OverviewThis spectacular rock tower contains the longest known rock route in the Sawtooths (18 pitches) and perhaps the hardest climbing. It's summit block overhangs on all sides and requires a bolt ladder aid ascent. Baron Spire, formerly known as "Old Smoothie", is located in the north-central section of the Sawtooths along the Monte Verita Ridge, which is arguably the most spectacular and rugged collection of spires and rock towers that have seen so few ascents. Many impressive rock towers are nameless and have seen no ascents. Part of the allure of this area is the fact that many of these formations require Class 6 (Aid Climbing) climbing to reach the summits. Another factor is the accessibility, which probably has contributed to the pristine and undiscovered nature of this region: it's at least 9 miles to the base of Baron Spire from the nearest trailheads (GrandJean and Redfish Lake).
The peak sees a few climbers each year and some of those never see the true summit- they free climb the rock routes but just under the true summit, they are often spooked by the overhanging bolt ladder. The ladder was put in by climbing legend Fred Beckey in 1949, hence the name the Beckey Bolt Ladder. He, Pete Schoening and Jack Schwabland spent three days engineering the 22 bolt ladder on the corner of the summit block. Their climb nearly ended in disaster as a severe storm hit the area. They made an epic descent to avoid a very uncomfortable bivy. It was reported by Schwabland that the rock was running with water and all the holds were packed with hail. Lightning struck within two hundred feet several times. They somehow made it down and back to camp.
The condition of these bolts varies, as some of the originals are still there. Aid climbing doesn't look hard to the casual observer, but it's tough to learn on an overhang near the top of a summit like this. The Beckey Ladder is said to go between A1-A2. All routes converge on the west side of the summit block and must ascend the Beckey Ladder to truly make the summit.
Here are the routes on Baron Spire:
1) SE Face (III 5.9 A1)- see description under route section
2) East Face (III 5.9 A1) - Climb just to the right of the SE Face route on a meandering crack system until you reach the north ridge. From the north ridge, traverse around to the Beckey Bolt Ladder.
3) North Ridge (V 5.11) - This climb is the long right hand ridge shown in many of the Baron Spire pictures. The climb is a sustained 5.9-5.11, 18 pitch event that ends with the Beckey Ladder. The author of this route is a superb and knowledgeable climber, but has refused to divulge detailed descriptions or topos.
4) Beckey / Schwabland / Schoening Route (III A1) - The first ascent route begins near Little Baron Lake and ascends the south ridge on Baron Peak. Starting near the notch on the south ridge, ascend a dirt and rock gulley. From here climb a crack system up to a prominent notch. From the notch you climb out onto the west face where a series of ledges and chimneys lead to a nearly featureless, vertical chimney. Ascend the chimney and bypass the overhang on the left using a finger-tip traverse. Just above the overhang, a crack leads up the south ridge to just below the overhanging summit block. Traverse a narrow ledge over to the northwest corner of the summit block. Ascend the Beckey Ladder.
Descent is accomplished by 3-6 rappels off the east side (easiest). Bring double ropes for longer rappels; be cautious of rope snag and rock fall on southern and western sided rappels.
Getting ThereRoad Approach
- GrandJean: 38 miles north, then west of Stanley, ID on ID-21, turn left onto the GrandJean Road. Take this road for 7 miles and park at the trailhead near the camping area.
- Redfish Lake: 5 miles south of Stanley, ID on ID-75, turn right (west) onto the Redfish Lake Road for 2 miles. Park at the backpackers parking lot.
- GrandJean: Hike the Baron Creek Trail. At 1.5 miles, go left (east) up the Baron Creek Canyon. After crossing Baron Creek be sure to stay right and continue on the Main Baron Creek Canyon (don't take the North Fork). Ascend to the top of scenic Baron Falls. Just north of Little Baron Lake, ascend the east slopes of Baron Spire. On your way, you'll pass GrandJean Peak, Tohobit Peak, and Baron Peak, Rothorn Spire, Ed-A-How Spire, and Baron Falls Tower. It's 10 miles and 3100 feet to the base.
- Redfish Lake: Take the Shuttle Boat (fee) across. Hike from the Inlet Transfer Camp up Redfish Creek for 3.5 miles to Flatrock Junction. Turn right toward Alpine Lake and ascend a quick 1000 feet. Hike up over Baron Divide (9130 feet) into the Baron Lakes Basin. The views will be tremendous of Baron Peak. It's 9 miles and 3600 feet to the base.
