Route Type – Scramble
Elevation – 8,766’
Class Level – Class 2+
Length of Time Required To Complete Route – One Day
Point 8766, or East Camas Peak as I call it because of its location above the three lakes, is a nice mountain sitting along the south rim of the Camas Cirque. During clear weather the views of the surrounding area, during the ascent of the east ridge and from the summit, can be simply astounding
Perhaps best known to the locals as a place to back-country ski, this summit also offers a small taste of the Bitterroot back-country to hikers and climbers. With a hikers’ trail all the way to the base of the climb, (though the last portion has been abandoned by the Forest Service), Kidney Lake Peak is a fairly easy summit to reach.
Rising about 1,400’ above the isolated tarn, Kidney Lake, the summit offers visitors wonderful views of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness as it stretches far into portions of Idaho where few humans trod.
Because this is quite an easy summit to reach, it is sometimes climbed (as a warm up) in conjunction with Middle Camas Peak. For those with extra stamina, the summits of West Camas Peak, Camas Point , and yes, even Ward Mountain can be added to make it an all-day outing.
Getting ThereCamas Lakes Trailhead
Drive south from Hamilton, MT for a little over 9 miles.
Turn right (west) onto Lost Horse Creek Road.
Drive 2.4 miles to a posted junction with FR 496.
Take the right fork (northwest) onto the gravel road and drive for 6.1 mile to the well-marked pull-off for the trailhead.
There is ample parking for several vehicles but no restroom facilities.
Area Restrictions (Red tape)Point 8766 is in on National Forest Service Land (Bitterroot National Forest) and is not in an official Wilderness Area, so only National Forest rules and regulations apply. No permits are required.
CampingThere are several great back-country camping sites around Kidney Lake. In fact, this area is probably one of the nicest places to camp in the Bitterroots. However, I should mention that as more people learn of the existence of Kidney Lake, weekends will bring more visitors than in the past. If you want seclusion, visit on a weekday.
There is also camping around each of the Camas Lakes for those who want to take a less than direct route to the summit of East Camas Peak or wish to visit some or all of the other summits in the immediate area.
At a point approximately 2 miles from the trailhead, you will cross two bridges in rapid succession over a couple of rushing streams. The trail then begins a more rapid ascent, but there are several switchbacks to lessen the impact on your legs.
The trail levels off a bit as you approach 2.5 miles. At an elevation of about 6,800’ (46.15419 N / 114.27371 W) there is a faint trail to your left (southwest) which is sometimes marked by one or more smallish cairns. You will take this trail which leads to Kidney Lake.
Note: This side trail has been abandoned by the Forest Service, and you will often find the cairns which mark its beginning have been kicked over or are missing altogether. You really have to pay attention or you’ll miss the turnoff. Why this trail has been abandoned by the Forest Service is a mystery to me. Kidney Lake is one of the nicest little lakes in the Bitterroot Mountains, one I highly recommend to anyone interested in backcountry camping or fishing for Cutthroat Trout in a seldom-visited and almost-pristine lake.
Abandoned or not, the trail to Kidney Lake is in good shape and fairly easy to follow. The original engineering was good at using switchbacks to ascend the slope. The only problem on this old trail is within 100 yards of where it leaves the Camas Lakes Trail. You have to cross a rushing stream (Camas Creek) which can be quite difficult to navigate during periods of high runoff without getting soaked; but once you’re over, it’s easy going up to the lake.
You reach Kidney Lake about .75 mile after leaving the "official" Camas Lakes Trail. On the north side of the lake, you will see a ridge crest leading up to Kidney Lake Peak west-northwest of the lake. Head around the east end of the lake - sometimes this area can be particularly spongy and wet, so you may want to make a slight diversion or two - to the ridge crest and begin ascending the slabs and boulders, intermingled with patches of Beargrass and trees. The going is not particularly steep or difficult.
When To Go
This peak is one of the favorites for the area’s backcountry skiers, many of whom use this (or a slight variation of this) route to reach the peak.
Essential GearOnly normal hiking gear and weather-appropriate clothing are required to reach this summit during the summer hiking and climbing season.
Snow shoes or skis with skins are required when the ground is covered with snow. Once the snow is well consolidated, you may want to use crampons on the route above Kidney Lake. You will certainly want an ice axe.
Pictures from an August Climb