Outdoors

Selkirk Alpine Lakes

Selkirk Alpine LakesThe numerous alpine lakes cradled deep within the Selkirks are one of the most outstanding attractions of the area. These lakes, combined with the access trails to them, provide the outdoor enthusiast a taste of some of Mother Nature's finest handiwork.

The most spectacular of these mountain lakes are in the mountains above the east side of Priest Lake. They include Hunt Lake, Fault Lake, Standard Lake and numerous others nestled in high mountain bowls.

The roads and trails into these gems vary greatly in difficulty of travel. If you are not familiar with the route to your destination lake, it is best to check with the Idaho Department of Lands office at the foot of Cavanaugh Bay before you depart. They can update you on road/trail conditions and other activities in the area such as logging operations, etc.

The reward for the more rigorous terrain is that fewer people will be encountered along the route and at the alpine lake. Some of the lakes can be visited in a day trip while other more isolated lakes will require overnight camping. If you enjoy backpacking, camping in the wilderness, and fishing alpine lakes, you won't be disappointed in trekking to these secluded hideaways--and exploring the unpublished trail systems that link many of these lakes.

There are two popular alpine lakes in the mountains on the west side of Priest Lake. They are Petit Lake Muskegon Lake.  Both lakes have a vehicle parking area nearby. If you are so inclined, drop a line in either lake and you will likely have a fish on the other end in a blink of an eye. Since both of these lakes are located in Washington, fishing regulations of that state apply.

NOTE: This trails to the alpine lakes system are not maintained and travel may include negotiating downfalls, brush, and other obstacles. Land navigation equipment and skills may be required to remain on the correct roads and trails as some are not well marked. High clearance or 4X4 vehicles are recommended to access trailheads. Information and maps for the east side alpine lakes are available at the Idaho Department of Lands office at the foot of Cavanaugh Bay.

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Salmo-Priest Wilderness Area

Salmo-PriestWant to "get away from it all" and "get lost" in an area where you can enjoy nature in a nearly pristine condition?? You can find that in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness. The Salmo-Priest area encompasses 39,937 acres that was preserved in 1984 under The Wilderness Act of 1964.

As stated in the Wilderness Act, this area is recognized as undeveloped land where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. Salmo-Priest is located in the northeast corner of the State of Washington just north of the Granite Falls region and directly west-northwest of Hughes Meadow. It is jointly administered by the Sullivan Lake Ranger District and the Priest Lake Ranger District.

A wide variety of wildlife make their home in Salmo-Priest and you will likely observe several different 'critters'. The ecosystem supports three animals protected by the Endangered Species Act - the grizzly bear, the woodland caribou and the gray wolf.

Most trail signs in the Salmo-Priest are short on information. They typically provide a destination, such as "Thunder Mountain" and an arrow to indicate its direction. That's all! No mileage, trail names or numbers. A good contour (topographic) map and compass are essential tools in the Salmo-Priest. Where else but in the wilderness would you have such an opportunity to employ and improve your land navigation skills?

Prior to any trip into Salmo-Priest, a visit to either the Priest Lake or Sullivan Lake Ranger Station is highly recommended. Obtain a copy of the Salmo-Priest Wilderness Guidebook and purchase ($4.00) a Salmo-Priest Wilderness Map. You will also be provided with current information concerning policies and regulations pertaining to Salmo-Priest.

A trip into the Salmo-Priest provides the ideal opportunity to expose one's soul to the solitude, serenity and space of one of the great wilderness areas in the "Lower 48". Enjoy this unique ecosystem, its primeval character and the 'primitive' recreation experience it offers.

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Rock Climbing

Rock climbing has a strong history in the Priest Lake area. Because you can see chimney rock from the lake, many early Priest Lake visitors talked about whether or not chimney rock would ever be climbed. Mountaineers from Seattle tried to climb the rock in 1933. They were unsuccessful, but returned the following year to put a team of 4 climbers on top. The route they took has become the standard route to the top, to this day still a hair-raising trip. Chimney Rock was soloed the following year by an ambitious climber in tennis shoes. John Booth started the approach from his parents cabin at Indian Creek bay, hiking a rough trail from the lake to the base of Chimney. He climbed up and down the rock without a rope and back to his parents cabin by nightfall. This rather alarming feat would still be considered a major event even by today's high rock climbing standards.

