*** NOTE - This area was subject to a large burn in the summer of 2012, including the lakes basins surrounding this peak. I have not revisited the area so I cannot comment on conditions. ***
On April 5, 1943 a small backcountry plane took to the skies over Idaho to search for survivors of a crash. Piloting the plane was Captain Bill Kelly, Co-pilot Arthur Crofts and accompanying them was Charley Langer, an Idaho forest ranger. The men would not complete the search and the plane would not leave the Idaho backcountry.
Morning's glow in the Salmon Rivers.
A lake now bears the name of the ranger and a small peak guards his memory. If you scale this unassuming point, you will find a leather clad book placed lovingly 40 years after his death by his widow and visited frequently by his descendants. First children, then grandchildren, then various greats-. And the occasional interloper, such as myself, who intrude into the private familial memories. It seems a fitting tribute to a man who gave his life to serve the remote wilds of our state.
It is an unassuming peak from afar, but its secret is revealed as you stand atop. The location in central Idaho provides a visitor with a view fit for a mountaineer. The Sawtooths
are visible over one shoulder. The White Clouds
over another. And on particularly clear days, the Pioneers
and the giants of the Lost Rivers
rise on the horizon. Surprising, for a peak of only 9315’.
River of No Return
Remote lakes dot the wilderness.
In 1980 Congress moved to protect a large swath of central Idaho from future development and degredation. Named for a conservation minded Idaho politician, the Frank Church River of no Return Wilderness Area
would eventually bloom to over 2.3 million acres, making it the one of the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states (second only to Death Valley). Just on the border are the Gospel Hump Wilderness
to the northwest and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness
to the north.
The area historically has been utilized for some mining and some logging, but the vast rolling ranges and valleys hade transporation difficult. It was probably this lack of commercial resource extraction that made the wilderness designation possible. Today the area serves as an attraction for river runners, rafting expeditions and backpacking destinations.
The spawling nature of the wilderness and lack of easy access made this an ideal test location for the reintroduction of wolves
outside the Yellowstone area. In 1996 a group of wolves were released in the central wilderness and remain a political lightning rod to this day. On lonely nights, you may hear their mournful howls echo through the deep valleys.
To arrive at this surprising peak, take ID-21 northwest from Stanley for 20 miles, turning north on the Seafoam road. Immediately take a right at the first choice, and then a left at the next. The Langer Lake trailhead is fewer than 7 miles up the Seafoam road.
The expanse of mountains.
To climb the peak, follow the Langer trail until you reach the first lake (Langer Lake) after less than 2 miles. The trail climbs, but is not difficult. At this point, set out cross country toward Rocky Lake, which lies a few hundred feet higher, directly north of Langer. Here, strike out northeast until you reach the saddle north of Langer peak at 9055’. Follow the obvious ridge south to the peak. You can also climb to the saddle south of Langer following the obvious gullies east of Langer Lake, as I have done, but these steepen quickly are somewhat loose.
No red tape to speak of, although during the height of summer be sure to check for fire restrictions. All wilderness restrictions do apply.
Camping & Other Attractions
Many lakes mean many destinations.The area is peppered with lakes begging for overnight camping trips. Most trailheads do not accomodate campers, so daytrips or backpacking is recommended. There are spots everywhere and the bowls are perfect for young campers, new to backpacking. It sees quite a bit of traffic, but the sites are so plentiful it is not hard to lose yourself here. Be sure to stop at the Ruffneck lookout and visit the lonely soul who scans the outback for telltale smoke signals.
Fishing is decent, although you need patience.
External Links Tom Lopez's Idaho: a Climbing Guide is the best resource for mountains in Idaho.
Ralph Maughan's Hiking Idaho has directions for hikes in the area.
Margaret Fuller's Trails of the Frank Church Wilderness is the authoritative overview for this area.
The Sawtooth webcam is a great source for checking nearby conditions.
Poet Richard Brautigan has a brief poem about Charley Langer in his collection Trout Fishing in America.