Greg and I left from Hinton for our alpine climbing trip to the Elephant’s Perch; a stunning granite formation located in the Sawtooth Wilderness Area in southern Idaho.
We left Hinton at 10 a.m. on Friday (Aug. 3rd) and headed south; primarily utilizing Highway 93. After crossing the US border, we started to encounter a series of large wildfires. In particular, two fires around Whitefish and Flathead Lake were pretty impressive looking, plotting out the sun.
We arrived at Redfish Lake Lodge (our starting point) at 2:30 in the morning. We slept in the car until 7:30 and then headed off to catch a boat shuttle, which takes you to the end of Redfish Lake – saving you 5.5 miles of hiking. For $13 round trip, it’s a deal you really can’t beat. The boat left at 9 a.m. – the ride only lasted about 15 minutes.
After the boat ride – it’s hiking time. The first hour is fairly mellow (if any hiking can be mellow with a 60- 70 pound pack), but after that the trail into “the Perch” breaks off from the main trail and starts to gain elevation. It probably took us another 1.5 to 2 hours to get to the lake that we camped at. The hiking was steep, but as we knew it wasn’t too long, it was bearable (I’ve done a lot worse).
The Elephant's Perch in alpenglow at sunset
The Mountaineer's Route
Our main goal of the trip was to climb a route called “The Mountaineer’s Route”. It has a reputation as being a classic alpine rock climb. The route consists of eight 150 foot pitches of beautiful pink granite.
The crux pitch is the near the top and is rated 5.9. Most of the other pitches are 5.8. Greg led the first 3 pitches (combining pitches one and two into one pitch), while I led the last four. The first pitch started in a big chimney, which you then had to make a hard move to get out of. The second pitch followed a flaring corner, and then traversed left into a beautiful finger crack. This pitch ended just below the “triple roofs”, a distinguishing feature easily seen from the ground. It was at this time that it started to rain. The third pitch goes around a roof, so retreat would be quite hard once passed this pitch. We hung out for about 10 minutes to see what the weather was going to do. It looked like the storm might pass quickly, so we started climbing again. It rained a little on this pitch, but then stopped and turned into quite a decent day.
Pitch 2 (actually 3 on the topo) - very fun pitch; 5.8
The third pitch traversed out left and around the “triple roofs” – it was a very fun pitch. This was the end of Greg’s leads – it was my turn next.
The fourth pitch, was fairly unremarkable to me, but apparently was supposed to be one of the more stunning pitches on the climb due to its exposure. I get wrapped up in the climbing and often don’t notice the exposure. On the fifth pitch there was a 5.9 finger crack variation, which I chose to lead (instead of an easier 5.7 corner with loose rock). It was an awesome pitch – my favourite on the route; quite sustained, with thought provoking moves.
The sixth pitch contained the crux roof – it was a fun move; a bit awkward, but not too hard. After that it was easy climbing to the top of the route.
The variation of pitch 6 (7 on the topo). I would highly recommend it; it's fun, with good pro.
The route actually doesn’t go right to the top of the mountain, but we chose to scramble to the top to check out the views. It was well worth the effort.
All and all the Mountaineer’s route was a good climb, but was considerably easier than I thought it would be. We were wondering if maybe the climbs in this area were soft for the grade; however, we were soon to see how wrong we were.
We arrived back in camp by two o’clock and spent the rest of the day napping and cooking. We decided that the for tomorrow we would do the first 4 pitches of a climb called “Astro-Elephant” and then try to climb the whole thing the next day.
Summit Photo – not bad for a self timer shot.
This is the 2nd pitch; one of the harder pitches of the climb. There’s some tricky route finding and it’s a bit run out in spots. Also you need to manage your rope well, or the rope drag will be horrendous.
Our third day at “the Perch” dawned sunny and clear. We had a late start, as we were only planning on doing 4 pitches of climbing. The first 4 pitches of “Astro-Elephant” are fun and interesting. The 2nd pitch is the hardest rated 5.9+. It is a wandering pitch with tricky route finding, and is run out at times. It’s not sustained, but has a few hard moves. It was a great day. The third pitch is very short, and could easily be combined with the second pitch into one pitch. The fourth pitch (rated 5.8 was also quite nice - a rising traversing pitch to the right. At the top of the fourth pitch, we escaped on the ledge (exposed scrambling) and headed back down the gully.
