The Clifton Basin 4-Pack by Livingston Douglas

Date of Climb:  September 15, 2019

This multi-peak climb and ridge traverse includes Buck Peak (7,579 feet), Peak 7870/Clifton Basin Peak, Weston Peak (8,165 feet) and Old Baldy Peak (8,356 feet). The climb begins and ends in Clifton Basin (6,320 feet). This endeavor covers 9.5 miles and entails 4,350 feet of elevation gain. It involves road/trail hiking as well as off-trail scrambling and bushwhacking. The ridge traverse offers magnificent views. USGS Clifton


Clifton Basin Road/FSR-045 begins as South 1st West Street (signed) at the south end of Clifton, ID. It is a L/W turnoff from the unsigned, paved “Oxford Highway” which runs northward from ID-36 (in Dayton, ID) to US-91 north of Oxford, ID. Clifton Basin Road is 5.3 miles north of ID-36 in Dayton. Clifton Basin Road is mostly on private land, but it eventually reaches the Caribou-Targhee National Forest at a cattle gate at the 4.3-mile mark. At 4.4 miles, you reach Clifton Basin and a corral. The elevation here is 6,320 feet. Please note that the USGS topo map is grossly inaccurate as to where the NF boundary line is. The boundary is much higher up than the USGS topo map shows. The NFS map accurately places the NF boundary close to Clifton Basin.

The Climb

From Clifton Basin, hike N up FSR-045 about a mile to 6,800 feet in a flattish, forested area. Leave the road here and bushwhack E to cross a tiny stream then NE through a short section of dense forest/brush to reach open grass/sagebrush (mostly field grass). Work your way NE up the slope to the rounded South Ridge of Buck Peak. Follow the ridge northward to the mountain mahogany-clad summit cap. The terrain on the small summit area is a mix of scattered mountain mahogany and ground boulders.

The summit high point is a rocky perch hidden among the mountain mahogany. There is a small summit cairn here. From the summit, descend SW for about 100 vertical feet through dense mountain mahogany, large boulders, and ground slabs to reach open field grass. Follow the L/S side of an old cattle fence all the way down to the ridge saddle at the base of the Southwest Ridge. FSR-045 crosses this saddle.

From the saddle, follow a footpath SW on the L/SE side of a fence row. The terrain here is dense forest and brush. Regrettably, the fence row soon ends but there is still a narrow footpath near the ridge crest. The terrain here is thick willows and brush. Do everything you can to stay on this elusive trail because the off-trail bushwhacking is difficult. The trail itself is surrounded and/or overgrown with willows/brush, but it is still somewhat useful.

The ridge bends L/S and reaches open scrub. At this point, a well-defined footpath emerges. Follow this unofficial trail W up the ridge crest to the top of Point 7863. This is one of four bald ridge points. The third ridge hump is the summit of Peak 7870. But you still have a good 0.8 mile to go before you can celebrate on top of that peak. This ridge does some weaving around, so don’t be surprised by that. The terrain on this ridge traverse is mostly short scrub and broken scree but there is at least one section of thick veg/willows. Stay on the trail to make the quickest progress.

The ups and downs on the ridge will frustrate you, as will the West wind, which is almost always blowing up here, even on a calm Sunday morning. When you finally reach the ridge crest summit of Peak 7870, you will find remnants of a summit cairn. I rebuilt it with the few pieces of talus/scree that I could find. Surprisingly, this summit doesn’t seem to see many visitors. From the summit, follow a decent 2-track jeep road that follows the ridge as it heads southward, climbs up over another ridge bump then doglegs R/W for a short distance. The old road then doglegs L/S to make the final descent to a saddle. FST-444 comes up from Clifton Basin to cross the ridge crest at this saddle.

From the saddle, follow FST-443 (a MC trail) briefly S then SE onto the crest of the Northwest Ridge. When the trail leaves the Northwest Ridge to contour around the West Face of Weston Peak, leave the trail to scramble/bushwhack up the Northwest Ridge directly to the summit. Initially, there is a weak game trail on the ridge crest that flames out when you reach the forest at about 7,700 feet. The final 450+ feet of uphill is no picnic.

The ridge is a mix of dense forest, underbrush, and narrow rocky outcrops. This is a tedious bushwhack. The summit of Weston Peak is semi-open with scattered mountain mahogany trees. A modest cairn sits on the high point at the base of one of these trees. There is no trail leading down the Southwest Ridge of Weston Peak. The terrain here is somewhat steep, with loose dirt and scree/gravel among scattered mountain mahogany. It goes quickly but does require some weaving around.

Once you reach the saddle, you will find a good MC trail crossing the ridge there. Follow an old jeep road up the North Ridge of Old Baldy Peak. The jeep road morphs into a good MC/foot trail and leads all the way to the summit. The summit of Old Baldy Peak has a nice cairn with a triangulation post and wiring laying near it. From the summit, retrace your steps back to the summit of Weston Peak.

The Descent

From the summit of Weston Peak, descend E on a ridge (briefly) then L/NE on another ridge. This upper ridge area is somewhat rocky and narrow. You soon reach the pine forest and lose your visuals, so a compass is helpful here. Work your way down through the relatively-easy pine forest in a NE or N direction. The terrain is a convoluted mess of minor shoulders and gullies. Let the terrain push you downward toward Clifton Basin as easily as possible.

If you err, then go too far L/N and find the dry drainage that ends at Clifton Basin (FST-444 is in the center of the drainage). Do not wander too far to the E. This is not a short bushwhack. It is at least 1-1/2 miles long, so stick with it. Eventually, you will reach an old road (i.e., FST-444). Follow it briefly NE to reach Clifton Basin, where FST-444 intersects FSR-045.

To sum up, this multi-peak climb and ridge traverse begins with a climb of the Southwest Face/South Ridge of Buck Peak (7,579 feet). It drops to a saddle via the Southwest Ridge. From the saddle, the route then climbs the Northeast Ridge of Peak 7870/Clifton Basin Peak and subsequently descends the South Ridge to yet another saddle. From this saddle, the journey continues up the Northwest Ridge of Weston Peak and descends the Southwest Ridge to a saddle. From this saddle, climb the North Ridge of Old Baldy Peak. Return to the summit of Weston Peak via the ascent route. Descend the Northeast Slopes of Weston Peak to reach Clifton Basin and your awaiting vehicle.