Fenn Mountain is the centerpiece and high point of the small local range of the Selway Bitterroots known as the Selway Crags or simply The Crags. These highly sculpted jumbles and precipices of Idaho Batholith granite occupy the divide between the Lochsa and Selway canyons in the Clearwater Basin of north central Idaho. At 8,021 feet, Fenn Mountain is not terribly high, but it does rise over 6,300 feet over the lush warm cedar forests of the Selway River in the western end of the extensive Selway Bitterroot Mountains. The immediate rise over Florence Lake at its northwest foot is 2,000 nearly vertical feet. Keeping near its longitude to exclude a few Bitterroot peaks on or adjacent the Montana border, Fenn Mountain is the highest peak in Idaho between the Canadian border and the Salmon River axis, a distance of approximately 230 miles. It has 1,962 feet of prominence.
The northerly slopes of Fenn Mountain are composed of very steep, broken cliffs and talus slopes. Much of the rock on these aspects would require technical climbing but difficult scramble routes are present. These are made more difficult by heavy brush and rock faces that are often wet from springs and seeps. Snow on these slopes can last late into summer. Most routes up the mountain for scramblers are on the south face. This side of the peak is composed of extensive talus and small rock faces in draws and couloirs that are separated by numerous granite spires and tooth-like extrusions. From a distance these give the mountain a rather ominous appearance, but if one picks the right line through the rocks and brush the ascent is fairly straightforward and simple.
Considering trails to the mountain and its basins virtually do not exist, the area gets a fair amount of visitors. This is especially true during hunting season when several outfitters work the area. Wearing orange and traveling in groups is advised during that time. Use is much lighter during mid summer, but the flies and mosquitoes can be hellacious. The area also supports mountain goats, which can be seen on the rugged north slopes. Much of the forested lower and mid slopes into the mountain have been burned of by wildfire in the recent years. On many slopes such as the south side of Fenn Mountain the trails have been lost to lack of use and obliterated by frequent avalanches. Travel through such areas can be very difficult over jumbled boulders mixed with smashed and tangles vegetation and trees.
Fenn Mountain is named for Frank Fenn who was appointed Captain of Company H, First Idaho Volunteer Infantry and was the acting Major from April 1899 to September 1899 when he was promoted to full Major. The company saw active duty in the Philippines during the Spanish American War. He also was at the first battle of the Nez Perce Indian War at Whitebird in 1877. Later Fenn lived in nearby Kooskia after retiring from the U.S. Forest Service in 1920. A picnic area, Ranger Station and a small town are also named after him.
Big Fog Saddle Trailhead
Canteen Basin from above the Big Fog Trailhead.
The trailhead most commonly used to access this area is at Big Fog Saddle. To reach this trailhead travel up the Selway River from Highway 12 at Lowell almost to Selway Falls. This is about 18 miles. The first several miles are paved, but most of the road is gravel. Some places are narrow and traffic can be heavy at times so watch the corners. Just before Selway Falls, take a left up the Fog Mountain road (Forest Service road 319). This road is well signed. From the Selway River the trailhead at road’s end is thirteen miles. The first half of this road is narrow, but in fair condition. The second half of the road gets progressively rough with large jutted rocks and seasonal streamlets breaking up the surface. A high clearance vehicle is advisable. The thirteen miles likely will take well over an hour.
Once at the trailhead there are two ways to go. The best to Fenn Mountain is straight up the ridge and over Big Fog Mountain on trail 343. The trail will split with 343 going east and 363 continuing on the main ridge to the north. Soon it will vanish on the broad ridge top but forms again as the ridge narrows and peels off the east side on its way to Legend Lake. This trail is spotty and often covered by snow, but cross country travel is OK if the trail is lost. Some hike to Legend Lake to camp before going on to Fenn Mountain by climbing back on the ridge and continuing north. Others skip Legend Lake and just continue on the ridgeline to the small saddle above the lower South Three Links Lake. From here descend the steep bowl to the lake and proceed north to the other side of the basin and the south foot of Fenn Mountain. This is probably the best way to get to Fenn Mountain. Some maps show a trail northeast of Legend Lake that drop into the bottom of Three Links Creek. This trail and one in the bottom of Three Links Creek do not exist and the general terrain along these routes, while appearing simple on the map, is actually very long and difficult. They are not recommended.
