly 2 million acres of the Salmon River Mountains. Long gravel and dirt roads lead into its interior; some peaks are close to roads, like Gallagher, and some peaks take days to find.
A worthy goal would be to scale all of the Salmon River Mountain Range's summits (I lost track when counting on Tom Lopez's list - it was near 300!). Or maybe conquer its highest: White Mountain at 10,442' - a relatively easy access out of Challis, Idaho. Many of its tallest peaks are in the eastern section of this range. A list of its peaks, access and climbing information is posted on Idaho: A Climbing Guide.
Parking just off Banks-Lowman Highway near Garden Valley, Idaho.
The deep valley is Big Gallagher Creek drainage. Hike up the Little Gallagher Creek drainage to the right, behind trees.
Our Hike - battling shrub thickets while searching for a trail
Even though the distance to the summit is only three miles from the Banks-Lowman highway, it is a challenging peak to get to because it's steep, there's no formal trail, and you will fight your way through vegetation to get there. A previous trip report of this climb advised to hike along Little Gallagher Creek to its end and the ridge, but instead, we left the valley early and zipped straight up the steep grassy slope to the ridge top between Little Gallagher and Big Gallagher Creeks (see our GPS tracks below). Usually ridges seem to have a little less vegetation - but not this one! We soon found ourselves fighting large patches of shrubs interspersed with bare areas. At Point 5578, we briefly found a trail but then got sucked into thickets again. At this point, the ridge turns in a more northwesterly direction to the summit.
Short road goes to the open valley of Little Gallagher Creek
Heading up ridge to left (west) of Little Gallagher Creek (row of trees on left side of image).
South Fork of the Payette River and Banks-Lowman Highway at bottom of valley.
Lots of large Antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) on this steep slope.
This shrub provides important spring and winter food for elk, deer and antelope.
Finally on the ridge between Little Gallagher and Big Gallagher Creeks.
Gallager Peak is between trees on left in image.
On ridge looking northwest with Big Gallagher Creek drainage to the left
Buckwheat on granitic outcrops - looking to the north
Trying to find a way through thickets and lots of trees
Gallagher Peak on horizon - getting up to its southeast ridge.
Fighting our way through thickets just below summit
Gallagher Peak summit - 6,074'
We arrived at the most unassuming summit - no grand granite spires here! We uncovered the geological survey marker. The blue and green undulating mountains of Boise National Forest surrounded us. Numerous creeks with great names such as Deadwood Jim, Whiskey, Slaughterhouse, Josie, Applejack, Cup and Black Bear have cut deep valleys into these granitic mountains. Bald Mountain, a summit we climb via Station Creek lies to the west.
We found a faint trail descending the ridge with less vegetation. We were too far to the left (west) of the ridge on the way up; stay on the top of the ridge. Care must be taken to go down the correct ridge when you get to Point 5578; head down the due south ridge and not onto the due east ridge, otherwise you might end up in Pine Creek Campground. Out of the healthy forest, down to Little Gallagher Creek through tall and thick grasses.
Another Boise National Forest peak under our belts with a few scrapes to prove it. Getting to know and appreciate Idaho one hike at a time. I wonder what workers in the Civilian Conservation Corps thought of this wilderness, and if they climbed this peak. Donald Tanasoca, CCC worker from New Jersey (see CCC history, above) said, "A city boy learns that the world is larger than just the city."
As for me, each Idaho summit I get to is a gift, whether on a straight-forward clear-cut Class 1 trail or a frustrating and hard-won bushwhack. The views from the top are always awe-inspiring. Like Dr. Seuss says: "....this life is pretty amazing."
Benchmark on summit that is a triangulation station as indicated by triangle. It is the main station probably surrounded by three reference disks that have an arrow inscribed into them pointing toward the main station.
Date on marker - 1933 - coincides with opening of Gallagher CCC camp.
Faint trail on ridge above Point 5578
The way back down ridge - Little Gallagher Creek in valley; Idaho Highway 17 wrapping around toe of ridge in center of photo.
Next time - hike up Little Gallagher Creek all the way before getting on ridge.
Marker for previous vegetation survey: "Starting Point Gallagher Bitterbrush Transect."
Our GPS tracks and elevation profile
click on topo map for larger image
Boise National Forest Large Fire History - 1980 - 2018. Idaho Fire info - BLM.gov.
Boise National Forest Fire History - 1900 - 2016-September-19. fs.usda.gov
Historical marker Database: CCC Shapes the Payette Drainage
lib.uidaho.edu. Civilian Conservation Corps in Idaho Collection
Lopez, T. 2000. Idaho: A Climbing Guide, pp. 108-112.
Gallagher Ranger Station. USDA Forest Service, Boise National Forest.
Smith, E.M. History of the Boise National Forest - 1905 - 1976
In search of new routes and solitude on Lucky Peak, an historic mining district, amidst burgeoning Boise trail use.
Lucky Peak, the Ridge Less Traveled
Lucky Peak HIke - Winter Ascent
The 10 Essentials to carry with you on day hikes
Adelmann Mine in Boise River Wildlife Management Area
History of the Adelmann Mine
Owned by the Adelmann brothers, one of which was Richard Adelmann, a German miner and Civil War Veteran who also built the Adelmann Building in downtown Boise at Capitol and Idaho Street in 1902. Gold was the primary commodity, followed by extraction of silver and zinc. The Adelmann Group was part of the Black Hornet District. The Black Hornet Mine is located directly south of the Adelmann Mine in Boise River WMA. The deposit was an underground vein in a host rock of Atlanta Lobe of the Idaho Batholith - two mica granite of Cretaceous age.
A very thorough report by the Idaho Geological Survey includes Black Hornet Mine and Queen Mine from the Lucky Peak area:
Site Inspection Report for Abandoned and Inactive Mines on Land Administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in the Boise Resource Area, Idaho: Boise Foothills, Ada County, and Osborne Mine, Gem County
Snow boots, snowshoes, gaiters, GPS, Yaktrax Pro diamondgrip, walking pole.
Helpful technique - The Rest Step
When breaking trail up a steep snow slope, the rest step helps you to conserve energy and prevents your legs from getting too quickly fatigued. It is a rhythmical gait, resting momentarily with each step by putting your weight onto a straight back leg and letting your other leg swing forward. The idea is to decrease the use of muscles with every step and let your weight be supported by leg bones instead. Take small steps. REI snow travel techniques.