An excerpt from legendary skier and writer Dick Dorworth's excellent tale about the frightening last pitch on Baron Spire:
"The route definitely goes up the wrong side of vertical. The first bolt, more than 50 years old, a quarter-inch classic with a loose oval hanger, did not inspire confidence. I clipped it with the quaking tenacity of impetuosity, added Reid’s ratty slings to the mix, climbed to the top stirrup of one where I could clip the next loose bolt hanger from yesteryear, transferred the other aider to that bolt and stood in it and moved the second aider up and repeated the process. After just two primeval bolts worth of climbing, I was suddenly overcome with the cold-sweat-helpless-fuck-me clarity of commitment. Now I’d done it. Now I had to do it. Why do we keep doing things like this?
Though the bolts were primitive and the hangers loose, soon I was past the overhang and onto the mere vertical. Then appeared a bolt with an oval hanger flattened against the wall, as if beaten with a hammer in frustration or fallen on with enough force to straighten out its old aluminum molecules like those of a flattened beer can. The hanger would not take a carabiner. I was able to thread a runner through the eye and tie it off and move up. A wired stopper hooked over a hangerless quarter inch bolt sufficed to get me up to the next dilapidated piece of 1940s climbing technology. This one, too, was firmed to the wall by forces I did not wish to imagine. My reach was such that I was completely stretched out and lacked the reach to thread a runner through the hanger. What to do? A 6mm perlon cord that I use for a prusik on rappels had just enough stiffness that, after several attempts, I was able to poke one end through the battered eye of the hanger and tie it off. I clipped in to the perlon cord, moved my aid slings up one-by-one and climbed to the top stirrup.
I was at the top of a line of 50-year-old much abused bolts that did not inspire confidence placed by a man known to use neckties to tie off pitons. I was not happy, but Beckey has done more climbing in more places for more years than anyone without a serious accident or injury. Small solace. The security below appeared tenuous and there was neither foothold, handhold nor bolt within reach above. About three feet higher than my outstretched hand was what looked like a headless nail sticking out of the wall about two inches at a slightly downward angle. After several attempts, during which time the clarity of commitment began to fog up, I managed to sort of lasso the object with a sling. With conscious slow breathing, the clarity of commitment, and the gentleness and finesse reserved for A5 placements and 5.11 friction, I clipped an aider into the sling and tip-toed onto the stirrup. It held. I carefully moved up one rung. It still held. I tied off another sling where the broken-off drill bit that looked like a nail came out of the wall at an angle that threatened to shrug off the sling that held me in place. Who knows how far the bit penetrated into the wall? Who knew its story? Beckey was no sporty bolt gun warrior. He climbed to get up the route, not to make life more convenient for whoever wished to follow. I climbed to the top stirrups and took inventory.
No more bolts were to be seen. Beckey may have placed 14 bolts in 1949, but by 2002 some of them had shriveled up and fallen out or oxidized and blown away in the wind. It is closer to A2 than A0, and no cracks to place protection existed. Twenty feet above, the angle eased off at a ramp that led to another steep headwall.
When To Climb
Standard climbing season is June through October. Conditions vary greatly. The Sawtooth Valley can be one of the coldest areas in the nation during the winter. Negative readings are often common. Snowfall can vary and occur at any time. Summer days can still be hot, but you'll probably never experience 90 or above, especially once you get up higher.
Nearby Stanley, Idaho Climate Data:
|Average Max. Temperature (F)||27.0||33.7||42.5||50.3||59.9||68.4||78.7||78.4||68.6||56.6||38.1||26.0||52.4|
|Average Min. Temperature (F)||-0.5||0.3||9.7||20.3||28.3||33.9||36.0||34.0||27.2||20.6||12.0||-0.8||18.4|
|Average Total Precipitation (in.)||1.64||1.33||1.02||1.02||1.17||1.16||0.59||0.59||0.78||0.92||1.46||1.55||13.24|
|Average Total SnowFall (in.)||16.9||13.2||10.2||3.4||0.9||0.2||0.0||0.0||0.4||1.7||10.4||14.6||71.9|
|Average Snow Depth (in.)||18||20||15||6||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||8||6|
Latest Avalanche Report (Sawtooth Area)
National Weather Service Current Forecast for Stanley:
- There are many drive-in camp sites at Redfish Lake or GrandJean
- Spectacular backcountry camping exists at Alpine Lake and Baron Lakes