OverviewThere are two Stevens Peaks in Idaho. This Stevens Peak is the highest mountain in the western reaches of the main Bitterroot range. Located in the Idaho panhandle on the Idaho-Montana divide, Stevens Peak is 2.5 miles south of the town of Mullan, Idaho and I-90. It has been a popular climbing, hiking, and cross-country skiing destination for decades.
The Spokane Mountaineers have historically used the area as part of their annual mountaineering course. Numerous other groups use the region also (see "Input paper" below). Slopes above Stevens Lakes are ideal for novices to first don crampons and learn ice-axe self-arrest and rope team travel.
Upper & Lower Stevens Lakes (on the northeast side) provide an easy water source.
There is no summit register.
The other Stevens Peak (5,372 feet) is located in Bingham County, ID and is on the Blackfoot USGS quad.
Red TapePermits are not required for parking, camping, or climbing. There are no restrictions.
Vehicle prowling is a long-standing, common problem at the Willow Creek trailhead. Numerous climbers have been known to deliberately "strip" their vehicles of anything of value, then leave the doors unlocked so that thieves will not smash the windows in order to rummage and steal.
Getting ThereUSGS: Mullan Quad
From Mullan, ID--the most popular route (East Fork of Willow Creek) is accessed from Willow Creek Road, just east of Mullan:
Drive I-90 east from Wallace, Idaho, exiting the freeway on East Mullan exit 69. At the stop sign, turn left and drive north, traveling back over the freeway. At the next stop, turn right on State Highway 10. Travel east ~one mile. You will go past the historic Lucky Friday silver mine.
At Shoshone Park junction, bear right (south) at the fork, again crossing over I-90. Follow Willow Creek road 1 mile to a large parking area (an abandoned railroad right-of-way). This is also the access point for the less popular West Fork of Willow Creek route.
USGS: Lookout Pass quad, Mullan quad
From the Lookout Pass ski resort, on Idaho-Montana divide:
Exit I-90 to Lookout Pass ski area parking lot. From here, there are two possible routes, one travelling up Montana's St. Regis Basin, the other a more difficult route first ascending Runt Mountain then following roads and the Montana-Idaho ridgeline to reach Stevens Peak's southern slopes.
St. Regis Basin Trail (USFS St. Regis Trail 267):
In winter months with snow on the ground, you will need to park at the Lookout Pass ski resort, and follow an old railroad grade toward the south, paralleling I-90 for approx. a half-mile. Before reaching the bottom of the St. Regis River basin, the road makes a 90-degree turn to the west, paralleling now the St. Regis River. In the summer months with snow gone, one has been able to drive down this 1.7-mile long (from Lookout Pass) railroad grade to arrive at what is considered to be the summertime trailhead. While the trail to head up into the St. Regis basin begins at this point, the railroad grade trail visibly loops around to head back down the south side of the St. Regis River, back toward I-90. With the addition of Lookout Pass Ski Resort's Chair #2 for the 2003-04 winter season, the 1.7-mile railroad grade road/trail may be rerouted to be further south.
From Idaho's panhandle -- Boulder Creek Trail / Forest Service Trail #128:
From Mullan, Idaho, follow Boulder Creek south from town for just less than one mile to the National Forest boundary. Trail #128 begins at the end of Boulder Creek Road (near the Mullan cemetary) and ascends 2.75 miles up Boulder Creek to the ridge line. The trail then joins the ridge trail that leads east to the Stevens Peak area and Trail #278.
Climbing & SkiingStevens Peak's rather steep summit can be reached from nearly any direction. It is class 2-3.
The most direct route:
Forest Service Trail #128. Travel south to the divide, then follow the divide east to Stevens Peak's western slopes. Leave the trail and hike the moderate slopes to the summit. Total distance is ~4.5 miles; elevation gain is 3,600 feet.
East Fork Willow Creek approach to Stevens Lakes (most popular):
From the parking area and the abandoned railroad right-of-way accessed from Willow Creek Rd (described above), head towards Stevens Lakes by walking across the trackless railroad bed.