The ability to leave city life - temporarily - and get a taste of early 1900's mining life is one of the great advantages of hiking Lucky Peak. Even if you don't go to the Adelmann or Black Hornet mines, you can stumble onto some old rusted equipment, or an old mining claim like the one in the photograph below of the Blue Grouse Lode discovery.
Lucky Peak, a.k.a. Shaw Mountain in Boise has been a "staple" hike for us the past 20 years because we gain a good amount of elevation - 3,000 feet - in 4.5 miles and it's close to home. With the influx of people moving into the Boise area and subsequent increased trail traffic, we have added four additional routes to its summit in search of more solitude. We call each route by a different name. There's the "backside" route from the Wilderness Management Area headquarters (Lucky Peak: The Ridge Less Traveled). There's two ridge hikes we use to hike and snowshoe. Then, there's the Pruett route, named after our friend and his two boys whom we took up one cold early spring day. Most photos on this post represent different hikes/snowshoe hikes up the same southeast ridge.
This route is a steep ascent that overlooks the road to Adelmann Mine, often "crowded" with hikers. The primary purpose of the Boise River Wildlife Management Area is to "Provide winter habitat for mule deer and elk, and year-round habitat for other wildlife species." This WMA supports the largest wintering mule deer herd in Idaho. Elk sign is present, especially during the winter months. Once we saw a majestic bull elk silhouetted on the next ridge over, his large herd of cows watching us, then they disappeared over the ridge. The view of the mountainous Boise National Forest is spectacular most of the way, especially in winter.
Boise National Forest peaks to the northeast
At Trailhead: An early November 2020 hike (above), and a hike on 1/1/21 (bottom).
Follow ridge to tree line - the highest point on the horizon is Point 5645, 2.7 miles from trailhead.
Native as well as invasive grasses carpet the valley the first 0.8 mile of the ridge approach.
Signs of the 2016 Mile Marker 14 fire.
Many sagebrush have been burned by the Mile Marker 14 Fire in 2016 which closed the Boise River Wildlife Management Area at that time.
Core stone looking over Adelmann Mine buildings at 5,000 feet elevation.
Primary commodity - gold
Going up middle southeast ridge to Point 5645 on horizon with row of trees, which is 2.7 miles into hike
Good place to use the Rest Step technique!
Reach tree line at 5,600 feet elevation
At the forested ridge, Lucky's summit is only another 300' gain. Metal posts mark Boise National Forest boundary and can be followed to a road that arises from Adelmann Mine. At the high point of this road, at a shaded saddle with a view toward Shafer Butte near Bogus Basin Ski Area to the north, a trail ascends to the west, passing by a few tent campsites. One more short climb to the summit and you are rewarded with a 360-degree view, mostly of the flat Snake River Plain and civilization at your feet. The mountainous Boise National Forest lies to the north.
We relinquish our solitude for a few moments on the summit as 4 groups of hikers come and go. Then we are back on our own as we descend the ridge less traveled, intersecting elk trails in the snow. The descent is steep in parts as we pass by mining relicts. Try to imagine the gold miners on these ridges. Return to "civilization." Lucky to have the best of both worlds.
View of Treasure Valley in the Snake River Plain from Lucky Peak's summit.
Owyhee Mountain range on the horizon.
Antelope bitterbrush overlooking the Snake River Plain
From Lucky Peak summit looking north to Shafer Butte (left) near Bogus Basin Ski Area
We didn't make it all the way to the summit on this southeast ridge hike.
North is to right of image - click for larger image
Our GPS tracks to/from summit
Lucky Peak Reservoir in distance
Going back down: slow going through brush on lower slope.
Lower road leads to Adelmann Mine
Overlooking Lucky Peak Reservoir
Heading down ridge - Boise River WMA in valley on right. Our trailhead in valley on left.
Beautiful valley at end of hike
This image is as taken - no editing
Great way to end the hike!
Our GPS track from Idaho Hwy 21 to Lucky Peak Summit
click on map for larger image
Reflections on Southern Utah's warm colors and a remedy for the Boise winter blues.
Related: (See Southern Utah Hikes/Bikes category listed on the right)
Zion National Park: Double Arch Alcove Hike
Angels Landing in Zion: Not for the Faint of Heart
Hiking Mt. Kinesava - Zion National Park
Utah Mountain Biking: The Cowbell and The Cryptobionic Highway
Canaan Mountain via Squirrel Canyon
Double Arch Alcove Hike: Zion NP
Boulder Mail Trail to Death Hollow in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the southwest
Paria Canyon - Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
In color meaning and symbolism, red is a physical stimulant. It triggers our adrenal gland, causing us to have energy and take action. It makes us more sensitive to our environment and invigorates us. Orange is the color of warmth, vitality, creativity, and it too increases our activity levels and gives us a sharper awareness of our surroundings. It's no wonder Fred and I escape the low-energy and dispassionate grays and browns of wintertime Boise to reinvigorate in Utah's red rock country. Somewhere between Paragonah and Parowan, on our drive southward to St. George and the Zion area, the landscape transforms from hints of pink to to the blazing oranges and reds of Red Mountain Wilderness. Or we travel to Vermilion Cliffs and Grand Staircase-Escalante areas for adventures in chocolate-brown, pink and maroon sandstone canyons. Like bees to flowers, we have found our way to Southern Utah many times over the past 20 years and there's so much yet to see.
If you had to identify one element responsible for the warm colors of Southern Utah, an element that jolts us out of our winter blues and spurs us onto adventure, it would be .....iron.
The Navajo Sandstone exposed in Zion National Park shows off the many colors that iron creates. When iron is exposed to oxygen, it produces varying colors; and these colors depend on what form of iron oxide is present. The accumulated sand grains get coated with iron oxide. Hematite is the iron oxide responsible for the saturated reds. Limonite is responsible for the yellows. It's believed that white sandstone formerly had color but then was "bleached" by ground waters that dissolved iron oxides from the upper heights of the Navajo Sandstone. There's a reason Zion gets over 4 million visitors a year: it has the thickest exposure of the colorful and cross-bedded ancient sand dunes that make up the Navajo Sandstone (2,200 feet).
Zion Canyon from cliffs of Mt. Kinesava
Bridge Mountain mid-horizon, East Temple to the left of it.
