Trip to the Sawtooths (Idaho), suggestions?


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Trad climber
San Francisco
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 26, 2011 - 02:25pm PT
I don't want to steal too much attention away from the WOS thread...

But, I'd like to actually go climbing!

I'm headed to the Sawtooths next week for about a week. We are planning on some backpacking but trying to figure out how much climbing gear to bring and what our options are. The Elephant's Perch looks awesome, but perhaps a bit committing. I'm a solid grade IV climber, but the lady doesn't get excited about epics and, while she can climb hard, is not prepared for any rescue situations.

I'd be happy to boulder or sport as well (less gear to bring!).

First time to the area, so other suggestions welcome as well (best hot springs, backpacking loop, other...)


Trad climber
Bay Area
Aug 26, 2011 - 02:29pm PT
Fritz here at SuperTopo knows a lot about them. Maybe he'll pitch in.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
WA, & NC & Idaho
Aug 26, 2011 - 02:34pm PT
Mountaineers route on the perch is 5.8+ and 7 or so pitches, slightly tricky in two spots but fairly casual other wise!
Please post up a TR!

check out my old TR if you want!
Captain...or Skully

or some such
Aug 26, 2011 - 02:44pm PT
Ezra is right...That's a fun route. Lots of routes on that thing & nearby rocks. Maybe try the Finger of Fate. Different approach, another glorious Rock. There's a stack of them there.....Woot!
Just DON'T run over an elk.

Trad climber
Portland, Or
Aug 26, 2011 - 02:47pm PT
The Perch is quite accessible and camping is still pretty nice although the lake is more beaten-down near the outlet than it used to be.

You could also head up the valley toward Alpine Lake, camp up there, and then go up and over to Bead Lakes area. Tons of scrambling and technical climbing and no one around. Take some time to get used to altitude if you do that.

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Aug 26, 2011 - 05:06pm PT
North Ridge Goat Perch is a pretty nice route. Other places on Goat Perch are not as pleasant.

Summer 1982: I decide a “direct start” for the classic North Ridge Goat Perch route in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains would be an “interesting challenge.” I had already climbed the North Ridge of Goat Perch, and thought rock quality would be good.

I went in with Bruce: a friend that I had climbed with very little. That mattered not, since this man was in every way my superior. He had the good genes to the max and was: athletic, intelligent, tall, handsome, and fearless. In fact he was just out of the Navy and had been a fighter pilot and then was in the Blue Angels. Oh-----and he was a born-again Christian, but he tolerated my pagan ways. He even secretly carried a six-pack of beer up to the lakes under Elephant’s Perch, for my drinking pleasure.

The first lead on our north-face Goat’s Perch route, was up a steep chimney/gully, with a jam crack at its back. At the end of the first lead, the choice was overhanging off-width, or an inviting ledge that went left to less-steep terrain above. Bruce led left and quickly turned a corner. The rope stopped. Then he called back, “there’s a little loose rock here.”

In the next half hour, he must have pulled off 10 tons of rock. The snowfield below was soon a blackened war zone. Slowly, the rope played out, then more crashes and booms would shatter the quiet.

At last I heard “On Belay” and followed the lead. The traverse was just horribly-loose, but then I reached the line that he had climbed up to his belay. Everything was stacked: small loose blocks, at a 70-80 degree angle. There was some “protection” slotted between obviously loose blocks. It was not an easy lead to follow, and when I reached Bruce I was both scared and angry.

“How could you justify leading that?” I barked. “Everything is loose and your protection wouldn’t have stopped a falling squirrel”

Bruce thought for a minute and then calmly replied: “It was pretty iffy, but whenever I got to a tough spot I asked Jesus where to go.” He then smiled and added: “he takes care of me.”

Never before had someone asserted to me: that Jesus took a personal interest in his climbing.

I was truly staggered. I clipped into the belay nuts, noting that they were worthless to stop a leader fall.

Rappeling was out of the question, since we were now above an overhang. Down-climbing did not seem like a good option either. After some water and a little small talk, I decided that based on prior success: Bruce and Jesus could lead the next pitch too.

That pitch was not as bad, but it was worse for me: since I was now in the direct line of rock fall. I hung the pack above me and cowered as stones clattered by. The only rocks that hit me were mercifully small. Once again, when I followed the lead, the rock was all loose. The protection that Bruce & Jesus had placed would probably not have stopped a leader fall. Another similar, but easier lead for Bruce & Jesus followed.

When I reached Bruce again, I realized we were very close to where the North Ridge route started. We had done a “significant direct-start variation.” I was able to do a traverse over to the ridge on reasonably good rock.

Bruce was however, very disappointed in me. I adamantly refused to continue up the standard North Ridge route with him and Jesus.
I did not write the route up, since any future parties might not have the divine protection that we had experienced. I also confess: I did not “see the light” and continue as a pagan.
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
Aug 26, 2011 - 06:23pm PT
That is a great story Fritz.

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Dec 7, 2012 - 10:40pm PT
If you go there!

Don't go anywhere but Elephant's Perch! Everything else is choss!

