Gem County Highpoint Trip Report

Date: August 6, 2006
Author: Edward Earl

I bagged the HP using a route not described in any previous reports and, as far as I know, not previously used by anyone.

Gem County's unnamed HP lies at the end of a ridge that stretches about 5 miles north of Snowbank Mountain. With about 3100 feet of prominence, Snowbank Mountain ranks #28 in the state by that measure. A good forest road provides vehicle access to the summit of Snowbank, from which a roughly 4-hour, 10-mile round trip walk on jeep roads and cattle trails gets one to the Gem Ccounty HP. I therefore took the opportunity to bag the prominence of Snowbank as well as the Gem County HP using slightly less effort than others who only bagged on the Gem HP.

On ID-55 in the southern fringes of the town of Cascade, I turned southbound on signed Cabarton Road, whose surface is good gravel. I noted my odometer here. After 0.7 miles, the road bacame paved; at 3.2 miles, it went back to gravel. At 5.9 miles, I reached a junction at the base of a forested hill (I will call this point Cabarton Junction) where I turned right (west). At 6.1 miles I turned right where a small forest sign identified road 446 (straight ahead is a ranch entrance). There were several signs in the area saying that the road is closed to the public Nov 16 to May 31. For a couple of miles the road traverses private ranchland; then it begins to climb into the hills. At 8.6 miles the road forks; the left branch is signed as FR 645; I stayed straight. At 8.7 miles the main road makes a sharp right; do not take the side road that goes straight ahead. At 17.0 miles I reached the summit of Snowbank Mountain, which actually has two possible summits that rival for the prominence: the Martinizable west summit, from where a jeep road heads 0.6 air-mile to the east summit. Both summits have radio gear, both have an 8320-foot contour, and I could not tell by eye which is higher. There was a significant amount of ATV activity in the area.

I parked my truck at the well-graded flat west summit and began walking down the road that heads to the east summit, looking for the trail that branches north toward the Gem HP. I decided to save the east summit itself for the return. The trail became overdue, so I eventually left the road anyway and headed cross- country northbound and soon picked up a trail that contoured along the east side of the ridge connecting the west summit of Snowbank to point 8231. When I became abeam of the saddle between point 8104 and point 8231, I climbed over this saddle and soon intercepted the jeep road on the west side, on which I continued north. There are many more jeep roads and trails in this area than the topo map shows and I often decided arbitrarily which branch of the road/trail to use in this heavily braided system. Keeping track of my position by correlating the map and the field (not difficult in the mostly open terrain), I reached the 7971-foot Gem County HP one hour and 50 minutes after leaving the summit of Snowbank.

I returned mostly along the same route, except that I dropped into a forested ravine west of the main ridge to Earlize Snowbank to 1000 feet of gain, using my altimeter to determine when I had gone down far enough. Upon return to Snowbank, I visited the east summit first. Although the tower is built on a gravel pile, the gravel is still not as high as what appears to have always been the natural summit: a rock outcrop behind the building. The west summit has been seriously bulldozed and graded and was almost certainly higher than the east summit before being altered by man. The cluster of radio facilities on the west summit is plastered with signs warning that the facility is used in FAA air traffic control and that interference with such would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I circumnavigated the cluster, taking care to step on any surface that appeared to have a chance of being the highest ground, and called it a day.

After returning to Cabarton Junction, I turned south because I wanted to continue south on ID-55. Cabarton road becomes paved south of the junction and I reached ID-55 after 2.5 miles. Future visitors to the Gem HP who approach the area from the south can locate the southern turnoff to Cabarton Road directly across from Clear Creek Station Restaurant, and the junction is signed.