The Lemhi Range

The Lemhi Range is a linear mountain chair that runs from Salmon in a southeasterly direction for 100 miles to the Snake River plain. It varies in width from 10 to 15 miles. The Pahsimeroi and Little Lost River Valleys border the range on its western side, and the Lemhi and Birch Creek valleys parallel its eastern side.

The Lemhis are a fault block range composed of hard dolomites, limestone and crumbling volcanic rocks. Glaciation along the crest has carved the relatively soft rock at will. While many peaks are nothing more than incredible piles of talus, others are solid blocks that present impressive faces to the valleys below. The crest of the range rises at least a mile above the broad alluvial valleys that flank it, staying above 10,000 feet in elevation.

The northern section of the range is a wilderness (so far without official designation) of high peaks, remote valleys and many mountain lakes. The central sections of the Lemhis are narrower, steeper and drier than the north: They contain the range's most impressive peaks: 12,197-foot Diamond Peak and Bell Mountain (11,000+ feet). The southern end of the Lemhi Range, south of Saddle Mountain, is a semi-desert region characterized by deep canyons and massive cliffs. The two most impressive of these canyons are Box and East canyons. Box Canyon is a winding canyon that has several archaeological sites and some impressive cliffs. East Canyon, located north of Box Canyon, is most noted for its tremendous limestone cliffs, the largest of which is capped by a large natural bridge. These canyons were used extensively by early Indians; more than 18 major archaeological sites have been identified in this area.

The foothills and lower slopes of the Lemhi Range are administered in the north by the Salmon District of the BLM, and in the south by the Idaho Falls District of the BLM. Three national forests share the backbone of the range. The Salmon National Forest manages the entire northernmost 25 miles of the Lemhis and the eastern side of the crest south to Sheep Mountain. The Challis National Forest manages the remaining western side of the crest south to the Snake River Plain; the Targhee National Forest administers the southern half of the Lemhis east of the crest.

Hiking opportunities abound; in the northern part of the range, an extensive trail system features some of the best hiking in the state. The southern part of the range has few trails, but is open and conducive to cross-country travel. Recreational use of the range is limited because few Lemhi Range trailheads are accessible without a 4WD.

Climbing opportunities within the range, for the most part, fall within the Class 2 to 4 categories, with the majority of the routes rated Class 2. Technical climbing is limited due to the broken condition of the Lemhi limestone. Winter mountaineering will involve long approaches up to the bases of the mountains. While snowfall is not excessive on the alluvial fans, the wind generally blows the snow into drifts that prevent vehicle access and leave much of the ground bare and unsuitable for skiing. While there are no recorded winter ascents in the Lemhis, some have undoubtedly occurred.

Lem Peak 10,985 feet
This impressive mountain is a jagged peak on the Lemhi crest 16 miles south of Sal Mountain. Lem Peak has four ridges, all of which are climbable.

May Mountain 10,971 feet (Class 3-4)
May Mountain is the sharp sedimentary summit that sits 2.5 miles due south of Long Mountain on the main Lemhi crest. The route to the summit May Mountain begins along the East Fork of Morgan Creek and FST-071 [Approach: (C)(l)(b)]. Leave the trail where it crosses the saddle southwest of the summit (and just east of Point 8140 on your USGS quad). Work your way northwest to the Lemhi crest 0.8 mile south of the summit. Follow this ridge north to the base of the summit pyramid and begin your climb on its western side, just below the ridge crest. This route climbs up for roughly 500 feet on loose talus and disintegrating ledges until a Class 4 wall in a V-shaped alcove blocks further progress. From this point, there are two options. The first climbs the Class 4 wall. Start on its south side and traverse to your left around a boulder into the center of the wall. From this point, climb straight up above the wall to the sloping ramp, which can be easily followed to the top of the summit ridge. The moves on the wall involve considerable exposure and loose holds.

