Hike cross-country from Alpine Lake and Upper Redfish Lakes to one of the best views in the Sawtooth Wilderness. The rewards are solitude and Idaho beauty.
Related: Sawtooth Mountain Wilderness: Upper Redfish Lakes Cross-Country Hike (2017).
Alpine Peak: 9,861' - Sawtooth Wilderness: Never Stop Climbing Mountains
On Reward Peak's north ridge looking east to Lake Kathryn. Redfish Lake in the distance.
From Reward Peak's summit
6:30 a.m. - Alpine Lake
The day in central Idaho's beautiful Sawtooth Mountains is unusually cool and dry for August. After taking the motorboat shuttle across the long, deep blue Redfish Lake, you disembark at the Redfish Inlet Transfer Camp underneath the towering Grand Mogul, an intimidating peak that signals you are now approaching wilderness. You hoist your backpack and begin the hike to Alpine Lake. Your pack isn't too heavy and you hike along waterfalls through a glacier-cut valley with towering rock cathedrals under an azure sky. At Alpine Lake, you find the best camping spot with plenty of room, with no one else around, and giant flat rocks on the shore on which to sit. The air is fresh and there's no mosquitos. You are lulled to sleep that night with the mountain silence and the late quacks of two ducks on the lake. You wake in the deep night to see the inside of your tent lit up and peer outside to the most amazing sight: peaks brightly illuminated, glowing from a full moonrise with crystal-clear stars above.
The next morning, you hike off-trail, navigating straight up to the ridge overlooking the lake on soil and pine needles still damp with morning dew. You walk up a challenging rock-filled gulley only to descend to emerald lakes below, and then up another rock and snow-filled gulley to one of the most incredible views you have ever seen - you blink a few times to make sure you are really there. A sunny and windless 10,000-foot summit, with no threat of thunderstorms. Lounge on the rocks - eat lunch, take photos, read the summit register. Serrated ridges, deep bottomless canyons, and sapphire-blue Lake Kathryn drop below your feet. You take your time to return to camp, meandering through bright green wildflower-filled meadows and on granite over a stream murmuring somewhere deep underneath. You lie on shaded glacier-smoothed granite for a short nap. You see no one else the whole day. That night you sleep deeply in the fragrant forest.
I once heard someone say, "It's not material things that matter, it's the experiences you have that matter." The scenario described above was actually the experience Fred and I had last month in the paradise that is the Sawtooth Wilderness. We summited Reward Peak during a glorious 3-day backpacking trip.
In 1927, Arval Anderson, surveying for the USGS found a note on the summit dated in 1925 which offered the finder a $25 reward for returning the note.
Entry point (8,760 feet elevation) from ridge above Alpine Lake's southeast side into gulley. The saddle at top of gulley overlooks Upper Redfish Lakes with Reward Peak on the horizon.
Alpine Lake (8,330') to Upper Redfish Lakes (8,660')
This part of the hike climbs the steep gulley seen from the south end of Alpine Lake, then descends through forest to two Upper Redfish Lakes divided by a a granite strip with rocks showing glacial striations and chatter marks, and a few sweet camp sites. From the southeast shore of Alpine Lake, hike south 450 feet up to ridge to follow it to the gulley entrance at about 8,760 feet. The gulley is steep with stable rock at bottom and loose rock and scree middle-to-top. From the ridge saddle, Reward Peak can be seen to the southwest on the horizon. Point 9337 sits just above the east side of the gulley.
Ascending gulley from Alpine Lake to ridge overlooking Upper Redfish Lakes and Reward Peak on horizon
Fred (lower left) nearing saddle at top of gulley from Alpine Lake, below.
Redfish Lake and moraine seen in distance upper right.
From saddle on ridge separating Alpine Lake drainage from Upper Redfish Lakes drainage looking north to Alpine Lake.
From saddle after first gulley climb; looking south to Reward Peak on horizon right side of largest tree in photo. Walk up gulley to its summit. Upper Redfish Lakes in basin below.
Once you complete the steep and tedious climb out of the gulley from Alpine Lake, and descend into the basin that contains Upper Redfish Lakes, it feels like true wilderness with negligible signs of human impact. The first two lakes are visible below. A narrow trail follows the wide granite outcropping situated between two lakes. The morning colors of blues, yellows and greens were vivid on the lake as we filtered water. The land is pristine, the large smooth white rocks still cool from the night before. Due south of the second Upper Redfish Lake is Lake Kathryn, considered the third Upper Redfish Lake, situated on the other side of the cirque's ridge. Lake Kathryn is a beautiful lake, deep blue with a small island in the middle.
Lake Kathryn is named after Kathryn Mills, according to Iowa State University's archives of the Vandervelde Family Papers. This fact leads me to consider whether Kathryn Mills was associated with the Iowa Mountaineers, a group important to the Sawtooth Mountains' climbing history. This group led mountain ascents all over the world from 1940 until 1996. The Iowa Mountaineers claimed first-time ascents of 18 peaks in the Sawtooth Mountains in 1940's, including Warbonnet Peak in 1947, a challenging sheer-wall spire where all routes to the top are Class 5 climbing. Lake Kathryn is located ~ 5 miles southeast of Warbonnet Peak, and at the base of Reward Peak.
Three glacial landforms in granite: Glacial polish, striations and chatter marks
As the glacier moves downstream, the boulders and coarse gravel trapped under the glacier abrade and chip bedrock
Chatter marks are crescent-shaped and oriented at right angles to glacial movement. Striations are parallel to glacial movement.
Morning at second Upper Redfish Lake
Upper Redfish Lakes to Reward Peak
From the south end of middle Upper Redfish Lake, hike west for a short distance to the large ridge that contains Packrat Peak, and then south to enter into the wide rock-filled drainage that goes directly to Reward Peak, a pyramid-shaped peak at top of drainage. We hiked west into a beautiful forest with intermittent meadows and wildflowers, across and along the creek with bubbling small falls stepping down toward the Upper Redfish Lakes.
Large granite rocks are stable throughout the drainage ascent, with brief snow patches to walk through, or around. We got lucky with the cooler-than-usual August temperatures. We hiked up to Reward's northeast ridge to look over the other side to Kathryn Lake. Large granite boulders dominate the last 40 feet to the summit, requiring using hands to maneuver around them. Paths lead through the scree and talus toward Lake Kathryn. Climb a small rock chute to find yourself on a surprisingly wide and flat summit. The view is expansive everywhere you look. Walk west of the summit's register and USGS marker - but not too far! The mountain drops off in a towering cliff below your feet, and when you look down, you cannot see its sheer walls. Lake Kathryn looks like a smooth lapis lazuli gemstone embedded in rough granite.
It feels like the top of the Sawtooth Mountains here, with distant serrated dark peaks lining a 360- degree horizon; however Thompson Peak, the highest Sawtooth peak to the north is almost 700 feet higher. Packrat Lake sits in a deep basin to the north. The view is so spectacular I think of Lucy Jane Bledsoe's quote from her book, The Ice Cave:
Beautiful meadows and streams between Upper Redfish Lakes and drainage to Reward Peak
Our route from middle Upper Redfish Lake (lower left) to summit of Reward Peak
From the lake, hike west toward long ridge that contains Packrat Peak, then south up wide gulley
Lake Kathryn middle left in photo
Drainage to Reward Peak, furthest peak on horizon
After a break upon reaching top of Reward's north ridge - step through large boulders last 30 - 40 feet to summit
Lake Kathryn from Reward Peak's north ridge
Reward Peak summit - 10, 074 feet looking north
Summit register under large flat boulder
Packrat Lake and Packrat Peak above it upper right in photo
The descent is not too difficult - just a lot of picking through boulders until you reach the forest and meadows surrounding Upper Redfish Lakes. Not in a rush to get back to camp, we took a long break sitting in the soft meadow grass as we listened to the melodic stream. Mellowed and relaxed, we took another break on the large polished granite outcrops that separate the Upper Redfish Lakes.
