Elevation: 8,282 ft
This peak is found on page 68. Grave Peak is an impressive summit topped by a fire lookout. Thanks to Dan Saxton and Mike Hays for providing the following updated route information and photos.
Grave Peak Update by Mike Hays
Grave Peak is an imposing, highly sculpted, three-sided pyramid in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness south of Powell, Idaho. Powell is about an hour southwest of Missoula, Montana. At 8,282 feet Grave Peak is not high on most elevation lists; however, it is a very significant mountain for a number of reasons.
As a part of the overall Bitterroot Mountains, Grave Peak is separated from the backbone of the main Bitterroots on the Idaho/Montana border by a broad expanse of lower mountains and large drainages that form the headwaters of the Lochsa River on the north and Moose Creek, the principal tributary of the Selway River to the south. Being entirely in the Clearwater Basin, Grave Peak can be considered part of the expansive Clearwater Mountains, where it is the highest in that countless sea of summits, excluding a handful of mountains on or directly connected to the Salmon/Clearwater Divide at the subrange’s south border. Grave Peak also has an impressive 2,502 feet of prominence.
The three glacially carved faces of the summit pyramid fall into broad basins with multiple cirques and numerous lakes. The peak rises nearly 1,500 feet above the southwest basin, which has five lakes in two cirque basins. To the west, the Wind Lakes basin contains four terraces ranging from 860 to 1,900 feet below the summit. This basin has eight lakes or larger ponds.
The north face of the peak is the most spectacular and rises a sheer 1,300 to 1,800 feet above three lakes and a pond. The main ridges from the summit have multiple cirques with a total of 11 more lakes. Altogether the slopes of Grave Peak support an incredible 29 lakes and larger ponds within a 3-mile radius of the summit. Most of these lakes are unnamed and shallow, but some are deeper and contain fish. The lower Walton Lake on the north end of the general ridge mass is said to be 265 feet deep!
Grave Peak’s summit flanks drain into the Lochsa River, a primary tributary of the Clearwater River. Part of Friday Ridge, which extends south from the summit, drains into the Selway River. The general vicinity has a moist maritime climate, and the lower elevations support groves of giant Western Red Cedar, some reaching six feet or more in diameter.
As elevation increases, the slopes are covered with variously mixed conifer forests up to the subalpine, which is dominated by whitebark pine and subalpine fir. Open expanses of heather and other subalpine sub-shrubs are frequent. The north-facing cirques are filled with snow much of the year and contain stands of often stunted Subalpine Larch. This northern tree species extends south in the U.S. to the Cascade, Selkirk, Bitterroot and portions of the main northern Rocky mountains. Snowfall in this area is very heavy and larger cornices, or north-facing packs, can last late into the summer and sometimes even yearlong.
A lookout remains on the summit, one of the few survivors of hundreds of such structures that dotted the peaks of the northern Rockies in the early to mid-1900s. The lookout was built in 1924 and abandoned in 1967. Though it has not functioned for many years, some private efforts have completed minor repairs in an effort to maintain the structure. There isn’t really a summit register inside, but several miscellaneous papers lying around that people have signed. Of course, many people have carved their initials on the walls and done some damage as well. Some miscellaneous food and supplies have been left assumingly for people to use if needed, but most of it appears to be very old.
There are three primary ways to reach the summit. All three start with a turnoff of Highway 12 about 0.5 miles east of mile marker 163 onto the Elk Summit Road (Forest Service Road [FSR] 360).
Wind Lakes Trail via Tom Beal Park. From Highway 12, turn south on Elk Summit Road (360) and continue 1.2 miles to FSR 362. Turn right on FSR 362 and continue for about 11 miles to road’s end at Tom Beal Park. This park is an area of open subalpine forest and meadows with good dispersed camping sites and multiple trailheads.
From Tom Beal Park, the signed trail (7) to the Wind Lakes heads south across a meadow. The trail slowly descends about 1,150 feet to Tom Beal Creek for about 2 miles where it meets the Wind Lake Creek trail (24). Turn left/east and climb 1,400 feet for about two more miles to the easternmost of the two larger Wind Lakes (elevation 7,111 feet). From here, scramble the southwest face of the peak through steep rocky tree tangled terrain for nearly 1,200 feet to the summit. Or stay on the trail (now trail 45) to the southeast and climb about 800 feet to Friday Pass. Then, follow the ridge north to the summit. From the lakes below this trail, it is about two more miles to the summit.
North Ridge via Walton Lakes Trailhead. From Highway 12, turn south on Elk Summit Road (360) and continue 1.2 miles to FSR 362. Turn right on FSR 362 and continue for 8.9 miles to a turnoff to the left. Here a small sign indicates it’s 1.5 miles to Walton Lakes. Take the turnoff that ends at the trailhead for Walton Lakes after 0.1 miles and park.
A few trails lead off through the trees to the south and most wander around before ending, only wasting time. Thus, the best approach is to get on the east edge of the ridge and walk south along it. A good trail soon forms and continues for about 1.5 miles before ending near a broad ridge high point. The ascent is gradual and extremely scenic as you hike through open subalpine forests and heavy heather thickets with incredible views of the main Bitterroots to the east. At about the 0.75-mile mark you meet the unmarked boundary to the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness.
From the rounded ridge point, follow the main ridge west, then south, toward Grave Peak. The ridge is easy going most of the way. Near the summit, the east side of the ridge forms a vertical wall of impassable rock. Here, move to the west side and continue to the nook in the ridge at the base of the summit pyramid. Much of the west side becomes impassable rock, but with minimal exposure you can pick your way across the bottom of most of it, yet stay above steeper slopes below. Once you reach the nook on the main ridgeline, scramble up and over the blocky granite to the summit. The lower end of this reach is more difficult due to the very tangled, stunted forest, but that soon diminishes making the ascent easier. The summit is 4.6 miles from the trailhead.
Road 358 via Elk Summit Road. From Highway 12 turn south on Elk Summit Road (360) and drive about 15.25 miles to the junction of FSR 358, which turns off to the west. This road is about 1 mile north of where Elk Summit Road crosses Bridge Creek. This road is open yearlong (or when snow will allow) for the first 2.2 miles. Walk for about 1 mile the road turns into trail 45. Continue on the trail for about 4 miles to Friday Pass. Here go north for about 1 mile to the summit of Grave Peak.
Grave Peak Update by Dan Saxton
Perhaps the most scenic way to approach Grave Peak is from the north, the Tom Beal Park area. Starting at the Walton Lakes trailhead (at 7,000 feet), follow the small path south up to Peak 8,042, which is a perfect short hike in its own right. From here, a faint and rougher route continues to Grave Peak itself, and the ridge grows increasingly craggier the closer you get to the peak. When the terrian becomes too knifey, start slabbing it on the right side, high above the Wind Lakes. The final climb to the summit is 400 vertical feet of steep class 3 boulder scrambling.
From the top, descend the east side and then north to visit Colt Lake, a beautiful spot with several camping possibilities. The sheer north face of the Grave Peak is very striking. And it’s not too hard to regain the ridge leading back to the Tom Beal road from there.
USGS Topo: Grave Peak