Trip Report
Pursuit of Bluebonnet Tower and the Lost Crystal Cave, Sawtooths, Idaho.
Wednesday February 24, 2010 7:48pm
Pursuit of “Bluebonnet Tower.”
(and the search for the “Crystal Cave.”)

Glissading firm snow and going “way too fast,” I tripped and did a couple of fast forward somersaults. Rolling out of the second somersault, I planted my ice axe pick deep in the snow. It was a perfect “ice axe self-arrest” for about one second----then the axe ripped out of my hands, but stayed attached to my wrist.

As I started somersaulting again: the ice axe became a flail. It first smacked me a hard blow between my eyes, then in mid-roll, the spike got very close to my stomach. Somehow, I grabbed the shaft again, planted the pick a little less firmly, and managed to stop.

Gordon Williams, going "way too fast." 1971 Thompson Peak
Gordon Williams, going "way too fast." 1971 Thompson Peak
Credit: Fritz


I had a minor scalp wound that bled wonderfully, but otherwise was uninjured. Wow, I thought: my first climbing accident!

A short break on the way down "endless snowfields."
A short break on the way down "endless snowfields."
Credit: Fritz

It was mid- June of 1971, Gordon Williams, Harry Bowron, a tough little blond named Janet, and I, were descending miles of snowfields. We had just spent two days approaching and climbing an easy route up the backside of Thompson Peak, 10,776 feet: the highest choss-pile of Idaho’s Sawtooth Range.

Harry, Gordon, and Fritz.  Summit of Thompson Peak, 1971
Harry, Gordon, and Fritz. Summit of Thompson Peak, 1971
Credit: Gordon Williams

From near Thompson Peak: some of the more interesting technical peaks of the Sawtooths dominate the southwestern skyline. We only knew the name of one: Warbonnet. Worse yet, we didn’t know which peak was Warbonnet, but we had a new “must go, must climb” objective.

I loved them all!

Peaks in upper Baron Creek drainage, from near Thompson Peak.
Peaks in upper Baron Creek drainage, from near Thompson Peak.
Credit: Fritz

Soon there was a second reason for me to climb in the Warbonnet area. It was the home of the “lost crystal cave.”

I worked summers for the Forest Service in the Sawtooth National Forest, during my college years. Just after the Thompson Peak climb, the Forest Service had me haul some supplies (and a requested bottle of whiskey) up to an isolated Forest Service “Guard Station” for an old employee named Jim.

I got there late and after unloading supplies: Jim invited me to have dinner with him. After food and a little whiskey, I asked him what he knew about the Warbonnet area. He was a little reluctant to talk at first, but with a “wee bit” more whiskey, he shared some very interesting information.

His father had been a horse-packer and guide for some 1930’s Sawtooth climbers. Jim explained that his father had gotten a taste for climbing, but also had found crystals.

“Crystals”? I said, leaning forward.

Jim straightened up, and nearly shouted: “yah, quartz crystals, certain spots are full of them: big ones----some are huge! There’s a bunch around Warbonnet.”

Jim’s voice got lower: “give me some more of that “nerve tonic”, and I’ll tell you a true story about my old man and Sawtooth crystals.” After taking a long deep sip of whiskey: Jim told the story. “During World War II, quartz crystals were worth good money as radio crystals. I got drafted, but my father hiked the Sawtooths and brought out a lot of those crystals."

“Late one fall, my father was crystal hunting up in the Warbonnet area. He had to do some pretty hard climbing, but finally fetched up below a cave full of crystals.”

Jim shook his head ruefully. “Dad told me, there was a big snowstorm coming, but he climbed up into that cave anyway, even though he wasn’t sure if he could climb back down to get out.”

Jim explained that the cave had many beautiful crystals, but they were too big to carry out. All the quartz crystals were 2 or 3 feet long and weighed hundreds of pounds. His dad anchored a rope around a big one and rappelled out of the cave into a blinding snowstorm. Three days later, after many close-calls in the heavy snows, his father stumbled through the front door of his cabin.

“Dad never went back to the Sawtooths again, and I was always scared of heights,” Jim added.

Jim clapped me on the back! “That crystal cave is still up there youngster---right near Warbonnet!”