When climbing steeply out of Upper Redfish Lakes basin, the saddle and gulley overlooking Alpine Lake is toward the right (northeast), just left of the furthest point to the right on the ridge as you climb - Point 9337. From below, it is difficult to get bearings because you can't see the top. Once on the saddle, the lowest point on the ridge above, the gulley down to Alpine Lake is steep and tedious, rocks slide as you step down, and the large boulders at the bottom take some navigation unless you can circumvent these and stay higher on the gulley slope. We heard a pika chirping its alarm as we clumsily made our way down.
The gulley ends in a beautiful meadow, where we hiked steeply down, back to camp. The two ducks on the lake quacked and paddled toward each other as dusk settled in. We were in our sleeping bags before twilight. The glow in the tent awoke me again, I checked the mountains above the lake. They weren't as spectacularly lit as the previous night; the moon not as high yet, but still a memorable sight. Commit the scene to memory. Never stop climbing mountains.
Parting shot of first Upper Redfish Lake with wide drainage that leads to Reward Peak, behind the closest peak in photo
Descending gulley back to Alpine Lake
Elevation profile from top of gulley on ridge separating Alpine Lake and Upper Redfish Lakes to Reward Peak summit and back down, then up again to top of gulley. Each vertical line represents 0.5 miles. Red horizontal line interval = 250 feet of elevation.
Lopez, Tom. Idaho: A Climbing Guide - Climbs, Scrambles and Hikes. 2000. The Mountaineers Books.
Vandervelde Family Papers. Iowa State University.
Summit Alpine Peak in Idaho's gorgeous Sawtooth Wilderness for a stunning view of dozens of Sawtooth peaks, Mount Regan's steep north face, and beautiful Sawtooth Lake at your feet.
Related: Sawtooth Wilderness: Upper Redfish Lake Cross Country Hike
Goat Mountain: 11,913': Pioneer Mountains, Idaho
Alpine Peak (right - elevation 9,861') rises 2,000 feet above Alpine Lake
Val taking a break at Sawtooth Lake - looking across to Mount Regan's north face
"You Should Never Stop Climbing Mountains", Andy Rooney proclaimed in one of his commentaries from the television show 60 minutes. Many years ago, my sister sent me a written copy of this excerpt along with photos of my hiking adventures neatly arranged in two connected frames. I still have it displayed along with other old hiking photos. In this segment, Rooney describes how he climbed Pilot Knob Mountain behind his cottage on Lake George in New York 4 or 5 times each summer during his childhood, and later climbed it with his kids. One day, he came across old photos of he and his kids on top of Pilot Knob, and it occurred to him that he had stopped climbing mountains, just like he had stopped doing "...a half a dozen things." He tells a few stories of some of his memories on this mountain and then sums up his commentary with "I may never climb Pilot Knob again. I never should have stopped."
A few weeks ago, Val, Fred, John and I took Rooney's advice to climb another mountain together: Alpine Peak summit in the gorgeous Sawtooth Wilderness in the heart of Idaho. We four had done a phenomenal hike to Goat Mountain in Idaho's Pioneer Mountains last autumn. Fred and I had summited Alpine Peak 6 years ago, so we knew where to get off the trail that treks along Sawtooth Lake's east side for the 1,400-foot climb to the summit. We have been hiking this trail over the past 19 years. It's so beautiful that many others have discovered it and for a weekday it was busier than ever. However, not many ventured past Sawtooth Lake, and no one else climbed Alpine Peak that day.
My sister gave me this written copy of Andy Rooney's excerpt from 60 Minutes years ago.
The first part of the trail is a pleasant and easy climb along Iron Creek with its gentle melodic waterfalls through pines, firs and green understory. The tread is soft and dusty and the forest fragrant. Near the intersection with the trail to Alpine Lake, Alpine Peak rises 2,000 feet over the lake's cirque to the south. As the trail switch-backs out of the forest, views open, becoming more stunning with each step. To the northeast, a perfectly U-shaped thickly forested valley carved by glaciers from the Little Ice Age extends below. After reaching Sawtooth Lake, the real feel for this terrain and its breathtaking views become apparent with the steep and rocky Class 2-3 climb to the summit.
Mile 0 to Mile 3.5 at intersection of trail to Alpine Lake
8:15 a.m: We obtained our Sawtooth Wilderness permit at the trailhead kiosk. It was a bit early for John, but Val, Fred and I were excited about the hike and ready to go. This section gains 1,200 feet, crossing over Iron Creek as it approaches Alpine Lake, a perfect mirror of the clouds above. On the way to Alpine Lake turnoff, pass two trail intersections. An old, classic wooden trail sign, splitting through the middle, indicates the way to Stanley Lake. An intersection before that indicates Trail #528 to Marshall Lakes (this trail goes to Goat Lake, an excellent hike). Crossing over the creek before the switchbacks up to Alpine Lake must be interesting in the late spring with the increased run-off of that cold, crystal clear water.
Iron Creek Trailhead
Fred and Val at intersection of Trail #640 to Sawtooth Lake and Trail #528 to Stanley Lake
Mile 3.5 to Mile 4.5 at Sawtooth Lake's outlet (northeast side)
Although the trail signs indicate Sawtooth Lake is over 5 miles from Iron Creek Trailhead, my GPS read 4.5 miles. The trail gains 530 feet in about one mile between the intersection of Alpine Lake's spur trail and the first view of scenic Sawtooth Lake. The views of Alpine Peak improve until you work your way around the ridge that contains it, and then it becomes hidden while standing at Sawtooth Lake. Passing the lake's outlet log jam, the trail traverses through huge white granite boulders. This is a wonderful place to eat lunch - on an elevated bank looking across the bright blue water to Mount Regan with its formidable north-facing vertical wall. Though all around there is a riot of bright colors: red, purple, yellow wildflowers, fresh granite edges, and sparkling water, everything in is harmony, and it has a calming effect. John hides a water bottle among boulders; Fred bets he won't find it again. John is fully awake now and impatient to end our break and get back on the trail.
First view of Sawtooth Lake ~ 4.5 miles from trailhead
Starting out on 0.9-mile trek along Sawtooth Lake's east side to its end - August 2019
Compare the snow level on Mt. Regan with identical photo below taken in 2013.
Sawtooth Lake and Mt. Regan July 2013 - less snow this year!
Near beginning of 1,400-foot ascent to Alpine Peak
Walk to the end of Sawtooth Lake (above) and head straight up.
Mile 4.5 (Sawtooth Lake's outlet) to Alpine Peak Summit
The easy part is over and we focus on the tough part of the day - getting to the summit. Best to have a topo map to find the easiest way up, although Alpine Peak is one of the least technically challenging Sawtooth summits. From Sawtooth Lake, walk the trail along the east side of the lake, initially making a few switchbacks to rise above the lake. Walk 0.9 miles to the lake's end, then start climbing off-trail for 0.75 miles to Alpine Peak (see our GPS tracks below), up any one of the gullies to ridge. After reaching ridge, hike along it north to summit. On our way up, we left the trail a bit too early, which made the climb steeper, but also more interesting. Gaining 1,400 feet in 0.8 miles means heart-pounding steep, and grasping for tree branches was necessary at times. John went up a rocky gulley directly under the peak. Fred, Val and I slowly picked our way to the saddle just west of the summit then stepped through a stable boulder/talus field, grasping onto rock outcrops and angling toward the summit. Underneath me I could see Val and the lake grow smaller as I climbed. We could see the summit high above us and all the broken rock we had to navigate before getting there. We met victoriously with John, already at the top. From the summit, the view of the Sawtooth Mountain Range's many sharp-toothed peaks, a close-up of Mount Regan and the town of Stanley with specks for buildings is tremendous. Sawtooth Lake is a sapphire oval far below us. We hunted for it, but could not find the peak register.
