Idaho County Highpoint Trip Report

Date: July 25, 2005
Author: Ben Knorr

I studied the other trip reports on, as well as Dan Robbins' report which was most helpful. I camped at the Nelson Lake trailhead the night before to get an early start. The forest at the trailhead reminded me more of Arizona forest than Idaho or Montana forest.

I made it to point 8611 in a hair over an hour and stashed some stuff for the return trip since I didn't want to carry a ton and a half of water and gear all the way to the top. I went down the saddle before 8410 and eventually made it up to about 8700 feet per Dan's report. The boulder hopping wasn't bad but I knew there was going to be a lot of it. At a point just below 9140, I ran into some rock fins that came down the hillside. I chose to go through them instead of above (above is a better move) and found the first uncomfortably exposed move of the day. I continued around 8600 feet along the hillside, occasionally going higher or lower depending on what was ahead of me. I think I descended all the way to 8400 feet to bypass the remaining cliffs below the towers just before 9459. Looking up at the rocky blocked ridge, I couldn't imagine running it without climbing gear. Even then, why do it in the first place since crossing the hillside to the West works fine? Past 9459, I started gaining altitude slowly as I made my way northwest. I got to the top of Bare Peak, hoping to see the route ahead. I only saw the blocky towers that made up the final ridge and nothing more.

I ditched my poles at the saddle between Bare Peak and the rock fins of the final ridge and scampered up to peer over the first fin. At first, I thought that I shouldn't be here, at least not alone. I tried to rationalize what I was doing, then considered coming back on another day, on another route, and doing it again. No, doing it again would be too much time and work and, even then, it looked pretty rocky up there anyway. Then I thought about not doing it at all. Again, it just didn't fit. After 15 minutes of deliberations, I went down and tried to get over the fin lower down on the west side. I found a spot that I could climb on the fin, then up a little, then over. Once over, I saw what looked like a usable foot path over some rocks through the remaining towers. I placed a few cairns at locations where I was likely to see them and retrace my steps. I kept going northwest and didn't encounter any other major obstacles that I couldn't work my way around. After using some light trail-like travel, more boulder hopping, some scrambling, and a couple tower crossings or two, I made my way to the summit pole of 9439. I sat below the summit, as I felt that the airy perch next to the summit was a little exposed for me. This was the most exposed summit I've been to yet. There are also many cave-like holes along the ridge that look pretty deep. Some of them had snow in them still and others wouldn't make a sound for a few seconds after throwing rocks down in them. Maybe there are some cool caverns down there somewhere.

The way down was a lot faster (it took about an hour of route finding for the final fraction of a mile) and easier. I went all the way down to 8200 feet at one point because I was off-route and had to cross some cliffs a lot lower than I did on the way up. After picking up my gear at 8611, I was feeling like a million bucks. Unfortunately, minutes later, the bank busted and I was broke. I failed to mark or notice the end of the trail where it petered out below 8611 so I had to search. I zigzagged with compass and map for some time but felt that I was just getting further off-track. So I used GPS to get back to camp and walked back with my tail between my legs. I did tent-to-tent in 11 hours, 45 minutes including breaks and being lost. I do think being lost may have helped though since I made a direct line back to camp where the trail is not as direct.

Approximate mileages from southbound US 93 from Darby, MT:

  0.0 Bear right onto MT 473.
14.8 Bear right onto Nez Perce road.
17.8 Bear right onto dirt "FS 5633, Gemmel Creek Rd, Nelson Ridge Trail 5, N22".
        This junction "sneaks up" on you.
20.5 Bear right onto FR 5633.
22.9 Nelson Lake trailhead (not end of road). Passenger-car suitable.