The southeast corner of Idaho’s vast Salmon River Mountains contains the highest peaks of the entire range, and White Mountain, at 10,442 ft. is the highest summit of them all. Regardless of its ranking as a high point of a major range, it seldom sees visitors. All routes to the top involve class three climbing, the most easily accessible of which is the most difficult.
White Mountain from South Twin
Its name is derived from the beautiful bright white rock found along its North and West sides. However, the USGS quad has labeled White Mountain as being a minor point (pt. 9870) East of the actual peak. This is incorrect and there is absolutely nothing white about that point. While the North and West sides of the peak are brilliantly white, the summit itself is a messy pile of crumbling grayish brown rock perforated by jagged towers here and there.
White Mountain's Namesake Ridge
White Mountain’s East Face is its steepest side, being nearly vertical in places. Below this spectacular face is the Twin Creek Lakes basin containing 7 emerald green alpine lakes.
White Mountain's East Face
Colorful Salmon River Mountains
This peak is an incredibly beautiful mountain no matter what direction it is viewed from but when seen from Challis it tends to be overshadowed by its neighbors North
and South Twin
. Those two peaks are clearly visible but White Mountain is sometimes obscured by foothills. Of those three peaks, South Twin appears to be the highest but it is shorter than White Mountain by about 100 ft. When viewed from the summit or even the South side of South Twin, White Mountain presents all its colors in dazzling splendor. The view from this vantage point is probably one of the most photogenic in Idaho (in my humble opinion). Not only is the beauty of White Mountain visible from here, but the 7 Twin Creek Lakes and the colorful vastness of the Frank Church Wilderness.The rock colors in this area range from white, orange, and green, to black, red and brown. This chromatic variety is due to volcanic activity in the area known as the Challis Volcanics. White Mountain, as well as North and South Twin and the ridge they sit on form the southern edge of a vast caldera formed when a massive ancient volcano collapsed.
The peak sits about 10 miles northwest of Challis, Idaho where its North Ridge forms part of the boundary of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. It is administered by the Challis National Forest.
Despite White Mountain’s location on the edge of the Frank Church Wilderness, the peak is relatively easy to get to. It can be approached from either the North or the South, the Southern route being the longer but easier of the two (climbing-wise but not driving-wise).
From Challis take highway 93 East (towards Salmon) and turn left on Clinic Road. This will intersect with Challis Creek Road after curving around the town’s medical clinic and assisted living center. Turn Right on Challis Creek Road which will eventually enter the Challis National Forest and turn to dirt. This road will split and the left fork will take you to the Challis Creek Lakes where White Mountain’s South Ridge can be accessed. The ridge above the lakes presents no major obstacles but the road to the lakes is said to be pretty nasty.
The right fork will be labeled as Sleeping Deer Road and will take you up Bear Creek Canyon towards the pass between North and South Twin. Beyond the pass the road will continue for 24 miles into the heart of the Frank Church Wilderness, eventually ending near Sleeping Deer Mountain. This road will take you closer to White Mountain than the other fork but it will require you to climb the more difficult North Ridge. Continue up Sleeping Deer road and eventually you will come to some houses. Just before the houses the road enters a pasture where a herd of horses and pack mules are kept. They like to stand on the road so you’ll probably need to coax them out of the way.
The Guards of Sleeping Deer Road.
At the edge of the pasture the road is gated to keep the animals in. Open and pass through the gate and remember to close it as soon as you’re through. Just beyond this the road splits again. Stay on Sleeping Deer Road which at this point has become a narrow two-track road. The farther up the road you go the better it will get though. Here it begins to parallel Bear Creek as it heads towards the 9,183 ft Twin Peaks Pass. Just before you get to the pass there will be some abandoned cabins where the road will split again. Take the left fork here up the narrow, rough road leading to the Twin Peaks lookout. After curving around to the peaks South Face, park at the first major switchback where a ridge connects White Mountain and South Twin. It appears as though there was once a sign here but all that remains now are two posts. The North Ridge
of White Mountain is clearly visible from here.
South Twin and White Mountain from Sleeping Deer Road.
Twin Peaks Lookout Road The Sawtooths from White Mountain.
The Twin Peaks Lookout Road is extremely narrow and rough. Although a 4WD is not really necessary, a vehicle with good clearance is. A 4WD would still be a good idea. This road is barely wide enough for one vehicle and it is only possible to turn around at switchbacks.
Also be advised that the forest on West side of the Twin Peaks and White Mountain burned recently and can be subject to flash floods and other rapidly changing conditions.
Also, as with all wilderness areas, motorized travel is restricted in the Frank Church Wilderness. You shouldn’t need to worry about that though since you’re coming to climb.:) Remember, pack it in, pack it out.
No permits of any kind are required.
There are several good camping spots along Bear Creek. There is one established site with a table and fire ring near the cabins where the road splits. If you continue up the Sleeping Deer Road to the pass there is a large area established on the wilderness boundary suitable for camping. This area has several fire rings and a VERY primitive toilet.
A colorful point along the North Ridge.
External LinksSalmon-Challis National Forest
The Idaho Outdoors Forum
is where you can talk to others interested in Idaho's mountains.
This is the website for Tom Lopez'sIdaho: A Climbing Guide
, the premier guide to Idaho's mountains.
Some info about the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness
White Mountain Panorama