The next morning, as I was leaving to go back to my ranger station, Jim shook hands and said: “you be careful up in that Warbonnet area. My old man thought the storms up there were the worst he had ever seen.”

(Please note: collecting mineral specimens has been illegal in the Sawtooths since 1990 and quartz crystals now have no industrial value.)

Part II Getting There

Later that summer: Harry Bowron and I made a twelve-day climbing trip into the Warbonnet area.

We had some handicaps unfamiliar to many climbers these days. The only maps available did not show any details of the mountains in the area. There was no guidebook or “topos.” On the plus side, there was a good Forest Service trail and Harry, a NOLS course graduate and fearless leader, had got me “up to speed” (for 1971 Idaho) on technical rock climbing.
Our map: 1969 Forest Service map of Sawtooth Primitive Area--No USGS Q...
Our map: 1969 Forest Service map of Sawtooth Primitive Area--No USGS Quads until fall 1972.
Credit: Fritz

The first part of our 12 day trip was 2 1/2 days hiking into, exploring possible routes, and then climbing Mt. Heyburn, near Redfish Lake.
Fritz on north-face couloir of Heyburn.   Millet pack, REI Helmet, Stu...
Fritz on north-face couloir of Heyburn. Millet pack, REI Helmet, Stubai “Nanga Parbat” axe, 120 ft. rope. We didn’t want to get the rope wet on snow, so of course we didn’t use it until we got on rock.
Credit: Fritz

We then took a day to trudge the long way into Baron Lakes, up the Redfish Lake Creek Trail. It was “a grunt” with 65 lb. loads (which were dubbed “Sawtooth Overloads”). No “freeze dried” food for us. We were laden with rice, macaroni, and beans, along with Harry’s beloved aluminum pressure cooker.
Fritz & Harry at Baron/Redfish divide in July 1971.  From that divide ...
Fritz & Harry at Baron/Redfish divide in July 1971. From that divide we had a close-up view of the many crags north of Baron Lakes.
Credit: Fritz

Baron Lakes, and some of the many surrounding formations.
Baron Lakes, and some of the many surrounding formations.
Credit: Fritz

We hiked down to the upper Baron Lake, and next day started our climbing. For our first ascent we picked a striking tower, with a pronounced hook.
Credit: Fritz

We scrambled up toward the overhanging spire, and finally roped up 30 feet below the summit. Harry made me give him a shoulder stand and later employed a RURP for an aid move. From the summit register, we learned our pinnacle was called Fish Hook Spire (now El Pima).

The first ascent had been by Fred Beckey, Pete Schoening, and Jack Schwabland in 1949 and we were only the 3rd party to climb it. I later learned that Fred had used not one, but two shoulder stands, and 3 aid pitons on the route.

From the summit, we were able to look down at the impressive summit block on another peak we thought might be the legendary Warbonnet.
Harry on summit of Fishhook.  We thought peak in background at right, ...
Harry on summit of Fishhook. We thought peak in background at right, might be Warbonnet.
Credit: Fritz

However, looking up, I saw another tower that captured my imagination------the inaccessible monolith that later was named Bluebonnet Tower.
Harry on Fishhook/El Pima, with Bluebonnet Tower on left at top, and C...
Harry on Fishhook/El Pima, with Bluebonnet Tower on left at top, and Cirque Lake Peak on right.
Credit: Fritz

I might not have known its name, but I wanted it------badly!


First though, we had to deal with what we thought might be Warbonnet. Our candidate didn’t match where the Forest Service map said Warbonnet was, but it looked like a warbonnet. We smoked a little stuff, thought on the subject, and decided the map sucked and damn-it-----this peak must be Warbonnet.


South face of what we thought was Warbonnet, actually Big Baron Spire.
South face of what we thought was Warbonnet, actually Big Baron Spire.
Credit: Fritz

Next day, we worked up to the south face of what we thought was Warbonnet, and Harry picked one of the several steep shallow chimneys available. We scrambled to a belay platform up about 20 feet and then he grunted up about 70 feet, fighting his way past several evil little thorn- bushes. At this point a thunderstorm moved in. As the rain started, we retreated.