The second option begins at the base of the Class 4 wall and follows a ledge south to the ridge crest and a notch. From the notch, descend to a debris-covered ramp, which can be followed up the east side of the ridge under overhanging cliffs to a steep 50-foot-high mud- and rock-filled gully. Carefully climb the gully, which is slippery and subject to rockfall. At its top, turn left and climb up for 15 feet to the top of the summit ridge. Climbing the south ridge involves a 10-mile round-trip with 4,500 feet of elevation gain. Set aside plenty of time and carry extra water.

Bell Mountain 11,618 feet (Class 3)
This peak, named after Robert Bell, Idaho's first state mining inspector, looks like a giant imitation of the Liberty Bell. It is located 7.5 miles south of Trail Peak. Its rugged summit block dominates both the Little Lost River and Birch Creek valleys. The summit block is composed of rock that varies in composition from solid and stable to broken and loose.

In 1980, an old tobacco can and several plastic bags formed a makeshift summit register. The Amy family of Howe had signed in on the register almost every year since the register was placed on the mountain. Lyman Dye has climbed the peak from every side and pioneered the four most difficult routes on the summit block. USGS Diamond Peak 15-minute.

West Face (Class 3)
Approach this route by driving to Baysinger Creek [Approach: (C)(7)], where you will find running water and several good campsites. The West Face route begins here, at about 6,400 feet, and climbs south up a steep slope to the top of the west ridge, through aspens, sagebrush and into Douglas fir. Once on the main ridge, take its crest up to beeline at 10,000 feet. Traverse along this skyline portion of the ridge around two rock towers to the base of the summit dome. To reach the summit, climb the middle rib on the west face of the dome. This rib is steep, but the route moves from one small shelf to another and the exposure is minimal.

Southwest Gully (Class 4)
This gully is located between the west face and southwest ridge; access it from Black Creek [Approach: (C)(7)]. The first ascent was accomplished by L. Dye, A. Barnes and W. Boyer, in 1963.

East Ridge (Class 3)
Approach from ID-28 on the Charcoal Kiln Road [Approach: (A)(3)]. Hike up Bell Mountain Canyon and gain the east ridge, which leads to the summit.

Northeast Ridge (Class 4)
This prominent ridge leads steeply to the summit, involving moderately difficult pitches with moderate exposure. Access from the Charcoal Kiln Road [Approach: (A)(3)]. The first ascent was by L. Dye in 1963.

North Couloir (Snow Climb)
This route offers an early season snow and ice climb of over 700 feet on 50-degree slopes. Gain the couloir from upper Bell Mountain Creek. The first ascent was by L. Dye in 1962.

Northwest Face (Class 4)
Moderate Class 4 climbing leads to the top of this near-vertical face. First ascent by L. Dye, A. Barnes and W. Boyer, in 1973.

Tyler Peak 10,740 feet
This interesting summit sits high above Tyler Canyon, 12 miles south of Diamond Peak. From the mouth of Tyler Canyon, the peak's east side gains roughly 4,500 feet in less than 3 miles. USGS Tyler Peak.

East Side (YD5 5.4)
Follow Tyler Canyon until you can gain the east ridge line, which descends directly from the summit. This ridge is on the north side of Tyler Canyon [Approach: (A)(1)]. It is possible to climb the ridge without any difficulty except for the last 200 feet. The crux continues up a narrow snow gully that varies from six feet to two feet in width as it cuts through a rock band. The rock is reportedly good (remember, everything is relative) and the holds are more than adequate.

Northwest Face (Class 3)
Drive as far as your 4WD vehicle will carry you on the North Creek Road [Approach: (C)(11)]. Then follow the creek bottom toward the crest, to a point just north of Point 10401. Continue up the northwest slope until you are about 300 feet below the summit. At this point, cut back to the west toward the west ridge. Gain the west ridge and scramble to the summit.

West Ridge (Class 2)
Climb the west ridge directly from North Creek [Approach: (C)(11)]; there are no particular difficulties with this route.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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