Who says you can’t go rock climbing in the Sawtooths in mid-November?? Jimmy and I just did! Anddd, it was a lot warmer and more comfortable than we had anticipated. Here is the story…
After giving an amateur slideshow in Seattle about our time on the road so far, Jimmy and I were anxious to go do some ice climbing. The problem was that from the Rockies to Colorado, its been 65 degrees and sunny all week. This has caused any of the early season ice, that was reportedly pretty good, to sheet off. We instead decided to go suffer through what we thought would be some cold-weather rock climbing on the Elephants Perch. We headed into Ketchum, packed what are essentially our ice climbing layers (soft shell pants, big belay jackets, fleece lined hats, warm base layers, and thick gloves of belaying), and headed north.
The Elephants Perch sits about 3 miles from the end of Red Fish Lake near Stanley, Idaho, nested in the Sawtooths. During the summer months, there is a boat that will take you across the lake. Given that we were the only ones within 15 miles up there, the boat service was unfortunately no longer running. Instead, Jimmy and I hiked from the Red Fish Lodge into the the Perch with our own four feet. The hike was beautiful, and rather uneventful, even despite the wrong turn we took, which took us up the Fishhook Creek trail. This wrong turn ended up being a LONG detour, and meant that the total hike into the Perch totaled to 14 miles or so.
Our whacked at route in can be seen here: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/track/ef56f782-e04f-4f5a-85db-0b7f8d1cf88d/?layer=GaiaTopoRasterFeet
We intended to approach and climb the mountaineers route day 1, but after arriving more wiped than expected from this ordeal, we decided to just hang and enjoy the alpine setting.
Our primary objective was to climb Myopia, a nine pitch 5.11 on the south face of the Perch. It wasn’t until we had hiked all the way in with our warm layers, that we realized that we weren’t in for the suffering on cold rock that we expected. Instead warm rock climbing in the sun awaited us. Our full realization of just how warm it was going to be came when we hiked our gear up the base of the route. The warmth being kicked off by the rock, even at 330pm in the afternoon, made the temperatures quite comfortable under the south face.
After a long night of sleep, we woke up the next day for the climb, and Jimmy was heading up the approach pitch at 915am. By this time, everything but the bottom 30ft of the route were already warming up in the sun. Jimmy was so hot by mid-way up the first pitch that he stopped to leave his buff and jacket on a ledge….not the best technique for transition gear into the pack, as it took me 5 minutes to figure out where he left it. We simul-ed a bit of the first approach pitch before he brought me up to a belay below the 5.10 finger crack/chimney pitch.
The business of the route really begins near at the top of this first 5.10 pitch, where there is a brief layback section that takes you up to the anchors. Above this lies the crux pitch, which goes at 11a. Immediately off the belay, the climbing is full-on and in your face, with occasional gear placements between strenuous layback and stem moves. At the crux, I clipped the one fixed piece we found on the route, and made loud noises as I tried to manage the pump and the fear of falling way out in the alpine. Fortunately, the fixed nut can be backed up with plenty of small cams, making the climbing extremely safe. After pulling through the crux, and burning more energy than I should have doing so, I finished out the pitch and brought Jimmy up.
From here, there are three 5.10 pitches per the topo. As the stances at each of the noted belays are a bit lacking, I did these three pitches in two by building a belay mid-way up pitch four. No matter which way this section of rock is linked, it is glorious, hard, 5.10 climbing, that alternates between tips lay backing and wild stemming. In particular, the sustained nature and movement here reminded me of the dihedral pitches of Freeway in Squamish. It also felt nearly as hard!
Jimmy took over at the top of the 5.10 section to lead the rest of the route. While less sustained, the remainder of the climbing goes at 5.9. Apparently Jimmy was very excited about the climbing, as he was naked and hollering when I reached the top. Somehow he had managed to strip and belay at the same time. I think he just needed his moment in the wilderness!
No photo included…
When we had started up the climb, we had decided to shag the weight of our mountain boots as we couldn’t see any snow in the descent gully. Upon initial glance from the top of the route, this retrospectively seemed like a bad idea. A foot of snow covered the ridge-line that led to the descent gully on the far climbers’ right of the formation. We sacked up and headed that way after some moaning about getting snow in our shoes. To our surprise, a nice snow-free sidewalk could be found along the edge. I followed this, with some delicate scrambling at a few moments, all the way to the dry ground in the descent gully. I personally dislike the feeling of snow in my rock shoes, so I was quite delighted by this option. Jimmy, in contrast decided not to walk the plank near the edge of the void and ran through the snow to the descent gully. See photo!
Once in the gully, it is a 15 minute (at most) walk down to the base of the climb, with just a little bit of scrambling to keep things honest.
Once at the base, we had a quick discussion on what to do next: dash up the Mountaineers route or hike out. Between the sores that were developing on Jimmy’s feet from the approach, and some fatigue that had kicked in for him (only 2 hours of sleep the night before), we decided it was best to go for the car! This time we took the correct trail out!
-1x Grey Metolius , 2x Red X4/Purple Metolius size, 3x Blue Metolius size, then doubles .3 -> #3.
-1 set of DMM offset nuts #7 (yellow) to #10 (black) + a few of the larger DMM Peenuts.
-12 slings (7) and draws (5)
-60 m 9.3mm rope
Next time I would not bring the Grey Metolius or the extra Blue Metolius (or equivalent). Neither were necessary, particular if you use nuts as well. The DMM offsets, as always, were money for the entire route. We brought the Peenuts based on MP comments, but I would only bring the largest next time. With respect to the rope, I don’t think I would waste energy bringing anything bigger back there.