The McTriple (USGS, McCaleb, Little Mac)

McCaleb and Little Mac from USGS

After an active recovery day from the limestone beat-down that was the northern Lost River 12ers, I was looking for something short to do before the daily thunderstorms began around noon. Just south of the 12ers, above the town of Mackay, lies USGS Peak, still labeled McCaleb benchmark on the USGS’s own map. It was once thought to be another 12er, and seemed like a reasonable morning jaunt from Lower Cedar Creek to its south. If the weather and terrain looked good, I could try to connect it to neighboring Mount McCaleb and Little Mac to make a fun loop. I drove down to town, picked up a few necessities at the IGA, filled up on water at the sort-of town square, then drove out to the start of the dirt road to the trailhead to camp. I could have driven further, but could not have made it all the way to the Lower Cedar Creek trailhead without more clearance and possibly four wheel drive.

Bridge toward falls

As one does during Rockies thunderstorm season, I woke at 4:00 AM and began riding by headlamp a bit before 5:00. I enjoy these bike-n-hikes in the Lost River Range, as the uphill morning ride is a good warmup, and blasting back down a dirt road to the car in the afternoon is a thrill. Reaching the trailhead, I found a picnic table and fire ring with its windscreen full of bullet holes, and locked my bike to itself in the woods. Someone has built a nice trail to a waterfall up the canyon, so the first couple miles were easy and pleasant, passing an active diversion dam and an older, collapsed concrete barrier. Where the maintained trail crosses the creek on a good bridge to switchback up a side-valley, I continued along the north side of the main creek, finding bits of use trail and occasional cairns. While there was one miserable stretch of side-hilling on a steeply-eroded bank, most of the travel was easy in the relatively open woods of the valley floor.


Where the valley opens up to a broad bowl on the left around 8200 feet, I left the woods to ascend limestone scree toward USGS Peak. I feared a typical ankle-deep backsliding slog, but the slope was surprisingly stable, and I made good progress. I occasionally looked up to admire the pinnacles of some vertically-bent layers to the right, but mostly kept my eyes to the ground, and was rewarded by finding some fossils. The first I saw were round and up to about an inch across, embedded in limestone plates, but higher up I found complete specimens looking a bit like tall mushroom caps. I suspect the former are cross-sections of the latter, but am not sure whether they were plants or animals.

Looking down USGS

The basin turned left toward the top, revealing a headwall of short cliff bands and benches, typical limestone terrain. I headed more or less straight toward the summit, figuring that I could pick my way through any obstacles. After a bit of fourth class scrambling to get through the lower cliff bands, I followed the benches up and right, then scrambled back left to the summit ridge. From there, I carefully balanced my way across a snow arete to the summit marker. I had reached the summit well before the day’s storms, and the ridge to Mount McCaleb looked straightforward, so after a brief pause I continued on, happy not to have to retrace my steps.

Ridge to McCaleb

A narrow and serrated section near the lowpoint was slow going in places, but I found no significant difficulties along the way. I thought I might have to crampon up a snow gully to McCaleb’s summit, but the rock to its right was grippy and solid enough to scramble around. Reaching the top, I found a cairn and a well-defined path coming up the other side. McCaleb and Little Mac are both walk-ups from the west, and prominent landmarks from town, so it is not surprising that they are popular by Lost River standards.

Mackay Reservoir and Little Mac

I thought of boot-skiing a strip of snow, but it seemed faster to plunge-step the loose trail down to the saddle, from which another, fainter trail led to Little Mac. I finally found an ammo box with a register here, from which I learned that I had just completed the “McTriple,” a linkup evidently popular with the locals. I followed the trail back toward the saddle, then continued on a mix of trail and snow down the gully between the two peaks before bearing left onto a broad ridge. I found no trail on the ridge, but the sparse trees and sage were easy to navigate until I reached the 4×4 road shown on the USGS map. It has not been drivable in years, but still forms a good steep trail leading back to the maze of roads in the valley. I took one of these along an irrigation canal back to the trailhead, then flew down the main road to my car. Clouds had been building over the mountains, and it rained there and in the valley as I had a late lunch and took a nap to make up for my early start. Hopefully the next day would grant me more climbing time, because I had unfinished business.

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