Hanover Mountain rising above Indigo Lake in the Gospel Hump Wilderness Central Summit East Summit West Summit Central Summit
Hanover Mountain is the highest summit along the western boundary of the Gospel Hump Wilderness
, which straddles the divide between the Clearwater and Salmon basins of north central Idaho. It is also the high point of the long ridge that divides up the main forks of Wind River, which drains south into the Salmon River. Most of this ridge runs north and south, but Hanover Mountain forms a short east-west jog near where the ridge connects to the main Wind River/Slate Creek divide. Hanover Mountain is formed of three gentle points across a half mile including the western point that is 7,966 and two approximate, flat-topped eastern points that are 8,047 and 8,020. Most maps place the label on the lower western point, but the name applies to the entire high area of the ridge. The mountain has 1,107 feet of prominence.
This designated wilderness and adjacent areas once supported a substantial human population in several boom towns during various gold rushes. Florence to the southwest lasted for many years and had 10,000 people at its heyday and there were several small towns in the Buffalo Hump vicinity. Several trails, including the one that passes over the top of Hanover Mountain are remnant wagon roads that once connected these wild, lawless communities to main supply lines on the Camas Prairie and the Salmon River. Today these old roads serve as the wilderness trail network. While the evidence is sometimes apparent, time has largely reclaimed these old road beds so they often are not noticeable as such to casual observation. The trail passes through the saddle between the central and west points, just above a good spring that provides a water source near the top of this otherwise dry mountain.
The form of the mountain is a bit unusual. The west slope of of Point 7,966 falls into a deep, flat bottomed glacially carved canyon, which is unusual for the area. Glaciation was not a large process here do to the lower elevation and more southern situation. The northern side of the mountain is a series of short, steep draws and ridges falling off a face into the multi-level north basin that today is filled with Indigo Lake and some large marshy meadows. The south slope falls off into gentle draws that soon form deeply incised feeders to the rugged network of the expansive arid Salmon tributary canyons. The high point and its close neighbor to the east are virtually flat on top with just a small outcrop. The north face drops off dramatically with a network of cliffs to Indigo Lake 700 feet below, while the south aspect is flat or gently sloped for at least a couple hundred yards in most areas. To the east, below a dramatic granite wall Emerald Lake is the most beautiful body of water along the west margin of the Gospels.
The subalpine forests of the area are composed of open subalpine fir and whitebark pine that forms an open parkland with good views across the Salmon to the Salmon River Mountains far to the south. To the north the main peaks on the heart of the Clearwater/Salmon divide dominate the view and to the west across the broad Florence Basin in the headwaters of Slate Creek the small local Slate Mountains and the Seven Devils beyond are visible. The northern reach of the large Black Butte Fire of 2006 burned much of the forests on the mountain. There is good wildlife in the area with elk and moose once abundant; however the increasing wolf population has reduced the big game somewhat. If you enter the area in the fall, wear orange and be aware that hunters with stock likely will be encountered. And as always in north central Idaho, leave the dogs home or run a risk of losing them to highly territorial wolves.
North route overview
Along the trail Near the summit Rare endemic
From Highway 95, turn east into Grangeville and continue a long mile on main street (Highway 13) to the east edge of town. Town ends abruptly at some large buildings that used to be the Forest Service office on the northeast corner of the intersection of Highway 13 and the Mt. Idaho Grade road. From this intersection go south (right) on the Mt. Idaho Grade road. After 7/10th of a mile, keep to the right (straight) where the main road curves left at the drive-in theater. The road is now called the Grangeville-Salmon Road. After about two miles, the road starts a climb onto the mountains south of town and after crossing the National Forest boundary, becomes road 221 at Fish Creek Campground. Continue on the paved road to the well-marked 444 road and turn left onto the gravel. This turn is just before mile marker 30 and is approximately 31 miles south of Grangeville.
