Sentinel Peak is an angular pyramid formed by the junction of the main Wallowa/Imnaha divide and the ridge separating the middle and north forks of the Imnaha River. Though the ridgelines are gradual, the face slopes between them are quite steep. The south face can be walked in many places and the west face is a difficult scree slope with some spots steep solid rock and scattered cliffs. The north face is very rugged and can only be climbed with difficult or technical ascents. This area is included in the Eagle Cap Wilderness
of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
Unlike many of the other high mountains of the Wallowas, the geology is fairly unremarkable. The rock is mostly a loose pile of Hurwal Formation shale. Goat trails through the rock make travel along the ridges very easy.
This mountain is a bit off the main travel corridors and thus does not get a great deal of traffic. However, it is easily accessible via Polaris Pass. There is no summit register.
Sentinel Peak 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 trial, 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 trial 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. The ridge rises gradually with only a one short area of steep hiking. The rock is loose, but the goat trails generally offer good footing.
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
Most people climb the mountain from late June to October. Winter ascents are possible, but take additional skill and equipment. Snow can occur at any time of the year.
Excellent camping can be found in many places along any of approach routes or the Imnaha headwaters north and south of the peak. 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 in different places.
Current mountain conditions can be obtained from the US Forest Service visitor center, (541) 426-4978.