Sam's Throne and Lava Butte


We investigate rumors of lava near McCall.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

I knew about this area from reading Ralph Maughan's guide, Hiking Idaho. In it, he describes the unusual lava intrusion in the granite of the Idaho Batholith. We probably ought to go see this.

On the drive in (on recently graded roads the entire way, I might add), I had my eye on what appeared like easy access. But no, Julie found a 'trail' on the map. So off we went on the trail, which quickly disappeared. And now we were on the wrong side of the drainage.

So instead of heading for our first peak, we aimed for the Lava Butte Lakes. Cool, since I had never hiked in this area. Might as well look around a bit.

Miners Peak close-up

Most of this area was burned some years back, so you can see pretty well. There's our peak, Lava Butte, over there. I could see a viable route, so we'd be heading over there shortly. Well, in a while, anyway.


We worked our way up a ridge to avoid the drainage. Then to avoid the sidehill that was covered in downfall. And then to get the views. Love those fall colors!

There are three lakes in the basin. This (below) is the uppermost, biggest of them. And yes, that is lava. Weird stuff, because everything else around here is granite.

South Fork of the Salmon River
Originally we were going to climb the obvious south ridge, but then the little volcanic plug on the southwest ridge caught my eye. May as well head for the saddle and check it out, right? This is looking back down our route, more or less. South Fork of the Salmon River


Here's the aforementioned volcanic plug. And yes, I did climb it. Very carefully. I suggested Julie skip it, even though the actual climbing was only 10 or 15 feet. Most of what I climbed was loose enough to take home with me.

Miners Peak

A little bit of traversing and some easy scrambling brought us to the summit. Note the hunting-season colors of Lava Julie's outfit.

This is looking sort of north. In the immediate background you can see Sam's Throne and Hershey Point.

I was a bit sceptical, but Julie said she wanted to keep going. Sam's Throne, here we come.

Ponderosa forest

A thousand feet of descending brought us to this almost-dry lake bed. I was gambling that we could walk across this time of year, which would save us from scrambling the talus at the left margin.

Very cool example of climax lake evolution.


South Fork of the Salmon River

That shortcut worked out, but it was really weird. The entire way, we were sinking into the moss and grasses about six inches. With every step I expected to hear the dreaded squish. But it worked perfectly.

Here you can see our descent route off of Lava Butte, walking the border between lava and granite down from the saddle on the right.

South Fork of the Salmon River

Sam's Throne is a long crenelated ridge, and from below you can't really tell which pile is higher. I could see this huge cairn from below, so quickly scrambled what appeared to be the summit to check it out.

Great view of Patrick Butte.

South Fork of the Salmon River

But the GPS was saying I needed to go another 600 feet. And that pile over there DID look taller to me.

Ponderosa forest

Traversing these granite ridges is seldom uncomplicated, and this ridge did not disappoint. Julie managed to get herself stuck trying to traverse below the left-hand side. Meanwhile, I did a short 5th class downclimb to get off the right-hand side.


We joined back up and quickly completed the traverse. Summit. You can see the false summit on the right, with Lava Butte behind us.

Summit Julie comes complete with her own lightning rod.


Looking north, there's Hershey Point. We debated the pros and cons:

It would be great to pick up a third peak, especially since it was so close. However, it was late in the day, and the truck was in the opposite direction. And we could clearly see a hiking trail over there, ensuring a straightforward descent, even if it would add a bunch of mileage.

But those extra miles didn't seem like a good idea, so we went the other way.


So now all we had to do is follow the drainage down to the road, then hike the road back to the truck. Easy enough.

The initial descent down the gully went really well, and then we did a dropping traverse quickly through the woods. Then the deadfall started. And the brush got taller. And the deadfall started developing layers. And where the heck is the road?

Deadfall Julie was not happy. She was much happier when we finally hit the road with just 3/4 mile left to the truck. And when we got to the Salmon River Brewery, ColdBeer Julie had a big smile on her face.

Note: The appellation "Deadfall Julie" etc. was borrowed from my good friend Jeff, who applies similar labels to HIS wife. These are based on the many versions of Barbie available from Mattel: Malibu Barbie, etc. And like the Mattel persona, each version of Julie comes with different outfits, as you may have noticed in these photographs.

Ponderosa forest


Note: Roads are missing, trails are gone, etc. Have fun!

Ponderosa forest

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