Ultimate Guide to Peak Bagging in Idaho’s Mountains

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What exactly is Peak Bagging?

Peak bagging is the practice of collecting ascensions across as many peaks as you can. Amateur peak baggers often shoot for goals local to their neighborhoods like climbing all of the 14ers (mountains over 14,000 feet) in Colorado or more modest objectives like Phoenix’s Seven Summits. Pros like Ueli Steck can often be seen going for seemingly impossible speed records or staking out unascended mountains in the Himalayas.

2017 Piolet d’or winners Nick Bullock and Paul Ramsden nab a new first ascent in the Himalayas.

Among the untapped peak bagging destinations for pros and amateurs alike has to be Idaho’s numerous and varied mountain ranges. Unlike other, more famous Rocky Mountain states like Colorado and Wyoming, Idaho has plenty of high, technical peaks that have never seen human feet — quite a few of them still don’t have proper names, carrying technical designations like “Peak 10,127.” Anyone looking for new peaks to add to their collection should be thinking about a trip to Idaho in the future.

Before You Go Peak Bagging

If you’re still looking to add your very first summits to your collection, there are a few things that you should know before you arrive at the trailhead.

– Many of these peaks are remote. Technical ascents and ever-changing weather mean that you can’t always rely on help to arrive when you need it to. Preparing beforehand with things like extra water and some basic wilderness first aid advice is a very good idea.

– Weather can change on a dime at high elevations. Although the nearest city may be expecting sunny skies all day, mountains often get thunderstorms in the afternoon, so you should plan to be off the mountain by noon in most cases. Be sure to watch mountain-specific forecasts if you’re expecting a more time-consuming ascent.

– You will very quickly discover that many peaks are off the beaten path. Many trailheads (if there are trails at all) require some off-roading to reach, so be prepared for that possibility before you leave home.

– An ascent only counts if you make it back down — don’t put yourself in unnecessarily risky situations just to reach the top.

Idaho’s Pristine Mountain Ranges

Idaho is home to a number of diverse mountain ranges with enough summits to satisfy even the hungriest peak bagger. Here are a few with defining features of their own.

Sawtooth Mountains

The Sawtooth Mountains are easily among Idaho’s most famous mountains. In 2017, the town of Stanley, nestled at the base of the Sawtooths, was one of the most popular destinations for watching the total eclipse.

However, Stanley and the Sawtooths aren’t just famous for being in the eclipse spotlight. The Sawtooth Range is also home to some of the most iconic mountains in Idaho. These include McGowen Peak and the Grand Mogul, which crown local camping areas Stanley Lake and Redfish Lake respectively, along with the Elephant’s Perch, one of the most impressive big walls outside of Yosemite.

Mcgown Peak. Photo credit: Nick Cesare

The White Clouds

Just east of the Sawtooth Mountains lies the White Cloud Range. Unlike the Sawtooths, where intrepid peak baggers can base themselves out of the town of Stanley, enjoying all the creature comforts it offers before setting out for their summits, mountaineers with their eyes on the White Clouds often have to face long approaches to reach these peaks.

These long approaches are often worth it, though. The White Clouds offer many of the same kinds of peaks that you can find in the Sawtooths, but at even higher elevations and with the kind of seclusion that some mountaineers crave.

White Clouds Range. Photo credit: Wilderness.org

The Lost River Range

Home to Idaho’s tallest peaks, the Lost River Range holds seven of Idaho’s nine 12ers, including Borah Peak, the highest point in the state at 12,662 feet. Despite being incredibly remote, the main peaks in this range still see many ascents each year.

The exotic rock in the Lost River Range (volcanic rock with splotches of limestone scattered throughout) makes for engaging scrambling with iconic views — many peaks in the Lost River Range will grant hikers nearly endless views of flatter land to east and west.

Borah Peak Idaho. photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Bitterroot Mountains

The Bitterroot Mountains are where many of Idaho’s unclimbed peaks reside. In this day and age, it’s rare for any peak to be untouched and, although it’s always difficult to ascertain whether or not a peak is truly unclimbed, there are probably some good candidates in the Bitterroots for first ascents.

Unlike other ranges on this list, the Bitterroot Mountains are located in the Idaho panhandle, north of the bulk of the state’s landmass. They also sit along the Idaho-Montana border, making the Bitterroots a great choice for any multi-state peak bagging trips.

Bitterroot Mountains. Photo credit: Eric Gross

For mountaineers, Idaho is full of untapped potential. Many popular peaks in the state don’t get the attention that they deserve and some of the less popular mountains are full of undiscovered routes. Fewer still are waiting for intrepid peak baggers to claim first ascents on — an incredible rarity in today’s world.

Read more about the 10 best climbing festivals in the US and the return of remote big wall climbing

Feature image: Sawtooth Mountains. Photo credit: Andy Melton

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Nick Cesare

Nick Cesare is a writer from the great state of Idaho. He loves mountain biking and rock climbing throughout the Northwest. When he's not hitting the outdoors, Nick enjoys cooking healthy food.


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