For many years, I drove Highway 95 near New Meadows and admired a high and massive peak to the west. Pollock Mountain has a summit area over a mile long over 8,000 feet in elevation. It is situated at the southeast margin of the Seven Devils Mountains and separated from the rest of the range by the wide Rapid River Canyon. At only 8,100 feet it is actually one of the lower mountains of the Seven Devils, but with its mass and being isolated, it appears much larger than one would guess. I had hoped for many years to run the length of the ridge and today I finally was getting there.
The drive into the mountain was nice through the Salmon Canyon and the waterfall area of the Little Salmon then through meadows followed by spruce/fir forests. The road was good until the last eight miles of secondary road to Chokecherry Flats where I would start hiking. There were many large rocks and ruts in the road and it took quite some time to get to the trailhead. The hike itself started in an open forest with some aspen and bracken fern glades. Eventually the trail ascended into a forest of old growth grand fir. Some of these trees were huge, and though they were not the tallest Abies grandis I had ever seen they were easily the largest in diameter. All the classic old growth characters were here including openings left by dropping trees; heavy and variable aged down debris; variable size and age trees; tall shrubs, snags and more.
A little further up the trail the subalpine fire become dominant. The forest is very open and without large trees. The granitic soils are highly erodible leaving the landscape rilled and gullied. Early seral shrubs such as ceanothus and weedy forbs such as subalpine knotweed dominate the landscape. It’s a dry and fairly barren landscape, except for the oasis at Cold Spring, which is right on the trail. The spring spills large amounts of water onto the earth forming a large stream that has been minimally developed with a pipe ease obtaining the water. The world here is very lush including dense wet species of riparian shrubs, forbs and grasses. It’s a nice place for a break.
Not far beyond the spring the trail reaches the main dividing ridge between the Little Salmon drainage and that of Rapid River to the west. It is here that the first spectacular views of the southern Seven Devils can be had across the latter canyon to the west. The forest changes again being much denser with smaller stunted subalpine fir over woodrush and other plants typical of high, cold elevations. The trail turns north along the ridge and near the south point of Pollock Mountain proceeds on the west side of the summit mass. The area had burned the previous year as evidenced by extensive black woody debris and stumps lying all around. It’s in this area that the forest opens again with very few trees and talus becomes representative. And in the second week of July there were several large snow patches lying around.
The rock of the summit ridge is fairly unique in the Seven Devils in that its formed of Columbia flow basalts. About 18 million years ago, much of the inland northwest was flooded with lava from open fissures in the earth. Uplift of the mountains resulted in mountain tops having basalt caps similar to the lower elevations they rose above. However, the Seven Devils arose with sharp summits above steep slopes that caused very little of the basalt layer to remain on the tops. Pollock Mountain is one of the few areas in the Seven Devils to retain significant levels of basalt on its summit. Sometime, someone embarked on a very ambitious project and positioned these large flat stones into a stone patch/stair case for a few hundred feet up the west side of the mountain to the lookout on the south end of the summit.
This lookout is one of the few still manned these days. The old guy seemed very happy to have a visitor and seemed to really want to converse. He had me into the building and was showing me how the citing instruments and radio worked and indicated the burn on the west side of the mountain was actually a prescribed fire to aid elk habitat. It was my lucky day because as we were talking, I spied a smoke rising far in the distance to the southwest. He helped me cite the fire in and get the coordinates, which he radioed to the ranger station. Another lookout did the same and by crossing the azimuths they were able to get a precise location of the fire and dispatch a fire crew. He told me I was the first visitor of the season and he averages about 15 per year. This was his 15th year of manning this lookout. This seemed like quite a lonely job, but the views and quiet were special.
I thanked him and excused myself to explore the summit. The ridge is formed by broken basalt and undifferentiated rocks on a long north south ridge with steep east and west slopes. The forest is formed of very open and stunted whitebark pine, most of which are dead or nearly so, having succumbed to blister rust, insects possibly exasperated by drought. A few interesting plants found on this summit are Castilleja longispica and Cymopterus terebinthinus, which are more typically found in the Great Basin and arid Columbia Basin. Also Pellaea breweri is found in basalt cracks on the ridgeline near the lookout. The flora of Pollock Mountain is somewhat different from the rest of the Seven Devils probably due to the basalt substrate and geographic separation.
After a few hours on top, it was late afternoon and time to head down. Instead of going back on the trail, I jumped off the south point picking my ways down through the columns of basalt. At the base of the green lichen encrusted dark rock the slope moderated on the powdery decomposed granitic soils. I continued down and intercepted the trail near Cold Spring. It wasn’t a long hike, but after hours of climbing around on the rocks, I was getting weary. Nonetheless, I had to pick up the pace to get out before it got dark. The neat find on the hike out was some Phacelia procera, which is rare in Idaho, being primarily a species of Cascade-Sierra region. The dusk drive home was uneventful, but pleasant in the deep warm canyons of western Idaho.