Hiking West Rim Trail after a March snowstorm - looking into Zion Canyon at Virgin River
Zion's West Rim Trail after a March snowstorm
Cross bedding of ancient sand dune - Zion National Park
Overlooking Zion Canyon and Virgin River from Cable Mountain
Angels Landing lower left
West Rim Trail - Zion National Park
Emerald Pools - Zion National Park
Zion's East Rim Trail
Portions of this trail now closed due to large rockfall
The color red is pervasive on the Colorado Plateau, a 130,000 square mile province roughly centered on the Four Corners region of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. It's fitting that, when one says "Colorado", one is also saying "the color red" in Spanish. It seems that the Colorado River has had a few names over time, but its name literally describes the red sandstone found in its waters. The Colorado Plateaus Province has 9 national parks, and I am lucky to have hiked or walked in all of them. It also contains 18 national monuments, of which Grand Staircase is my favorite. For our 40th birthdays, Fred and I hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim and back again the next day; for our 50th birthdays we hiked north rim to south rim. It is an experience never to be forgotten. Rim-to-rim hikers see just about every color of the spectrum in the sediment layers of the 5,000-foot drop and gain in the Grand Canyon, as well as the brown Vishnu Schist - the basement rocks of the Grand Canyon.
The Colorado Plateau Province: South-Southeastern Utah, northeastern Arizona, southwestern Colorado and Northwestern New Mexico. Nearly centered over the "Four Corners" region.
map from nps.gov
Sometime around 2,000 B.C. until 500 A.D., scientists say, nomadic hunter-gatherers from the Desert Archaic culture used red ochre paint to make pictographs of human-like figures onto the sandstone walls of what is now Horseshoe Canyon. It's a long drive for a short hike, but distances don't matter when standing in front of this incredible wall. As we stared at these red, almost eerie-looking figures, a park ranger quietly came up the path to sit on a nearby fallen cottonwood trunk, as he had almost every day to prevent vandalism. More recently, geologists date the rock art panel between 0 A.D. to 1,100 A.D. It has been interpreted as a sacred place for Archaic hunters.
The significant discovery of an old leather bag eroding from sand by visitors in 2005 helped archaeologists piece together a scenario of the Archaic hunter who placed it near the Great Gallery wall. The bag contained three small leather pouches, a water-rounded stone, and marsh-elder seeds. Two of the pouches were stained red by hematite, one of which held chert to make arrowheads; the other probably held pieces of this ore. The seeds were an emergency food cache. The flintknapper/hunter had collected more chert flakes than he needed and was heading southwest to his home. This was an excellent place for him to stash extra hunting tools and food in case of emergency, and an easy landmark to remember and describe to kin. He was walking through a natural travel corridor.
The "Holy Ghost" and the Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon
Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah
Newspaper Rock - San Juan County, Utah
One of the largest collections of petroglyphs in the country.
Fremont, Ute, and Anasazi Native Americans contributed to this panel. Designs were created by pecking through the desert varnish to the lighter rock beneath.
Mesa Arch at Sunrise - Canyonlands National Park
The best spot to photograph this arch was already taken by a photographer and his tripod at 5:30 a.m.
Still more than enough places for photographs!
Death Hollow in Grand Staircase/Escalante' National Monument
(these are the actual colors - not saturated with Photoshop)
One of the most colorful canyons I have been in
In her book "Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert," Terry Tempest Williams effectively conveys how it feels to be in the red rock country. To read her words is to feel the warm sun, the rough sandstone, and the enormous space in the red rock canyons and mesas. She reflects on its physical and spiritual aspects. She grew up in Utah and is also an educator and environmental activist. The more I visit this beautiful place, the more I can relate to her writings. She reminds us to slow down and really "see" and contemplate the land. If we do that, then we can "hear the voice of our conscience. If we listen to that voice, it asks us to be conscious. And if we become conscious, we choose to live lives of consequence." Another quote from this book:
"Time and space. In the desert there is space. Space is the twin sister of time. If we have open space then we have open time to breathe, to dream, to dare, to play, to pray to move freely, so freely, in a world our minds have forgotten but our bodies remember. Time and space. This partnership is holy. In these redrock canyons, time creates space--an arch, an eye, this blue eye of sky. We remember why we love the desert; it is our tactile response to light, to silence, and to stillness."
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area, Northern Arizona - "The Wave" in Coyote Buttes
Coyote Buttes in Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Only 20 people per day are allowed; we were able to get permits twice during Christmas Holidays before it became so popular!
Petroglyph at confluence of Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness - Arizona
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Palmer's Penstemon in Snow Canyon State Park, Utah
Snow Canyon State Park - St. George, Utah
Fred on Upper Muley Twist Trail - Capitol Reef National Park
Off of Burr Road, south of Boulder, Utah
Great views of the Waterpocket Fold, hike through canyons and on top of mesa
Walking through snowmelt from higher up on plateau, but the water wasn't too cold!
Along Taylor Creek on the Double Arch Alcove Hike
Zion National Park Kolob Canyons section
Leaves were all rotating counter-clockwise in this small pond.
National Park Service. Analysis and Dating of the Great Gallery tool and Food Bag.
Natural History Museum of Utah. Bold Figures, Blurred History: The Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon.
Weaver, Lance. 2020. What Gives Utah's "Red Rock Country" its Color? Utah Geological Survey.
Colors of the Navajo Sandstone. nps.gov.
sensationalcolor.com. Color Symbolism and the Meaning of Red.
Navajo Sandstone. Utah Geology.com.
Seldom summited, this remote, jagged mountain out of Jennie Lake with views of Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains is a rewarding Class 2-3 hike, and is not as intimidating as it looks. Bag Points 8610 and 8568 on the way.
Jackson Peak: 8,124' - Boise National Forest
The 10 Essentials to Carry with you on Every Hike
North face of Wolf Mountain, Boise National Forest, 8,876'
Location: Northeast of Idaho City near central Idaho, Boise National Forest.
Distance/Elevation Gain: 12.5 miles round-trip, 3,800' net elevation gain including recovering lost elevation if you do both Wolf Mountain and Peak 8610. Trailhead = 6,080', Summit of Wolf Mountain = 8,876'.
Difficulty: Moderate Class 1 for 4.4 miles to Jennie Lake; Strenuous Class 2 scramble past Jennie Lake; Class 3 minimal exposure using hands to propel up rocks last 30' to summit.
