Elevation: 8,801 ft
Climbing and access information for this peak is on Page 356 of the book. Please check the main Bannock Range page for access updates and corrections. Published November 2018
Elkhorn Mountain stretches for MILES on the west side of the I-15 corridor. Wakley Peak sits at the north end of this massive mountain. Though not difficult, climbing the peak via the south ridge is a long proposition. The summit is the home of the USGS Dan Benchmark.
South Ridge, Class 2+
Malad Summit Road crosses over I-15 (no exit here). It is located 8.1 miles south-southwest of Downey on the Old Malad Highway. Set your altimeter to 0.0 at the junction of Malad Summit Road and the Old Malad Highway and begin your drive westward up Malad Summit Road. At 2.1 miles, reach the Caribou National Forest boundary. The road now becomes FSR-041. At 2.4 miles, there is a signed right/north turn for the Wright Creek trailhead. There is a large parking area at the trailhead. The elevation at the trailhead is about 6,065 feet. The turnoff for Wright Creek trailhead is 0.6 miles before reaching the Summit Campground.
From the Wright Creek trailhead, hike up FST-330 (a good ATV trail) for a few minutes to reach a signed trail junction (RIGHT for FST-325; STRAIGHT for FST-330). Go STRAIGHT here. After 3.5 miles and 2,200 feet of uphill, reach the Elkhorn Divide at a small saddle. The trail crosses the divide at a narrow saddle at 8,260 feet and then drops down the west side. Leave the trail at the saddle and begin the ascent northward up the 2.5-mile south ridge of Wakley Peak.
This route has its ups and downs. The trail itself (FST-330) requires 90 feet of extra uphill (RT) and the south ridge requires another 850 feet of extra uphill (RT). The USGS topo map makes the south ridge look relatively easy, but it’s not quite that simple. The ridge has zigs and zags and also has rocky outcrops to maneuver around. There’s even a bit of forest thrown in for good measure. In the upper, open scrub section of this ridge (and near the summit), you are likely to see cattle grazing nearby.
From the 8,260-foot saddle, hike north up a steep, 2-track jeep road (which soon fades to a footpath) for about 200 vertical feet to its end. Leave the footpath after it has turned east. Find a good spot to climb left/north about 30 vertical feet up over an east spur to return to the south ridge proper. Mark the spot you crossed this east spur because you must find it on the descent. This is an easier way to ascend this section than the south ridge itself, which is very steep and is clogged with brush and trees.
After surmounting the east spur, you reach a flattish area of open, easy desert scrub. Head north from here and skirt the right/east side of rocky Point 8681. To ease the side-hilling, drop about 50 vertical feet to minimize the angled terrain. Navigate your way across talus/boulders and veg to a point where you can return leftward up onto the ridge crest just past Point 8681 at a minor saddle. Follow the ridge northeast from here until you reach a mix of large boulders and forest near Point 8610.
Descend north down through the open forest on the left/west side of the ridge crest to reach open terrain at a gentle saddle. You will find a good use trail in the forest to expedite the descent. At this saddle, a good 2-track jeep road awaits you. Follow the 2-track road northward up the ridge crest in open desert scrub. The road has some minor ups and downs over a few ridge humps. You soon reach a rocky ridge point that is located just south of the final ridge saddle. The 2-track road becomes so faint here (and moves to the left/west side of the ridge) that it is worthless.
The ridge crest now becomes rockier and has some simple rocky slabs/fins initially. The temptation here is to descend left/west of the ridge crest into the desert scrub to skirt these fins, but the scrub gets very thick and any cattle trails require more-than-necessary loss of elevation. The rocky ridge crest offers more stable footing with minimal veg to contend with. Scramble across the narrow fins then finish the descent to the final saddle on the ridge crest. The ridge drops noticeably here but is better footing than the remnants of an old jeep road to your left/west.
Once you reach the final, gentle saddle, you face a mix of ridge rock/pines and thick desert scrub, with no roads or cattle trails to help. The USGS topo map sure hides this mess quite well. Initially, go left/west of the ridge rock but, given the thick desert scrub (plus ups/downs of a series of minor boulders/aretes), return to the ridge crest rather quickly. Skirt the right/east side of a ridge block then get onto the ridge crest proper and scramble across the [exposed] edge of slab rock/fins protruding from the ground. Thankfully, this section is short, but it will get your heart rate up.
After completing your tightrope dance across the top of the fins, scramble up the final 100-150 vertical feet of desert scrub to the gentle summit. You will find a cattle trail to help here. The summit of Wakley Peak has a large, rectangular-shaped cairn and the makings of a rock shelter (a rock circle currently). I couldn’t find the USGS benchmark (Dan Benchmark).