Signature photo by Fred Spicker
I had gone into the Selkirk Mountains many times for many reasons, but today for the first time I went to scramble up one its rugged glacially carved granite peaks. Got off to a bit of a late start from my camping spot on the Pend Oreille River, but had plenty of time since this would be an easy hike. The day was warm and clear and I anticipated a great day in the mountains. The drive went well, but I wondered what was up while driving on the west side of the Purcell Trench northwest of Bonners Ferry when a helicopter carrying a water bucket flew overhead. The air wasn’t at all smoky so I wondered what sort of little fire they would be using a helicopter on. I soon forgot this and headed up Trout Canyon to the trailhead.
Its only a short hike to Pyramid Lake where a rugged cirque framed the placid, reflective waters. My target, Pyramid Peak rises to a well defined point 1,305 above the water to the northwest. The more direct way to the mountain would be to skip Pyramid Lake and continue up the main trail to Pyramid Pass and ascend from there. However, going to the lake, then ascending the trail scraped in the cirque wall to Ball Lakes basin above is far more scenic so I took this route.
Though it was a nice summer weekend and this area is generally overrun by people, I looked down from the cirque to see only a few camps around Pyramid Lake. People were fishing and swimming in this popular water body as the crisp morning air began to warm. Soon I reached to upper basin and started north up the ridgeline dividing Long Canyon and Trout Canyon. The views were spectacular over the old growth forests of primitive Long Canyon and down upon Pyramid Lake. The classic glacially carved, U-shaped canyon of Trout Creek framed a distant view across the Purcell Trench to the Purcell Mountains on the Idaho/Montana border. The Lions Head group was in the distance to the west. Every time I enter these mountains, I just can’t get over how graceful and beautiful they are.
The ridge is a roller coaster of excellent up and down granite that can be easily walked or it provides several short climbs and boulders for those wishing to work the rock a bit. What is not solid rock is lush green subalpine grass and sedge glades in the open stunted subalpine forest. The hike from the start in the upper basin to Pyramid Peak covers about a mile and a half and traverses two ridge points that are 7,025 and 7,070 feet. This requires an approximate rise of over 400 feet, followed by a 250 foot drop and rise before dropping about 300 feet to the south base of the summit pyramid. From here it was a fun hand over hand scramble 600 feet up the beautiful granite to the summit.
The south ridge route and Pyramid Peak
The top of Pyramid Peak is very small and supposedly had a lookout on top at one time. There appeared to be a few drilled holes on the flat surface of the huge granite summit boulders, but no other sign of construction was evident. While taking in the expanse I was disappointed that the air had become very hazy, which severely lowered the quality of the views. Looking around I saw a large plume of smoke rising to the southeast on the face of the trench in the main valley. The fire the helicopter was working evidently had been filling the sky with residual smoke the previous day and now in the afternoon warmth was taking off again. It seemed very active and if it blew up, the path of the fire would cross the mouth of Trout Canyon trapping everyone at Pyramid and Ball Lakes. That would not be the end of the world and people would be safe near the lakes, but I had no camping gear having only taken provisions for a short day hike.
But there was little I could do so I descended the steep north face of the peak a couple hundred feet, then came back up just for fun. This was the most difficult part of the day and challenged my meager skills on class 3 and 4 rock. I decided to get off the horrendous, powdery slick rocks by moving to the left into the stunted subalpine fir. Big mistake as the tangled stems soon made movement very difficult and sent several sharp twigs and branches though my skin. Backing up again I fought the slippery rock back to the summit before a long decent 650 feet down the north slope to Pyramid Pass. The extensive talus face is the largest rock pile on the mountain and provides tremendous boulder hopping on beautiful clean white granite. It’s a steep 650 foot drop from the summit to pass and another 2 miles on the trail back to the trailhead.
The north side of Pyramid Peak
I had forgotten about the fire, but the plume that appeared so menacing an hour before was gone. Going out I wished I had started a little earlier because there was still plenty of day light, but not quite enough to bag one of the neighboring peaks. Oh well, that will be next summer I hope.
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