New Course Area – Gospel-Hump Wilderness

Alzar School | 23.09.20

Speckled with subalpine lakes and braided with the deep grooves of rugged rivers, grassy mountain ridgelines overlook dramatic plunging canyons. Last week our Fall 2020 students embarked on a backpacking trip that will take them through this wild and scenic place known as the Gospel-Hump Wilderness.

Student loads gear into the school bus in preparation for departure to the trailhead.

Nestled in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest in the heart of central Idaho, the Gospel-Hump Wilderness, in conjunction with the Frank Church Wilderness to the east and Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness to the northeast, comprises the largest federally designated wilderness area in the contiguous 48 states. With elevation gains of up to 7000 feet from the bottom of the Salmon River to the peaks of glaciated summits, this area offers a wide range of vistas across an area that has a rich biological and cultural heritage. Big game like mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk and deer roam these slopes while the rivers and tributaries provide breeding and nursery habitats for steelhead, chinook and sockeye salmon. For centuries these resources have sustained the Nez Perce Indians, whose culture in the area is discernable dating back to 6000 BC. Despite the remoteness of the area, the gold rush took hold in the late 1800’s and subsequently brought a host of rugged frontier settlers. Recognized by Congress in 1978, the Gospel-Hump Wilderness now consists of 206,053 acres of undeveloped land. 

Elevation gain on the 12.9-mile backpacking route.

The Gospel-Hump Wilderness offers a unique experience for Alzar School students in the mountains of Idaho. The proximity of the Gospel-Hump to the Salmon River drainage makes it a powerful course area. Backpacking through this terrain, students are able to hike into river headwaters to see the alpine lakes and streams that contribute to the larger rivers that we run rafting and kayak trips on. These experiences nurture a sense of place within the environments that we operate expeditions in. 

Fall 2020 backpacking expedition route.

One of the defining features of the Gospel Hump area, as with all wilderness areas, is that no motorized vehicles are permitted. Director of Expeditions and Risk Management, Justin Kleberg, explains, “with motorized recreation being a popular cornerstone of the Idaho backcountry experience, it is essential to have wilderness in which motorized vehicles are not allowed or endorsed. I believe this creates a more authentic wilderness experience that is uninterrupted by the internal combustion engine.” Justin has worked closely with managers of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests to secure Alzar School’s trial permit for the Gospel-Hump Wilderness and brainstorm routes to set our students up for success in the backcountry. 

We are thrilled and excited to be offering expeditions in the Gospel-Hump Wilderness because it gives Alzar School students an opportunity to continue exploration in our own backyard and deepen their sense of place in and connection to the world around them.