OverviewElba Peak, the highest one in the relatively lightly visited Jim Sage mountain range is pretty much unknown to just about everyone who isn't from the area. The Idaho "Bible" about Idaho's mountains has hardly any information about the peak and area at all (pg 349). In my research for this page, I found very little information at all so hopefully this summitpost page will create some awareness of the peak and the area around it.
Elba Peak is the highest peak in the Jim Sage range that is found in southeastern Idaho, not far from the famous climber's area known as the City of Rocks. It is 62nd on the top 100 Idaho prominence peak list.
With the Black Pine range to the east and the Albion range to the west, it is easy to overlook the Jim Sage range since the highest peak, Elba, is just a bit over 8000 feet. The area seems to be a combination of private and BLM land but there are ways to get to the center of the range.
It should be noted here that the actual highest point of the Jim Sage range may be located just south of the Elba Peak benchmark. Ken Jones in a 2011 visit made his way up via Kane Canyon and did some "hand" sighting from both the Elba Peak benchmark and the spot to the south and he felt that the southern point of the ridge was slightly higher. For peakbaggers who want to make sure that they got the highest point in the range, be sure to hit both places during your visit. My route from the west side took us right over that spot but if you come up from Kane Canyon, you might miss it otherwise.
The towns of Malta, Elba, and Almo are on the perimeter of the range but the real adventure is finding the best way into the area. I will cover this as best that I can in the section below. Then I will provide information on the way we accessed the peak in a "route" section below.
A bit of "naming" history
Thanks to mountaingazelle for the following information:
"Elba Peak was named after Napoleon's first island of exile in the Mediterranean Sea. Nearby Malta was named after the island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. Sara Condit was a teacher, who ran the first postoffice,and chose the name Malta. Supposedly, the early settlers thoughtthat these towns were like islands in a wide expanse of sea. The CotterelMountains to the north and Jim Sage Mountains to the south are collectivelyknown as the Malta Range. These two ranges are part of the Albion Rangealong with the City of Rocks which is the main focus of the area."
Getting ThereI'm not sure there is an easy way to get to the west side of the Jim Sage range but I'm going to recommend that you study your maps after you see
the following attempt to provide enlightenment on my part.
For the west side approach via
From Boise, Pocatello, Idaho Falls, etc. take Interstates 86 and 84 to the Declo exit south to Idaho Route 77. Proceed through Albion and Elba toward Almo. An unsigned dirt road on the east side of the road will be found at this GPS waypoint (42.18320 -113.5634 nad 27). This road leads to the Black Sand Hollow road and a map will be provided with GPS waypoints (see route map in route section). Believe me when I say that this is a rough dirt road requiring high clearance and 4WD and our travel on it included opening and closing four different gates. Again, I will provide a map as we had a difficult time finding our way on it the first time.
From Salt Lake, the best way to go would be via I-84, passing Snowville and taking the Idaho exit 245 (Sublett) and then going west to Malta. In Malta,
take the SR 77 to a junction at Connor and then going west on the Almo road to Elba and then heading south towards Almo as noted above.
To get to the Kane Canyon road from the East side, take the route as shown above that gets you to Malta, and then head south on SR 81 until you find the Kane Canyon road. I haven't been this way so you will need to study your maps carefully or inquire locally. I doubt that the Kane Canyon road is signed so a topo map is recommended but the description offered below by ZDV might be helpful:
ZDV's approach from the east via Kane Canyon as reported on a forum found on "Idaho Summits":
Re: JIm Sage range - Elba BM peak September 17 2009, 11:17 AM
"I climbed this peak in 2003 via Kane Canyon on the east side. It was an easy and fun hike from the end of the road (the road is gated part way up the canyon and is overgrown past the gate). I remember the roads being good quality all the way to the gate; the only problem was that there was nowhere to turn around for the last half mile or more in the canyon.
If memory serves me right, there was a feedlot or something along the highway roughly directly east from Kane Canyon. From here a good gravel road leads toward the Jim Sage range and there are maybe two junctions where you just keep heading toward the canyon. At some point the road switches from gravel to good dirt. It is totally open rangeland so getting lost isn't too likely.
I really enjoyed the hike up there.. you get a great view of Cache Peak and good views of a lot of desolate country."
One other person offered information at Idaho summits: September 17 2009, 8:55 AM
"I did Jim Sage, Sublett high point, and the Cotterel highpoint about 5 weeks ago.
We found decent access via the Franks Hollow Road on the west side. Four wheel drive is not mandatory but probably preferred."
