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.
Related: 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.
Related: 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.
From doorstep to summit in just a few hours, this hike close to Boise offers a quiet Ponderosa pine forest, a good climb and great views of Boise National Forest.
Final approach to Bald Mountain's (aka Poorman) summit; Little Anderson watershed to the left and drainage into Poorman Creek to the right. Nice exposures of Idaho batholith granite. Elevation - 5,134 feet.
One of Idaho's greatest assets is the ability to find forest solitude in a short amount of time. After an hour's drive north from Boise, we started our walk on the Station Creek Trail in the Boise National Forest's 2.5 million acres, weaving through a Ponderosa pine forest to a ridge with a view of Bald Mountain. The summit feels grander than its relatively low elevation would suggest. It stands high above Little Anderson Creek to the north, and Poorman Creek to the south, with views of snow-dusted Salmon River Mountains to the northeast. Everything is good on this adventure - beautiful drive, challenging grade on a relatively short distance with great views.
"Poorman" is engraved on Bald Mountain's summit benchmark, a triangulation station established by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1933. The History of the Boise National Forest - 1905-1976, an informative document, covers many subjects from the area's Native Americans, to the creation and administration of the Boise National Forest, its resources and its settlement. The Sawtooth Forest Reserve was created in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt. A combination of the west portion of this reserve and the 1.5-million acre Payette Forest Reserve created the Boise National Forest July 1, 1908. Idaho is one of the top states that has a large percentage of publicly-owned lands - 62% of it under federal jurisdiction of BLM and Forest Service. This does not include state-owned land.
The Payette River was named after Francois Payette, a French-Canadian Hudson Bay Company fur trapper who explored southwestern Idaho. Bald Mountain is tucked in between the main waterways of North Fork and South Fork of Payette River.
The stately Ponderosa pine is easy to recognize because of its orange-brown bark arranged in large vertical plates. In the spring, the tree's sap produces a vanilla scent. The needles are 5-10 inches long and grow in clusters of three.
Access the Station Creek trailhead just off the Banks-Lowman Highway, right across from Garden City Ranger Station and heliport, past Mile 12 and Boise National Forest sign. The trail treks north as it follows Station Creek, crosses it at 0.8 miles, then climbs the ridge that separates Station Creek and Poorman Creek. At mile 2.6, this ridge tops out at Point 4,772 with bare-topped Bald Mountain in full view.
Single track over combination of pine needles and gravel on ridge between Station Creek and Poorman Creek leading to Point 4,772.
View of Bald Mountain from ridge
From point 4,772, hike 1.2 miles east/southeast to Bald Mountain's summit past some exposed granite outcrops. The trail becomes less defined as it traverses across the top of the watershed for Little Anderson Creek, then through a tall shady stand of Ponderosa pines. The trail then climbs the steep, open and grassy western slope to Bald Mountain's granite summit surrounded by the fall hues of red, yellow and orange senescent buckwheat and lomatium flowers.
Bald Mountain stands above Garden Valley to the west and deep South Fork of the Payette River to the south and the snow-dusted Salmon River Mountains to the north. For a peak close to home, it feels and looks like wilderness - a quick nature fix.
An iron stand bolted into cement on the summit looks like it might have supported something, or is merely a marker. I was unable to find information on this and the origin of the word "Poorman", although it could be in reference to previous mining activity.
Many Ponderosa pine trunks are blackened from the 18,000-acre West Anderson fire that occurred due to a lightning strike in August of 1986. Four firefighters from New Mexico died when their truck tumbled down a dry creek bed near Crouch as they were driving from their fire camp. Map of Boise National Forest fire history.
In the spring, this trail is bright with wildflowers, but autumn produces muted colors and textures, just as beautiful. There are two loops that can be hiked instead of summiting Bald Mountain (Stueby's Outdoor Journal).
Poorman triangulation marker on Bald Mountain's summit placed in 1933.
From the summit - view of Garden Valley to the west
Descending just off summit - I Love Idaho!
Our GPS tracks from Station Creek Trailhead to Bald Mountain Summit
click on map for larger image
Boise National Forest Large Fire History, 1980-2018 (Map). https://www.idahofireinfo.blm.gov › southwest › documents › maps › BOF...
Smith, E.M. 1986. History of the Boise National Forest, 1905-1976. Idaho State Historical Society.
Our History. Garden Valley Chamber of Commerce website.
