To Jumbo Camp


Forest Service Trail #299 and Road #233

Why? Scenery and history.

Season: July through September.

Ease: Moderate to difficult, depending on how far you hike and whether you use the trail or road. It’s about 5 miles to Crystal Lake, 12 to Jumbo Camp. The elevation change is 1,400 feet up to the lake and 1,600 down, relatively level from there to Jumbo.

This is one hike I never thought I’d do. I’d heard horror stories about the road up past Orogrande into the Gospel Hump, all of which turned out to be true, and it didn’t seem all that compelling to walk that road and then walk a trail, given the distance was 12-plus miles. But sometimes you get to do these things, and that was the case for me. And while part of it would be a good day hike, I think this is a place you go to spend a few days. That you might end up camping in a place people actually can drive to is decidedly odd and decidedly a negative. But the rewards are many, primarily in the form of scenery, especially in the fall.

So, to get it out of the way, let’s deal with the road. If you look at the map, you can see that there’s a road from Orogrande Summit to Jumbo Camp, all the way through the inlet into the northeastern portion of the Gospel Hump Wilderness. It’s a road in name only, though amazingly enough, there are cars up at Hump Lake that either drove the road or flew in or were lowered from some amazingly strong helicopter. It’s a road I’d been told that you always take someone else’s truck up, never your own. It’s a road with a two-foot “step” across its width in one spot, with huge boulders and holes and every other thing you can imagine that you wouldn’t want to take your rig up or down. Don’t drive it.

Hiking, you can bypass the worst part via a trail from Wildhorse to Hump Lake. I do have to admit that there’s one bit of that trail that I don’t ever care to walk again. But the rest was just fine.

The trail heads up out of Wildhorse and toward the North Pole, a former lookout site. It’s not quite as tall as its neighbor Buffalo Hump, but it’s worth a detour up so as to have a look around, especially since the trail doesn’t head up the Buffalo.

The trail divides just before the North Pole. The right is a spur that goes to the top, and the left, which we didn’t take, undoubtedly is the real trail. We sidehilled down from North Pole, a big mistake, once we’d taken in the views. It’s steeper than it looks, and when combined with the grade that follows it, is almost more than a person ought to have to deal with.

The grade that follows, from the saddle down to the site of the old North Star mine, is ugly. It’s a mile of 25 percent slope down, give or take, that ends up really hurting. The old mine site at the bottom, however, is amazing. It has a huge amount of big metal stuff, stuff that made us wonder just how in the world it got there back in the mining days. A good place to sit and rest and hope for no more downhill.

A stiff but short up and over the next ridge brings you to the saddle above Crystal Lake, and it’s obvious some downhill is needed in order to get there. Crystal is a stark looking place, with lots of rock around it. That it was cool and overcast when we arrived didn’t help, nor that we all were tired. At that point, we did wonder whether it might not have been easier to hike the road in.

It was another stiff uphill out of Crystal to the ridge top on the other side. The trail starts through rocks in the campsite area, with cairns to mark the way, and turns left at the second one.

Across the top, there’s a flat area with grass, yellowing plants, trees, rocks, a mine shaft, buildings and our first views of Hump Lake with the Buffalo above. It is gorgeous, with the yellow foliage in the meadows around the lake, green trees, rocks, the Buffalo, even the cabin at the other end of the lake. Looking backward, we also could see the North Pole and where we’d sidehilled down from it, the saddle before the awful downhill, and the ridge between it and Crystal – in other words, where we’d been the day before.

At that point, we joined the road, as there’s no separate trail to speak of from there to Jumbo Camp. Looking back, we could see the Buffalo Hump and the ridge heading out from it. There were big meadows in several places, then one of the oddest in-holdings you can imagine. About 1½ miles north of Jumbo Camp, there were several houses. Our collective comment was that it would be a long way to go for ice cream.

Jumbo Camp has plenty of space for campers, and more old horse manure than I ever want to see again.

Directions: From Grangeville, drive Highway 13 down to the South Fork of the Clearwater River. Turn right on Highway 14 and drive to the Crooked River Road, about 42 miles from Grangeville. Drive 13 miles to Orogrande, then continue on the Orogrande Summit Road #233 until you reach Orogrande Summit. Turn right to reach Wildhorse Lake and the trailhead about 2 miles from there.

If you have high clearance four-wheel drive, you can drive another 3 miles on #233 down to Lake Creek instead of heading to Wildhorse without risking much in the way of damage.

Information: Nez Perce National Forest, (208) 983-1950.

Maps: USGS North Pole and Buffalo Hump, Idaho; Forest Service Gospel Hump Wilderness map.

Connections: It would be a shame to hike to Jumbo Camp and not get to Oregon Butte Lookout, another 4 miles or so up the trail. It’s an up and down hike, the last ½ mile in the open. From it, there are fine views of other bits of the wilderness, Shining and Quartzite Buttes, the Bull Creek drainage, even a bit of the Salmon River. And we were limited by poor visibility, so I can only imagine what more there would be to see on a clear day.