We spent the evening preparing ourselves and gear in order to do the entire climb the next day. The route has a reputation as having hard route finding, as the route wanders back and forth across the face, connecting a series of cracks and corners. We met a couple of Americans who had climbed the route before and they gave us some good route finding information, which we hoped would help us out. The route is fairly long (11 pitches), so we wanted to get an early start.
The next day
, we left camp at 5:30 in the morning and climbed the first pitch (which surmounts a large chock-stone in the approach gully) in the dark. The next 4 pitches we had climbed the day before, so they went quite fast; we combined the 3rd and 4th pitch into one.
This is Greg leading pitch 4 – a fun 5.8 pitch with an interesting traverse and a cool thin corner.
From the tree at the top of the 4th pitch, you traverse left until you reach an obvious corner, which you then climb. From the top of this corner you, we traversed further to the left, until we came to the obvious squeeze chimeny (see photo of pitch ) - we set up a belay there.
[img:354465:alignleft:medium:Here’s Greg leading pitch 6 – a horrible off-width squeeze chimney. It’s rated 5.8, but was a pretty hard pitch. Note the novel rest spot.
Pitch six attacked the squeeze chimney. This is a burly couple of moves. Greg jammed the crack, I stemmed the whole thing (climbing with the pack, made jamming it less realistic).
From the top of the squeeze chimney, Greg ran the belay to the left another 30-40 metres and set up a belay about 10 metres before the end of the ledge system. From here pitch 7 starts - the crux pitch, and where lots of people get lost. It's actually not that hard to find the route. One needs to look for the shallow right facing corner (see photo)- I climbed into this corner from the left and then went up about 10 metres. From there, I went directly left for about 25 metres passing a fixed piece of crappy old sling slung through a hole in the rock - this is your only pro to protect the crux. I would suggest not fallling here - it's also just as bad for the second. I didn't find it that hard, but I'm a decent face climber. The party that climbed it before us told us they thought it was at least 5.10c (it's rated 5.9+).
This is the 7th pitch and the crux of the climb. From where I am in the photo, I then climb horizontally to the left for about 20 metres. The face moves are about 5.10a, but the protection sucks. It’s as bad for the person following the pitch as it is for the leader. It’s actually a stellar pitch though, and I was loving every minute of it.
From the end of this pitch, there are two more straightforward fun pitches that take you to the last pitch before the top (see photo).
This is the final pitch – rated 5.9+. It was a thin crack with some tricky moves. After surmounting the last roof move, it was slabs all the way to the summit.
“Astro-Elephant” was a great climb and I would highly recommend it. We didn’t have any route finding issues, but could see where you could if you weren’t paying good attention.
After coming down from Astro-Elephant, we arrived at camp to find my good friend Mirek and his partner June camped beside us. They had come down from Nelson to climb with us. They had also brought their friend Karl and his 14 year old son Keefer; who both live in Moab. They had come to climb the “Mountaineer’s Route”, which they planned on doing the next day.
This is the “Sunrise Book” – two climbers can just be seen on pitch 3 (the crux of the route).
The next day we planned on doing a particularly imposing and intimidating climb called “The Sunrise Book”. I had taken pictures of a party on the route two days before and was captivated by the beauty of the line. We had talked to a few people who had climbed it, including some solid crack climbers from Yosemite, and everyone had raved about it. One party said the climb was like a fist fight (you got the shit beat out of you). The climb was rated 5.10 (with a 15 metre section of aid or 5.12) but we had walked in with one of the guys who had done the first ascent of the route and both he and his partner said “solid 5.10d crack”. The route is 5 pitches long.
I’m not sure if Greg was quite as keen as I was to do the route, but he didn’t protest. The day dawned sunny and we started out at about 10 o’clock.
The first pitch was graded 5.9+ and Greg wanted to lead it. It was a very nice pitch –not too sustained but with some hard moves. Greg did a great job leading the crux, but made a route finding error about 10 metres below the end of the pitch. He ended up going straight up where he should have gone left. To correct his error, he traversed left onto the correct line. This sounds more straightforward then it was. It was a horrendous traverse across lichen covered rock while making solid 5.10 moves. While I was seconding it, I kept saying “I can’t believe you did this”. Greg thought I meant; I couldn’t believe he went in the wrong direction, while what I actually meant was; I couldn’t believe he actually climbed where he did. It was friggin hard and scary. Even more so for the poor guy following – me.
The second pitch was rated 5.8 with 15 metres of “A1” aid, or 5.12. The 5.8 section was really hard (it seemed harder than the previous crux which was rated 5.9+). I aided the 5.12 section – it looked doable free with some work, and was festered with much fixed gear.
