The Frank Church wilderness / Salmon River Mountains are not a destination known for granite walls, technical summits or jagged ridgelines. The groups of bleached wall hangers that swarm the Sawtooths generally don't venture this far north. But for solitude, there is no better place in the state.
The wilderness is a sprawling 2.3 million acre area in central Idaho. It is utilized primarily for water recreation: floating the Salmon River, fishing in one of the many mountain lakes or streams. Mountain peaks are mostly lower in elevation and rounded by many years of erosion, with many valleys cutting through the area.
One of the Vanity Lakes at sunset.
Vanity peak is the unofficially named high point on a circular ridge which wraps around the lower Vanity Lakes. It reaches 9095 feet, which is fairly high for this range. Due to a fair amount of prominence, the views from the top are spectacular. The Sawtooths
, White Clouds
and vast bulk of the Salmon River Mountains
are clearly visible and there is a clear line-of-sight down several rarely visited drainages. The peak sits essentially at the headwaters of the Vanity Lakes, the Cliff Creek area and Silver Creek.
This peak can also serve as a nice introduction to this area, and an outlook for future forays into the wilderness. The climb is mostly a grungy class II scramble, with opportunites for a lot of wandering about on high ridges and dropping into some rarely visited drainages.
Getting ThereTo the trailhead
These are some gorgeous lakes.
About 18 1/2 miles north of Stanley on Idaho 21, take the Seafoam road heading north. There is an immediate fork, follow the road to the right. Cross over Marsh Creek and continue to the next fork, where you will take the road to the left. Continue past Wagon Town and up to Vanity Summit. Take care here! As the road begins to climb, it does become pretty rough. For the Vanity Lakes approach, drive past the summit for about 1 1/2 miles. There is an old closed road that is not shown on the new maps, but does appear on the old topo. Park here at the 'road closed' sign.
The hike in does not follow a maintained trail, but fishermen and backpackers have beaten an easily followed trail to the lowest Vanity Lake. It follows the old road for about a mile, descending along Vanity Creek and crossing two streams. After the major stream crossing, the 'trail' climbs up the hillside to the lake gaining about 1000' along the way.
Looking back down from the ridge.
The climb itself
The climb to the top is pretty straighforward. Gain the ridge at any of the obvious chutes from the higher lakes. You can also reach the top by leaving the trail before the lake and accessing the northwest ridge. The route I took involved climbing the ridge northwest of point 8825 and traversing around the ridgeline. If you choose this route, there are several short sections of class III climbing. You'll want to stay on the ridgetop as much as possible, as parts can get steep pretty quickly. One of the advantages of these mountains however, is that scrambling over rocks is usually very stable. It's a nice change from the Boulders!
My RouteView Vanity Peak in a larger map
This country is pretty wide open and you can see that the peak is approachable from several different directions.
Camping / AttractionsThere is no camping at the trailhead. If you want to stay overnight, you'll have to hike into the lakes basin and stay there, or backtrack down the road to one the camp sites before the summit.
The Lakes basins are absolutely beautiful, and a worthy goal on their own. If you are a fisherman, most of these lakes do have fish in them, even if not very large.
Keep an eye out for wildlife; this wilderness is teeming with it. This ridge is also the only place in the Frank where I've seen a mountain goat.
External LinksAltough this mountain is not covered in any guide, there are some great resources for familiarizing yourself with the area:
Tom Lopez's Idaho: a Climbing Guide is the best resource for mountains in Idaho.
Ralph Maughan's Hiking Idaho has instructions on reaching the upper Vanity Lakes.
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.