My first venture into the Lost River Mountains.
Tory was out of town for the week so I was looking for a mountain to climb solo. I made an unofficial goal this year to climb the top 10 peaks in Idaho, as ranked by the Alpine 88 System. Those are:
- Borah Peak
- Diamond Peak
- Hyndman Peak
- Castle Peak
- Scott Peak
- Ryan Peak
- Cache Peak
- He Devil
- “North Twin”
- “White Mountain”
So far I had done Hyndman and He Devil. Still a long way to go. North Twin seemed like a good place to start.
I drove up Friday evening and got up to Elbow Canyon just after dark. I drove the 4Runner as far as I felt comfortable, which got me to a great starting point at around 7,500′. Still, the summit was at 11,081′ and I had to climb over another peak to get there. I still had a long way to go.
My original plan was to do a traverse from Red Cone Peak all the way to Sunset Peak, hitting North Twin along the way, with a side trip to South Twin. That didn’t quite work out. It all started with a late start. After a restless night sharing the back of the 4runner with Vuyo, we didn’t get hiking until 6:00AM. I took an, if not unhiked, at least unwritten-about route up the north ridge of Red Cone. It was actually a fantastic route. Other than a little pain gaining the ridge at the beginning, everything went smooth. I was at the top of 10,286′ Red Cone in less than 3 hours. I was too excited about North Twin to stick around, though; within 1 minute I was on my way to the saddle.
At the saddle I stopped long enough to have a snack and allow Vuyo to feast on some snow. The route North Twin’s west ridge looked pretty daunting, but had more bark than bite. Other than one spot (where I foolishly let the dog lead the way) it was all class 2. The 1,200′ climb went by in a flash, and the view from the top was phenomenal.
The view was phenomenal; the weather was not. Little puffy clouds had turned into big puffy clouds, and while I still had plenty of time to get safely down, I knew that going for sunset peak would be too much of a risk. I compromised, and instead headed for the saddle between PT 10,358 and PT 10,441. From there it looked like I could get below treeline with little fuss. And I’d climb over another peak to boot.
The traverse between North Twin and PT 10,677 was the crux of the climb. Just before the saddle you reach a spot where the tilted layers of the Lost Rivers cuts vertically across the ridge like a giant accordion, each with a small gorge cut between them. Finding my way through that terrain was tricky, and involved some class 3 downclimbing; downclimbing that could have been avoided if I dropped off the ridge onto the scree 100′ down. No thanks.
PT 10,677 had a wonderful view of the Lemhis, and I was surprised to see how gently it dropped down all the way to the Little Lost River Valley below. From there it was just a few hump hops down to the saddle, which proved to be a great exit from the ridge. On the way down, just below treeline, I encountered a couple small caves that had clearly been recently occupied (piles of brush, bits of fur, and lots of guano) as well as a very, very old-looking campsite.
From there it was a shortish jaunt through the forest back to the 4Runner. I was down by 3pm and on my way back to Boise–but not without a stop at Pickle’s Place first for some delicious braised chicken and onion rings.
– – – – North Twin Loop – – – –
- Difficulty: Difficult
- Distance: Varies depending on where you park, but at least 6.5 miles
- Elevation Gain: 4,500′
- Prominence (North Twin) 3,444′ (#16 in Idaho)
- Elevation: 11,081′
- Highlights: Elevation gain is tough but other than one spot, the off-trail hiking is pretty easy. It’s the highpoint of the southern lost rivers and therefore the views are fantastic. Plus, how many big summit hikes are loops?
Driving Directions: From the intersection in Arco, ID go north on US-93 for 18.7 miles to Pass Creek Road. Turn right, heading up toward Pass Creek Summit. 3.2 miles after the turn there is a sign on the right for “Elbow Canyon”. Turn right and follow this now dirt road. From here the road splits a few times, but as long as you’re heading toward Elbow Canyon, clearly visible to the northeast, you’ll make it. I found it easiest to just drive straight until you’re almost to the mountains, then turn 90-degrees left and head north to the mouth of the canyon. I’ve seen others suggest that a passenger car could make it, but the road had big ruts and I wouldn’t recommend it.
Hiking Directions: From however far you make it into elbow canyon, hike until you reach a large open meadow with views up to the peaks. Turn right (south) at a fork in the middle of the meadow and follow a faint trail up the draw. Follow this trail as far as you can, then find a spot to climb to the ridge on climbers left. There wasn’t a good spot to gain the ridge but the steep climb doesn’t last long. Once on the ridge, it’s a pretty easy and clear hike to the top of Red Cone Peak. From the summit, head east down to the saddle, then up the west ridge of North Twin. Anything harder than an easy class 3 can be avoided, just keep your eyes open.
Once at the summit, continue over the top (okay, you can stop and enjoy it a bit if you want 🙂 ) and down the east ridge. When you reach the saddle between North Twin and the next peak, PT 10,677, things get a bit tricky. Multiple rock fins block easy passage, but they can all be bypassed with little exposure by dropping down on climbers right. Pick your way around them then hike the easy climb up to PT 10,677.
The hard part is over. Continue along the ridge toward the saddle mentioned above. It’s easy to pick out–it’s the only saddle that has trees growing almost all the way up, and the only saddle that looks like an easy downclimb. Head down, being careful to avoid the occasional cliff in the steep draw. Trails will fade in and out until you get approximately 1/4 mile from the meadow you started in. Then a nice trail picks up which you can follow all the way out.
And in case you’re wondering, the foul weather I ran into at the top was a bluff. It never rained a drop, and didn’t change even as I drove home from Arco.