Years ago, while installing some ecological monitoring plots in the Seven Devils Mountains I enjoyed they view across the Rapid and Little Salmon rivers to the beautiful mountains of the Payette National Forest. Early one evening I was enjoying a hot shower in the short stalls of an outdoor plumbing marvel while watching the full moon rise in purple and pink eastern skies above those mountains and resolved some day to get to know them. It took several years, but I found myself living not too far away and made the time to make it happen. My job makes it very difficult to take time off in the summer, but I can break away for some day trips and these mountains would prove to be a treasure trove for my situation.
Road access makes most of these peaks easily accessible and I picked one of the easier ones in Granite Mountain. The drive off the highway near McCall is a bit bumpy in places, but provided good access to the trailhead and the easy three mile hike to the summit. There are a lot of cows in the area and the start was dusty with land mines lying all over the place. The livestock had braided the trail out in several areas near the start, but keeping on the main one wasn’t too much trouble. The trail started easy, but then got steep about a mile in. After the climb up the east ridge through the open subalpine fir the grade got easy again along the backbone of this long summit ridge.
The mountain has two summit points. The west one is broad and large, while the east point is a small pyramid and one foot higher. The floral display was spectacular with penstemons, lupines, asters, buckwheat, fleeceflower, paintbrush and many more. The north side was much steeper and still had snow patches. The vegetation was much thicker here and composed of heather, sedges and whortleberry. On the granitic soils adjacent the melting snow Saxifraga tolmiei ledifolia was found. This little plant is interesting because its occurrence here is disjunct from the Cascades and Sierras far to the west. I spent a huge amount of time making some collections and writing notes. One other hiker came by with a big dog that bounded up to me and started licking my face. He obviously was enjoying himself on this perfect day.
I continued on to the west high point that has a tall lookout on top. After poking around the top I checked out the west slope and found it a tangle of wind contorted subalpine fir. Obviously this exposed aspect of the mountain gets blasted by the weather. I spent a lot of time exploring the mountain in this area and the lookout probably thought I was some kind of a nut the way I hung out. After a time I headed east on the summit ridge, but mostly on the north aspect where sometimes the terrain got difficult. Soon I found myself on the small east summit point. From here I could look down onto Twin Lake, which is really a two lobed reservoir and evidently the local hangout for the cows, which were lounging here by the dozens. The northwest aspect of the east point is a steep face of small cliffs and ledges that beckoned to be played on. Some of this class 3 and 4 rock challenged my old fat butt a bit, but I really enjoyed it. A neat bonus was finding these ledges full of a small flower, Campanula scabrella, which is a rare, high mountain species in central Idaho and Montana.
Granite Mountain is a quick and easy hike, but I spent hours exploring on its large summit area and found the day was getting short. I hustled down the east ridge trail enjoying fantastic views of Goose Lake below and Slab Butte to the east. Near the bottom of the trail I found another floral gem, Saxifraga bryophora tobiasiae, a small inconspicuous plant the only grows on a few mountains in the world, all within a few miles of where I was standing. Pretty cool find.
I walked out of the burned snag forest (this entire area burned in a huge forest fire in 1994) and across the meadow to the trailhead. Good to be back and I looked forward to getting down the road and finding something cold to drink. But I had one more surprise. One of my tires was flat as a pancake. No biggy, got the spare on and was down the road in a few minutes and home by bedtime.