Day 1 of our southeast Idaho tour was mostly driving, then 2 easy county highpoints on the Idaho/Utah border.
Day 1, Highpoint 1
The first we did was Franklin County in Idaho. We accessed this by taking Cub River Road road out of Preston, Idaho and driving to the northern reaches of Egan Basin. After waiting out a short rain storm, we headed out, following an ATV road at the northern head of Egan Basin, then bushwhacked up the tree covered slopes to the highpoint. The highpoint, unnamed 9484, was an easy hike on moderately steep slopes. The highpoint was on a rock outcropping with scattered trees and views of Bear Lake. We found a register and an entry declaring the mountain's name as "The Felt Hat".
After Franklin County, we were off to Rich County in Utah. From the northern end of Egan Basin, we headed road south through Egan Basin and down to Utah 243, then to US 89. The Rich County highpoint is called Bridger Peak and is 9255 feet tall. The drive took about 1 hour from Franklin County and was on good roads. After following the road into Swan Valley, we found a sign indicating the Idaho/Utah stateline. Knowing the highpoint is nearly on the stateline, we and parked nearby and followed an imaginary line up the brush-covered, then forested slope to the highpoint. The highpoint has a large cairn and limited views. We could see Bear Lake below us. On descent, the views of the Swan Valley below us and snow covered peaks to our west were quite enjoyable.
After finishing the Rich County highpoint we followed US 89 into Logan, Utah and grabbed dinner. We then followed Highway 91 north up into Idaho. At around midnight, we finally found a suitable camp site along the Oxford Peak Davis Basin approach road. After a long and muddy drive, we finally were able to relax. Not too much later, an intense thunderstorm rolled through.
We drove the short distance from our campsite to Davis Basin. This was on a rough road and we finally quit driving when the road become too narrow. The road turns narrow right in the general vicinity the topo map shows it going from road to jeep trail. From there, we hiked up the ATV track for 1.1 miles, where it branched. We took the middle fork, which followed the track north up Oxford ridge. Once on this ridge, we had finally escaped the mosquitoes that had plagued us in Davis Basin. Just follow the track on the open ridge for many miles. You eventually reach Peak 8735, then drop down off the ridge several hundred feet and then start climbing Oxford Peak itself finally. There are four major bumps on the peak. Zach and I felt the highest was the third bump, not the fourth (northernmost) where the register and cemented cairn are found. The trail is good all the way to the summit.
This was a rough day for me for some reason. The mosquitoes bothered me early. I had some issues we my inner thighs. Later, my feet were horribly tore up. I generally felt like dirt after this hike! Oxford is a neat peak though and the views of the surrounding valleys are impressive.
Zach did well on this hike, which was encouraging because it meant he was in good condition despite having been in Florida for nearly a year. It did make me question my own fitness level though...
After Oxford, we headed north towards Blackfoot. Here we drove out to the Bingham County trailhead. Unfortunately, we found the gate to be locked and didn't have time for the 10 mile hike that would be required. After some research and a lot of driving, we found out the name of the homeowner and got his phone number. Unfortunately, even at that point, it was too late to attempt even the short version of the hike (had he allowed us through the gate). This forced change one to the trip, where we decided to do the dreaded 20-mile, Garns-Piney-Red Butte trip in the Big Hole mountains. So off to Heise we headed. We meant to find a camp spot before the trailhead, but ended up driving the entire way. Just before dark, we arrived and started preparing for the next day's brutality.
Day 3 (The Endurance Challenge)
We camped at the trailhead near Moody Swamp. Today we are going to hike to Garns and Piney peaks (potential Teton County highpoints) and Red Butte (highpoint of Madison County). We chose this route, because we were short on time, knew someone that pulled it off, and was the best way to get all 3 peaks in a single day.
We woke early and were on the trail by 6 AM. It was cold and damp, but we moved quickly on the relatively level and nice trail. At 1 hour, we broke and I mole-skinned my feet. We then ran into deep snow and I began to question our plans. While we were doing fine on the hard-packed snow, I knew we would later be 2000 feet higher. We broke out into Thousand Springs Valley and made our first tactical error of the day. Instead of staying on the trail that lead to Blacktail Pass, we forked off and headed up the ridge to the south and above the valley. This got us to the pass, but was a longer route that added gain to the trip. We realized our mistake when we finally got our first glance of Garns Mountain. Once reunited with the trail, we dropped down off the pass and eventually met up with the Garns trail. About 45 minutes later, we were on top of Garns. One down, two to go.