Oh! Don't assume Elephant's Perch is all solid rock.

Best Wishes!


Sport climber
mammoth lakes ca
Dec 7, 2012 - 10:51pm PT
Fritz...Thanks for sharing the pics of your 2 kids...Have they learned how to read yet...?...RJ

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Dec 8, 2012 - 10:50am PT
RJ. When they get out of jail, you'll be reading their knuckles.

(Jennie claims them as nephews.)

There has been some in-breeding here. Idaho is one of the last strong-holds of genetic deficiency.

Sport climber
mammoth lakes ca
Dec 8, 2012 - 11:16am PT
Fritz ....Idaho is the last stronghold of genetic deficiency..? have you ever visited Bridgeport. California...? RJ

Trad climber
Elk Creek, Idaho
Dec 8, 2012 - 12:38pm PT
There is some stellar bouldering on fallen blocks in some of the higher basins of the range.

Fritz, have you considered writing a comprehensive guide to the Sawtooths?

(A herculean effort with probably modest monetary return...)

I'd heard Lyman Dye was working on a guide but it seems to have not materialized if he actually was. (?)

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Dec 8, 2012 - 01:10pm PT
Jennie: I am opposed to a comprehensive Sawtooth climbing guidebook.

Matt Leidecker just published a comprehensive hiking guide to the Sawtooths. (Exploring The Sawtooths.)

Matt has a climbing background and the book does have a chapter on Sawtooth climbing history. He even bought Stein Sitzmark & me lunch and discussed Sawtooth climbing history and the role Decker Flat Climbing & Frisbee Club members played in it.

He aptly sums up the local anti-guidebook feeling by writing:

“Finally, an ethic of climbing in the Sawtooths developed that shunned excessive reporting and documentation.”
“In the Sawtooths, it seemed that the most valuable aspect of climbing was the LACK of information. “
He also quotes the man who has been responsible for many, many, new routes in the range, Reid Dowdle.
“According to Dowdle, In the Sawtooths there is a sense of putting adventure back into climbing, putting the unknown back into climbing.”

I can only agree.

Trad climber
Elk Creek, Idaho
Dec 8, 2012 - 05:00pm PT
Thanks, Fritz...I kinda knew an abundance of Sawtooth climbers had arrived at similar conclusions..

Many climbers in this part of the state are drawn more to the Tetons and of the elements in that being the lack of detailed climbing information on segments away from the most salient Sawtooth climbs.

I suppose I feel conflicting emotions on that...keeping the range wild, limiting traffic and promoting adventure are considerations I can't disagree with...but my self-seeking side wants to be in-the-know. :-)

...and the Tetons, beside having great rock quality, are well charted and documented. Hopefully the Sawtooths won't become as severely overun.

..... appreciate the Sawtooth narrative/commentary you've posted on ST.

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Dec 8, 2012 - 05:48pm PT
Jennie: One of the reasons most Sawtooth Range regulars are anti-guidebook is: most of the range is "user-friendly." Approaches are shorter than the Wind Rivers for the most part, and vertical gain is much less than one finds in the Tetons.

Robert Underhill and his wife Miriam were the first skilled climbers to explore the Sawtooths. He wrote about his thoughts on the range in the 1935 issue of APPALACHIA:

"Most of the peaks can be got up at least by some route, by dint of a little scrambling: in general, where the north and east faces may be steep, the south and west slopes offer comparatively easy ways....
Nevertheless, I think there is quite a lot here to engage the interest of the rockclimber as such--though to be sure he should be a rockclimber who is willing for the moment to turn aside from long expeditions to shorter days spent largely in the lighter exercise of his craft--and preferably one who is content to accept as part of his reward the great charm of the country and of the camp life it permits."


Trad climber
Elk Creek, Idaho
Dec 9, 2012 - 01:44pm PT
Nice photo, Fritz...beautiful serenity.

Your "user friendly" reference to the Sawtooths works in the guidebook discussion. Certainly, approaches tend to be less intricate than in some ranges.

Many of us have an obsession with poring over compendious guidebooks in the winter...scouting out grand, multi-pitch adventures with exquisite rock in lower traffic locales. The Ortenburger/Jackson Teton guide and Mr Beckey's trilogy guides to the Cascades satisfy that longing...

An error on my part has been regarding the Sawtooths as a "little sister" range to the Tetons, I suppose. When, in fact, it's much older and has been subject to more extensive glaciation and is relatively more "worn down." Much Sawtooth rock is loose or weathered to the magnitude of being "holdless"...but at its very best ...Sawtooth rock compares favorably in soundness, beauty and "gnarliness" to any stone in the Tetons.

I wonder where the "back to wilderness" tenets will go. I haven't been in the Sawtooths for three years...

Climbers at one of the shops in Idaho Falls said some of the wooden bridges have been destroyed by overzealous advocates. (?)
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
WA, & NC & Idaho
Dec 9, 2012 - 03:16pm PT
Great story about the goats perch Friz, glad I saw this thread again.
I'm with Fritz, we don't need no stinking guide book!!!!!
Especially with mountain project and the like!!!
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