On Labor Day weekend 2001, we--John (JF), John(JR), Craig and Greg-- started out from the Grandjean trailhead to climb the East Face/Ridge of Warbonnet Peak.
The weather had been nasty 2 weeks before, but was beautiful the day we headed out and not wanting to be slowed down, we travelled "light and fast" with a 8 mile approach and 4000+ feet of climbing ahead of us for a long day.
As we climbed higher it became very apparent that the snow from 2 weeks earlier was going to be much more of a problem than anticipated, but we were all experienced and had made this approach several times.
We should have stopped at the first steep bouldery section of frozen ground, but our tennis shoes were holding well in the snow and the valley eased up until the final couloir below the East Ridge--at least that was our justification. Besides, we were moving pretty fast.
Well, the moving fast ended when we started up the talus slopes toward the East Ridge, in ankle to knee deep snow, over boulders and talus.
After a couple of hours flailing up the snow slopes we just tried to salvage the day and hung out in the sun, eating lunch, bouldering and doing short problems on the cliffs below the North Face of Warbonnet Peak. We were starting to get bored and thinking about heading home (about 2 pm), when I told everyone I had spied a sweet line on a spire earlier that year--so of course we all had to have a look, and the REAL adventure began.
We all looked at it and then decided it was too late to start an unknown multi-pitch route that late in the day (3:30 pm), but the demons began rationalizing--it's only afternoon--we could always just climb a pitch and bail--we had all the gear..........
So we rigged quickly and started up the route. JF and Craig headed for a chimney/handcrack and JR and Greg headed for a blocky ramp section that met in the same place about a pitch or so up the face...and the adventure began.
I won rock/paper/scissors for the first pitch and headed up the first pitch on some sweet granite blocks and hand jams. At the end of the rope at exactly 60 meters, there was a tree just built for a perfect belay station--our luck was getting better!
The next pitch eased somewhat and we were having a great day out in the mountains. JF and Craig had bailed on their line and were following our lead, so it was a party of 4 now.
We got to the top of the 4th pitch at about 6pm(the sun went down about 7:30-8pm). JF and Craig started thinking about bailing, but JR and Greg(myself) thought we could still make it with enough time to bail and get back to the trail, so they went down and we continued up.
The climbing steepened, but was one of the best pitches I have led in years, a full pitch of continuous 5.8-9 hand and elbow jams up thiscrack that just begged to be climbed, the pro was bomber and before too long, I was standing just below the summit pinnacle. I belayed JR up the pitch and he scrambled to the top which was just big enough for 1 person to sit at a time and it dropped 1500-2000 feet off all sides. What a great end to a beautiful day.
Well, it was the end of the day because the sun was below the horizon as we started down the backside of the ridge to what we thought was a scramble down a scree gully back to our packs--well, it was except for the 300 ft cliff to get to the gully.
No problem, we'd just rap the route with our headlamps--but my headlamp was in my pack at the bottom and JR had given his headlamp to JF for their downclimb--OOPS!!
We rapped in the dark until we got to a sizeable ledge halfway down the face and decided it was too dark to go any farther safely, since I could hardly see my feet in the moonless night. I asked JR if he had ever wanted to spend a night out on a cliff--he said NO--but I told him he was going to get the chance anyway.
So we got comfortable--well somewhat comfortable.
In early september, at nearly 10,000 ft., with perfectly clear, windless skies , a night in the Sawtooths is a beautiful place to be watching the stars--from a tent!!
At about 1am it was beginning to get miserable (about 30 deg) in thin climbing pants, nylon shell, t-shirt and rock shoes (my warm clothes were at the bottom of the face neatly stuffed in my pack), but I had an ace up my sleeve--the trusty Bic lighter. We practiced all our wilderness management skills and scavanged every scrap of wood burnable on the ledge and anything we could reach within 1/2 a rope length (luckily the Sawtooth faces have a lot of brush in places) so we kept a small fire burning until about 5 am, stomped around for another 45 minutes until the moon finally came out and finished the rappel.
To our surprise, there were beautiful trees to rap from spaced exactly 25-30 meters the rest of the way down the face, if we had known the route, we could have rapped blindfolded.
So we got back to the packs, ate the rest of our food for breakfast put on some warm socks and started scrambling back down to the trail.
As we were headed out, we wondered what happened to JF and Craig. Well just as we were getting to the trail, they were headed back up to find us, thinking they would have to call Search & Rescue at any time.
They expeceted us to be in sorry shape and very cold from a night out, but they were both a bloody mess. they managed to scramble back out through the talus and boulder fields, in the dark, with one headlamp between the two of them. But, their story of getting cliffed out a couple of times and stumbling through the snow and finally getting to the car at 4 am, only to turn back up the trail after 2 hours of sleep, made our night seem like a slumberparty.
We laughed all the way home because they were supposed to be the "safe" climbers by bailing early, but we had the 1st ascent in the bag and came out in better shape.
Another one for the book, and let the spray begin!!!
Greg- That's a great tale and one I can relate to in terms of trying Plan "B" in the Sawtooths. Was that tower that you climbed named? Did you give it a name or mark on the map?- I'm always interested in new towers. Nice sense of adventure- definitely something you need to be successful in the Sawtooths.