After that storm moved off, we worked ourselves along the base of the spire towards the east side. After a while we found a steep ledge system that went up a line of weakness on the east face. With careful route-finding: we were able to think, scramble, and occasionally stroll, all the way up to the flawless summit block, without roping up. (I looked at the start of this route again in 2007 and could not believe we climbed it un-roped.)

At the top, we discovered a flawless and crack-less 110 feet high summit block with some ancient, bent, ¼” bolts leading up it. None of the bolts had hangers on them. We did not have the tools to climb it and scrambled back off, as the sun was setting. I did demand the rope in a couple places, on the way down.

The following day was a thunderstorm day. We alternated lazing about, with hiding from lightning, then pursuing more food: fishing, and hunting mushrooms. We had now been out 7 days, and our low-calorie diet was starting to affect our energy. We were definitely losing weight, and it was hard to think about anything but food. My journal notes that the fish were spawning and did not seem interested in our flies or lures.

The next day we addressed a challenge to our west (Verita Ridge we learned later). The three towers of a buttress dominated our western horizon and we worked our way up their south- side to a long ridgeline.

East end of Verita Ridge, above Baron Lakes.
East end of Verita Ridge, above Baron Lakes.
Credit: Fritz


At the eastern-most high-point of the ridge was a cairn with a mustard-jar summit register. It informed us that we were on the west peak of Cirque Lake Peak (the Cirque Lake Peak name now applies to the next peak to the north).

We worked west up the spiny ridge to where we could look west into Bead Lakes Basin. Pinnacles were everywhere and a photo opportunity was soon found.
Harry posing on Verita Ridge.
Harry posing on Verita Ridge.
Credit: Fritz

After photo posing and some “boulder trundling”, we turned south towards the highest summit of Verita Ridge.

Along the way, Harry down-climbed un-roped into a notch in the ridge and took a little while figuring out moves down to a chockstone that bridged the gap. He then stood on the car-sized chockstone and gave directions as I down climbed. The final direction was: “don’t put too much weight on that handhold: it’s loose!” There was no other handhold, and little for my feet. Of course I pulled it off, and dropped 6 feet butt-first onto the chockstone. The handhold followed and hit me on my helmet.

Other than some butt bruises, no harm was done. I was a little jumpy the rest of the day and we got back to camp earlier than expected. Still thinking of nothing but food: I went fishing. Eureka! Two 20” Cutthroat trout for dinner: helped a lot with the “calorie deficit.”
Credit: Fritz

Full stomachs also improved our morale a great deal and we decided to try another route on “our Warbonnet” early the next morning.

We were out of camp at first light and hiked and scrambled up lines of weakness on the northeast corner of “our Warbonnet” (Big Baron Spire) until we found a wide ledge that took us well out onto the north face. Along the way, I found a perfect 4” x 8” quartz crystal. It was a ‘good omen” and we carefully buried it, then hiked on up.

Maybe the “Crystal Cave” was above us?


our quartz crystal, “on ice.”
our quartz crystal, “on ice.”
Credit: Fritz


We had scouted the start of this route two days previously, and we were both impressed by the possibilities. Our rope-up ledge was about 500 feet above the start of the steep north face, and above us stretched an invitingly low-angled area that led up to vertical headwalls.

We enjoyed seven 120 foot leads to the summit block. After four leads of lower angle rock, the route took off up steep cracks. Harry improvised aiders and aided up part of one pitch. I couldn’t clean and follow it free, but he felt bad that he had not “gone for it” and led it free.

After we arrived at the “flawless summit block,” once again we stared up at the bent hanger-less bolts. An approaching thunderstorm chased us down before we could think how to try the ancient bolt ladder.

The Warbonnet/Baron Lakes area is notorious for frequent and vigorous summer thunderstorms. On the 1949 first ascent of the Big Baron Spire bolt ladder: Fred Beckey, Pete Schoening, and Jack Schwabland had major problems with thunderstorms for three days. The climax storm nearly killed them during an epic retreat: through rain, hail, and very close lightning strikes, from the “work in progress” summit-block bolt ladder.