Alpine Peak's summit register in 2013; we didn't find it in 2019
The summit becomes visible half-way up the climb from Sawtooth Lake
The upper track is our ascent, the lower track our descent
Ascending Alpine Peak from Sawtooth Lake - 1,400' gain in 0.75-0.8 miles
Fred on the way up Alpine Peak
On the ascent from Sawtooth Lake - Mt. Regan
Val making her way up Alpine Peak's northwest ridge
Val reaching summit!
Fred, John, Val at Alpine Peak Summit - 1,400 feet above Sawtooth Lake
View southeast toward Williams, Merritt and Thompson Peaks
Western moss heather
Cassiope mertensiana subsp. gracilis
Matrix-supported conglomerate seen on the ascent
View to the southeast
Heading down toward Sawtooth Lake
Dark purple clouds with rain sheets underneath had gathered during our summit celebration. When we heard distant thunder, we decided to get down. Although lightening was just over the ridge, we were spared the storm. We hiked south along the ridge for a short distance and then aimed for the south end of Sawtooth Lake. This way treks over alternating tree islands and boulder/talus fields, and it's fun to "skate" down through the scree. Again, John descended by his own route, through more rock, it seemed. We found him at the bottom on the trail, a bit scraped up and bleeding from a fall. But John is tough with a lot of experience with falling (he and Val are skydivers), so we resumed our hike along Sawtooth Lake, chattering happily, now that we achieved our goal. Before heading away from Sawtooth Lake, we cooled our feet in splashing crystal clear outlet creek. Walking down the trail with the wide valley spread at our feet, we passed uphill hikers, on their way to that extraordinary lake. But what we four had just seen, hiking above and beyond, few people get to witness. "What should our next summit be?" I asked. Maybe in the future the mountains I climb will have less rise and distance and the summit easier to obtain. As long as I am able, I will never stop climbing mountains. I bet we four will continue to climb them as long as we can.
By the way, we eventually found John's water bottle.
"Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you're climbing it."
- Andy Rooney
Great way to head up to the summit - from end of lake, head up to saddle on the horizon, then hang a left (north) on the ridge to summit.
Sawtooth Lake's outlet creek
U-shaped valley cut by Pleistocene glacier
Hike from Iron Creek trailhead to Alpine Peak
click on above map for larger view
Special thanks to Cecilia Lynn Kinter, PhD, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Boise, Idaho for identifying Cassiope mertensiana.
Share the summit of Scotchman Peak with mountain goats and possibly a "Friend of Scotchman Peak Wilderness."
Oreamnos americanus near Scotchman Peak, Cabinet Mountains
Rock near summit is siltite (altered siltstone or mudstone) and argyllite (lithified muds) - sedimentary in origin
Each summer reminds me that Idaho is an extraordinary place with so much beauty to witness, so many peaks to hike, so many clear streams to walk in. And wildlife; on Scotchman Peak in North Idaho's Kaniksu National Forest. we saw a family of mountain goats including two kids in their rugged and steep habitat. This steep hike ascending about 1,000 feet every mile begins in tall pines with an understory filled with lilies and bear grass, has beautiful views of Lake Pend Oreille, the largest Idaho lake and fifth deepest in the nation, and ends in the scattered shale and rugged views of the Cabinet Mountains and remote Yaak country in northwestern Montana.
After hiking a little over a mile through towering trees, views open to look upon expansive Lake Pend Oreille as the trail passes through a huge meadow gaining the ridge. Just when you thought you saw the best view of the lake, another turn of the switchback offers a better one.
As expected, because of the concern and history of human and mountain goat encounters, a large yellow sign at the entrance to the open talus slopes indicates you are entering mountain goat habitat, with a rock-strewn false summit in view. As if to welcome, two goats skirted us on our entry into the open slopes. Once over the false summit, Scotchman Peak comes into view as rugged canyons drop below, at the end of the steep and layered rock ridge. More goats appeared, but kept their distance.
A volunteer "greeter" from Friends of Scotchman Peak Wilderness, an organization with the goal of saving this wilderness for future generations, greeted us as we ascended the easily accessible peak. This organization has been working on getting this area designated as wilderness; voters from Bonner County in which this area resides voted against such a designation. Although the volunteer was pleasant, her "educating" us on consideration of the mountain goats was unnecessary: the signs at trailhead and mid-mountain are adequate. We go to summits to be awed, to revel in the peace and beauty that not many get to see, not to have someone tell us how to behave on a mountain top. Trust the summit seeker, they will learn from the signs and behave accordingly.
Mountain goats are in the family Bovidae, which also includes antelope and cattle. Across the summit, on a tall precipice were a nanny and her two kids. She quickly gathered them and moved on as we approached the summit. The view is memorable, with the huge, deep blue Lake Pend Oreille in its Missoula Flood-scoured valley to the west, and to glacial-cut and jagged peaks to the north. The combination of the lake, goats and rows of mountain ranges make this an extraordinary hike.
We continued on the ridge past Scotchman, but hiking became precarious as the ridge narrowed and drop-offs became intimidating. On our return to the trailhead, we saw a fair number of people coming up clearly working hard on the steep ascent, and clearly happy to be in that special place. One more Idaho summit climbed and the feeling that we are some of the luckiest people on this Earth to be able to explore this beautiful state.
Lake Pend Oreille - west of Scotchman Peak
Sandpoint on north shore, Clark Fork on east shore.
Largest Idaho lake and fifth deepest in the nation.
First mile of trail to Scotchman Peak through dry forest gains ridge for ever-increasing views of Lake Pend Oreille
Sego Lilly - Calochortus nuttallii
The bulbous roots were ground by Native Americans into a starchy meal.
Mormon pioneers also used this plant as a source of food.
The hike is steep in parts!
Upon entering the talus slopes of mountain goat habitat - we were greeted shortly after this sign by two goats
Heading toward false summit - Scotchman Peak and incredible 360-degree view seen at the top of this
Scotchman Peak summit - 7,009 feet
Looking southwest toward the Coeure D' Alene Forest
Billy watching over his two kids and waiting for them to catch up
May be Rocky Ledge Penstemon - Penstemon ellipticus
Near the summit of Scotchman Peak - Lake Pend Oreille to the west
Sue and Fred - another great adventure for the books - Life is Good!
Montana Cabinet Mountains on horizon
On the way down: parting shot of this beautiful forest
Elevation profile: Almost a 4,000-foot gain including recovering from lost elevation on the way up, over 3.7 miles
Trail climbs to ridge and stays on it to the summit.
Geologic Map of the Scotchman Peak Quadrangle, Bonner County, Idaho
USDA - Idaho Panhandle National Forests - Sego Lily. https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/ipnf/learning/?cid=fsm9_019206
Spectacular adventure with beautiful scenery throughout, this is a tough hike/scramble to the second highest mountain in the rugged Pioneers with a breathtaking view and steep drop-offs at your feet.
Goat Mountain - 11,913 feet - second highest peak in the Pioneer Mountain Range near Ketchum, Idaho
Our route (in blue) and elevation/mileage profile for Goat Mountain, Pioneer mountain range, Idaho
Elevation range: from 7, 105 feet to 11, 900 feet in 7.7 miles
"The love of mountains is best."
