Unnamed Peak 8,042 is an easily accessible, but often overlooked hump on a high ridge on the border on the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness south of Powell, Idaho. Powell is about an hour southwest of Missoula, Montana. While it is not high on most elevation lists it is a worthwhile summit mountain for a number of reasons. As a part of the overall Bitterroot Mountains, it is separated from the backbone of the main Bitterroots on the Idaho/Montana border by a broad expanse of lower mountains and large drainages that form the headwaters of the Lochsa River on the north and Moose Creek, the principle tributary of the Selway River to the south. Being entirely in the Clearwater Basin, it can be considered part of the expansive Clearwater Mountains, where it is the second highest in that seemingly endless sea of summits excluding a handful of mountains on or directly connected to the Salmon/Clearwater Divide at the sub-range’s south border. The mountain has 462 feet of prominence.
The summit in general forms a broad hump on the high ridge that forms a local triple divide between Tom Beal Creek, Walton Creek and the Colt Creek basins. The actual high point is separated slightly from the larger hump and forms a small pyramid point immediately adjacent the east side of the hump. Upon casual observation it may not be clear if the point or the hump is higher, but upon scrambling up the former it is clearly a bit taller. The summit abruptly rises over 2,300 above the confluence of Tom Beal Creek and Wind Lakes Creek to the southwest and over 2,000 feet above the meadows of Colt Creek to the east. A highlight is the high, wide north ridge that runs a mile and a half to the trailhead where it broadens to form the head of drainages that drop nearly a mile to the Lochsa River below. There are four beautiful lakes and a couple ponds directly on the mountain itself and three more across the large basin from the south base. The lower Walton Lake on the north end of the general ridge mass is said to be 265 feet deep.
The general vicinity of the mountain has a moist maritime climate and the lower elevations support groves of giant western red cedar, some reaching six feet or more in diameter. As the elevations increase the slopes are covered with various mixed conifer forests up to the subalpine, which is dominated by whitebark pine and subalpine fir. Open expanses of heather and other subalpine sub-shrubs are frequent and form beautiful communities high on the ridge. The north facing cirques that are filled with snow much of the year contain stands of often stunted subalpine larch, a northern species that extends south in the U.S. to the Cascade, Selkirk, Bitterroot and portions of the main northern Rocky mountains. Snow fall is very heavy and larger cornices or north facing packs can last late into the summer or sometimes even yearlong.
The Lochsa Corridor along Highway 12 offers many things to do for those wanting to spend a little additional time in the area. The Lochsa River is famous for whitewater sports with numerous class III and IV rapids. The Lewis and Clark expedition spent time in the area from Lolo Pass, down to Powell and before ascending the mountains to the north and heading west on the most difficult part of their entire journey. There are several location markers and interpretative sites providing local details. North of Powell a few miles is the DeVoto Grove, a stand of giant western red cedar named for the famous author and historian who used to visit frequently for inspiration. At Lolo Pass there is a large Forest Service visitor center providing extensive information on the area. And downstream several miles there are popular undeveloped hot springs at Jerry Johnson and Weir Creek. Both require a short hike and are day use only. Don’t expect privacy. The developed Lolo Hot Springs is a few miles north of Lolo Pass for those who don’t want to hang out with naked granola types.
This is a very easy summit to reach. From Highway 12 turn south on the Elk Summit Road (360) and continue 1.2 miles to Forest Service road 362. The turnoff from Highway 12 is nearly an hour from Missoula and an hour and a half from Kooskia to the west. Turn right on road 362 and continue for 8.9 miles to a turnoff to the left. There will be a small sign that indicates its 1.5 miles to Walton Lakes. If you hit the end of the road at Tom Beal Park, turn around and come back a little. Take the turnoff that will soon end at the trailhead for Walton Lakes after 0.1 mile. There is no parking area so just pull off the track somewhere.
There are a few trails leading off through the trees to the south; most will wander around and end wasting time. The best way is to get on the east edge of the ridge and walk south along it. A good trail will soon form and continue for about 1.5 miles before ending near the broad ridge point that forms the summit. The ascent is gradual and this is an extremely scenic hike through open subalpine forests and heavy heather thickets with an incredible view of the main Bitterroots to the east. At about the 0.75 mile mark the unmarked boundary to the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness is met. The south ridge can be used to hike beyond the mountain to the head of the Colt Basin, Grave Peak or the Wind Lakes Basin. There are nearly 30 water bodies in this extended area.
The hike to this mountain goes along the border of the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness for about a mile before entering it fully near the mountain. The summit and approximately the second half of the hike will be fully included just inside the boundary. Standard wilderness regulations apply. If any further information is needed contact the offices listed below.
Good camping can be found at the Tom Beal Park trailhead or the Walton Lakes trailhead where the hike starts. On the mountain itself any of the lake basins also provide good camping, though getting down into them is more difficult than reaching the summit. The unnamed northern lake of the Colt Creek basin is on the southwest flank of the mountain. From the summit it’s a fairly steep, 662 foot drop to the lake, which is one of the most beautiful in the area. There are a few good tent sites and an impressive 500 foot wall at the head of the cirque. In the basin to the east, 800 feet below the summit a large swampy area with large ponds also provides a beautiful camping spot. Finally the three Walton Lakes in the multi-cirque basin northeast of the summit are 1,108 feet, 1540 feet, and 1,845 feet respectively below the summit. These lakes are very large and deep and said to have good fishing. If descending to any of these lakes take time to pick a good path down from the high ridges; however a trail goes to the two lower and larger Walton Lakes.
More general camping in the area can be had at a number of campgrounds in the lower country near Powell. The closest designated campground is at White Sands, which is about a mile south of Highway 12 off the Elk Summit Road. Powell Campground is located just past Powell Junction towards the Powell Ranger Station. Downstream a few miles, Whitehouse and Wendover campgrounds can be found. There is a minimal fee to use these campgrounds. Private cabins can be rented at Powell Junction. For a list and map of all campgrounds and points of interest along Highway 12 click here.
When To Climb
Obviously summer and fall are the best times to reach Grave Peak. During the fall many hunters may be found in the area, especially camping in the lake basins and most of the summer the mosquitoes will be terrible, even up on the apparently dry ridges. Thunderstorms are frequent in the summer afternoons. As with any high mountain come prepared for a variety of conditions and watch weather reports closely.
Winter and spring snow levels are always heavy in these mountains. It is possible to snowmobile on roads 362 to near the trailhead. Then the gentle slope of the ridge to the summit would make for a nice snowshoe route to the summit. Avoid the east margin of the ridge because huge, potentially dangerous cornices form there.
Mountain Conditions and InformationGo to the mountain prepared for variable conditions. Peak 8,042 rises nearly a mile above the lower elevations of the Lochsa River at Powell. Weather and temperatures can vary dramatically between the canyon and the mountain.
Contact the Powell Ranger District of the Clearwater National Forest for information and current conditions.
Powell Ranger District
192 Powell Road
Lolo, MT 59847
A guide to the campgrounds and points of interests along Highway 12 can be found here. Pages 7 and 8 have a map and campground guide.