Saddle above lower Three Links Lake
From The Big Fog Mountain Trailhead one can also hike north six miles to Cove Lakes on trail 31. From the trailhead, this trail drops 540 feet to the bottom of Canteen Creek before climbing 320 feet then dropping another 560 feet to the north fork of Canteen Creek. Then the trail climbs nearly 2,000 feet before dropping a final 800 feet to Cove Lakes. This route gets one into the general area of the Crags, but is not very direct for going to Fenn Mountain. From the mosquito infested Cove Lakes one must go north on trail 31 about a mile before ascending to Jesse Pass on an intermittent trace of a trail. Findng the trail to Jesse Pass is difficult and its probably best to use a topo map to cut up the slope to it. From Jesse Pass proceed east on a trace of a trail that is lost soon after starting the decent to the upper South Three Links Lake. Cut cross country a long mile to the ponds north of the lower South Three Links Lake. You are now at the foot of Fenn Mountain and in best position for the scramble up.
Another unnamed pass just northwest of Jesse Pass is used to descend to Florence Lake, which sits at the northwest foot of the mountain. Routes from Florence Lake would be difficult due to steep slopes, dense brush and wet rock. Taking the west ridge from Jesse Pass to the summit of Fenn Mountain is not recommended and would be extremely difficult to impossible depending on the line.
Coolwater Ridge Trailhead
The west ridge from Jesse Pass
Jesse Pass from the east
Another way into the central Selway Crags is the trailhead at the east end of Coolwater Ridge. The Coolwater Ridge Road (Forest Service Road 371) is accessed off the Selway River Road less than a mile upstream from Lowell on Highway 12. It is narrow and twisty, but in fair shape up to about the Andy’s Hump vicinity where it breaks out into the open slope subalpine parklands of Coolwater Mountain. Here the road gets very rocky with some steep pitches. It is not safe or even possible to drive parts of this road without high clearance and preferably 4WD. The trail is found about a mile west of the road’s terminus at Round Top Mountain or one can park in the west saddle of Round Top and get on the trail where it cuts northeast away from the road. Be sure to be on the main ridge trail going northeast on the main Lochsa/Selway divide and not on the Round Top trail that loops up from below in the Selway Canyon.
Approximately 10 miles in the trail splits with the north fork going about 2 miles to Old Man Lake and the south route going about 3 miles to the Jesse Pass/Cove Lakes vicinity. From Old Man Lake one can work their way southeast across some high basins to Florence Lake at the northwest foot of Fenn Mountain. From a distance, such a hike looks fairly easy, but be sure to consult a good topographic map before attempting an approach from Old Man Lake. A climb up the northwest face of Fenn Mountain appears to be doable, but it wouldn’t be easy and the steep slopes, dense brush and often moist rocks are potentially hazardous.
There are other routes into the Crags, especially from Highway 12 to the north. However, these are much further away and make the approach a multiple day affair. Consult local maps and Forest Service offices before confirming desired routes. Keep in mind that many trails in the area do not actually exist on the ground and cross country travel in this terrain can be difficult.
Views From The Summit
The views from the summit of Fenn Mountain are spectacular. Since it is the highest point for many miles in any direction all views look down across lofty snow covered crags into the warm inland maritime climate forests of north central Idaho's Clearwater basin. Click on the thumbs below to see what it looks like in any direction from the regions highest peak.
The best camping for a climb of Fenn Mountain is found at the south foot of the mountain. There is a narrow transition zone between the ponds and swamps along Three Links Creek and the rocky talus and broken trees of the avalanche zone. From here there are a few straightforward scramble routes directly to the summit. Florence Lake is a popular destination, but the northwest face of the mountain is much more difficult to ascend. Neither of these potential camping locations is easy to reach (see the Access discussion).
Cove Lakes to the southwest and Legend Lake to the southeast are good camping spots to drop the heavy pack, but a climb of Fenn Mountain from either of these routes requires a few miles hiking to reach the actual point of ascent. There is a fair chance of having camping areas to yourself except on weekends. Generally Cove Lakes sees more horses and use while backpackers generally go to Legend Lake.
There are 10 campgrounds and several good dispersed sites along the Selway River road between Highway 12 and Selway Falls for those arriving late who don’t want to navigate the 319 road or arrive at the trailhead in the dark.
The area receives huge amounts of snow and hiking to the summit before late July may be difficult some years. Late summer or early fall would be best, especially after the bugs have died off. However, trips later in the year have the increased likelihood of having the air heavy with smoke from free burning wilderness fires.
Mountain Conditions and Information
Go to the mountain prepared for variable conditions. With over a mile of vertical lift from the canyons of the Lochsa and Selway basins to the top of the Crags, mountain temperatures and weather conditions can vary dramatically. Many years the trails and slopes are open from snow by mid-July, but in heavy snow years some high ground may not lose snow until fall or not at all.