Bear left onto a dirt spur road. Continue up the spur nearly one mile until you pass the second switchback. The Stevens Lakes trailhead is on the right of the third switchback. Vandalism is an ongoing problem in the area, so the trail sign may be missing and the trail thus unmarked.
East Fork Willow Creek Trail #165 begins at an approx. elevation of 4,400 feet. The trail climbs up a fairly steep slope, traverses across an old rockslide, then enters the forest. Less than one mile later, the trail opens into a large basin surrounded by steep slopes and a dramatic tiered waterfall: Stevens Lake Falls, supplied above by (ta da!) Stevens Lakes.
The trail leads across East Fork Willow Creek, which is not especially wide. Depending on the season, the creek is usually easily crossed by snowbridges or downed logs. The trail continues, climbing up the steep hillside, or "headwall." Beware of avalanche danger, especially during winter months, on this headwall that is at an approximate 35-degree slope, typically receives leeward deposits of snow, and is capped on top by what can be a significant cornice. This headwall climbs 350 feet in 0.2 miles to Lower Stevens Lake. Several campsites are there.
The trail continues along the west shore and has a short rise to Upper Stevens Lake, where there are additional campsites.
The area is very picturesque. The distance is ~2.5 miles each way from the parking lot to the lakes. The trail is moderately difficult.
To ascend Stevens Peak from the Stevens Lakes, the most popular route is to ascend the east-facing slopes to the west. These slopes are avalanche-prone in winter through spring, so choose your route wisely. Once you have accessed the ridge dividing Stevens and Lone Lakes, you can follow it all the way toward Stevens Peak's summit. Problematic in winter and spring is Stevens Peak's cornice, reaching heights of more than 60-70 feet some years. The cornice can sometimes be avoided by traversing to the north. Other alternatives are to tunnel through it where it is not too large, or when it's stable (typically in later spring), to climb it with technical tools.
St. Regis Basin Trail (USFS St. Regis Trail 267):
In winter months with snow on the ground, you will need to park at the Lookout Pass ski resort, and follow an old railroad grade toward the south, paralleling I-90 for approx. a half-mile. Before reaching the bottom of the St. Regis River basin, the road makes a 90-degree turn to the west, paralleling now the St. Regis River. In the summer months with snow gone, one has been able to drive down this 1.7-mile long (from Lookout Pass) railroad grade to arrive at what is considered to be the summertime trailhead. While the trail to head up into the St. Regis basin begins at this point, the railroad grade trail visibly loops around to the south side of the St. Regis River, to the east and back toward I-90. With the addition of Lookout Pass Ski Resort's Chair #2 for the 2003-04 winter season, the 1.7-mile railroad grade road/trail may be rerouted to be further south.
From this established trailhead, route is approx. 2 miles to the two St. Regis Lakes. Beware of avalanche-prone slopes on both sides of the valley up to the lakes, and especially be wary of the steep headwall above the lakes, which must be ascended to reach the gentler, southern slopes of Stevens Peak. Do not consider travelling this route in wintertime unless you have avalanche knowledge, beacon, shovel, and probe, or if the avalanche danger is significant.
Additionally, there is a high amount of snowmobile traffic in the St. Regis Basin all the way to the snowmobile-impassable headwall. Established beginning for the 2003-04 winter season, there is an informal, unenforced agreement for skiers, boarders and other wintertime non-motorized users to stay on the south side of the St. Regis River, and the snowmobilers to stay on the north side.
From Upper St. Regis Lake, route is about 0.5 miles in a general WSW direction up a headwall, to gain the Bitterroot crest just south of point 6526'...use the best route to avoid potential avalanches, or if an avalanche is possible you will want to turn around from the lakes. Beware also the massive cornices along this divide and all the way to Stevens Peak's summit. Several unwary hikers, climbers, and skiers have fallen through these cornices over the years, not always escaping significant injury. Once you have accessed the divide near point 6526', you can follow the more gentle south side of Stevens Peak for about 0.75 miles to reach the summit.
Popular among skiers is to traverse Stevens Peak to the west to access the ridge of West Willow Peak, then enjoy the 1500' of fall-line turns down the west side into Boulder Creek basin, exiting in Mullan to a second vehicle.
