Idaho's Castle Peak What might have been

By Peter Morrill

December 6, 2016

Climbing down from my viewpoint on Castle Divide, I felt a new appreciation for Castle Peak and the surrounding White Cloud mountains' importance to Idaho. Magnificent terrain, beautiful lakes, and superb mountain beauty. This place has it all for those willing to challenge themselves against its rugged land.

But, there was one more thing I needed to track down. Moving off the trail, my friend and I hiked across the alpine landscape, to a wildflower-covered meadow at the base of the fabled Castle Peak. Today, this spot stands as a reminder, a testament to what might have been.

A half century ago, this was ground-zero for Idaho’s greatest environmental battle: whether to allow the Arizona-based mining company, ASARCO, to build an open-pit mine on a valid claim at the base of Castle Peak. This epic showdown tested the soul of a state that had been settled by miners one hundred years earlier.

The mine didn’t happen, in part because of the hard work of impassioned volunteers like Ernie Day and Jan Boles, backed by skilled political leaders like Senator Frank Church and Representative Orval Hansen. The controversy also spurred the creation of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA), helped galvanize public support for protecting more of our state’s special places, and propelled Cecil Andrus into the governor’s office.

As we walked around the meadow, we found remnants of those turbulent times. Over-grown sections of a mining camp service road bulldozed-up twelve miles from the East Fork of the Salmon River valley floor. A discarded 50 gallon oil drum. A capped drilling hole. Down the hill, an exploratory mine shaft and a nearby stream tinged with what looked like mining waste.

I wondered why these things had not been cleaned-up. Whatever the answer, Castle Peak, this meadow, and its abandoned mining scheme stand as reminders three generations later of what could have happened, and what we would have lost.

(For more background and great video about Idaho's Castle Peak and the surrounding White Clouds wilderness, as well as the adjoining Hemingway-Boulder and McClure-Jerry Peak wilderness areas, check out Outdoor Idaho's Beyond the White Clouds website.)

The author atop Castle Divide, looking towards Castle Peak in the White Clouds Wilderness, Idaho
Created By
Peter Morrill

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