Coordinates: Trailhead = 43.9932 -115.4521, Wolf Peak Summit = 44.0099 -115.3882
Date Hiked: 10/02/20
Maps: Boise National Forest Map - USDA, Jackson Peak Quadrangle, 7.5 min topo map, our GPS tracks below.
Driving directions: Jennie Lake Trailhead. Drive 21 north from Boise past Idaho City. Pass over Mores Creek Summit and descend. Just past Whoop-um-up park and ski area, turn east (right) onto forest road 384. The road is well-maintained, follow 384 for 6.3 miles to the junction with FS 348, just before the Willow Creek campground. Follow 348 for 7.4 miles, to a sign reading "road closed 0.2 miles". Take this and park at the trailhead to Jennie Lake.
Geology: Challis intrusive rocks (Eocene, 50 million years ago). See "geocurious" box below.
Considerations: Jennie Lake is a popular backpacking/hiking destination to view spring/summer wildflowers.
History of the name "Wolf Mountain": Arval Anderson, who made the first maps of the Sawtooth Wilderness Area for the Forestry Service in 1927, saw wolves on this mountain. The brass benchmark on top of Wolf Mountain is engraved with the date "1926" (see below). From Idaho: A Climbing Guide - Arval Anderson, Early Sawtooth Explorer and Surveyor."
On the way back from the summit
Fred, Anna, and Sylvie the dog
On ridge between Wolf Mountain and Jennie Lake basin
Points 8568 and 8610 can be summited on this ridge in addition to summiting Wolf Mountain!
We ascended ridge to the left of lake entrance, hiking due east
At the lake entrance, we scouted the lowest saddle to the left on the lake's surrounding wall and made a beeline towards it, walking around the lake briefly to the left/south, then due east up the ridge. It's a heart-pounding steep 600' climb to the ridge overlooking Jennie Lake through autumn bunch grasses, red shrubs and rocks that all too easily dislodge under your boot. Once on the ridge, there is no mistaking Wolf Mountain's location to the southeast. We ended up just north of Point 8568 and continued southwest 0.6 miles on the ridge to cairned Point 8610, Jennie Lake surrounded by trees below us to the right, and Wolf Mountain looming across the deep Rockey Creek streambed to our left. We would have to lose some elevation (260') and then regain it to get to Wolf's summit. The view was hazy due to smoke from Oregon and California wildfires.
Ridge to southeast of Jennie Lake; we headed up toward high point on the left. Hazy smoke due to CA and OR fires.
Many trees burned around Jennie Lake due to previous fire.
Climbing to the ridge overlooking Jennie Lake
First look at Wolf Mountain's north face from ridge above Jennie Lake
Point 8568 is to the far right in the image
Anna and Sylvie summiting Point 8610 on ridge that divides Jennie Lake basin (left) and Wolf Mountain's northern ridge (right).
Route-finding from Point 8610 on ridge to Wolf Mountain's north ridge (upper left ).
On Wolf Mountain's north ridge
To summit Wolf after summiting Point 8610, walk back down the ridge to just before Point 8568 where Wolf's north ridge is seen and drop down into deep stream gulley, cross this dry streambed and then head straight up aiming toward Wolf Mountain's northern ridge. After this climb out, an opening in the trees provides views of the sudden drop into the crater-like bowl of raw talus slopes and the granite block of the summit. Hike on the margin of the talus field, just above the steep cliffs to the left.
Anna and Sylvie arriving at base of Wolf Mountain's summit block.
We had walked over from Point 8610 along ridge behind her.
Anna and Sylvie had to wait just below the vertical rocks of the summit since this last challenge requires Class 3 scrambling using hands (photo below). Fred and I scrambled to the narrow summit with a prominence of almost 900 feet. We were elevated far above this part of central Idaho, looking north to Jackson Peak. Steep cliffs drop to the north and south. We wished Anna and Sylvie could be with us because it is these small summits that make you feel slightly precarious that are the best.
Final summit climb
For the Geocurious
The rocks of Wolf Mountain were created by the Farallon Plate sliding under (subduction) the North American Plate on North America's west coast causing the earth's crust to spread, triggering the intrusion of magma to form shallow granitic plutons ~52 million years ago. It would be great to check out this rock more closely to determine what this pluton is made of: granodiorite (> 20% quartz), quartz monzodiorite, or granite?
Another distinctive feature of this Eocene granite is the planar, high-angle jointing; and Wolf Mountain is a great example. Many spectacular peaks in central Idaho are in steeply jointed Eocene granite, which weathers to sharp peaks and steep topography.
View of Point 8610 (mid-image) from the summit of Wolf Mountain. We were just there!
Survey benchmark possibly installed by Arval Anderson, who made the first maps for the Sawtooth Wilderness Area.
Award-winning author and adventurer Lucy Jane Bledsoe articulates her thoughts on achieving a mountain summit:
"Perhaps it isn't will at all that fuels a person to the top of a mountain. Perhaps it's the ache for beauty. A desire to be dangled over the canyon of nothingness. To, in fact, lose one's will for a moment." Robert MacFarlane, author of Mountains of the Mind: Adventures in Reaching the Summit says, “Mountains seem to answer an increasing imaginative need in the West. More and more people are discovering a desire for them, and a powerful solace in them. One forgets that there are environments which do not respond to the flick of a switch or the twist of a dial, and which have their own rhythms and orders of existence."
The feeling of standing on a summit far above all else is difficult to articulate, but one word that occurs to me repeatedly is "freedom". It's room, it's space, a feeling of no constraints, and the freedom of overcoming self-imposed constraints such as "that peak looks too hard to do." It is also the knowledge that this mountain has been here a lot longer than I, and will be here a lot longer after I go. It is the freedom to be able to see what that mountain sees. It's a feeling so unlike our everyday occurrences that I savor those moments and the ability to experience something that is so different. There is the matter of conquering, achieving and getting to the top, as George Mallory, the English mountaineer who was part of the first Mount Everest British expeditions in the 1920's says. He answers the question, "what is the use of climbing mountains?" in his quote:
“For the stone from the top for geologists, the knowledge of the limits of endurance for the doctors, but above all for the spirit of adventure to keep alive the soul of man.”
― George Mallory
Always a welcome sight - the cairn at the top!