- inscription carved in Greek, found on a summit rock in the Alps by a Swiss adventurer in 1558.
When our friends John and Val asked us to climb Goat Mountain with them, we seized the opportunity. Fred and I usually do these adventures by ourselves, so it was that much more fun to be with fellow climbing enthusiasts, especially since they had been to Goat before, so we could be able to cover the 7.7 miles to the summit expediently.
Ask anyone who has hiked and climbed in the heart of the Pioneer Mountain Range, and you may see their countenance change to a look of knowing bliss and reverence as they tell you about its sheer beauty and wildness. Granite crags, spires and domes hang raw and exposed over glaciated basins dotted with car-sized boulders and wildflowers in meadow grasses. Hike to Pioneer Cabin, built high on a bench at 9,400 feet and get a spectacular view of the main Pioneer crest to the east. The following photo of Pioneer Cabin was taken a few years ago, and now I can say that I have walked up that wide valley to the top of Goat Mountain, the peak situated on the left horizon in this photo.
Pioneer Cabin (elevation 9,400 feet), built in 1937 looks to the east at Duncan Ridge, Handwerk Peak and Goat Mountain
The southern route to Goat Mountain ascends the wide basin seen in this photo
North Fork Hyndman Creek
The weather forecast said it was to rain in the afternoon. John, Val, Fred and I started on the trail under blue skies and found ourselves pummeled by frigid winds and ice pellets when we got to the summit of Goat Mountain. Not a fun time to take photos, however it adds excitement to the trip and knowing that not many people get to experience the sudden advancing of fall and winter in mid-September at nearly 12,000 feet on a precipice. We got down the main crest pretty quickly.
The first 3 miles of this hike treks along the west side of North Fork Hyndman Creek with its colorful quartzite boulders and crystal clear water to an intersection with the trail that leads to Pioneer Cabin at 8,200 feet. Continue straight into the valley ahead, walking over branches placed across the trail to steer Pioneer Cabin hikers to the trail that takes off to the left. The pointy, fang-like Handwerk Peak appears as you walk through a sagebrush and bunchgrass valley to a crossing of the North Fork Hyndman Creek, another 0.6 miles past the intersection. Then, climb through the white cliffs, through an obvious gulley that separates the cliffs to a shelf above. Stay to the left (west) of the creek whose water sources from the unnamed basin between Handwerk Peak and Duncan Ridge. Our party accessed this basin two different ways: Val, Fred and I hiked the west side of the creek to near the base of Handwerk Peak. John crossed the creek earlier and ended up waiting for us further up this grass-filled basin south of Handwerk.
Intersection with Pioneer Cabin Trail (to the left). Keep going straight over branches to valley ahead
Named after Ted Handwerk, who served in Italy during WWII
John in lead walking north toward the base of Handwerk Peak on its south side
Route goes through the white cliffs just above John in the photo and turns northwest, staying to the west of drainage
We crossed the narrow stream at the bottom of the basin and walked through tall bunch grasses at first, and then short grass as we neared the cirque wall at the end of the basin. Aim for Florian's Nudl, a fin-shaped dome on the ridge above the cirque. Goat Mountain is the prominence to the left on the ridgeline.
The walk through this basin is a sensory experience of contrasts. Native, aromatic grasses are soft and quiet underfoot, like a huge gold carpet while the cold, ragged mess of walls and boulders looms ahead, sweeping down both sides in a U-shaped curve, typical morphology of glaciation. At the end, you run out of grass, except for a few patches distributed among the boulders. We went straight up the steep boulder wall in front of us, and came down the more circuitous route that contains more grassy areas to the right side (east) in the cirque. A huge boulder with a white "X" across its face lies at the entrance to the boulder field. Next time I do this climb, I will find this boulder and go up to the right; this route descending seemed longer but less steep. It's hands-on boulder climbing either way.
Basin between Handwerk Peak and Duncan Ridge
Head toward Florian's Nudl, the fin-shaped dome toward the center of the ridge
Heading towards Florian's Nudl
Goat Mountain on far left of horizon
Our route up boulder field at end of basin to Goat Mountain
On the hike down, we made a wide curve to the right in this photo: more distance but less steep
The boulder-hopping was stable; rarely did I step onto a "tippy" rock. John practically ran up the rocks, while the three of us followed, grasping onto the granite and grass to hoist up. During the long climb, the skies became darker, and when we finally reached the top, we were assaulted by stinging ice crystals and a brisk, frigid wind. What timing! Snap a few photos, look at the squalls of rain around us, try to maintain our balance on the top of a narrow Pioneer Range ridge with 1,000-foot drops on both sides. Celebrate the breathtaking (literally!) 360-degree scene; commit to memory. And then get down. Goat Mountain has a double peak - we didn't get to the second (north) prominence which is slightly higher.
Florian's Nudl - Use this landmark for direction when climbing from basin below
Named after Florian Haemmerle, an original instructor of the Alpine Touring School and the original curator of the Pioneer Cabin
Fred near top of Goat Mountain
John heading down shelf above boulder field
Florian's Nudl above him
Looking down upon the basin we ascended, between Handwerk Peak and Duncan Ridge toward the southwest
John went down the direct steep face. Fred, Val, and I hiked toward the east side of the cirque. Descending down a gully near a sheer wall, we heard water rushing under rocks and I suddenly saw something white. A mountain goat stood calmly watching us at the bottom. We stopped and stared at each other. It posed for us a few minutes, then slowly ambled toward the rock wall. It looked like it was growing its winter coat. We joked that the goat was taking note of humans' relative incoordination while traversing rocks. We had seen mountain goat hair in the tundra grasses on the way up the mountain.
We met up with John at the bottom of the boulder field. A refreshing, cool rain onto the bunch grasses made a clean, earthy scented air, which I breathed in deeply. Tall grey walls rose on either side. Occasional large boulders sat solitary and we took a short break on the lee side of a large one. Probably dropped out of the receding glacier. We resumed descending the basin and when I turned back to see the cirque and the ridge, curtains of rain covered most of the view. In our chatting, we didn't pay attention to staying close to the stream drainage and got too far to the west, so we took some extra time route-finding, thrashing through brush, navigating more boulders, and crossing streams to get back to the trail.
A gentle rain cooled us the last two miles of the hike. In the cloud-covered dusk, we saw two bow hunters emerge from the woods in camouflage. The sky on the horizon was clearing. We raised a toast to our awesome 11-hour day with the excellent beer at the Power House in Hailey. We celebrated getting to the summit together in a spectacular mountain range where we saw no one else on the trail. We celebrated the fact that we are lucky to be able to see things that most people don't, and that our bodies are able to take us there.
Boulder with white "X" at beginning of climb out of basin
Sue and Val at the top!
Walking down toward basin towards east side of cirque
Appearance of the Mountain Goat. Website by the British Columbia Mountain Goat Society, copyright Smithers BC Canada.
A Brief History - Pioneer Cabin.
Digital Geology of Idaho - Idaho Basement Rocks - Idaho State University.
Lopez, Tom. 2000. Idaho - A Climbing Guide: Climbs, Scrambles and Hikes. The Mountaineers Books, Seattle, WA.
Metamorphic Core Complexes - Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology.
This superb steep ridge hike out of Arrowrock Reservoir in the Boise Mountains treks through blankets of wildflowers and provides an exhilarating view of water and mountain ranges. It's our final "Grand Slam Peak".
Fred and members of the Summit Sisters on summit of Mt. Heinen - 6,336 feet
Trip Stats (Southeast Ridge Approach):
"In the end you won't remember the time you spent working in your office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain."