Ponderosa pine. US Forest Service.
A "grudge peak" no more, we summited Norton Peak this time in the Smokys, a mountain range that has less visitors and more solitude than its illustrious neighbor to the north - the Sawtooth Mountains.
Related: Miner Lake - Smoky Mountains, Idaho
Norton Peak is a triangulation station for the Geodetic Survey; this wooden triangle-shaped tower with "10,336" engraved on it could have been placed on the summit to signify this fact. The brass disc marker was placed in 1967 (see below).
Our GPS tracks from Miner Lake to switchbacks up to saddle overlooking Norton Lakes to the right, to Norton Peak summit along ridge
more maps below
Norton Peak became somewhat of a "grudge peak" after a failed attempt to summit it two years ago when a September storm left heavy snow and we got only as far as Miner Lake. Even without snow, the trail was reportedly faint, so we decided not to continue on to the summit not knowing where it was in 1-2 feet of snow. The contrast of fresh snow surrounding a green lake and thickly layering late summer's green vegetation was memorable (Miner Lake post).
Norton Peak, the third highest point in Idaho's Smoky Mountains is a great hike for so many reasons: there's a potential of seeing mountain goats, there are few people on the trails, its meadows and streams are beautiful, its summits are challenging Class 2 scrambles, and you have the opportunity to celebrate in Ketchum afterward with great food, drink, and fun. The best of both worlds - that's why we love Ketchum. Across the valley to the northeast you get a great perspective of the entire Boulder Mountain range and emerald lakes. Both sides of the ridge as you approach the summit drop down steeply, so there is a feeling of walking on top of the range.
Perhaps the Smokys are over-shadowed by the more famous and extolled Sawtooth Mountains just to their north, and as a result, there are less visitors. I was pleasantly surprised at their beauty and solitude. We have seen mountain bikers and horse-riders on this trail, as well as motorbike riders on Trail #134 to Prairie Lakes, so it is an area that is enjoyed by various modes of transportation. Trail #135 to Miner Lake prohibits motor vehicles.
The Sawtooth National Recreation Area was created in 1972 by Congress as a result of national protests over the development of a proposed molybdenum mine with roads and an open pit at the base of Castle Peak, the highest in the White Cloud Mountains. The law established the SNRA, covering 756,000 acres and banned mining. Norton Peak and Prairie Creek trailhead are near the southern border of the SNRA.
Trailhead (7,500') to Miner Lake (8,776')
After spending the night in Wood River Campground, north of Ketchum, we drove to the Prairie Creek trailhead, happy that we had a clear day ahead of us. The morning was crisp as we made our way through a frosted and shaded forest - temperature 37 degrees. The first 2.3 miles on Trail #134 is a level hike along Prairie Creek through shade, except for a large meadow where steep eastern talus slopes caused by faulting are revealed. Prairie creek riffles over rocks making small waterfalls, even in September. Take the less-traveled Trail #135 to Miner Lake at the intersection. It will soon come to Prairie Creek with a wide crossing under large firs and pines.
Hikers, bikers, horse riders, and motorcycle riders enjoy this area of the Smoky Mountains
Intersection of Trail #134 to Prairie Lakes and Trail #135 to Miner Lake
Prairie Creek crossing on Trail #135 to Miner Lake just after intersection with Prairie Creek Trail #134, 2.3 miles into hike
After crossing Prairie creek at 7,640' elevation, climb 1.8 miles to Miner Lake at 8,780', making a 1,140' gain. The trail crosses over the creek running through Miner Canyon, then climbs up to overlook the deep canyon far below to the east with at least one waterfall. A few steep pitches up this part, then the trail crosses the point where an open meadow meets with the mouth of the canyon, and it emerges from the trees for the first view of Norton Peak to the southeast.
It was here that our walk in the snow two years ago became unforgettably beautiful. Steep, gray talus slopes tumble down a U-shaped valley. Firs and pines tower as you head south toward Miner Lake. A few small crossings over the creek draining Miner Lake, a silent and pine-needle padded walk on level ground past some well-kept campsites, and you are at the edge of a steep-walled green lake. What a difference 1,140 feet of elevation can make!
A photo below of our Miner Lake trip in the snow two years ago....