FWIW, we couldn't find access to Franks Hollow road, the way we tried had
a locked gate so that left us looking for an alternative, which turned out to be the Black Sand Hollow route.
Red TapeMuch of the Jim Sage range is on BLM land but there are also many parcels of private property as well as some of the area being managed by the Jim Sage Mountain recreation management area which is managed by the State of Idaho.
Jim Sage Mountain Recreation Management Area, 15 E. 200 S. , BURLEY, ID, 83318, Phone: 208-678-5514
Report: The Jim Sage has wild, windswept upper slopes, beautiful pinyon-juniper woodlands mid-slope and severely overgrazed, used to be sage-steppe lower slopes. If you are here in the summer you will see cows - even the Jim Sage Research Natural Area is grazed illegally. There are some very wild parts of the Jim Sage that are very much worth your time. Pygmy rabbits and indra swallowtails are two species that have been grazed out of much of Idaho but still persist in parts of the Jim Sage. There are also some fairly recently introduced bighorn sheep.
There are some concerns voiced by others and below is one of those concerns
There is concern about the future of the area as noted in this 2005 Watershed's information discussion by Katie Fite:
Watersheds Messenger Winter 2005 Vol. XII, No. 1
BLM Plans Destruction of the Jim Sage Hills for Cattlemen
By Katie Fite
The Jim Sage Mountain area is the largest unfragmented landscape in all of the Burley, Idaho BLM lands. Located just north of the Utah border It is a unique and beautiful wild area, cloaked in juniper with some of the only occurrences of pinyon pine in Idaho. It is rich in bird life, harboring some of Idaho's only occurrences of pinyon jay and juniper titmouse, as well as Virginia's warbler, Cooper's hawk, ferruginous hawk and many other important or declining birds.
Burley BLM, with the goading of local cattlemen, has long been hellbent on destroying the native juniper forests of the Jim Sage to produce livestock forage for the same cattlemen who have destroyed much of the surrounding area. Burley's mismanagement of livestock and past failed livestock forage seedings in the sagebrush and sage grouse habitat at lower elevations has resulted in extensive cheatgrass, halogeton and other weed invasions, depletion of native grasses, desertification as well as sage grouse habitat fragmentation.
Instead of focusing on restoring the weed wastelands in the lower elevations, BLM set in motion a plan to spend 6 million dollars or more of federal fire funds (your tax dollars!) to deforest the entire Jim Sage Hills destroying habitat of numerous native wildlife including Pinyon jay, Virginia's warbler and Cooper's hawk. The BLM proposal includes using a witches brew of herbicides; "prescribed" fire including likely use of bulldozers for fire lines and balls soaked in napalm -like substances lobbed from helicopters at patches of trees as well as chaining with bulldozers and other "mechanical" treatment.
Last year BLM prepared a programmatic deforestation Environmental Assessment and claimed it would conduct future site-specific environmental reviews.
In November 2004 WWP heard from a deer hunter that a massive chaining project had interrupted his trip to Cottonwood Canyon on the east side of the Jim Sage Hills, so I visited the site in late December, and was horrified to find over 1000 acres of Juniper forest had already been chained by the BLM. My visit occurred during the days right after the tsunami - if junipers were palm trees, the scene in the Jim Sage would have been indistinguishable from images flashed across TV screens; however, in this case the environmental devastation was planned.
Chaining is truly a Neanderthal practice. A ship's anchor chain is strung between two large bulldozers. The dozers drive cross-country parallel to each other, wrenching trees and everything else from the earth with the anchor chain.
In the area leveled by the chaining, a two year study of nesting birds conducted for Idaho Department of Fish and Game had documented several species including Cooper's hawk, gray flycatcher and Virginia's warbler. That area of the bird study has been entirely destroyed.
One of the justifications used by BLM for its deforestation/livestock forage projects in the Jim Sage Hills, is that killing and removing juniper trees will protect the small group of recently introduced bighorn sheep. Some bighorns have been killed by mountain lions. BLM claims predators use trees for screening, and that bighorns avoid areas with trees, so if it clears trees from the mountain, bighorns will do better. Ironically, natural predator kills are the least of the problems facing the Jim Sage bighorns. In a January visit to the site, we observed a band of 30 domestic sheep near the chained area. By chaining the juniper trees, BLM has likely doomed the Jim Sage bighorns. The chaining opening provides the bighorns a straight walk downslope to mingle with the domestic sheep from which the bighorns will contract an inevitably fatal lung disease.
In an effort to put a stop to this to this assault on our public lands, Western Watersheds Project has filed a lawsuit in Federal Court with the able help of our counsel Judi Brawer of Advocates for the West's Boise office.
