OverviewWhite Cloud Peak #4 (WCP-4) is located in central Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains. The peak is a largely unknown, situated deep in the remote northern White Clouds. Surprisingly few people visit the surrounding area, and even fewer ever get in a position to see WCP-4, much less climb it. Those who do are rewarded with an enjoyable scramble, and excellent views during the approach and from the summit. WCP-4 is actually reachable in a long single-day outing that follows a route through some great scenery. Along the way, the northern White Cloud Eleveners (Caulkens, WCP-9, & David O. Lee), dominate the views from the Iron Basin saddle as well as from the summit. Other great summit views include Iron Basin to the southeast, and the Swimm Lake basin to the northeast. Also visible are all but one of the numbered WCP’s (only WCP-10 is hidden) as well as Watson Peak, which is one of the few officially named summits in the area.
WCP-4 is the western most of a string of three peaks that form the northern boundary of Iron Basin (WCP-5 & WCP-6 are the others), and it is the most eye-catching of the four corner-post peaks that surround the remote Swimm Lake. WCP-4 certainly has the most “personality” out of all these peaks. This is mostly because of an abundance of twisted and exposed rock layers that intersect at various angles, which are particularly interesting when viewed from the northeast It is also a very colorful peak, with its fair share of the trademark pale White Cloud metamorphed limestone, along with a good mix of other colors that show up in layers on most aspects of the mountain.
The “WCP” best known for its twin summits is WCP-5, but WCP-4 also has a pair of them. The true summit is the northernmost of the two, and is no more than 20 feet taller than its shorter southern sibling. They are separated by quick 5-minute scramble, and less than 100 feet gain/loss from their shared saddle. It is likely that the mapmakers for the 1964 “Robinson Bar” USGS quad inadvertently placed the 10450’ summit elevation on the southern summit, even though it’s highest 40-foot contour is 10400’. But the northern summit does have a 10440’ contour, so 10450’ would appear to be the actual elevation of the true highpoint (ranked #26 on the White Cloud Peak List) even though it seems to have been placed on the wrong point.
Summit ViewsWCP-4 is surrounded by great scenery, and serves as a great vantage point to view much of what the northern White Clouds have to offer. All but one of the numbered White Cloud Peaks are visible (WCP-10 is hidden behind Caulkens Peak), and provides nice perspective on the other three WCP’s that surround Swimm Lake (WCP-2, WCP-3, & WCP-5). Other features that are visible include Iron Basin, Watson Peak, and the upper Warm Springs Creek drainage.
The most likely routes to be used in reaching WCP-4 begin in the Northern White Clouds at the Slate Creek trailhead. To reach the trailhead, make your way to the beautiful mountain town of Stanley, and then go northeast on Highway 75 for about 24 miles (or 34 miles southwest from Challis). Just after the highway crosses the Salmon River, look for a turnoff to the right (south) for Slate Creek. Follow this dirt road for 0.8 miles until you reach a fork. Take the left branch and follow the Slate Creek Road (FS666) until it ends at around 7 miles from the highway.
At the trailhead you’ll find the Slate Creek Hot Springs to soak your feet, but be prepared for the strong rotten egg aroma from all the sulfur in the water. There are also some old mine buildings nearby that you should stay away from as well as large mounds of silty mine tailings.
There is one route that will get most mere mortals to WCP-4 and back in a single day. Start at the Slate Creek trailhead, follow the infrequently maintained trailed past Ocalkens Lake, through Iron Basin, and then scramble up the East Ridge via Iron Basin route. The total round trip hike is about 13.3 miles and just under 4000 feet cumulative elevation gain. Only the last mile to the summit and 1200’ of elevation gain are “cross-country”. The east ridge is one of the few routes to bypass massive scree fields that are present around the base of the peak on almost all sides. An alternate option is to reach the saddle on the east ridge after climbing up from Swimm Lake, but that would likely involve an overnight stay and some resourcefulness. An even longer approach would be to climb into Iron Basin from Warm Springs Creek to the south.
It is possible to set up camp at the Slate Creek trailhead, but there aren't many spots to pitch a tent. Also, the sulfur smell and mine building might diminish the experience a bit. There are a few unimproved camping areas along Slate Creek Road that are probably better options. The nearest improved camping is at the Holman Creek Campground near the Salmon River, just off Highway 75. Lodging is also available down the road in Stanley.
If you prefer to backpack in closer to WCP-4, great campsites can be made along the “East Ridge from Iron Basin” approach. Options include Ocalkens Lake or Iron Basin (bring extra water). Swimm Lake is off the main route, but offers excellent views and solitude. However, it is very remote so getting there is quite the undertaking.
No permits, parking passes, or any other kind or red tape to worry about. Just tread lightly and respect the fragile nature of the local ecosystem. Also steer clear of the mine buildings at the Slate Creek trailhead, they may not be structurally sound and they are private property.
When to ClimbThe summer climbing season in the White Clouds is typically from July until the snow flies in October. A visit earlier in the year may be feasible, but would require crossing a couple streams swollen by snow run off, and the approach could be longer depending on spring road conditions to the Slate Creek trailhead. As for the winter, not sure why anyone would target this particular peak, but it would be very challenging due to the long approach.
GuidebooksThe northern White Clouds are seldom visited, so beta is somewhat limited, but there are actually at least two guidebooks with details on this section of the range
|Idaho: A Climbing Guide by Tom Lopez – This is far and away the premier mountaineering text for the state, with an entire section devoted to the White Clouds, including details on WCP-4.|
|Trails of the Sawtooth and White Cloud Mountains by Margaret Fuller – Detailed descriptions of hikes in the White Clouds and neighboring Sawtooths.|
- WCP-4 on Lists of John - Stats, maps, and more.
- Dave’s Hiking Page - Trip Report.
- WCP-4 on ACME Mapper - Interactive map with WCP-4 in the cross-hairs.