After Prairie Creek crossing, heading up Miner Canyon
Miner Lake and Norton Peak on horizon
Miner Lake - Smoky Mountains, Idaho
Walking through the shaded forest, a small bright light ahead slowly becomes more prominent, and as you emerge from the shade to the open shore, one by one the features of this beautiful lake come into focus. Dense stands of fir from the ridge overlooking the lake curve down to water's edge, interspersed with the raw, bare rock and talus slopes of the Idaho batholith. Bleached tree trunks lie horizontally, surrounded by reflections. But it's the jade green color that is so striking. On this morning, the lake is perfectly still, with nothing to disturb its glassy surface.
Miner Lake to Norton Peak
Return to Trail #135 on the east side of the lake to follow tree blazes marking the trail and traverse steeply through switchbacks of alternating tree stands and rocks. We reached the saddle, coming out of the shade of Miner Lake's cirque wall to full sunlight and a view of Norton Lakes on the other side to the southeast. From the saddle, take a left off Trail #135 (north/northwest), and head up a narrow, but well-defined trail to Norton Peak's south ridge. Trail #135 continues over the saddle and descends to Norton Lakes and ultimately to the Baker Creek trailhead. Although I had read that this was one of the best places in Idaho to see mountain goats, we saw none. We saw three other people on the summit that had hiked up from Norton Lakes.
Tree blazes mark trail
After the climb up from the saddle to the ridge along a defined trail, Class 2 scramble along ridge to Norton Peak
A defined trail leads to the "sawtooth" rocks where there is mild-moderate exposure on the ridge. A three-foot tall wooden structure with "10,336" carved on it lies on its side at the summit, along with the peak register. The most striking view is that of the Boulder Mountains to the northeast, where a long hike will take you to the interesting remnants of the Golden Glow mine and the Boulder Historic Site, where galena ore (AKA lead sulfide) was mined.
Supposedly the Smokys got their name from frequent forest fire smoke in the region.
On the summit, we had time to sign the register, identify the surrounding mountain ranges, and celebrate; Norton was no longer a grudge peak! I spotted an interesting rock between the saddle and the ridge that looked like limestone. After research of the rock layers in the Smokys, I thought the rock was a sandy limestone of the Wood River Formation of Paleozoic sedimentary rocks. This was confirmed by a geologist at the Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology. This rock exhibits calcite crystals (Geology and Mining History of Idaho's Smoky Mountains).
On the way down, we got a good look at Norton Lakes on the other side of the saddle. The next hike to Norton Peak will be via these lakes and Baker Creek trailhead. So much to explore, so little time!
We celebrated in Ketchum with a juicy rib-eye, a whiskey sour (for me) and a Manhattan (for Fred). Life is good here in Idaho. I think I will stay awhile.
Trail on ridge is defined
View of Miner Lake and western Smoky Mountains from Norton Peak summit
Norton Peak is a triangulation station as noted by the triangle on this geodetic brass disc. There are three reference markers that have arrows engraved on them on other high points that point back to this station. They are used for map-making.
Boulder Mountain range and Castle Peak in the White Cloud Mountains (furthest left peak on horizon) behind Fred.
Norton Lakes on other side of saddle from Miner Lake. Trail #135 treks over the saddle, connecting these lakes
Descending toward saddle
L'arbre est tres magnifique!
Tracks from trailhead (north) to Norton Peak; hike distance = 5.8 miles to summit
Miner Lake lower right, switchbacks to saddle, then north on ridge to the summit (Top of image is east).
GPS tracks from trailhead to Norton Peak
Click on map for larger view
Wutz, Katherine. 2010. In Late 1800's, Mining was King: Remnants of Silver Boom dot the Wood River Valley. Idaho Mountain Express. (Internet).
USDA Forest Service - Sawtooth National Recreation Area
Structural and Stratigraphic Transect of South-Central Idaho: A Field Guide to the Lost River, White Knob, Pioneer, Boulder, and Smoky Mountains. citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.731.8163&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Additional references on Geology and Mining History of Idaho's Smoky Mountains page.
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.
"I never knew a man who felt self-important in the morning after spending the night in the open on an Idaho mountainside under a star-studded summer sky."
- Frank Church, former U.S. Senator from Idaho
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 with a few snow patches 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
Packrat Lake at left; 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
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. 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
Related: Mt. Heinen - Grand Slam Peaks Completed!
Lucky Peak Winter Ascent
Lucky Peak - The Ridge Less Traveled
Cervidae Peak - Southeast Ridge Route
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
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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