Added by Melanie Ahrens
Conquer the 34th highest peak in the state and make it a two-for-one peakbagging if you include Little Mac in this fun, yet challenging hike.
Mt. McCaleb's beautiful south face towers over the little town of Mackay, Idaho. The domineering peak is seen from US-93 just waiting to be climbed. It's a part of the Lost River Range, which boasts seven of Idaho's nine 12K-foot peaks; at 11,682 feet tall, McCaleb is Idaho's 34th highest peak.
The west ridge approach is a four mile round trip, class 3 hike. With an elevation gain of 3,500 ft, this hike is a bit of a grunt, but well worth the panoramic views. An added bonus to this hike is Little Mac, the 11,071 ft peak that sits to the west of Mt. McCaleb. It is only another 400 ft scramble from the saddle between the two peaks.
From the town of Mackay, turn east on Main Street near the center of town. At 0.4 miles, the road curves right and passes a cemetery. Follow the road about 1.9 miles and turn left on a dirt road at the Lower Cedar Creek Road. While there are a number of dirt roads intersecting each other back here, just try to parallel Lower Cedar Creek all the way to the mouth of the canyon. A high clearance vehicle is necessary.
Approximately 5.5 miles from town and about 0.5 miles from the mouth of the canyon, the road takes a sharp left and goes uphill, heading south and then turning north again. Another 0.5 miles later at an irrigation ditch crossing, there will be a road heading west; continue along the base of the mountain until you are due south of Little Mac. At approximately 8 miles from town there will be a "road" that leaves the irrigation ditch and climbs up the mountain side. This is very steep and rutted path (3/4 mi up 1400ft) requiring four wheel drive low. If you don't have this, stop here and park; if you do, continue on and there will be a nice flat spot up top to park where the road ends which also makes an excellent camping area.
There is no easing into this straight up hike; to start, just head up on the unmarked trail, weaving through the sage brush. Once you get into the trees, a faint trail will come into view.
After about a 1,000-foot gain, you will drop into a gully filled with talus and debris. Again, there will be a faint trail. Don't worry if you don't see it; just head up toward the saddle. If you are looking for steeper, more technical climb, head east toward the face but be cautious if you go over here—your footing will be on crumbling, unstable limestone and there have been no documented successful ascents up this sheer prominent south face.
From the saddle between Mt. McCaleb and Little Mac, the view is awesome and the sheer drop offs are beyond spectacular. At this point, pick which peak you'll be doing first and head up the ridge line. From here, you may need to zig zag your way up due to the steepness.
On a clear day from the top, you'll look out over the Lost River Valley and take in the surrounding mountain ranges including White Knob, Sawtooths, Pioneer, and Lemhi Mountain. Other prominent peaks, like Lost River Peak, can be seen as well. From here head back down and give Little Mac a go—it's only another 400 feet of scrambling.
The trailhead is a great flat spot to camp. Close by, off US-93, is Mackay reservoir campground, which has fire rings, picnic tables, water and bathrooms. The little town of Mackay has a few little hotels available also (these fill up fast during hunting season). If you're ready for a steak after your hike, head to Ken's Club in Mackay!
The Lost River Range weather is moody and unpredictable, with rapidly producing thunderstorms, high wind bursts, and extreme snow storms. Because of the high exposure peaks of these mountains, it is always best to keep a close eye on the forecast. Mt. McCaleb is an excellent back-up choice for those hesitant to tackle a 12K peak due to questionable weather; it's a shorter hike and easily backed away from if the weather turns bad. It is also an excellent first choice for those wanting a good challenge with less technical climbing or those new to talus- or scree-filled hikes. This would be wonderful late spring hike to bring up a split board/skis and cruise down. Also a fun place to practice glissading and self arrests. If a summer hike is planned, start early—it gets hot up there!
- Day hike pack
- Trekking poles
- Sturdy boots
- Layers (depending on season)
- Water and snacks
- Split board/skis (for spring/winter)
- Ice axe and crampons (for spring/winter)
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