One can purchase a one-time lift ticket and ride one of Lookout Pass' two lifts (lift #2 to be operational during 2003-2004 ski season) to the summit of Runt Mountain, and follow trails and the ridge and Idaho-Montana border to Stevens Peak's summit.
Winter ski ascents:
Via the routes described above, are done from winter through spring, typically as single-day trips leaving from (a) the Lookout Pass ski area to go up the St. Regis Basin, (b) near the Mullan cemetary up the Boulder Creek Basin and (c) from the Willow Creek Road to go up the Stevens Lake drainage or least commonly the Lone Lake drainage. Some skiers also approach from Moon Pass. Yet another ski route is to ascend or ride the Lookout Pass Chair Lift to the top of Runt Mountain, and follow logging roads and ridges to the south slopes of Stevens Peak. Because this latter route from the Lookout Pass ski area includes traversing a long ridge (over 6 miles) with numerous up and downs, Lopez (1990) cautions that "only extremely experienced skiers should consider this route." The classic Stevens Peak traverse--as described above going from Lookout Pass to St. Regis Basin, traversing Stevens Peak and descending via West Willow Peak and Boulder Creek--is typically done in a long day. Avalanche danger is significant via all routes. (USGS: Wallace 15-minute, Lookout Pass 15-minute)
Worth noting is the significant avalanche danger in any of the valleys leading up to Stevens Peak, during the fall through spring months. There are several avalanche-prone slopes in the St. Regis Basin, one of the most significant being the headwall above St. Regis Lakes. Other unstable slopes exist all around the Stevens Lakes basin. Highly avalanche-prone are the east and northeast slopes of West Willow Peak leading into the Lone Lake drainage. As mentioned, avalanche danger also exists on the headwall if approaching via Stevens Creek up to the Stevens Lake Basin. Backcountry winter travelers should have avalanche knowledge, beacons, shovels, and probes.
Waterfall Ice Climbing:
Pindude reports waterfall ice consistently forms on tiered Stevens Lake Falls: the slope just below the outlet for Lower Stevens Lake. There is one point in this drainage where there is a 40-vertical-foot drop, not a long waterfall by most climber's standards, but nonetheless worthwhile to hike into for a day’s worth of ice climbing.
Backcountry snow conditions (avalanche forecast)The Idaho Panhandle National Forest's Avalanche Center regularly posts backcountry snow and avalanche conditions for the Stevens Peak / Lakes / St. Regis Basin region.
An avalanche tragically killed two Gonzaga University students in January 2005 in the Lone Lake basin of Steven's Peak. A third escaped. All had beacons.
History of climbing use -- Input paperHistory of Climbing Use of Stevens Peak Area, Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District
NWAA input for designated activity of Climbing
by Steve Reynolds, Spokane Mountaineers, April 17, 2003
edited for SummitPost by Sharon Reynolds, December 20, 2003
Climbing use of Stevens Peak area established since the 1950s:
There is a long history of groups and organizations teaching and training for climbing in the Stevens Peak area near Lookout Pass. Most use is in the Stevens Lakes basin and the surrounding slopes and ridges of Stevens Peak, but there is also use in the Lone Lake and Boulder Creek basins, and the St. Regis Lakes basin. The Spokane Mountaineers, an outdoor recreation club with ~900 members throughout the Inland Northwest, have been formally training groups in the Stevens Lake basin since at least the 1950s, or for more than 50 years.
Since the 1970s, I am aware of more and more groups, both formal and informal, who train in this location, which has become the most desired and popular location for mountaineering training in the entire Inland Northwest.
Formal climbing user organizations and estimated number of climbers:
Formal groups who I am aware of that use the Stevens Peak area for mountaineering training include not only the Spokane Mountaineers, but also the following:
North Idaho College
Eastern Washington University
University of Idaho
Washington State University
St. George’s School of Spokane
Union Gospel Mission of Spokane
Various Scout troops and Explorer posts of the Inland Northwest
The number of Spokane Mountaineers training for climbing in the Stevens Lakes basin annually is from 60-80, and is likely the largest of the groups. It is difficult to estimate the total numbers of climbers and winter campers per season, but it can be conservatively estimated to be a minimum of 200 to 300, and may very well be more than that. There may be other formal groups not mentioned above who use this area, and there are certainly those many informal, independent climbers, winter campers, and backcountry skiers who use the Stevens Lakes basin in the winter-through-spring months.