Go approximately 12 miles on road 444 to the 313 road that turns off to the right and drops off into the Slate Lakes. The road used to go almost to the lakes, but more recently a barricade had been placed across the road a little more than a mile in. This is probably to reduce motorized vehicle damage near the lakes and prevent people from driving on the primitive track into the wilderness itself. There is very little room to park, but one or two vehicles can crowd the edge of the road at the barricade. At times locals remove the barricades to drive further in like they could in the past.
From the barricade it is about a mile walk on the old road to where the trailhead used to be. The lakes are through the trees to the right and a trail goes off to the left or south on a much older road surface. Some maps list this trail as 125, while the Forest Service visitor map labels it as 332. Whatever it is follow it for a little over one and a half miles to where the trail crosses a little rise. Here the trail splits with the 332 of the FS map heading west and the 195 trail of the same continuing south on the main north/south ridge. Continue straight on the 195 for almost three miles to the highpoint. The trail doesn’t actually go to the top, but continues on south. Once the trail climbs up and out of the bowl above Indigo Lake it will cut across an open slope with a south aspect. Break off the trail to the north and find the highpoint. There are two highpoints with the western one being slightly higher. Given the very gentle, broad terrain it may take some looking around to find the true highpoint. If a topographical map is on hand, this is much easier. The total hike from the barricade on the 313 road is close to five and a half miles.
The area is included in the Gospel Hump Wilderness and standard wilderness regulations apply.
Emerald Lake on the east side of Hanover Mountain Indigo Lake
On the mountain itself, there is good camping at Indigo Lake in the north basin and at Emerald Lake, which is perched on a small ledge on the steep eastern slope of the summit mass. Mosquitoes are heavy at both, but especially hellacious at Indigo, which really is a large open water area of a marsh with some adjacent marshes. Emerald Lake is reported to have good fishing at times, but with no trail one must steeply descend 800 feet on open rocky slopes to reach it. To reach Emerald Lake, follow a good map closely and stay near the steep north face of the mountain to keep from getting lost in the flat terrain and finding yourself heading south down the main ridge. You want to be heading east and then drop off the large open east aspect above the lake. Stay on the slope northeast of the lake as the rocks directly above the lake get dangerous. Also the open flat summit of the mountain has dozens of places to throw a camp if one wishes, but there isn’t much reason to.
Near the trailhead there are also camp sites, especially at Slate Lake, which can be reached by heading northwest on the path from the old trailhead. Given the often gentle terrain, there are unlimited places a back packer can camp along the trail to Hanover Mountain, many with a stream or spring nearby. There are no designated campgrounds in the area, but the 441 road into the wilderness has many dispersed pullouts, especially east of the trailhead in high, flat subalpine country with incredible views of the mountains and giant canyons of north central Idaho. Along the 221 road towards Grangeville there are also several obvious pullouts at unofficial camping locations.
When To Climb
This mountain is best climbed in the summer and fall after snow has left the slopes. It is a bit remote to offer good winter opportunities, but the slopes are gentle enough that a long range snow shoe slog could be successful if well planned. Be certain to check with one of the Forest Service offices below for information on open snowmobile routes to the trailhead or in the Florence Basin to ascertain current conditions. The north and east aspects of the mountain could potentially have avalanches. In the fall the area is hunted heavily so wear orange and be aware of hunters parked at the trailhead. Going with a partner during this season is also a good idea. Bring plenty of water in the summer and fall as some areas do not have a lot of water. Early in the summer there is adequate snow to provide for this need.
Mountain Conditions and Additional Information
While this is a relatively safe mountain with easy terrain and access, be sure to go to the mountain prepared for variable conditions. Weather and temperatures can vary dramatically between the canyons and the mountain. The arid lowlands will routinely be well above 100 degrees in the summer, while temperatures can be dramatically different near the summit. Also the mountains in the area typically see nice clear skies early followed by sometimes severe thunderstorms in the afternoons.
For more information and current conditions
contact the Nez Perce National Forest
or the Slate Creek Ranger Station.
Nez Perce National Forest
104 Airport Road
Grangeville, ID 83530
Salmon River Ranger District
Slate Creek Ranger Station
HC 01, Box 70
Whitebird, ID 83554