- Jack Kerouac
Our route and elevation profile up Mt. Heinen's southeast ridge
5 miles to summit with cumulative 3,700 feet of elevation gain
Arrowrock Reservoir is lower right - hike begins adjacent to the Irish Creek Campground located 14 miles in on FR-268 from turn-off of ID 21.
click on map for PDF
Stepping onto a mountain summit, no matter how high, is always cause for celebration. The top of Mt. Heinen was even sweeter because Fred and I celebrated the completion of the four "Grand Slam Peaks" with members of the Summit Sisters, a women's hiking group who were doing the same in May, 2018. Since then, we have summited Mt. Heinen two other times this year: in September we took a friend and his two boys, Deacon and Kaleb and in November we took our friends Val and John. Deacon and Kaleb were working on completing their four Grand Slam Peaks. We had recently summited Goat Mountain with Val and John, a very tough hike, and now we were on another tough hike up Mt. Heinen.
Tom Lopez, author of the website Idaho: A Climbing Guide hikes four summits for spring training: Mt. Heinen is the toughest. The other Grand Slam Peaks are Lucky Peak, Cervidae Peak, and Kepros Mountain. Fred and I use Lucky Peak for training, and we will definitely be back on Heinen because it's skinny single-track, perched on a ridge most of the way is surrounded by knee-high wildflowers, peaks, and views of Arrowrock Reservoir. The green and lush vegetation reminded me a bit of Crested Butte, Colorado hikes.
Deacon, Fred, Kaleb and Greg on summit of Mt. Heinen - September 30, 2018
Arrowleaf Balsamroot with Arrowrock Reservoir in the distance
Initial steep climb out of Irish Creek Campground, on the shores of Arrowrock Reservoir
The trail in sight starting at FR-268 adjacent to Irish Creek Campground on Arrowrock Reservoir is steep and straight up - it vanishes over the ridge on the horizon. To know that this is only the beginning of the climb and that there is so much more elevation gain is the fun part of the challenge. The initial climb levels off into a beautiful meadow, but only for a short distance and then it climbs unmercifully again utilizing a few short switchbacks, to finally top off at Point 5402 at 1.8 miles where perspective can be gained. Mt. Heinen still can't be seen, not for another mile or so.
It is at this top-off before descending into a shallow saddle where Point 6137 comes into view as the left-most of twin points on the horizon. It has one tree on top. That is the landmark for the trail, as it contours around the left (west) side of this point and then heads almost due north.
The wildflowers - mostly Arrowleaf Balsamroot - were at optimum blooming the end of May. Threadleaf phacelia and bright purple penstemon were so lush and healthy. At times the vegetation grew so abundantly over the trail that we had to pay attention to where we were going. This is a ridge hike, open and airy as you walk above the landscape as the hillsides below fall away into undulating blankets of green and yellow with distant blue-gray mountain ranges surrounding. The trail is easy to follow most of the way but it gains a few "false summits" before Mt. Heinen comes into view. Closer to the peak it becomes less wide.
Like Mount Kepros, after the initial steep ascent and onto the ridge, the trail makes a series of hill climbs and saddle descents. Near the summit, the trail treks through Idaho Batholith granite.
Parsnipflower Buckwheat or Whorled Buckwheat
Fred and Sue on trail to Mt. Heinen
View from crest of initial climb, 1.8 miles from trailhead
Point 6137 is first seen as the left point on the horizon with the single tree on it - trail goes on the left (west) flank of this point and then heads due north to summit
On the way down, stay on the ridge you ascended by walking around this point to the left and staying on ridge that leads southeast
Point 6137 - trail changes direction from NW to north as the trail curves around the base of this point on its west side
At Point 6137, we passed a group of three people who had decided they would turn around, except for one hiker, a member of the Summit Sisters who hiked with us for a while and then joined up with the rest of the Summit Sisters members on the trail further up. It is at this pointed rise with a single tree that Mt. Heinen can finally be seen - the furthest peak on the left/end of the ridge. It is here that the trail winds around Point 6137 to the west and then heads straight north to Mt. Heinen.
On the autumn hike with Greg, Deacon and Kaleb, I became "temporarily bewildered" and walked down a small trail to the west of Point 6137. On the return hike, make sure to walk completely around Point 6137 (eastern ridge). Avoid the ridge that descends to your right (west). At the base of Point 6137, the trail continues down the east ridge, east of large drainage that separates two major ridges (see topo map above).
On the spring hike, we made the 5.0-mile hike to the summit in 2 hours and 50 minutes. One by one the Summit Sisters joined us in celebration. By then, an ominous dark cloud came over us, so we all decided to descend.
I recalled Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s quote:
"Perhaps climbing a mountain is nothing more than an act of worship,
and reaching the barren perch of a summit is to experience pure awe."
- Lucy Jane Bledsoe, The Ice Cave
Admittedly, some summits are more spectacular than others, but each summit is cause for celebration. Mt. Heinen is the last on the ridge that runs to the northeast of Irish Creek and there is ultimate satisfaction in getting to the end of the ridge. Most peaks are hard-won, or in other words gained by hard work and effort, overcoming obstacles that get in your way, whatever they may be (in my case, tired legs and burning quads!).
I was impressed with Deacon and Kaleb on our second Mt. Heinen hike; they have been getting fit by hiking Kepros and Cervidae. They did great on this tough hike and we had a celebration at the top in the warm autumn sun surrounded by hillsides dotted with shrubs whose leaves were turning yellow.
The last mile to the summit is a ridge ramble on moderately difficult terrain, at times maneuvering around or on top of granite rocks. The summit geological marker post can be seen from a distance. Grand Slam peaks are done! The May Mt Heinen summit got us in shape for a summer of summit hiking. Mt. Heinen also gave us a new perspective on the land of Southern Idaho and the vastness of the Boise National Forest.
The last mile of descent was the most difficult part of the hike because it is so steep on loose gravel and rocks. A walking stick is helpful for this part. When I needed a rest, I had an awesome scene in front of me of the Arrowrock Reservoir.
Walking toward a "false summit", or as I like to call them "pseudo summit"
Approaching summit USDA geological marker placed in 1946
John and Fred on summit of Mt. Heinen - November 2018
Summit of Mt. Heinen looking north with red felt flag attached to marker
View from summit of Mt. Heinen looking east
View to NW from Mt. Heinen summit
Fred on summit of Mt. Heinen
4 Grand Slam Peaks Completed!
Greg, Deacon, Kaleb and Fred on initial climb to Mt. Heinen
Kaleb is about 2.25 miles into the hike - headed to the rise on the horizon
Val and Fred heading down toward Arrowrock Reservoir
Arrowrock Reservoir and Irish Spring Campground/dock on the way down the trail
A spacious ridge ramble in the Danskin Mountains with abundant wildflowers and views of snow-covered Trinity Mountains and Arrowrock Reservoir
Kepros Mountain Hiking Route and Elevation Profile
Trailhead (green circle) begins at summit of Blacks Creek Road from large parking lot. It initially climbs a steep motorcycle track whose tread can be seen on 3 short hills from parking lot. Trailhead at 4,780 feet, summit at 5,422 feet
Trailhead for Kepros Mountain looking west - motorcycle trail can be seen on 3 short and steep hills
Blacks Creek Road in foreground
"Even though age diminishes our physical capacities, it will happen even faster if we don't test ourselves."
- Mike Carlson, Five-time Race to Robie Creek Champion
Three down and one to go after summiting Kepros Mountain - that is, Fred and I have completed three of the "Grand Slam Peaks" that Tom Lopez describes in his website, Idaho: A Climbing Guide. Lucky Peak, one of the Grand Slam Peaks is our frequent training hike. Cervidae Peak is another that I posted on my website. Kepros is the third. Mount Heinen is the fourth and final peak of the "Grand Slam" we will summit in the next few weeks.