Stevens Peak area is the most popular winter-spring location for backcountry skiers.
While this article is specifically about climbing and winter-type camping in the Stevens Peak area, it should be noted that the Stevens Peak area is the most popular location in the Inland Northwest for backcountry skiers, whose overall numbers are much greater than climbers and winter campers. Since the purpose of this article is to discuss climbing in the CDAR RD and the process for NWAA input is organized by activity type, backcountry skiing should be discussed more appropriately under the activity of “skiing” and the input being provided for all skiing activities. However, I would be remiss—in a discussion of the Stevens Peak area—not to mention that it is the most popular location for backcountry skiers in the greater Spokane-Coeur d’Alene area.
Time of use:
Use of the Stevens Peak area for climbing instruction and practice occurs during the seasons where there is adequate snow coverage. Some groups use it during the winter months to teach winter camping skills, but the primary time when formal groups conduct mountaineering skills in the Stevens Peak area is during the spring months, from March through May. Most groups camp overnight in the Stevens Lakes basin, accessed most commonly by foot via the Willow Creek trailhead. For training, people make use of the 30- to 40-degree angled snow slopes to teach ice-axe self-arrest skills, how to move up and down angled terrain including with a roped team, how to make snow anchors, and avalanche safety. The angled slopes on the west side of the Lower Stevens Lake are ideal for this, but groups have been known to also use the drainages and slopes of Lone Lake, Boulder Creek, and the St. Regis Basins. Many groups, as a final part of their training, make a final summit of Stevens Peak before heading back to camp and/or hiking out to the trailhead.
Environmental and waste considerations, and increased amount of use by all groups:
I have been hiking, skiing, and climbing into the St. Regis Basin and the area surrounding Stevens Peak since 1974, and have been hiking into the Stevens Lakes basin with the Spokane Mountaineers since 1987 to learn and teach mountaineering skills. I cannot speak for other groups, but the Spokane Mountaineers are very cognizant of the impact of large numbers of people on the Stevens Lake basin and the surrounding area. For these reasons, the Spokane Mountaineers pack out and properly dispose of all their solid waste. (It should be noted that Mullan’s primary source of water is from the north side of I-90, but water from the Boulder Creek basin is Mullan’s secondary source of water.) I have not noticed waste of other groups on the snow during the April or May weekend we are there annually, so I assume other groups do the same. I don’t believe there is an outhouse in the Stevens Lake Basin, nor am I aware of what summer hikers do to deal with their waste (I am not qualified to comment on summer use, as I have not visited this area during summer for a great many years). As far as winter-spring use is concerned when there is snow coverage, I have noticed—in addition to a steady increase of individuals on foot and ski frequenting the Stevens Peak area over the past 20 years—a great increase in snowmobile use, especially over the last 5-10 years.
Prior to the past 5 or more years ago, groups used to more often use the St. Regis Lakes Basin as a destination area for winter camping and other climbing skills, but because of the greater number of snowmobiles in St. Regis Lakes area, more climbers and snow campers have been using the more popular destination area of the Stevens Lakes basin, and secondarily, the Boulder Creek and Lone Lake basins, to stay away from snowmobile traffic.
In conclusion, the Stevens Peak area, and the surrounding lake and creek basins (Steven Lakes, Lone Lake, Boulder Creek, St. Regis Basins) , is the single most-popular area for climbers and backcountry skiers from the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene vicinity from approximately December through May, or the time of year that the ground is covered with snow. The Stevens Lake basin is used by more than 90% of those conducting mountaineering training in the Inland Northwest, from March until May or June.
—Steve Reynolds, Spokane Mountaineers, April 17, 2003
MiscellaneousSpecial thanks to Fred Spicker for his photos & Steve Reynolds for his detailed approach & route descriptions.
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