Summit of Wolf Mountain looking northwest
On the return, we had to climb out of the deep stream bed at Wolf's northern base and back up towards Point 8568 overlooking Jennie Lake. We made our way down that steep ridge into Jennie's basin. We made a quick hike back down the trail to the truck, it seemed a long way, as we had all run out of water. Bear Creek was still flowing next to us, even this late in the season! We were all dusty, especially Sylvie who normally has a white coat, but emerged out of that forest with a tan tinge to her hair. Sure made the day even better to be able to hike with her and Anna.
Heading back down
On the homestretch! - Jennie Lake Trail
Wolf Mountain and Peak 8610 via Jennie Lake Trailhead Topo Map
After gaining the ridge southeast of Jennie Lake, we walked along it to summit Point 8610; we then descended into Rockey Creek and then back up to summit Wolf Mountain via its north ridge.
click for larger image
Boise National Forest Large Fire History: 1980 - 2018.
DeGrey, L., Link, P. Digital Geology of Idaho: Challis Magmatic Episode. retrieved from internet.
Interactive Map. Idaho Geological Society. Retrieved from the internet.
Johnson, K. M., Lewis, R.S., Bennett, E.H., Kiilsgaard, T.H. Cretaceous and Tertiary Intrusive Rocks
of South-Central Idaho.
Moye, F.J., Hackett, W.R., Blakley, J.D., Snider, L.G. Regional Geologic Setting and Volcanic Stratigraphy of the Challis Volcanic Field, Central Idaho.
Navigate off Pioneer Cabin Trail's beaten path to walk on Johnstone's rocky east ridge for a massive view of Idaho's rugged Pioneer Mountains. We returned to this hike we dedicated to the memory of our great friend Henry Brown.
Goat Mountain, 11,913': Pioneer Mountain Range
This Hike for Henry Brown - Johnstone Peak (2016)
Norton Peak, 10,336' via Miner Lake - Smoky Mountains, Idaho
Johnstone Peak, 9,949' from Pioneer Cabin Trail near Ketchum, Idaho
Walk across talus field on hike to Johnstone Peak with view of Pioneer Mountains
On Johnstone's east ridge looking east to main crest of Pioneer Mountain Range.
Goat Mountain far left horizon.
Our GPS tracks
There are several ways to get up to Johnstone Peak, an almost 10,000-footer near Ketchum, Idaho. Its summit is in view for most of the way when approaching it from the north on Pioneer Cabin Trail where the final 1,000-foot gain involves route-finding on a faint, unmarked and rocky trail. At the top, we met two people who had ascended from Bear Gulch, to its south. It's an inspiring peak to us, not only for the breathtaking views of the main Pioneer Mountain crest, but also for remembering our friend Henry Brown. In 2016, we dedicated this hike to Henry because of his love for Idaho's wilderness (This Hike for Henry Brown).
Corral Creek near Pioneer Cabin Trailhead
First two miles of hike through shady forest
Reach ridge for first glimpse of Johnstone Peak and its northern-facing steep rock chutes
Trail blaze (marker) on tree at right
On the one-mile stretch of Johnstone Creek Trail with Johnstone Peak in view
Beginning of Johnstone's east ridge climb after one mile on Johnstone Creek Trail
View of Johnstone's summit is blocked by highest point on the horizon, however trail goes over this
A faint trail extends towards Johnstone's east ridge after the saddle at Johnstone Creek Trail is reached, just before its descent. The westward 1.6-mile climb to the summit first traverses the shady north side of the ridge, and then because of the northern steep chutes, it switches to the south side, going over a few talus fields. The summit is one large stable talus pile. Having done this hike a few times before, we know now to stay close to the ridge; when it begins to pull you to the south, keep west at about 260 degrees. The trail passes over a large talus field of a "pseudo peak"; and upon mounting it, you see Johnstone's summit across yet another talus field.
Faint trail (in foreground) heading west up Johnstone's east ridge; it goes through the trees on the right and then on the top/left side of highest prominence on the left.
View of Pioneer Mountains to the northeast
O! Lovely talus field - at least it is stable!
Some gorgeous textures and colors
Just when you are done climbing high points, the real summit is still on the horizon (Johnstone on right)
Except for a few stunted trees, the summit is bare and exposed, but it rises far above everything else, marking the area between the Wood River Valley and famous Mt. Baldy's ski mountain to the south and central Idaho's peaks to the north.
Four years ago, after the first dusting of snow, Fred and I stood on Johnstone's summit with a sign proclaiming "This Hike for Henry Brown". Henry, in his mid-50's had passed in August from lung cancer. He was a West Point grad, avid outdoorsman and excellent bow and rifle hunter, and had spent his last years in Hailey, south of Ketchum in the Wood River Valley. It was especially hard for Fred to lose his great friend, one that had shared his passion for wilderness and taught him valuable hunting skills. When Henry had moved back to Idaho, there was hope for many hikes in Idaho's beautiful wilderness. But these never happened and we were reminded that life can be cut short. More than ever we know that we are lucky to be able to walk the forests and rocky summits of Idaho and look forward to the next American West adventure.
In 2016, as we were on Johnstone's summit remembering Henry, an eagle flew high above, a symbol of Henry's spirit. And this time again as we were descending, a bald eagle, soaring effortlessly above the northern side of the peak made us stop as it passed by and out of sight. I had said the next time we summited Johnstone, we would be looking for an eagle. Once again we saw one, and felt Henry's presence.
Summit of Johnstone looking at Pioneer Mountain Range to the east
In 2016 on Johnstone Peak, in Henry Brown's "neck of the woods"
We will always remember Henry's friendship and his love of Idaho's wilderness
Johnstone Peak: This Hike for Henry Brown (2016)
Descending Johnstone with main crest of Pioneer Mountains to the northeast
Pioneer Cabin Trail
Pioneer Cabin built in 1938 by Sun Valley Company for the Alpine Touring branch of the ski school
Our GPS tracks and Elevation Profile (profile from summit to trailhead) - 5.3 miles, 3,000' gain
click on map and profile for larger PDF images
Geologic Map Of Idaho.
Geologic Map of Blaine County. Idaho State University. https://digitalatlas.cose.isu.edu/counties/blaine/geomap.htm
Trailing of the Sheep Festival - History of the Festival https://trailingofthesheep.org/about/history/
Wust, S. L., Link, P.K. 1988. Field Guide to the Pioneer Mountains Core Complex, South-Central Idaho.
