Thursday, September 26, 2013

Grave Peak Lookout

The mighty Lochsa. Bitterroot Mountains. Grave Peak. This land is one of history.

Bud Moore, who knew the Lochsa country better then anyone before or since, watched the last Bitterroot Grizzly exterminated here in the 1940's. Bob Marshall was treed by a silvertip just below the summit in the 1930's. And of course, a young Norman Maclean was stationed here as a lookout in the summer of 1919, five years before the present D-6 cupola was erected to give permanent shelter to those in that line of work.

The peak sits at 8282' on a prominent ridge across the valley to the west of the Big Bitterroots. Jerry Johnson named the peak in 1886 after his friend Isaac, whom he buried at it's base. On that occasion Isaac was extremely ill, but ventured into the mountains guiding Johnson to where a spectacular seam of gold lay. Before Isaac could make the ridge, he looked at Johnson, pointed east and said "See snow. Sun", and then passed. To this day no one has found that seam.

We were not up here chasing gold legends, but the last rays of summer before the Lochsa surrendered to the inevitable autumn snow cycles. For me, it was also a chance to spend time with two good friends who for various reasons (Shaun, injured. Jeff, weekends full of music gigs.) haven't been able to get into the mountains much lately.

The north ridge was the choice route. An unofficial one mile trail leads to a high point. From there, it's 3.5 miles to the summit. After 3 of those miles, and before things got real - in the form of actual scrambling - we dove down to the largest of the Wind Lakes to set up camp, take a nap, and enjoy the sun. The summit was accessed from the trail leading over Friday Pass. It didn't seem a trail could crawl up the south spine, but someone built it, and we made it. Even Jeff's dog, Bentley.

The precariously perched tower is the last remaining D-6 cupola standing in Idaho, and is in decent shape. An effort was made in 1998 to reenforce its shutters and stabilize the structure. Although, a full restoration is not on the horizon. Grave Peak Lookout suffers the fate of lying one mile on the wrong side of a Wilderness boundary. If a restoration plan would take shape, time would need to be budgeted for inevitable lawsuits to run their course, and maybe a Congressional hearing or two.

Not that any of that was on our minds as we stared at the immensely layered spaces in every direction. Breathtaking scenes that have barley changed since that August day in 1919 when Maclean stood on this pointy rocky top and thought "When I looked, I knew I might never again see so much of the earth so beautiful, the beauty being something you know added to something you see, in a whole that is different from the sum of it's parts... From where I stood to the Bitterroot wall, which could have been the end of the world, was all windrows of momentary white. Beyond the wall, it seemed likely, eternity went on in windrows of Bitterroot Mountains and summer..."

After an hour on the summit, our empty water bottles told us it was time for retreat. We took a cutoff trail down to the upper Wind Lake, past the spot where Maclean pitched his tent 94 years ago, and the following morning left these mountains, and with it, summer.

On the playlist: Alt-J - Ms

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