Although both Pete & Jack were injured as rain sluiced them off the mountain, they climbed back up the next day. They eventually placed 20 ¼” bolts on their way up the summit-block.

On both our ascents, we kept our eyes open for “the crystal cave” but never found a clue around our route, other than the one perfect crystal and some broken fragments.

Approximate locations of our 1971 routes on Big Baron Spire (our W...
Approximate locations of our 1971 routes on Big Baron Spire (our Warbonnet). On the left is the route we scrambled to the summit. On the right is the “North Face cutoff”
Credit: Fritz



The next day we departed for another three days of Sawtooth Adventures to the south and east.

That winter we learned that the true Warbonnet was several miles north of our “imitation Warbonnet.” The peak we had done two new routes on was “Big Baron Spire” and was also called “Old Smoothy.”

Where could the “Crystal Cave” be? And what about Bluebonnet Tower?

I was not able to search for either again until August of 1972.


In 1972, Harry Bowron and I had planned on climbing in the Sawtooths all of July and August. However in mid-June Harry was offered a job as a Middle Fork Salmon River boatman. He explained to his would-be employers that he would love to take the job. However, if he accepted: his climbing partner would hunt him down and kill him. No problem: they would also train me to be a river guide too. We accepted, and I never regretted the lost climbing time.

After the float season was over, in late summer 1972, Harry Bowron, David Thomas, and I went into upper Goat Creek on the south-west side of Warbonnet in the Sawtooth Range. No trail goes into Goat Creek.

On the way in we climbed another big peak in the area: Packrat. From its summit we were able to figure out where Warbonnet was, and how to approach it.
Harry Bowron and David Thomas: looking across at east-ridge of Packrat...
Harry Bowron and David Thomas: looking across at east-ridge of Packrat. It was a scramble, with the rope used only on the steepest part.
Credit: Fritz

This time, we had no problem figuring out what peak was Warbonnet. We knew there were climbing routes on it, but beyond knowing Warbonnet was within our capabilities, we had no idea of where the established routes were.

View is northeast to Warbonnet at upper right center, with Cirque Lake...
View is northeast to Warbonnet at upper right center, with Cirque Lake towers to right.
Credit: Fritz

At the time, Warbonnet, 10,200 Ft. had a reputation as one of the most remote and difficult peaks in the Sawtooth Range. It is still considered a remote technical climb, with the easiest route to the summit rated 5.4.

The next day, we climbed up to the high saddle on Warbonnet’s southeast side and decided to climb directly from there towards the summit. After scrambling up a ways, we had two leads of easy roped climbing with the route-finding taking us out onto the east face. We went diagonally up and north, toward the huge summit overhangs, until we finally came to hard climbing.

East Face Warbonnet with our “approximate” 1972 route in white.  The w...
East Face Warbonnet with our “approximate” 1972 route in white. The white line ends at the chimney that splits the peak.
Credit: Fritz

Fritz on an early lead.
Fritz on an early lead.
Credit: Fritz

We arrived at a good ledge with much steeper rock above us. Harry was convinced two jam cracks that went up a very steep slab would take us somewhere. He tried climbing the slab free and backed off, then aided up the cracks to where the angle lessened. He went back to difficult (5.8?) free-climbing, up to a cave right under the huge summit overhang. The cave turned out to be a giant chimney that splits the summit of Warbonnet.

I remember some difficult free climbing, with a pack on, getting off the slab and into the chimney. After that, it was no problem.

 Harry’s aid lead onto easier slabs, below the cave.
Harry’s aid lead onto easier slabs, below the cave.
Credit: Fritz

Harry leading in the giant chimney that splits the top of Warbonnet.  ...
Harry leading in the giant chimney that splits the top of Warbonnet.
Credit: Fritz

A view out the west side of Warbonnet from the “giant chimney”
A view out the west side of Warbonnet from the “giant chimney”
Credit: Fritz



The chimney took us to a big belay platform, just before the final lead to the summit.

Ah yes! Was the chimney------“the crystal cave?”

Unfortunately, there was no sign of crystals, although we did not descend into the much deeper west side of the chimney.