We then raced back to the main trail, then followed it to Piney Pass. From here, we followed trails and ridges to the base of Piney Mountain. There was no turning back now, but we both felt okay and hit it. Piney had one snow free ridge to the top, so we utilized that. I wanted to avoid the rocky and steep terrain directly on the ridge, but kept getting freaked out by the slippery slopes to the left of it. Eventually I settled in on the rocks. After about 500 feet, I reached the snow and knew it would be with us to the summit. It was easy going on the snow and after turning west and following a rocky ridge, I was on top of Piney Peak. Zach had a blister burst on initial steep portion of Piney Peak, which slowed him a bit. He joined me on the summit after a few minutes. Piney has a cool top, with a narrow, grassy ridge that drops preciptously down to the north. The cornice overhanging the dropoff was impressive. We descended Piney then found a trail that followed a ridge back to Blacktail Pass. From Blacktail Pass, we found the trail we should have followed earlier that day. This led us back to Thousand Springs Valley on much better tread. I was getting tired at this point, but my legs were with me.
From the basin, we headed southeasterly up ATV tracks and through sheep grazing on the green hillside to the top of Red Butte. Red Butte is the highest point in Madison County. This steep grunt took all I had. Just a simple 2.5 mile hike out now I thought to myself. It was a easy hike out from Red Butte, but it was hard on my feet and seemed to take forever.
From the trailhead near Moody Swamp, we drove into Idaho Falls and rented a hotel room. A shower, bed, and dinner of pizza and hot wings rejuvinated us.
After a late wake-up at the hotel, it was back up to the Heise area.
Day 4, Highpoint 1
From Heise we drove to the Kelly Mountain Ski Area. The highpoint of Jefferson County is nearby. We parked just east of the ski area at the start of a gated road. We followed a road, then cross-country through horrible vegatation to the highpoint. We found a register and snapped some photos. We then decided to ascend the higher and officially named (but lame) Kelly Mountain while there. This ended up sucking too, due to heat and brush. We returned back the vehicle on roads from the summit.
Having done 2 out of 3 of the possible Teton County highpoints the day before, it was off to Victor, Idaho to get the third. The third possible highpoint is South Oliver Peak, which is about half a mile southeast of Oliver Peak (9004). The elevation of the peak is between 8960 to 9039 feet, so it may be higher than Garns (9016) or Piney (9000+). This involved a hike up Mikesell Creek (on a good trail) to a ridge that came into Oliver from the north. On this ridge, we saw a black bear. After making noise and waiting it finally ran off. The trail crosses the west side of Oliver Peak, so you might as well scamper up it like we did. You then drop back down to the trail and make your way to the saddle between Oliver and South Oliver. Follow the trail to its highest point on South Oliver's northeast side, then scramble to the top on grassy, class 2 terrain. The top has great views of the Teton Valley, the Tetons, and the Snake River Range.
We ate a quick dinner after this highpoint and headed for Fremont County, which we would do from Mile Creek in Montana. We ended up staying in a forested area, just off US 20 somewhere near Island Park. This proved adequate, but was not ideal.
We found the Mile Creek trailhead and headed up a immaculate trail. In addition to being a shorter approach and good trail, the Mile Creek approach also avoids "the satanic grizzlies the NPS allegedly dumps on the Idaho side" as Zach puts it.
The snow level seemed low, so we started to worry a bit about that getting in our way. Instead of the route shown on the quad, the trail stuck to switchbacking on south slopes and kept us snow free much longer than expected. However, at 9000 feet, our luck ran out. Instead of continuing on the snow covered trail, I suggested we bushwhack up a steep gully to the continental divide. Though steep, this proved to be a acceptable route. Zach didn't enjoy the alternate route because of fatigue from altitude (or from all the miles we'd put in), but hung in there and eventually joined me on the ridge.
The continental divide was gorgeous. We crested just west of Targhee Peak. The rock was reddish in color on the divide and it was a wind-swept alpine wonderland. We turned north on the divide and headed to the 3 10,400+ contours that make up the highpoint of Fremont County (North Targhee Peak). We snapped a few photos and headed back to the point on the ridge where we started. With weather moving in, and our hiking pace in question, I was leary to head over to Targhee Peak. Zach talked me into it, so we dropped down to Targhee Pass, then scrambled up the class 2 ridge to the top of Targhee Peak. The views made this side trip very worthwhile and was probably the most enjoyable peak of the trip.
We had planned one more day of highpointing, but I talked Zach out of it on the way down. 1) My feet were toast, 2) I was sick of sleeping in the back of a truck, and 3) I didn't feel safe climbing Clark counties highpoint (class 3) on rubbery legs and feet that looked like they belonged to some daredevil that had walked on hot, broken glass for the carnival. We headed back to Boise after a safe descent of Targhee Peak.