Chimney rock was virtually ignored until the early 70's, when the team of John Roskelley and Chris Kopszynski came on the scene. This team was the first to free climb the east face. The east face is the side we can't see from Priest Lake. This face is steeper and longer than the Priest Lake side and overhangs 15 feet at the top. As John describes it, he was lay backing up a flake when his arms tired and he started sliding down. The corduroy pants he was wearing caught on the flake just long enough for him to pound in a piton. He claims it's the first time he realized he could die in the mountains.

There are over 20 routes to the top of Chimney Rock and 2 routes of descent. The rappel chimney on the west face is the normal route of descent and can be done with one rope. The east face descent is free hanging for most of the second rappel and requires two ropes. Both routes of descent require some easy down climbing to reach the base safely. There is also a rough climbers trail that winds around the base of the north face, providing access to the east side.

A climb of Chimney Rock is an all day outing. The rock can be reached via the Mount Roothaan trailhead. It takes 2 hours from the car to the base of Chimney Rock, and 3 to 4 hours to complete the climb. A guidebook is available from Keokee press that describes the approach and the climbing routes. The book is called  "Climbers guide to North Idaho and the Cabinet wilderness" written by Thaddeus Laird.

A local climbing area within 20 minutes of Priest Lake that is easily accessible is Granite Pass. Granite Pass is located on Idaho highway 57 about 12 miles north of Nordman and one mile north of Granite Falls. The road passes through cliffs that are 50 feet high. Easy to rope or lead climbs are found on both sides of the road. You can park next to the climbing and easily walk around the back of each cliff to set up top rope anchors. Most of these anchors consist of large trees, but some chain anchors are in place.

The classic route here is Spider in the Crux, a bolted sport climb that was first climbed in 1995 by Charlie Sassara. This striking line is located on the buttress on the right side of the road as you drive north. It was top-roped for many years by slinging 2 large boulders at the top for anchors. Local bolters equipped the route, but before they could complete the first lead of the climb, on a warm August evening, Alaskan ace and climbing guide Sassara led the route.

The newest area to be developed is Lions Head. This granite spire is twice as high as Chimney Rock and just as steep. Charlie Sassara was on scene here as well, establishing the first ascent of the west face, a climb he calls The Fugitive. The north face route, a route called Lion Tamer, is the longest climbing route in the Selkirk mountains. Only a handful of climbers have ventured onto the north face, a free climb since 1991.

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River Running

Priest River meanders along a 44-mile course from Priest Lake to its confluence with the Pend Oreille River near the City of Priest River.  Mother Nature seems to have created this river especially for that special group of people who enjoy experiencing the power and beauty of a river flowing through incredible scenery while at the same time, meeting the challenges of white water river navigation.

Depending on the time of the year, Priest River provides a wide variety of water conditions that make each run a unique experience. Those conditions range from slow moving, laid back sightseeing, to fast-moving, breath-holding, white-knuckled Class III rapids. The views from the river are as extraordinary and varied as the water conditions. Sections of the river flow through canyon-like settings then open to other sections which are deeply-forested, then to areas of wide open pasture lands with the magnificent Selkirk Mountains providing the backdrop.

Spring runoff turns Priest River into a swift, high water, thrill-a-minute ride. During this stage, a trip down the river should be attempted by only very experienced river runners.  After the runoff and into the summer season, the water level recedes and the river flow slows to a speed suitable for most all canoes, kayaks and inflatables.  During this late spring-early summer season, the rapids present a variety of ever-changing technical challenges. The two Class III rapids become slalom courses that rigorously test your maneuverability and agility skills.

During late summer, it is advisable to check with the Priest Lake Ranger District prior to planning a float trip. Lack of summer rain may reduce the volume of water in the river to levels unsuitable for float trips.

In mid-October, Priest Lake storage water is released into the river. This normally brings the river to an ideal level and flow speed for float trips. This period of cooler temperatures and fall colors make a trip down the river an unforgettable experience.

A Priest River Float Trip pamphlet that provides a map and pertinent information on access points, routes, etc. is available from the USFS Priest Lake Ranger District office on State Highway 57 (Milepost 32).

 




 




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