The summit lead was a “little bit airy” but I led it without difficulty. My old notes mention there was one bolt for protection in 60 feet of climbing. I disapproved of the bolt, but clipped into it.

I would rate our route as 5.8 A1, but I think it would go free at a 5.9 or low 5.10 level.

David Thomas rapelling off the summit of Warbonnet, 1972.
David Thomas rapelling off the summit of Warbonnet, 1972.
Credit: Fritz

The next day Harry and I climbed a nice route on one of the minor pinnacles on the west side of our valley. I mention it because we thought it was a “first ascent” and we named the pinnacle “Mayan Temple,” since it looked like one. We scrambled some of its east face, then enjoyed 3 pleasant leads to a striking 20’ high summit block.

Fritz on top of "Mayan Temple" summitblock.
Fritz on top of "Mayan Temple" summitblock.
Credit: Fritz


On our way out we ran into Louie Stur, who was: “the godfather” of Sawtooth climbing. We told him of our adventures and he made note of the “first ascent of Mayan Temple.” Unfortunately, when the climbing magazine, Off Belay, did a Sawtooth Guidebook article in 1975: “Mayan Temple” was the new name of a nearby and much more formidable mountain: previously named Japan Peak.

Credit: Fritz


For four summers, 1973-76 I did not return to the Warbonnet area. I was running an outdoor shop 300 miles away in north Idaho and discovering climbing in North Idaho, the Cascades, Canada, and even Yosemite. My mentor Harry had married, spawned babies, and was “a pale shadow of his former climbing-whiz-self.”

What about Bluebonnet Tower and the Lost Crystal Cave? They both gnawed at my soul. Would I ever find them?




Finally, summer 1977, I was back with two friends. Mike Paine, was a very good climber, and Frank Michaels, was always willing to give it a try.

We packed “Sawtooth Overloads” up from Redfish Lake into Baron Lakes on day one.

Day two we examined options and decided that the first order of business was to free the 1971 route that Harry and I had done on what we now knew was Big Baron Spire. We also knew about the Beckey bolt ladder on the summit block and we were ready to deal with that as well.

North Face Bypass route, Big Baron Spire.  Follow low angle slabs up i...
North Face Bypass route, Big Baron Spire. Follow low angle slabs up into the steep area, then escape up cracks to right.
Credit: Fritz

We fired up the route. To start, Frank led a steep slab with a grassy crack up the middle with the help of his Chouinard Alpine Hammer pick placed firmly in the sod-crux. A very-stinky dead marmot nearly forced a retreat, but we solved the problem when Frank grabbed it and tossed it off the north face.

Mike fired up the aid pitch, free. I followed and cleaned, while Frank happily jumared. Mike and I later agreed it was a 5.9 fist crack. More steep, but well protected leads followed.

Fritz leading “pleasant cracks” high on Big Baron Spire.
Fritz leading “pleasant cracks” high on Big Baron Spire.
Credit: Fritz

All too soon, we were at the overhanging summit block with Fred Beckey’s bolt ladder. I had time to open my pack and get out the ¼” hangers and nuts, and strap on the “bolt kit.” About then, a thunderstorm filled the sky and we retreated. It was a close race off the mountain, but we beat the storm back to camp.

It appeared we had hit a storm cycle in an area noted for thunderstorms. The next day started with a thunderstorm, but cleared shortly after.

It was time to go deal with the tower that I had seen from Fish Hook Spire in 1971, and to search a little more for the “Crystal Cave.”

We worked our way high, up to the west through swollen streams and areas covered with rock fall from recent storms.

Then I saw it!!!

The tower I had chased since 1971.
The tower I had chased since 1971.
Credit: Fritz

Mike, Frank, and I climbed higher, and worked our way through route finding difficulty. The top part of the climb was on unusually choice choss.

Two poorly protected leads with some 5.9 got us to the summit.

Another difficult, obscure, but highly insignificant: Sawtooth first ascent was mine!

Climbing higher, the improbable began to look possible.
Climbing higher, the improbable began to look possible.
Credit: Fritz

Fritz following near the chossy crux.
Fritz following near the chossy crux.
Credit: Fritz

From the summit of--------wait-----this was a first ascent right??? We got to name it.

