I first saw this mountain 27 years ago when I was a young boy scout on an extended hiking trip. We were standing at the saddle above Big Fisher Lake enjoying the view through the Purcell Trench north into Canada, when one of our adult leaders pointed out the rounded forested summit east of the lake and told us it was the highest point in north Idaho. We almost didn’t believe him because we had been hiking through a spectacular glacially carved landscape with many rugged, awe-inspiring peaks for a few days and this one seemed like a big hill. Looking at the quad map, however, I could see it was indeed the high point in the Idaho portion of the Selkirk Mountains and in all of north Idaho from the Canadian border south to Rhoades Peak in the Clearwater Mountains. Whatever, we had other interests. It was time to descend to the lake and catch some fish.
That’s the way it was for me years ago. I went into the mountains to fish in the small streams or subalpine lakes and had little interest in the time and effort it took to reach mountain tops. A few years later, after a particularly good botany class in college, I took up plant systematics as a hobby and eventually turned it into a career. My fishing and hiking trips now went through a botanical filter. That is I would spend my time in places where I might see interesting plants or habitats that I hadn’t seen yet, while I hiked and fished.
So when I headed north on an early July morning, my intent was to fish at Big Fisher Lake, and see what I might find growing in some of north Idaho’s highest elevations. The hike from the Trout Lake trailhead to Big Fisher Lake is a moderately difficult six miles that climbs only slightly with many level reaches until Trout Lake, which is four miles in. From here the trail becomes very steep ascending the divide between Parker Canyon on the west and Trout Canyon on the east. This trail does not wander off and vanish to the northeast of Trout Lake as shown on the quad maps, but goes straight up the dividing ridge to the saddle above Big Fisher Lake. Many years these slopes would have still held heavy snow on July 5th, but the summer had been very dry and warm thus far and melt had been fast and early. In fact, from the saddle I could look north into Canada and see two huge plumes of forest fires blowing up. Still some large patches of snow could be found here and there.
On a whim, I decided to skip the lake and head for the summit of the high point. I hiked east across the cirque above Big Fisher Lake and down to the saddle on the southwest ridge of the mountain then started up the hump. I was surprised how easy it was after anticipating a long and arduous hike. Just my lack of experience in summit hiking I guess. Soon I was at the top. Much of the west slope supported open soil and a stunted forest of whitebark pine. To the east things were much more open with bear grass and exposed rocks. The north face of the mountains was very steep, falling off into a shallow, brown colored lake. The distant views into Canada and towards Bonners Ferry and Montana beyond were spectacular. I was bitten by the summit bug and felt a tremendous exhilaration at reaching this point as simple as it was.
Soon I headed back down the way I came, stopping to collect some plants along the way. The botanical highlight of the day was a small yellow flower from the mustard family that turned out to be a rare species. Though this was the highest floral exploration I had yet undertaken and I found many things that were new and exciting for me, I would later realize that except for the little mustard, I saw nothing of note that day and the elevations were really not that special. But I felt some accomplishment having reached this high summit, though I hadn’t planned to when I began this trip. The trip was 14 miles total and that seemed like a lot to me at the time, though later when I was much older, and less capable, I would do much longer day trips. Looking back I don’t know why the summit bug didn’t hit me full force and persist after the exciting summit experience and the huge feeling of satisfaction I felt at the day’s end. I had caught a fleeting glimpse, but with all the business and responsibilities that were running my life at the time, I missed out pursuing it. However, it would come, though it was still years away.