Initial single track trail
Top of Shafer Butte north of Boise on distant horizon
The ecology in these foothills near Blacks Creek Road may be described as "reference" - an area with mostly native plants that shows us what this land looked like in the past; an area that has not been disturbed. I didn't see many invasive plants and 2 species of astragalus were healthy. It was a delight to walk on a trail near Boise devoid of cheatgrass, in a landscape full of sagebrush and native grasses.
The easiest way to find this unmarked trailhead is to drive Blacks Creek Road 11 miles north from the exit ramp off I-84 until it reaches a summit and begins to descend. We parked at the large lot on the east side of the road along with some trailers and people getting their ATV's ready to ride trails to the east. The trail to Kepros Mountain begins on a single track going straight up 3 short steep hills to the west off Blacks Creek Road.
From beginning to end, this hike in late April is a wonderland of green and vivid hues of purple and yellow dotted throughout. Hiking through these sagebrush hills gave me a light feeling of air and space and a renewed appreciation for the landscapes of southern Idaho.
Larkspur and Arrowleaf Balsamroot
The initial single-track trail winds through a sea of sagebrush over rolling hills and past rusted metal signs and occasional core stones of granite. There are some bypasses around the highest elevations: we took a good one that met up with the ridge jeep trail to avoid more climbing, about 2 miles into the hike on the east (right) of the ridge. The bypass was not at this time marked with a cairn, however, the path it took was clear. At this point we saw our first view of Lucky Peak Lake and Boise to the west. Along most of the hike the snow-capped Trinity Mountains loom on the east horizon. As we climbed, vegetation became even more thick and green. The trail intersects a creek near the summit with pines lining its sloping banks that was tempting to explore.
Single track trail meets with jeep trail ~ 2 miles into hike; it stays level, then winds up and down to Kepros Mountain left-center horizon
Idaho Batholith granite - Trinity Mountains on horizon
Arrowrock Reservoir from summit of Kepros Mountain
Pretty sure this is a gopher snake - looks like a rattler but this one had no rattle
From Kepros Mountain summit looking northeast to Arrowrock Reservoir
George Kepros, according to Idaho: A Climbing Guide website, homesteaded in this area and this is how the Mountain got its name. I looked into the history of this land and found a George N. Kepros, who is buried in Boise died at age 92 in 1973. He may be the man that Kepros Mountain is named after.
The final push to the summit is steep. Fred and I hit this summit on the perfect day - high clouds, expansive 360 degree views that we were unaccustomed to seeing, as we hadn't been in this "neck of the woods" before. This perspective of Lucky Peak, a summit we have been on many times, is unique because the north side is so forested - this is not seen from Boise looking at its south slopes.
After signing the summit register and enjoying a peaceful break, we hiked the nearly 5-mile trek back to our truck. As Fred led the way back, I kept falling behind because there were so many things to photograph. There's some climbing to do on the way back. We took the same bypass on the east side of the trail that we took earlier to the single track. So peaceful is this hike, and late April/early May probably the best time to do it. Fall hunting season probably not a good time.
So far Kepros is our favorite of the four Grand Slam Peaks - but we haven't hiked Mount Heinen yet. We will let you know what we think after we summit Heinen, the last of the Grand Slam Peaks!
Kepros Mountain summit looking west - Lucky Peak mid-horizon
Mertensia (Mountain Bluebells) on top of Kepros Mountain
Snowshoe climb to Lucky Peak from Boise River Wilderness Management Area after a March snowstorm
Trekking down from summit of Lucky Peak on southeast ridge
A good friend of mine commented, after reading my last post on Cervidae Peak, that Fred and I were "lucky" to have Lucky Peak as a training mountain. We've hiked it many times during the 18 years that we have lived in Boise. When we hike "the front side" of Lucky via Homestead Trail, the elevation gain is 3,000 feet and we always try to improve our time.
This time we snowshoed what we call the "back side" after a late winter snowstorm. Snow depths varied from a few inches at the trailhead to ~ 12 inches at the summit. A steady breeze from the northwest provided a good headwind for most of the climb. The visibility at the summit was 300 yards, and hard rime ice created by heavy fog coated fir branches and last season's blue-bunch wheatgrass. Fred and I took turns breaking trail through untracked snow. On our way down, the clouds broke revealing a spectacular winter scene with views of the Boise National Forest to the northeast, Lucky Peak Lake to the southeast, and the Owyhee Mountain range to the south. The contrast between the flat, dark Treasure Valley under shifting clouds and the bright white snow of mountains stretching to the horizon was of jaw-dropping beauty, the kind that makes you stop in your tracks. Idaho is an incredible place!
Boise River Wildlife Management Area sign at trailhead at ID Highway 21
Fred at start of ridge climb, 2 miles from trailhead
Our route to Lucky Peak (AKA Shaw Mountain) from Boise River WMA on ID Highway 21. This route intersects with Route E. Shaw Mountain Road near the summit (on left). Total hiking distance ~ 3.5 miles to summit with 2,280 feet of elevation gain.
This trail begins at the Boise River WMA buildings, following an often-muddy road in a northwest direction, with the tree line of Lucky Peak coming into view in about .5 miles. It crosses a creek, then begins a steep climb for 1 mile to the intersection of the road that leads to the abandoned buildings of Adelmann mine. At this intersection, take the road to the left for a short climb to a ridge overlooking the valley to the south. The road continues to the northwest and can be followed to the summit; it's here that we get off the road and take the more direct ridge route, beginning at two log stumps and a "No Motor Vehicles" sign. We gain the ridge where the snow is wind-blown and not as deep and follow it towards the tree line on the right. Toward the top, there is an intersection with E. Shaw Mountain Road, marked by a wooden birdhouse. Our route continues on this road to an outhouse with the radio towers of Lucky Peak in view, then a short steep climb to the top.
Point at which we leave the road to climb to ridge: this is on a saddle separating Adelmann Mine to the north and Black Hornet Mine to the south
Mine apparatus (?) or gate (?) at ridge between Black Hornet Mine and Adelmann Mine, shortly after intersection of road to Adelmann Mine. This marks the point on our route where we get off the road and climb Lucky Peak's southeast ridge
Sue on Lucky Peak hike February 2019
Lucky Peak hike during snowstorm - February 2019
Building at Adelmann Mine
At intersection with road that leads to Adelmann Mine
Hike up ridge toward Lucky Peak with trees to the right
Granite of the Idaho Batholith
Hard rime ice had accumulated on the windward side of everything enveloped in the fog at the top. We cleared a place in the snow, sat and ate lunch until we cooled down from the climb. As we hiked down, the clouds thinned, illuminating trees, grasses and shrubs in a golden light, and a little further down we found ourselves in bright white fresh snow, walking toward the dark blue and white peaks of the Boise National Forest. Since Lucky Peak is the highest point for miles around, it gives you the feeling that you are walking above almost everything else.
Radio Towers on summit of Lucky Peak - 5,904 feet
Douglas Fir with hard rime ice at higher elevations on Lucky Peak
At intersection of our route and Route E. Shaw Mountain Road - follow this road to the summit of Lucky Peak
Great views of Boise National Forest and Lucky Peak Lake on the way down
Clouds clearing on the way down- walking toward Lucky Peak Lake and Boise National Forest
Antelope bitterbrush overlooking the Treasure Valley including Boise, Idaho
I have a greater appreciation for nature when I hike in adverse weather. Lots of times it makes for dramatic scenes. We went up into the clouds facing a steady headwind and came down in sun and breaking clouds with warmer temperatures. At the truck we give "high-fives" and realize how fortunate we are to share such beauty together. Get out of the city, take a short drive, see some beautiful Idaho!