This is me on the 2nd pitch about 10 metres below the aid section.
The belay for the top of the 2nd pitch was a small 6” inch ledge, which sat at the bottom of an extremely steep and intimidating crack. I could hardly wait….
The 3rd pitch started out pretty good made somewhat easier through some hard stemming. However after about 10 metres, the crack reared back and got nasty. It was primarily flaring, making good jams harder. I got probably about another 15 metres and then ran out of gas and had to hang. After re-grouping, I made it another 10 metres before taking another short rest, which proved unnecessary as their was a huge hold to stem on that was hard to see (it was a big pocket). After that it was another 10 metres of slightly easier climbing to another hanging belay. This was truly a spectacular pitch – one of the best I’ve done in the mountains (right up there with the headwall pitches on the Lotus Flower Tower).
This is me leading the 3rd (crux) pitch – the last good place to rest before the top. This is a picture I took of two Americans climbing this same pitch. The lead climber is stemming in exactly the same position as I am in the picture of me on this pitch (to the left).
The fourth pitch was rated as the hardest on the route, but consensus from everyone who had climbed it was that the previous pitch is harder. I found the pitch quite enjoyable with some interesting and varied moves, right up to a steep section of about 8 metres. It was slightly overhanging, but the hand and finger jams were good. The pitch ended in a huge squeeze chimney.
This is the 4th pitch. I’m just about to head into the steep section. It’s hard to tell, but it’s actually a bit overhanging. Also note the squeeze chimney (the dark slot) that you climb into and which constitutes the last pitch.
The fifth and last pitch has to be seen to be truly appreciated. It consists of a 2 foot wide squeeze chimney that goes straight up for about 5 metres and then straight sideways for about 8 metres, and then straight up for another 10 metres. It’s a full body workout, getting your fat ass up this thing. My quads even got pumped from pushing my butt up against the opposite wall. There’s no footholds, so to climb it you need to push against opposite walls for all your worth.
This is a picture Greg took after I had led the squeeze chimney. You can see my rope goes directly horizontal for about 8 metres and then you need to climb directly up. Note the lack of footholds and the flaring nature of the chimney. Lots of fun.
The climb doesn’t end until the very top, when you get to flop onto the flat summit. Because Greg was carrying the pack, and there’s no way you could climb that pitch with a pack, he had to sling it off his harness and climb with it below him – it took him a couple of minutes to catch his breath once he flopped on top. What a pitch! What a climb!
The adjacent shot is me looking down the route. Right where I’m lying is the where the final (squeeze chimney) pitch tops out. It’s overhanging right to the end. The flat rock makes a convenient place to catch your breath.
The day ended rather interestingly. Once we arrived back at camp (totally and completely whipped), Mirek told us about their day. They had climbed the Mountaineer’s Route without any difficulty and had totally enjoyed the climb. While Mirek was making the final rappel before the short walk back to camp, he noticed smoke coming about 50 metres from camp. Very concerned, he ran back to camp to see what was going on (there are no campfires allowed in this Wilderness Area, and besides that, the fire hazard was extreme). Upon arriving at the camp, he found a forest fire at the beginning stages of ignition. It was obvious what had happened – someone (later determined to be one of two women day hikers) had gone pee in the bush and had brilliantly decided to light their toilet paper on fire. When Mirek arrived the fire was about 5 metres long by 3 metres wide and becoming established. When I later looked at it, I figured if he had another 5-10 minutes later, it would have been too late. Mirek, June, Karl and Keefer, as well as two German climbers (the ones that noticed the woman day hikers) worked hard for two hours putting the fire out with only pots and water bottles. They dug a trench around the entire fire about 8 inches deep. We worked for about another hour later than night to make sure all the hot spots were out. I reported the fire to the Forest Service on our way home – they were quite thankful and were going to send some people out there to ensure it was all out.
That evening Greg and I decided we were going to head out (home) the next day. We had climbed 3 awesome alpine rock climbs and the “Sunrise Book” had us (and my hands) totally spent.
We headed out the next day and caught the 11 o’clock boat ride back to the Redfish Lodge and then started our long trip home. It took us 17 hours, which Greg drove straight. While going over the pass between Radium and Lake Louise around 12 o’clock at night, we ran into a full-on snow storm. There was 4 inches of snow along side the road. We arrived home at 4:30 in the morning.