Monday, March 30, 2015

Climbing Mount McCaleb, and Little Mac Trip Report, Lost River Range, Idaho

Drove to Mackay after work on Friday. The drive is about two hours from Rexburg. I hoped to photograph both McCaleb and Little Mac before nightfall. The light was not the best nor the worst.

Mount McCaleb is the distinctive Mountain towering over the small town of Mackay. It sports a gnarly looking crown which makes it one of the most recognizable summits in the Lost River Range.

Here are a some Friday evening images made of McCaleb and some nearby peaks.

Little Mac, 11,071, Mount McCaleb, 11,682, Little Mac, and USGS Peak, 11,982 
Invisible Mountain, 11,330 center
Mount McCaleb and Desert 
Peak 10,552 south of McCaleb
Peak 10,552 south of McCaleb
Lost River Mountain in Distance With False Summit
Last Light on McCaleb's Crown
I think the most direct route to the base of the Mount McCaleb is neither the upper or lower Cedar Creeks roads; I have been on both. The best way is to turn right on Main Street in Mackay. Proceed to the foothill. Instead of curving right, stop at the green gate. The sign on the gate identifies the road leading up to a communications tower but there is no indication of trespassing. As always, make sure the gate is closed behind you.

I parked on the flats near a small hill to make some photos and bed down for the night. If you have a good 4WD, you could knock off eight-tenths of a mile by actually driving to the tree line. See image above. Although, less than a mile hike up a moderate slope is not too bad of an approach!

The evening was very enjoyable. About an hour after the sun went down, I rolled out a pad and a bag in the back of the Forester and left the hatch open to the fresh air. Fell asleep listening to Ed Viesturs book, The Will to Climb and Coyote calls from Lower Cedar Creek.

Awoke a bit after 6:00. Ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, got dressed, and was on the trail by 7:00. The hike is pretty straight forward. I debated the line I should take once past the tree line and decided I would go up the ridge to Little Mac, hoping the light would be good on the northern mountains for some photos.

The Pioneers and Mackay Reservoir
Mackay Mountains and Ridge to Little Mac
Near the Top of Little Mac
The Northern Mountains
Lost River Mountain on right, Donaldson, Church, and (I believe) White Cap

This one includes the false summit of Lost River Mountain, far right
The wind picked up on the ridge and I welcomed the leeward side of large rock formations near the top of the mountain. See image above. There were sparse pockets of snow on the leeward side of the ridge but nothing that required any special consideration. Once at the summit, I ate the second half of my peanut butter sandwich drank some Gatorade and began the descent to the pass between Little Mac and McCaleb. The descent was a bit dicey without crampons. I know; I should have thrown them in my pack; I am a slow learner. The snow had not warmed up and was often so solid that I could not kick in a step, I did, however, bring my axe! I prudently traded my poles for the ax and slowly descended using the pick firmly planted in the surface.

USGS Peak Over the Saddle Between Little Mac and McCaleb
The Summit of Little Mac and Ridge Leading to the Col
Loose Snow/Point Release Avalanches off the ridge north of Little Mac.
Ridge Detail
Once on the pass, I enjoyed the views to the east. The snow was firm enough to walk on comfortably with very few post holes. I decide not to follow the ridge to the top. Instead, I opted for a direct route up the northern face of scree and snow.  I had to pull out my axe only one more time on a snow field. Not sure if I saved much time. Climbing up this face, the wind picked up I could see spin drift rising from ridges in the southeast. Slowly the clouds darkened and lowered, always an ominous sign. I was a bit disappointed thinking that by the time I reached the summit the views would be gone. I made the ridge and walked up to the top.

View From Upper Ridge of Mount McCaleb
View From Upper Ridge of Mount McCaleb
Once on top, I ate some cashews and peanut M&Ms. It was about 11:30, and I was in no hurry to descend. I laid down out of the wind and rested for about 10 minutes, hoping the weather would change.  Then, I reluctantly started down. About fifty feet off the ridge, it was like a switch was flipped. the clouds disappeared and the wind died! I quickly ran back to the top for some photos.

USGS Peak 
Summit Ridge to McCaleb
Lost River Mountain (center) False Summit and Ridge to Summit
I left the upper ridge a little after noon. I scree skied to the snow fields and then glissaded down. The snow had softened a bit and was perfect...not hard and icy. When the slope was too shallow to glissade, I was able to take big strides in the softening snow, no post holing, just large cushioned steps! Descending was a pleasure. I was back at my car by 1:45. I left for Arco and grabbed an Atomic Burger and chocolate milkshake at Pickles thinking I could afford the calories. Then headed for home.

Other Resources:

Tom Lopez Website:
Mount McCaleb
Little Mac

For more trip reports of other mountains visit

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