Short and steep hike along ridge overlooking Lucky Peak Reservoir with great views, Boise National Forest
View from east side of ridge
Cervidae Peak is one of the 4 "Grand Slam Peaks" that Tom Lopez, author of Idaho: A Climbing Guide describes. The other 3 peaks are Mt. Heinen, Kepros Mountain, and Lucky Peak, all close to Boise. As Tom Lopez does, Fred and I use Cervidae and Lucky Peak to train for our summer mountain summit hikes. We discovered Cervidae when we wanted to add variety to our usual Lucky Peak training.
Cervidae Peak is great for a lot of reasons: it's close to Boise, the trail is steep with no switchbacks once you get on the ridge, so you can get a decent work-out in a short amount of time and see some awesome views. It's a great opportunity to get a good view of Lucky Peak Reservoir and identify landmarks at the 360 degree view at the top. The family Cervidae is a scientific classification that includes deer, elk, moose and reindeer.
Southeast Ridge route and elevation profile - Cervidae Peak (4,987 feet)
Lucky Peak Lake at bottom of photo - High Bridge over Mores Creek (ID-21) lower left
Distance = 2.3 miles one way with elevation gain of ~ 2,000 feet
Lucky Peak Reservoir
Lucky Peak (high forested peak)
Gate at start of Cervidae Peak hike - follow gravel road to right, in about 200 yards, the trail starts on the left side of the road
The Lucky Peak Dam was built in 1955 to be included in the system of flood control and use of irrigation water from the Boise River. This was done mainly as an assurance to water users of the Boise River system that their supply of water would be protected and the Arrowrock Dam and Anderson Ranch Dam above the Lucky Peak Dam could be drained down during flood control measures. It was a way of adding water capacity; building Anderson Ranch and Lucky Peak reservoirs were moves toward multiple-use reservoirs.
The Reclamation Service, a U.S. Federal government agency started construction of Arrowrock Dam, a few miles further upstream from Cervidae's trailhead on the Boise River for the purpose of storing water for irrigation in the early 1900's. Arrowrock Dam was dedicated in 1915 by Reclamation; it was the tallest dam in the world at that time and 4,000 people gathered to witness the dedication. The report, History of Boise River Reservoir Operations gives a great history and overview of management of the Boise River.
Large granitic intrusions during Cretaceous time (144 - 65 mya) that formed the Idaho Batholith make up the bedrock of Cervidae and the upper Boise River drainage. Cervidae Peak can also be summited from its west ridge; it's near this access where basalt dikes that cut through the granitic basement are seen along the east side of ID 21 a few miles past the high bridge that spans vertical basalt cliffs.
No switchbacks here - Cervidae is on right side of ridgeline
Native Grey Rabbitbrush and bunchgrass overlooking Lucky Peak Reservoir
Owhyee Mountains on far horizon
Most of the trail is steep and it's about all that you can see in front of you at times, but then you get to a rise on the ridge and see expansive views. About 3/4 of the way up this trail, the trail from the west side of the ridge intersects. This trail is accessed from Highway 21 and provides a more direct hike to the summit. The trail loses some elevation near the summit only to regain it, followed by less steep terrain toward the top.
We found a register at the summit pile of granite. A steady, bitter cold breeze had made us cold despite having climbed almost 2,000 feet in one hour. Surprisingly, the summit was calm but cold. Looking toward the northeast, we tried to identify Mount Heinen, a climb on our spring bucket list.
We did this hike with 2 friends a couple of summers ago - in the afternoon! Not the best time to do this hike - it was hot and there's no shade.
View of Lucky Peak (far left) ~ 1,000 feet higher in elevation than Cervidae Peak
Cervidae Peak summit - 4,987 feet
Bliss, James D., and Phillip R. Moyle. 2001. Assessment of the Sand and Gravel Resources of the Lower Boise River Valley Area, Idaho. U.S. Dept. of the Interior - U.S. Geological Survey, 41 pages.
Idaho Batholith: Idaho's Natural History Online from Idaho Museum of Natural History/Idaho State University. Retrieved from: http://imnh.isu.edu/digitalatlas/geo/bathlith/bathdex.htm.
Othberg, Kurt L. and Willis L. Burnham. 1990. Geologic Map of the Lucky Peak Quadrangle, Ada County, Idaho. Idaho Geological Survey, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, 13 pages.
Stevens, Jennifer. 2015. History of Boise River Reservoir Operations, 1912-1995. Stevens Historical Research Associates, 67 pages.
This post is about a hike to Johnstone Peak near Ketchum, Idaho in October, 2016 in dedication to Henry Brown who passed away August 4, 2016.
Johnstone Peak, Ketchum, Idaho - elevation 9,949 feet
On our autumn hike last weekend to Johnstone Peak near Ketchum, Idaho, Fred and I were making our way through a pine and fir forest toward a summit of rocks silhouetted against an azure sky. We startled some elk that were grazing in the forest ahead of us so they quickly moved up toward the peak. Suddenly, we heard a bull elk bugle and saw what appeared to be its harem - 5 cow elk, probably those that we had startled, walking single-file above us on a talus slope, rocks clinking under their hooves. What an eerie sound! The bugle starts deep within the elk’s throat, quickly rises to a nasally high-pitched whistle, then ends in a grunt. We stopped on the fresh elk trail we were following to spot the bull elk, but we never saw it.
Johnstone Peak summit near Ketchum, Idaho
As we stood on this trail, the musky smell of elk around us, and the fresh elk tracks carved into the dark soil moist from the season’s first snow, we wished Henry Brown could have been with us, although we could feel his presence. He would have been excited about the bugle and halted with us while we whispered and waited for another bugle. Henry loved being in the wilderness and he loved elk hunting. If only he could be with us – but reality hit us swiftly and sadly. We would never get to be with him again. I unzipped my backpack and saw the folded sign Fred and I had made the evening before that read, “This Hike for Henry Brown”.
Pioneer Mountain range from summit of Johnstone Peak
Our good friend, Henry Brown passed away in August 2016 after a fearless fight with cancer found to be in his lungs earlier that year. Henry had faced many challenges in his life. He graduated from West Point Military Academy and raised two daughters, each of whom are Army officers and attended West Point. Henry’s long career sent he and his wife, Helen Joyce to many places in the U.S., but nothing would compare to the battle and challenges he endured in 2016. Henry and Helen Joyce were thrilled to be moving back to Idaho two years ago when he accepted a human resource job in Hailey, Idaho. Fred was even more excited that Henry was coming back to Idaho, for now they could hunt together again, as they had done 12 years ago when Henry and Helen Joyce lived in Boise.
Helen Joyce chronicled their struggles through this ordeal on Facebook. She told us about the good news, the bad news, the ups and downs, the surgeries, the optimism and hopefulness. And in the photos, Henry was in his usual positive get-up-and-go attitude, smiling while he was in the hospital or recovering, or walking with a therapist to rehab after a stroke he suffered after one of his surgeries. Once again, Henry worked hard and he didn’t give up.
Both hunters and military men, Henry and Fred formed a quick friendship 16 years ago when they met while working at Boise Cascade in Boise. They naturally “hit it off” because each was an Army veteran and each liked to spend time in Idaho’s wilderness. Quickly, their conversations turned to deer and elk hunting, and Henry, the experienced rifle and eventually bow hunter, invited Fred along on a deer hunt in Idaho. Fred told two hunting stories at a reception that Helen Joyce had for Henry the day before our Hike for Henry Brown. In one story, Fred told a humorous account of Henry’s reaction to a burned-up Coleman camping stove. After a long hunting day, they were keen to enjoy a hot dinner cooked on the truck tailgate when propane leaked from the valve and the whole stove caught on fire. After Fred stomped it out, Henry exclaimed, “Fred, that was interesting!” In another story, they had been hunting for 2 cold and rainy days, and hadn’t seen any elk. When Fred asked Henry what the chances seeing elk in that kind of weather were, Henry replied, “Well, Fred, if we leave the forest now, we have zero chance of getting an elk!”
