#8 Donaldson Peak

donaldson10Donaldson Peak, at 12,023 feet above sea level is the eighth highest peak in Idaho and the seventh highest in the Lost River Range. The peak is located in Salmon-Challis National Forest in Custer County. This peak is usually climbed in conjunction with Mount Church, as the share the same trial and saddle.

Elevation: 12,024′
Prominence: 302′
Mountain range: Lost River Range
Total round trip hike distance: 8 (.5 miles from saddle if climbed with Donaldson Peak)
Total elevation gain: ~4500 feet (300 feet from saddle if climbed with Donaldson Peak)


Getting there: From Mackay, Idaho go North on Highway 93 until you reach Lone Cedar Creek Road. Turn Right (East) on Lone Cedar Creek Road and follow until you come upon a private ranch. Turn right on the road right before the ranch and follow around the south border of the property. Stay left at a couple of forks you come upon. From here it’s straight forward. Follow the road toward the base of the mountain and the trailhead.

Camping: There is nothing at this trailhead. No water, no shade, nothing! A great alternative is to camp at nearby Mackay Reservoir. There are plenty of spots and it is just a short drive from the trailhead.

Best time to hike (Summer): Late July through Mid-September.

Special Gear Requirements: None

Camping along the banks of Mackay Reservoir

Camping along the shore of Mackay Reservoir

Big Horn Sheep near the base of Mt. Chuch & Donaldson Peak

Big Horn Sheep near the base of Mt. Chuch & Donaldson Peak

Moon rises over Lost River Range.

Moon rises over Lost River Range.


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My Church/Donaldson Experience(2015) – Attempting my fourth and fifth Idaho 12er, Brothers Steve, Mark and friend Mark set out on a Friday afternoon to head toward two of Idaho’s highest points. This time we are in for a treat as climbing Donaldson Peak and Mt. Church are usually done at the same time, since they are both accessible by the same trail and saddle. As usual, we had stellar weather and were fortunate that the winds were blowing wildfire smoke in a different direction.

We set up camp at Mackay Reseveroir as the trailhead offered no protection from the sun. From here, we had an unobstructed view of almost the entire Lost River Range.

Up at dawn, we packed our day bags and headed to the trailhead. The hike up the drainage was probably one of the toughest we have encountered so far.  At many places it seemed there was no trail at all and made it difficult to navigate through the thick treed and rocky landscape.   We exited the drainage at the base of the peaks and could feel the tole the last few miles had taken. A few minutes rest and we began our ascent up the face of the mountain.  After hiking what seemed straight up, we emerged over a small ridge and found ourselves in front of a small pond. Resting once again, we gazed up at the last stretch of vertical climb to the saddle. Summoning our inner strength, we forged onward and upward. Halfway between the pond and the saddle, brother Steve and I turned around, while the two Marks battled on. As Steve and I rested our weary bodies by the pond, Mark and Mark made it to the saddle. Unfortunately the wind was howling at the saddle and the Marks decided to turn back. Hiking up the ridges to either peak is treacherous enough in itself, without having to worry about 50+ mph winds trying to knock you off the side. After getting the group together again, we made our way down the mountain.  As we scurried down the face of the this beast, we happened upon a herd of big horn sheep. We watched as these graceful creatures made their way up the face of Mount Church.  In all there had to be at least two dozen sheep.   With our feet thanking us, we exited the scree fields onto softer ground and made our way back to the car through the unrelenting drainage.  Finally we see our cars in the distance and they can’t be close enough!  We load the vehicle and head back to Mackay Reservoir for another night’s stay.  We gathered around the campfire, reminiscing the climb we had just attempted.  Disappointed we did not make it to the summits, we vowed to repeat this trip the very next year.

Update (2016) – An injury riddled 2016 prevented any summit attempts. Next year we will attempt Church, Donaldson, and Breitenbach to make up some time.


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