A lightly-traveled serene single-track hike through lush green forest and wildflowers to a fire lookout near Lowman, Idaho. Views extend all the way to the northern Sawtooth Peaks.
Mt. Heinen - Grand Slam Peaks Completed!
Alpine Peak: 9,861' - Sawtooth Wilderness - Never Stop Climbing Mountains
Reward Peak: 10,074' via Upper Redfish Lakes - Sawtooth Wilderness
Bald Mountain via Station Creek - Garden Valley, Idaho
Deacon, Greg, Fred and Kaleb on Jackson Peak's summit - 8,124'.
Sawtooth Peaks on the horizon.
Descending Jackson Peak
Fred and I jumped on the opportunity to hike with Greg and his two boys, Deacon and Kaleb to Jackson Peak Fire Lookout in northern Boise National Forest on a perfect-weather wildflower-filled June day, a great time to explore rugged central Idaho. We had all hiked Mt. Heinen near Arrowrock Reservoir, one of the four "Grand Slam Peaks" near Boise. They are now training for Mt. Borah, Idaho's highest, and Hyndman Peak, the highest in the Pioneer Mountains. Kaleb and Deacon are impressive; not many kids their age are up to such challenging hikes. Their positive attitude and motivation was a joy.
The nearly 3,500' elevation gain is not as tough as the same gain on Mt. Heinen because it is a steady climb with not much elevation loss on the way up. We have hiked this peak many times the past 20 years in several conditions: thunderstorms, through snowfields and in hot temps. We have talked to the tenants of the fire lookouts over the years and been able to stand on its top floor to see a 360-degree view of the Boise National Forest and as far away as the Sawtooth Mountains. This year we were prohibited from getting on the fire lookout building due to coronavirus restrictions.
My low-clearance passenger car made it up the mile-long dirt road to the trailhead from the Lowman Ponds parking area. In some years, the road is rutted and a high-clearance vehicle is needed. Great to hop into your vehicle at the trailhead at hike's end rather than walk that extra mile to the parking area at Lowman Ponds!
Jackson Peak Trailhead, one mile up Forest Road #530 from Lowman Ponds.
Jackson Peak Trail - Boise National Forest for more specific hike directions.
Jackson Peak Trail is well-marked and maintained. The first 1/2 mile treks through Oregon coast-like lushness with fern-lined tributaries leading to Richard's Creek noisily flowing below. After 0.75 miles, the trail swings southeast away and above this creek and switch-backs to the ridge through remnants of the 1988 Willis Gulch Fire, continuing up and around Richards Creek watershed source just below Jackson Peak. At the intersection with Forest Road #598, the locked gate to Jackson Peak lookout straddles this watershed to the north and Jackson Creek and the expansive lands of the Boise National Forest to the south.
Boise National Forest Large Fire History Map, 1980-2018.
First mile of hike near Richards Creek
Jackson Peak (left)
After switchbacks, trail goes through Willis Gulch Fire (1988) - burned trees on ridge leading to the summit.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata)
Dark Green Fritillary on Grey Rabbitbrush bloom
These guys are awesome!
Just before intersection with Forest Road #598 overlooking Richards Creek watershed - late summer.
From the gate, walk up the final 0.35 mile to the lookout, and lots of communication towers and a helipad. Although this detracts from a wilderness experience, it's a great reward to stand above everything else for miles. The unmistakable jagged northern Sawtooth peaks cut the horizon to the northeast, and the immense land of the Boise National Forest spanning 2.5 million acres of mountains, valleys and access roads spreads to the south.
We all sat at the picnic table near the lookout, celebrating our hike, thankful for the trail camaraderie and the peace of central Idaho. Hearing Deacon's and Kaleb's dreams of summiting higher peaks reminded Fred and I of our previous summit goals. Wistfully, I tell them that they have plenty of years ahead of them with so many mountains in the American west to climb. So many mountains to climb, wilderness to experience, trails to walk, but not as much time for Fred and I.
The recurring topic discussed during the descent was what flavor ice cream we would have at the Sourdough Lodge in Lowman afterwards to celebrate our summit success.
Love Idaho. Never stop climbing mountains.
"I think probably one of the important things that happened to me was growing up in Idaho in the mountains, in the woods, and having a very strong presence of the wilderness around me. That never felt like emptiness. It always felt like presence."
- Marilynne Robinson, novelist - winner of 2005 Pulitzer prize for novel Gilead
360-degree view on Jackson Peak summit - complete with barking dog in top floor of lookout.
Summit view northeast to Sawtooth Mountains
Sue at Jackson Peak Lookout, Boise National Forest
Late summer when rabbitbrush bloom
History of Jackson Peak Fire Lookout
A two-story, glass-walled log structure was erected in 1927 according to the Idaho Statesman newspaper. It was anchored by half-inch steel cables at each corner due to continuous high-speed winds. In 1981, a two-story flat roof house was installed. The 1988 Willis Gulch Fire threatened the lookout. In 1990, a new modified hip roof where all sides slope downwards to the walls was installed (From ronkemnow.weebly.com).
A strong relationship between the National Forest and the Southern Idaho Timber Protective Organization was established in 1925. It was then that Idaho state forestry law provided for a State Forestry Board that would enforce fire regulations. For a thorough history of fire management in Boise National Forest, check out History of the Boise National Forest 1905 - 1976 by Elizabeth M. Smith, p. 111.
Rex's Fire Lookout Page
USDA Forest Service information on staffed and unstaffed fire lookouts
Kaleb on summit of Jackson Peak, 8,124'
Our GPS tracks
click on map for larger interactive map of region
Boise National Forest - Home - USDA Forest Service - retrieved from the internet
Boise National Forest Large Fire History - 1980 - 2018.
Forest Lookouts. ronkemnow.weebly.com
Idaho Geological Survey - Interactive Map - retrieved from internet
Idaho Statesman. May 29, 2018. Across the U.S., reports of tick-borne illness are rising. Here's what's happening in Idaho.
Smith, Elizabeth M. History of the Boise National Forest, 1905 - 1976. Idaho State Historical Society - Boise, 1983.
Our attempt at a relentless 3,500-foot gain, sections of Class 3-4 climbing, and route-finding journey under cliffs and over ridges make this fabled summit complete with petroglyphs elusive for now. I recommend this tough, extraordinary hike even if you don't intend on summiting. But do your research first.
