Chimney Peak is the westernmost high peak of the small local range of the Selway Bitterroots known as the Selway Crags or simply The Crags. These highly sculpted jumbles and precipices of Idaho Batholith granite occupy the divide between the Lochsa and Selway canyons in the Clearwater Basin of north central Idaho. At 7,681 feet it is the third highest named peak in the group, though there are perhaps half a dozen unnamed points that are higher. It rises nearly 6,000 feet over the lush warm cedar forests of the Selway River in the western end of the extensive Selway Bitterroot Mountains. The immediate rise over Old Man Lake at its northeast foot is nearly 2,200 feet and its south ridge terminates at a point nearly 3,600 feet below. It has approximately 680 feet of prominence.
Its summit is a large granitic hump that forms a narrow north – south crest. It looks somewhat like a chimney from the south where the view shows how abrupt and narrow the summit peak is. From the west or east it looks more like a broad dome. There are several small spires or chimneys on the faces and south ridge and the actual crest is only a few feet thick for its entire length. Reaching the top via the most direct route is a scramble of moderate difficulty, but there are other routes more challenging if desired and there is no shortage of technical rocks for those who want that.
The vicinity gets a fair number of visitors primarily because its close proximity to the main east-west trail through this portion of the Crags. This is especially true during hunting season when several outfitters work the area. Wearing orange and traveling in groups is advised during that time. Use is much lighter during mid summer, but the flies and mosquitoes can be hellacious. The area also supports mountain goats, which can be seen on the rugged slopes. Much of the forested lower and mid slopes into the mountain have been burned of by wildfire in the recent years.
Getting ThereThere are two primary access points to reach Chimney Peak. The mountain is approximately equally situated between them. In this report we refer to the main trail through the area connecting Big Fog to Coolwater as Trail 31. Some maps refer to this as Trail 3.
Big Fog Saddle Trailhead
To reach this trailhead travel up the Selway River from Highway 12 at Lowell almost to Selway Falls. This is about 18 miles. The first several miles are paved, but most of the road is gravel. Some places are narrow and traffic can be heavy at times so watch the corners. Just before Selway Falls, take a left up the Fog Mountain road (Forest Service road 319). This road is well signed. From the Selway River the trailhead at road’s end is thirteen miles. The first half of this road is narrow, but in fair condition. The second half of the road gets progressively rough with large jutted rocks and seasonal streamlets breaking up the surface. A high clearance vehicle is advisable. The thirteen miles likely will take over an hour to reach the trailhead.
From The Big Fog Mountain Trailhead hike north six miles to Cove Lakes on trail 31. From the trailhead, this trail drops 540 feet to the bottom of Canteen Creek before climbing 320 feet then dropping another 560 feet to the north fork of Canteen Creek. Then the trail climbs nearly 2,000 feet before dropping a final 800 feet to Cove Lakes. From the mosquito infested Cove Lakes one must continue north on trail 31 for three miles to the junction of trail 206, which drops off the ridge to Old Man Lake. From here one has a good view of the rugged mass of Chimney Peak.
Continue on trail 31 as it bends to the west. Go about ¼ mile beyond the 206 trailhead then cut straight up the slope to the ridgeline. It doesn’t matter much where this is done, except its important to obtain the top while still east of the peak itself. On the north side drop down to the narrow stretch of ground between the steep slope of the upper summit ridge and the steeper walls of the cirque below. This will take you to the start of the summit route. It is possible to get on the ridge line higher up, but going the ridge all the way from near trail 31 adds significant difficulty.
Coolwater Ridge Trailhead
Another way into the Chimney Peak is the trailhead at the east end of Coolwater Ridge. The Coolwater Ridge Road (Forest Service Road 371) is accessed off the Selway River Road less than a mile upstream from Lowell on Highway 12. It is narrow and twisty, but in fair shape up to about the Andy’s Hump vicinity where it breaks out into the open slope parklands of Coolwater Mountain. Here the road gets very rocky with some steep pitches. It is not possible or safe to drive this without high clearance and preferably 4WD. The trail is found about a mile west of the road’s terminus at Round Top Mountain or one can park in the west saddle of Round Top and get on the trail where it cuts northeast away from the road. Be sure to be on the main ridge trail going northeast on the main Lochsa/Selway divide and not on the Round Top trail that loops up from below in the Selway Canyon.
Approximately 10 miles in the trail splits with the north fork going about 2 miles to Old Man Lake and the south route going about 3 miles to the Jesse Pass/Cove Lakes vicinity. From this junction follow the directions from Trail 206 above, or better yet, pay attention to your map and ascend the ridge before you get to the junction.
There are other routes into this area of the Crags, especially from Highway 12 to the north. However, these are much further away and make the approach a multiple day affair. Consult local maps and Forest Service offices before confirming desired routes. Keep in mind that many trails in the area do not actually exist on the ground and cross country travel in this terrain can be difficult.
Views From The SummitLike most high peaks, the views from the top of Chimney Peak are great. Contributing to the great views from the high points of the Crags are the fact that these summits form the higest part of the major Lochsa/Selway divide in an area of spectacularly carved and scultped terrain. The lakes associated with these features are larger than generally exist in this part of Idaho. In close proximity, but far below the deep basins of Lochsa and Selway provide immense gouges in the earth that are filled with lush green inland rain forests. Far to the west the land levels out to the Camas Prairie. The mountains of the Salmon basin are to the south. Generally the high peaks of the bitterrots are visible to the east of the Crags, but in the case of Chimney Peak the view is blocked by Fenn Mountain and East Peak, which are the highest two points in the Selway Crags. The following photos show directional views:
Red TapeNone, other than standard wilderness regulations.
When To ClimbThe area receives huge amounts of snow and hiking to the summit before late July may be difficult some years. Late summer or early fall would be best, especially after the bugs have died off. However, trips later in the year have the increased likelihood of having the air heavy with smoke from free burning wilderness fires.
Camping is fairly sparse in the area. The best bet would probably be Old Man Lake, which sits at the northeast foot of the mountain. From the lake or open country south of the lake there are assorted routes up the mountain that range from moderate and strenuous scrambles to technical. Louse Lake, about 2 ½ miles west of the mountain on the trail also provides camping. A meadow along the trail below Rainbow Lake also provides limited opportunity. This is less than two miles east of the junction with trail 206. Cove Lakes are a couple more miles to the east. There is a fair chance of having camping areas to your self except on weekends. Generally Cove Lakes sees more horses and use.
There are 10 campgrounds and several good dispersed sites along the Selway River road between Highway 12 and Selway Falls for those arriving late who don’t want to navigate the 319 road or arrive at the trailhead in the dark. For those coming in by the Coolwater route, a good dispersed site is along the road near Andy’s Hump. Driving the last few miles of that road in the dark may not be advisable.
Mountain Conditions and Information
Go to the mountain prepared for variable conditions. With over a mile of vertical lift from the canyons of the Lochsa and Selway basins to the top of the Crags, mountain temperatures and weather conditions can vary dramatically. Many years the trails and slopes are open from snow by mid-July, but in heavy snow years some high ground may not lose snow until fall or not at all.
Contact the Moose Creek Ranger District of the Nez Perce National Forest for information and current conditions.
Moose Creek Ranger District/Fenn Ranger Station
831 Selway Road
Kooskia, ID 83539
Mon-Fri, 7:30 - 4:00
The north side of the Lochsa/Selway divide is on the Clearwater National Forest, Lochsa Ranger District.
Lochsa Ranger District/Kooskia Ranger Station
Route 1 Box 398
Kooskia, ID 83539