Henry celebrating completion of Ranger School, and at West Point
Descending Johnstone Peak - Pioneer Mountains on horizon
On the hike down from Johnstone Peak
We waited a few more minutes on the trail to hear another bugle, but we did not, and the cow elk had moved high up the ridge, finding a place to hide from us. Once upon the summit, we took photos of each of us holding our sign, “This Hike for Henry Brown”. Now we were quiet, we felt Henry’s spirit around us, through the air, the sunshine, the trees, and the rocks. We remembered Henry, each in our own way while absorbing the incredible view that lay before us of the steep and rugged Pioneer Mountains to the northeast. The dark purple shadows in the deep, loose-rock gullies that run in jagged lines from top to bottom held white patches of snow. Sadness weighed me down from the usual jubilance and satisfaction I feel from summiting a peak. The sign I held for Henry Brown grounded me, pulled me down onto the rocks, down to reality. But I also felt happiness from having known Henry and our hikes together. I am forever grateful for his words of encouragement as I met the challenge of starting a new career, and the overhaul he gave my entire resume’. And there were those two games of ping-pong at Rickshaw restaurant in Ketchum while we waited for our table (maybe he let me win one).
On top of Johnstone Peak that day, there were no bugs, no wind. The light mountain air surrounded us and gave Fred and I space and warmth to ponder memories and talk about how brief our lives are here on this beautiful Earth.
We packed up our leftover food and water, our jackets and the sign, and charted a return route down the mountain. As we descended the summit pile of rocks and walked onto the grassy saddle before the next rise on the ridge, I looked up to see a golden eagle making slow wide circles against the sky. This was an unusual sight, for we often see hawks and less often eagles. Henry would have appreciated the markings under its huge wingspan and its graceful flight. We watched it circle and move on, and we moved on ourselves, the sun closer to the horizon. Time passes. I had a fleeting thought that maybe Henry’s spirit was soaring above us, and this would not surprise, for Henry seemed to have spirit that transcended.
I’m sure we’ll climb Johnstone Peak again more than once, and each time we are back on its summit, we will always remember our Hike for Henry Brown. And I will always be looking for the eagle.
11/3/1959 - 8/4/2016
The snowshoe hike to Sunset Mountain Lookout from Mores Creek Summit north of Idaho City, Idaho allows for solitude and beauty on the way to the deep snow of the summit. You will work to get there, but the spectacular view at the top is worth it.
This explorumentary features photos from multiple hikes throughout the years
Our route and elevation profile from ID 21 parking at More's Creek Summit to the summit of Sunset Mountain Lookout (blue line). Most of hike follows Sunset Mountain Road (FR #316)
We follow the forest road, then climb to ridge and go south, short-cutting the road and head straight up last approach (0.75 miles) to summit.
Eighteen years ago, on our first snowshoe hike to Sunset Mountain Lookout, we ran into a skier coming down from the mountain. He said, as he turned and pointed, "turn left at the tall fir tree when you get to the clearing at the top of this rise." It was a bright sunny day and one of our first snowshoe hikes in Idaho. Every time I do this hike, I remember those directions and that tree, although we know the route so well after having hiked it once or twice a year for 18 years.
Over the years, the snow-filled parking lot at Mores Creek Summit, which is plowed, has more and more vehicles and trailers of snowmobilers, skiers and snowshoers. This is where two trailheads are located. The snow machines mostly run on the trail to Pilot Peak, on the north side of ID 21, as well as some skiers, while most snowshoers go up to Sunset Lookout on the south side. Getting up over the berm of snow from the parking lot and onto Forest Road #316 is a bit steep, but once you find the tracks and groove of the road, it climbs at a moderate incline. It heads south and southeastward up and then down a wide creek valley, then up to a clearing at the top of a ridge where the road then heads to the left (northeast) briefly before heading through the forest in a southeastward direction. The first view of Sunset Mountain Lookout can be seen - the building a small speck on the highest rise to the south.
First view of Sunset Lookout to the south - building on top of mountain with clearing of trees at its base
After this clearing, the trail descends briefly and is level for ~ 0.5 miles before it begins to climb again. Clearings show the immensity of the Boise National Forest to the northeast, with mountains, deep valleys and tall trees with snow-covered branches. The only sound on this hike is our snowshoes crunching through the snow; the forest is blissfully quiet.
The last half of the hike is a steady climb that gets steeper as the road approaches the lookout. We short-cut the road and switchback straight up the open, steep slope just below the final rise to the lookout. Once up this steep rise, we meet with the forest road and follow it more or less the last few hundred yards to the top.
This winter’s snowshoe hike to Sunset Lookout proved to be one of the most spectacular trips this season because of record snowfall in Idaho and a recent storm that provided 5 inches of new, fluffy powder over a firm base. On the last 1/2 mile to the summit, we followed a skier’s track that made small switchbacks up the steep, final face to the top, where an expansive 360-degree view of white and grey mountains surrounded us. The fir trees were white, too, with only a few inches of green showing beneath branches under thick snow cover. Grey clouds floated by us, now and then obstructing our view. It was a surreal scene that not many get to witness.
Beth and Fred on trail to Sunset Mountain Lookout
Sunset Mountain Lookout - 7,869 feet - 4 .0 miles one-way from ID 21 to lookout - 1,700-foot elevation gain
Fred and I make this trek every winter. We rarely see others, except the occasional backcountry skier. Once away from the parking lot, the noise from the snow machines that run to Pilot Peak on the other side of the summit quickly dies away. Once we saw a snowmobiler, by himself near the top of Sunset Mountain years ago. We dug him out of a snow hole.
After an initial climb for 1.5 miles, the hike levels out as it traverses across a broad, flat area through a Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forest in a southeasterly direction. A break in the forest allows a first glimpse of Sunset Mountain Fire Lookout. At about 2 miles, you find yourself on a ridge overlooking a stunning valley with the Boise National Forest at your feet.
Unfortunately, much of this area was burned in the Pioneer Fire in August 2016. As the trail starts to climb again, you can choose to stay on the path the road takes leading to the right, or stay on the ridge with steeper hiking to the left (east of forest road). Further up, ridge and road meet at a small flat area where the top of Sunset Mountain finally comes back into view. This is where the real climbing begins. We hike straight up the final mountain face, instead of taking the gentler, longer road to the top.
Final steep approach to return to high road near summit - switchback to the right of the face near forest
This steep approach climbs 500 feet in 0.25 miles
Once on top, the breeze is colder and the snow is deeper, for the elevation at the fire lookout, which is manned in the summer is 7,869 feet. The incredible view of multiple mountain ranges is worth the effort. The edge of the Sawtooth Mountains can be seen toward the northeast. We wish we could hang out at the top longer on those winter days. We decide to get some pie at Trudy’s Kitchen in Idaho City. We’ve definitely earned it. The thought of warm home made apple pie and the stinging in our hands motivates us to start descending the 1,700 feet down to the parking lot.
Looking east over Boise National Forest ~ 2 miles into hike
Steep final approach short-cutting road to top
Final climb to summit lookout - back on road after steep climb that bypasses road
View of Sawtooth Mountains in the distance from top of Sunset Mountain Lookout
You never know who you're going to meet on the top of a mountain
Walking back to trailhead
About this blog
– "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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