Utah Mountain Biking: The Cowbell and the Cryptobionic Highway (cryptobiotic crusts)
Angels Landing in Zion: Not for the Faint of Heart
Southern Utah Hiking and Biking in a Pandemic: Zion, Wire Mesa, and Snow Canyon
Canaan Mountain via Squirrel Canyon
Red Mountain Primitive Trail - St. George
East cliff face of Mt. Kinesava. Summit cannot be seen from this vantage point.
Route goes through trees at base of cliffs in shadow, then up to the right following trees to notch. After this, still hundreds of feet climb to summit.
Fred and I decided to hike Mt. Kinesava when we saw it towering over the southern entrance to Zion National Park while riding on the Wire Pass Trail near Springdale, Utah. When we finally had a cool day during a more recent hike/bike vacation, we gave it a try. Even though we didn't make it, this mountain is one of the most memorable I have ever hiked. Majestic Mt. Kinesava remains elusive, invincible, its petroglyphs unreachable, at least to us. A grudge peak.
Kinesava is more than a hike, it's an experience. The view of red and orange cliffs and pinnacles that tower the more you climb, the increasingly spectacular views of Zion Canyon behind you and the ever-shrinking town of Springdale below create a unique "surround-view" experience of being "perched" for hours. Kinesava's refusal to let just anyone walk on her summit may be the reason why Native Americans chose this place to carve petroglyphs on the mesa just above these challenging rock walls. Landmarks in Zion, like Mt. Kinesava and Sinawava are named after Paiute deities.
You have to do your homework for this cross-country hike, but there are few summit reports available. There is a break in the cliff band that surrounds Kinesava's base created by an apparent old landslide where you can enter the terrain that will take you up to the cliffs. You must catch this same entry point on your exit, so a good idea to look back to note where this is by looking at landmarks. Rock cairns mark faint trails, but it seems like you usually find these more often on the way down. Cairns left by previous hikers were helpful in the Class 3-4 sections.
For a more detailed hike description, click on "Trip Stats" above. You have to navigate over three ridges before you get to the base of the sheer walls, where you scramble and climb across narrow sections of the cliff in a horizontal/diagonal direction following the line of trees. Here, the climb is Class 3 (climbing with use of hands) up more or less vertical rocks, making your way to the right along cliff base. Where we reached too much exposure (Class 4), we backtracked to find a safer route. It took us longer than we wanted to navigate through the horizontal band of trees under the pinnacled vertical cliffs. We reached a comfortable platform with a good view of the "catwalk", a very narrow section that must be traversed to gain access to the final climb up the diagonal band of trees to the notch that lands you on the plateau above. This is where we stopped; it looked pretty difficult and we didn't have enough time to summit AND get down (see image below). Once on the plateau, Mt. Kinesava's summit is another 300-400 foot climb. (See our GPS tracks below).
Zion Canyon from east face of Mt. Kinesava
Mt. Kinesava from Chinle Trail (on a different hike)
Looking at east face of Mt. Kinesava in the morning. The summit is just behind the largest prominence, mostly hidden from this view. Gate, 1.1 miles from Chinle Trailhead marks Zion National Park boundary. Chinle trail continues to the left. The route goes up the fan-shaped debris slide through the trees, continuing through trees to right of prominence up to notch.
First set of Ridges just after Zion NP Boundary
Heading cross-country towards 3 main lower ridges. We went up the ridge to the right in the photo.
We ascended the left (west) ridge, and descended the right (middle) ridge on the way back. At the top of the ridge to the right is a trail and the 3 telephone poles at entry through break in cliff band to arrive at plateau above cliff. I would ascend via the right ridge next time.
We had to lose some elevation and side-hill the left ridge into the small canyon. Aim for the telephone wires and 3 large poles on middle ridge saddle just under passage through cliff band.
Small canyon between left and middle ridges. After descending from west, or left ridge into this canyon, it took us right up to saddle with 3 telephone poles.
Aim for three telephone poles at base of trail that goes through cliff break landslide. On our way back down, we stayed on the ridge that these poles are on, to the right of this image (the "middle" ridge).
Rock slide over bottom cliff base is entry/exit onto plateau above. Defined trail here.
Cairn that marks entry from steep second ridge through lower cliffs to plateau above. These white rocks can be seen above to aim for on the way down off the plateau.
Approaching horizontal band of trees under sheer cliffs
Everywhere you look, it's spectacular!
Reached horizontal band of trees for a cliffside lunch - Zion Canyon view.
Fun "passageway" to to get to vertical rocks
Zion Canyon from cliffs of Mt. Kinesava - 6,400 feet
Keep on Exploring - Never Stop Climbing Mountains!
This is where we stopped.
Trail continues through trees on far left, over the "catwalk" and up through trees to notch.
The Way Down
The view of the cliff-hugging narrow "catwalk" and vertical rock towers is intimidating. It's a different feeling entirely as I sit here at my desk writing this post, where I am not facing this astonishing scene of exposed walls and loose rocks to climb - it's easy to think now I can do it. Edward Abbey, in his book Desert Solitaire said that Southern Utah "is the most beautiful place on earth." My words don't do justice when describing what it's like to hike in this extraordinary place, where all natural elements seem to fit almost magically together. The orange and green, the soft sand and the hard cross-bedded rocks, the cliffs and the undulating lowlands and streams. The expansive desert with steep mesas standing like platforms under a wide sky. Places to rest and absorb the views among imposing and rugged terrain. Prickly cacti and slender, waving penstemon.
We caught a defined trail on the way down that took us a bit too far to the west. The most important thing to remember is to aim for the large white boulders on the edge of plateau; it's your exit point to the ridges below.
Hopefully next time I attempt this hike, we will be able to conquer this section, see the petroglyphs on the plateau above, and summit. I already feel lucky to be able to see these sights that not many others have seen before, and to be able to hike with my husband. We have fun! Life is really good.
"Freedom begins between the ears."
- Edward Abbey, environmental advocate and author of Desert Solitaire
Heading off cliffs onto "third ridge". Springdale, Utah below in river bottom with Virgin River
"Our updated trailhead will add 2 hours to the trip, which means that now fewer of you should ever attempt it. DO NOT GET STUCK ON THIS ROUTE IN THE DARK!!!!!"