Katie Fite is WWP's Biodiversity Director. She lives in Boise, Idaho.
CampingThe City of Rocks has camping available and that would be the recommended
place to camp. SP member RPC has the following information on his summitpost page for the City of Rocks:
City of Rocks National Reserve
P.O. Box 169
Almo ID 83312-0169
A collection of beautiful camp sites are scattered throughout the park. These can be reserved at the ranger station. It is generally a good idea to reserve a camp site for a summer weekend outing well ahead of time. The sites are equipped with a picnic table and level tent platforms; a series of pit toilets are strategically scattered throughout the park. Drinking water is available at a pump just off the main park road near the Upper Breadloaves formation at the northern end of the park.
Camp site rates (from the NPS website):
Camping and reservation fees for individual sites:
$7.00 per campsite per night (maximum of eight people)
$5.00 per extra vehicle per night (total of two vehicles allowed per campsite)
$6.00 non-refundable reservation fee per site (reservations are not required for individual sites)
Camping and reservation fees for group sites:
$25 non-refundable reservation fee (reservations are required for group sites)
$2 per person per night (minimum of 17 people)
Note that within the last year, the free camping on the alotted BLM land (just outside Almo, ID) was eliminated. Instead, if you are not able to get a camp site inside the City you have the option of trying the newly-established private campground. For a stiff fee, you will be able to camp and to use their overflowing porta-johns (don't expect to have drinking water available either). A better option is to seek out some national forest land beyond the northern boundary of The City and camp there (ask the rangers at the station for options).
Route & summit
The key was finding the right gate off of the highway. We had tried several other ones prior and had originally figured that we could go up Franc's Canyon. That turned out to be gated and it had a lock on the gate so we started looking for another way in. Greg thought the Black Sand Spring's route would work and all we had to do was find the right gate. When we found it, the tops of the gate posts were painted orange and a big "NO" was hanging on the gate itself. We figured that meant they didn't want hunters since cattle roams this area most of the time. The cattle were gone when we got there so we went ahead and went through the gate and three others that we found that we had to deal with. The road went straight for the mountains and then made a left (north) turn that led us to the 4th and final gate. We continued north until the road turned right (east) into a canyon and we headed down into the canyon where we finally felt we shouldn't push our vehicles any further and walked from there. It was about three and a half miles to the summit from where we parked and about 2000 feet of elevation gain. I think we hit the best time of year to do this as if there was cattle present, the ranch might not appreciate us being there.
RegisterWe could not find a register on our visit but I did leave one in a cairn just a bit west of the summit itself. Should any of you reading this page visit
the summit, I'd appreciate knowing what you find as far as entries recorded
in the register as well as its condition.
Trip ReportRather than add a separate trip report, this is a brief summary of our visit.
Originally we had intended to camp at the City of Rocks but were surprised to find all the campsites taken in October. There was one campsite available near Twin Sisters but that campsite wasn't one that would allow us to both tent and car camp. We then went on through Almo and started looking for ways to access the Jim Sage range and perhaps find a spot where we could car camp. After trying all the roads that we thought were open, we came up with no success and finally ended up finding a spot off the side of the road on a road that links Oakley with Elba. I've posted a pic of that spot and although it wasn't great,
it was better than nothing and we were happy to find it since it was dark when we got to it. Greg stated that it might be the very worst spot he's ever had to camp at. Despite the crummy spot, Greg fixed a fire and we had some wonderful hamburgers for our dinner.
The next morning found us looking for a way into the range and we had already experienced many dead ends before we finally found the gate that said NO on it and realized that it was the key to our success from the west side. Greg had his computer with mapping ability and it guided us to the spot where we began our hike from. The road in was really in poor shape and including the gate at the highway, we had three more to open and close. It took two of us to open a and close a couple of those gates as they were pretty "tight". The "road" appears to be fairly primitive after the second gate and that leads to a third gate, maybe the toughest to open and close.
After the third gate, the track continues east for a bit and then jogs north at a fork, dropping down a bit and then heading back uphill, it comes to a fourth gate. After passing through this gate, the road heads north until it enters a canyon and turns east and begins to drop into the canyon. The paint job of my truck took a few more scratches in this section and perhaps a quarter mile into the canyon, we started looking for a spot where we could park both our vehicles. We took both since we didn't want to leave either vehicle along the road or elsewhere. It took a little doing, but we found a spot where we were able to get both vehicles off of the jeep road as the road ahead was beginning to get narrow and questionable. From that spot, we began our hike.
To be continued