Outdoors

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 (Mile Post 32).

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Priest River Experimental Forest

Some of the most interesting Priest Lake area history can be found south of the lake approximately nine miles. At this location you will discover the headquarters of the Priest River Experimental Forest. The site was established in the early 1900's as the Northern Rocky Mountain Experimental Forest Station and has been in continuous operation ever since.

Administered by the Forest Service Research branch of the USFS, the experimental forest accomplishes very important forest research. The research results derived from the on-the-ground testing enables managers to better conserve and utilize our precious forests. Present activities at the Priest River Experimental Forest - Gisborne Mountain

Experimental Forest include silviculture, soil and plant genetics research; weather and stream flow monitoring; snow pack observations; educational seminars; and international residential research projects.

Administered by the Forest Service Research branch of the USFS, the experimental forest accomplishes very important forest research. The research results derived from the on-the-ground testing enables managers to better conserve and utilize our precious forests. Present activities at the Priest River Experimental Forest - Gisborne Mountain

Experimental Forest include silviculture, soil and plant genetics research; weather and stream flow monitoring; snow pack observations; educational seminars; and international residential research projects.

A small museum is located in the headquarters building. Here you can relive some of the history of this important facility. Scientific instruments and old documents that were used at the station during the early years are on display. Note that the original interior cedar planking has remained in mint condition. The headquarters building is open Mon - Fri during normal business hours.

Much of the Priest River Experimental Forest research is accomplished on Gisborne Mountain, a 5,595 foot peak on the southeast edge of the experimental forest property. A trip to the lookout on Gisborne Mountain is well worth the time and effort. The lookout area provides great views of Schweitzer Mountain, Bald Mountain, Priest Lake, and both Priest River and Pend Oreille River valleys - not to mention some fine huckleberry areas enroute to the mountaintop.

To reach the Priest River Experimental Forest/Gisborne Mountain, travel south 9.2 miles from Coolin on the East River Road (State Forest Road #1). At this point, you will find an intersection with USFS Road 597. A large Priest River Experimental Forest sign is located at the intersection. Turn left (east) and follow the signs to the headquarters building, approximately one-half mile distance. To begin the journey to Gisborne Mountain, continue on the road through the headquarters area until it intersects USFS Road 597A. Turn left and follow the well-marked road approximately 8 miles up the mountain. The road narrows considerably as you near the top and reaches a saddle at its highest point. Proceed beyond the saddle until a small gated road leading to the north becomes visible. Park at the gate and hike the 1/2-mile to the lookout.

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