Our route up (blue) and route down (red)
Bottom of map shows approach to Zion National Park boundary fence via Chinle Trail (Trailhead on Utah State 9 Highway just before Springdale). I recommend using the ridge that the red trail traverses just after fenceline.
Google Earth image of our hike up after crossing Zion NP boundary fence
To avoid losing elevation on the way up, better to take the ridge to the right (east) of the one we took up. This leads up to only break in the cliffs that surround the bottom. Town of Springdale at lower right.
Chesher, Greer K. Zion Canyon: A Storied Land. 2007. The University of Arizona Press.
Quarnstrom, Evan. Zion National Park: Tackling Mt. Kinesava. Website: Evan Quarnstrom: Stories of Travel and Adventure.
The Hiker's Code: Brush Up on Trail Etiquette in Time for Hiking Season. Posted 11/5/19 on Utah.com
Zion: Mt. Kinesava. Favorite Hikes In and Around Zion National Park. zionnational-park.com
When temperatures soar in St. George, Utah, head up to the Pine Valley Mountains to look over Southern Utah and Arizona mountains in a cool, beautiful forest with mature stands of aspens, Mountain Mahogany trees, and plenty of trails and peaks to explore.
Canaan Mountain via Squirrel Canyon
Angels Landing in Zion: Not for the Faint of Heart
Double Arch Alcove Hike - Kolob Canyons in Zion NP
View of southern aspect of Pine Valley Mountains, the largest laccolith in the U.S., from Hurricane, Utah
The highest peak is Signal Peak at 10, 365 feet.
North side of Pine Valley Mountains, from town of Pine Valley, Southern Utah
Forsyth trail passes by large crags
Our Hike: Forsyth Trailhead --> Summit Trail #3021--> spur trail to Burger summit
Many people consider Southern Utah synonymous with slot canyons and colorful cliffs, hoodoos, and mesas. Its famous national parks - Zion, Bryce and Arches are gems with spectacular scenes. Except when the temperatures reach 100 degrees. In a way you could say we were lucky because of the hot temps in St. George - otherwise we might have never discovered the cool Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness, where we summited Burger Peak to see a vast view of the hot desert below.
The Pine Valley Mountains are less than an hour's drive north of St. George, and provide the forested backdrop to the little town of Pine Valley. The drive itself is beautiful, as you pass by a huge cinder cone and gorgeous Snow Canyon State Park. We felt lucky to have "stumbled" onto this wilderness, the second-largest in Utah because of the many trail and peak opportunities. It has the most diverse flora of any Utah mountain range, with ~ 1,000 species identified so far, and numerous meadows. We met a backpacker on a separate hike near Whipple Valley who said he had to go "two meadows over" for his first night. He was doing a loop trip using Summit Trail, which treks 35 miles between entry points at Whipple Valley and Forsyth trailhead, up and along highest Pine Valley Mountains ridge.
The first mile wanders through large stands of mature Mountain Mahogany and Ponderosa Pines. Stream crossings over Forsyth Creek are easy, with low stream flow. This forest is so unique, because it has such a wide variety of trees. Tree dead fall on the first mile attests to destructive bark beetles that have plagued many forests throughout the west. At mile two, the trail steepens and follows Forsyth Creek as the canyon narrows. It climbs steadily for the next 4.5 miles to the peak; we ran into our first snow bank around 9,000 feet. A spur trail heading north from Summit Trail takes you to the peak. The view of Southern Utah from the steep cliffs at this intersection is incredible.
Forsyth Creek video
First mile of Forsyth Trail
This forest is filled with large, towering aspens. I make a mental note to return in the autumn. Many had names and dates carved into their trunks. The carving above has a date of August 24, 1951. The depiction of a mountain range with a moon overhead made this one unique. This is possibly a Basque sheep herder carving or "arborglyph". There are many Basque carvings in the high countries of the west; the sheep herders had a lot of time to pass and many carved not only their names, but also simple scenes of life in the mountains.
Lunch break at small meadow - 4.2 miles in on Summit Trail
The spur trail that leaves Summit trail is easy to spot on the left once you walk past killer views of the desert floor below: Snow Valley, Red Mountain, and Zion National Park. Ponderosa Pines and firs, and steep crags dominate Burger's summit. For all practical purposes, we made it to the summit; we stopped at 10, 240 feet due to deep large snow fields. We savored the smell of pines and cool breezes while we looked down at the baking desert.
Finally get an opening in the forest ~ 5.7 miles into the hike to view vast Southern Utah: St. George, Zion National Park
View of Signal Peak, highest point in Pine Valley Mountains from near Burger Peak's summit
Rock walls to walk between and around at Burger Peak's summit
The 6.4 mile hike back gave us a lot of time to appreciate this beautiful forest with its mature, towering canopy. We had made a trail through the snow that others could follow easily to the summit. We saw only 4 other hikers the whole day. We were so impressed with this wilderness that we hiked to Whipple Valley a few days later.
Pine Valley has an interesting history. It was discovered by Mormon pioneers Gunlock Bill Hamblin, Jacob Hamblin, and Isaac Riddle when they were moving cattle north of Santa Clara for summer grazing. A sawmill to process lumber was erected in 1856. The tall white Pine Valley Chapel stands out as you drive through town. Built in 1868, it is the oldest meetinghouse in continuous use of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Regrettably, The Pine Valley Heritage Center in town was closed as we finished the hike. We will be back to explore more of this exquisite wilderness. Possibly some snowshoeing in the winter? For now, we head back to the sweltering St. George heat and its red sandstone to look up to the granite crags and cool Pine Valley Mountains.
Break at the intersection sign - done with most of the large snow drifts!
Descending rugged Forsyth Canyon
Pine Valley Chapel
Downloaded from internet: https://www.thisistheplace.org/pine-valley-chapel-rental
Topo map and elevation profile for Burger Peak, Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness, Dixie National Forest, Utah
3,670' elevation gain in 6.4 miles
Town of Pine Valley north, trail heads south
click on map for larger image
Google Earth image of our tracks from Pine Valley (north, or top of image) Utah to (almost) Burger Peak summit via Summit Trail. Deep snow prevented us from getting to true summit.
About this blog
Exploration documentaries – "explorumentaries" list trip stats and highlights of each hike or bike ride, often with some interesting history or geology. Years ago, I wrote these for friends and family to let them know what my husband, Fred and I were up to on weekends, and also to showcase the incredible land of the west. I hope to hear about your adventures!
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