This often overlooked and seldom visited mountain is along the Imnaha/Wallow divide between Cusick Mountain and Sentinel Peak. North Imnaha is not an official name, but rather a place name known among the locals. Though its height is certainly respectable, it is not as popular as most Wallowa peaks of its size or larger. This is probably due to its remote nature. Other than intermittent goat paths, there are no trails to this mountain and reaching it generally means doing so indirectly by extending beyond other mountains. These factors alone make this a worthwhile mountain to visit. This area is included in the Eagle Cap Wilderness
of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
Geologically the entire Wallowa Range is very interesting, but the composition of North Imnaha is one of the most fascinating. Viewed from the west, the north 2/3 of the mountain appears to be Hurwal Formation shale, while the south 1/3 is deep gray, folded Martin Bridge limestone. A spectacular, thick slice of marble runs the length of the west side slanting upward into the unnamed Pt. 9,180 to the south. The east side of the mountain has a similar base rock, but huge, crowded basalt pinnacles protrude most of the length of the summit. Dark basalt dikes are not uncommon throughout the Wallowas, but these free standing structures are colossal. It’s unknown where the largest basalt crags in the Wallowas occur, but these would be a good bet.
North Imnaha is easily reached from Sentinel Peak to the north and from Cusick Mountain to the south. Getting to the summit from the west is difficult because the alpine hanging basin (locally known as Honeymoon Basin) at its foot is hard to obtain from the West Fork Wallowa River. Once in the basin, the west face can be scaled up steep shale talus. Much of this footing would be difficult, but some areas have rock large enough to scramble up. The approach on the east side requires cross country hiking and climbing of the steep head wall to the hanging basin that forms the source of the north fork of the Middle Fork Imnaha River. Once that is obtained the erosion gully-laced scree slope up to the base of the basalt would be very tough going. Once at the basalt only skilled technical climbers could get over them to the summit. There may well be some tough scramble routes through the towers, but these were not seen by casual observation. The easiest way to the top from the east would be to climb to the south saddle and head up the south ridge.
North Imnaha and its neighbors are remote and require a 25-30 mile round trip hike and 2 or 3 days regardless of the route taken. The easiest route is best reached via the ridge south of Polaris Pass. There are three primary routes to Polaris Pass. From the Wallowa Lake trailhead either the West Fork trail (1820) or the East Fork trail (1804) will get you there. To get to the Wallowa Lake trailhead from Joseph, head south into Wallowa State Park. Keep to the left (straight) just beyond the lake and continue through the tourist trap developments to the end of the road. The trailhead starts next to the information board.
If taking 1820, follow the signs for the West Fork and Lake Basin and keep to the right when the trail splits soon after the trailhead. Continue up the West Fork for 8.6 miles to the Polaris Pass trail, 1831. It is approximately 4 miles of steep, seemingly endless switchbacks to the pass.
The 1804 trail leaves the Wallowa Lake trailhead and keeps left up the East Fork Wallowa River valley towards Aneroid Lake. From the trailhead hike 8.4 miles to the intersection of trails 1804, 1814 and 1831, which just south of Tenderfoot Pass. Turn right or west on the 1831 trail and follow it approximately 3 miles to Polaris Pass. This end of the 1831 trail is mostly a low grade hike with only a few switchbacks near the end.
The third route is from the Tenderfoot trailhead in the Sheep Creek drainage. To get to this trailhead drive into the north end of Joseph and after approximately 5 blocks turn left on Highway 350 also known as the Imnaha Highway or the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway. Continue east for approximately 8 miles to the Wallowa Mountain Loop road, also known as the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway or Forest Service road 39. Look for this road very soon after Highway 350 turns northeast and drops into Little Sheep Creek canyon. Turn right on road 39 and drive approximately 14 miles to Forest Service road 100. Turn right and head up Big Sheep Creek a little over 3 miles to the trailhead.
From the trailhead hike up the 1819 trail for 7.1 miles to the junction with trail 1814. Turn right or north on the 1814 and continue 1.5 miles to the meeting of 1804 and 1831. Go left or west on the 1831 for about 3 miles to Polaris Pass.
Once at Polaris Pass, follow the ridge top goat trails south for almost a mile to Sentinel Peak. Continue on the main ridge for just under 2 miles to the top of North Imnaha. Though much of the rock is loose scree on this narrow ridge, the footing is generally fairly firm on the goat trails.
A Northwest Forest Pass
cost $5 ($30/year) and is required to park at the trailheads. These can be purchased all all local Forest Service offices and at many area businesses.
A free wilderness permit is also required for overnight trips. These are available at the trailheads and a copy needs to be attached to your pack.
There are general wilderness regulations, but these can vary slightly depending on different areas to be visited. Specifics are generally posted at trailheads or call the US Forest Service visitor center ((541) 426-4978) in Enterprise to get the regulations for the particular places you wish to visit.
When To Climb
The best time to climb the mountain from late June to October. Snow can occur at any time of the year. Winter ascents are possible, but take additional skill and equipment and access to this remote mountain would not be easy. Ridge top cornices and avalanches on the faces could be concerns for a winter ascent.
Excellent camping can be found in many places along any of approach routes especially in the headwaters of the North Fork Imnaha River or Tenderfoot Pass vicinity. Much closer camping can be had at the west foot of the mountain in Honeymoon Basin or the east side in the headwaters of the north fork of the Middle Fork Imnaha River. These locations are close to the mountain, but are much more difficult to reach.
Check the information boards at the trailheads for restrictions. Generally these prohibit camping within 200 feet of lakes and streams, but regulations can vary slightly from place to place.
Current mountain conditions can be obtained from the US Forest Service visitor center, (541) 426-4978.
I need to thank Oldoregon
for providing a local place name for this mountain. Its much appreciated.