Seven years of searching for this obscure pinnacle. I must have a name worthy of its grandeur.

All I could think of was: “Bluebonnet.”

You won’t find it in any of the Sawtooth guides. I have not shared it publicly until now.

But why, you may ask, did we name it Bluebonnet Tower? It just seemed “fun” at the time.


We then took care of the second of two mysteries, in one day.

From the top of “Bluebonnet Tower” we could see an area of reflected late-afternoon light one-half mile south. Could the reflections be from crystals?

Within an hour, we were working our way up through an area of large loose rocks and debris. It was obvious that this area had recently broken away from the face above us.

We started finding big fragments of quartz crystals.

Then we found what was left of “the crystal cave.”

It appeared that its roof had broken and fallen: destroying most of the crystals. Some impressive, but battered, and dirty specimens remained in a dark tunnel that went up steeply.

Large broken fragments of quartz and feldspar crystals in the destroye...
Large broken fragments of quartz and feldspar crystals in the destroyed: “crystal cave.”
Credit: Fritz

It was a dangerous area. Rocks were falling on us from unstable cliffs above.

Perhaps less damaged crystals were up the remaining "crystal cave?"
Perhaps less damaged crystals were up the remaining "crystal cave?"
Credit: Fritz

It then started raining, and lightning was striking higher peaks, as we retreated down to camp.

That night, the worst thunderstorm of my life hit our corner of the Sawtooths.

The lightning bolts worked the surrounding peaks, then started hitting and exploding trees closer and closer to camp.

After initial “oh shits” on every close strike, we all burrowed into sleeping bags and dealt with terror-----each in our own way.

I always preferred whining and shaking, as opposed to a previous alternative: moaning and wetting my sleeping bag.

Next, the wind from the storm hit and started blowing over snags near our camp. Marble-sized hail slammed into us, and then a pole broke on our tent. We held together the tent as the hail changed to heavy rain.

In between thunderclaps, we could hear massive rockfalls off the surrounding peaks.

Finally, the storm departed, but we were too wet and scared to sleep well.

The storm departing down-canyon.
The storm departing down-canyon.
Credit: Fritz



After sleeping late into the morning, we dragged our soggy sleeping bags out of the tent and tried to dry ourselves out. There was some minor flooding in camp: but otherwise, we had survived the storm.

I was drawn back up to “the crystal cave” while Frank and Mike packed up for our hike out. I could not find the cave. Massive rock falls covered the area we had looked at the day before. More storm-loosened rock kept crashing down on the same area.

I finally found one small crystal: that somehow survived, under a large tottering boulder.

It too would soon be smashed: when that boulder fell, so I saved it and carried it a short distance away from the landslide.

Later: I did a solo trip into the same area, with minimal gear, wandered around places that were significant to me, and then carried the crystal to a safe home.

Fritz today, with “small crystal” he saved in 1977.
Fritz today, with “small crystal” he saved in 1977.
Credit: Fritz


But was there anything left of the "crystal cave" years later?



In 2007 a group of us went into Baron Lakes on a trip we titled “old farts trying to recreate past glories.” Our younger “rope rocket” friend hiked in a few days later. The weather “sucked.” (after 36 years, you would think I would know the weather often “sucks” there.)

The “old farts” and Kim.  Bluebonnet Tower, Fishhook Spire, and Big Ba...
The “old farts” and Kim. Bluebonnet Tower, Fishhook Spire, and Big Baron Spire in background.
Credit: Fritz


Chris, Heidi, and I tried the original Beckey route on Big Baron Spire and got hit by a snowstorm, with a little lightning mixed in. We promptly retreated, without going through all "Five Stages of Backing off." The 1949 Fred Beckey storm story was sufficient incentive to "get down".
Chris & Fritz posing on the Beckey Route on Big Baron Spire, just befo...
Chris & Fritz posing on the Beckey Route on Big Baron Spire, just before the snow hit. Yes that is a 1973 Vintage Ultimate helmet on me.
Credit: Fritz


Everyone enjoyed high mountain exploring, in between storms. Finally, we “knocked off” a first ascent on an another obscure tower, to the east of Baron Lakes, with our “rope rocket” Kim leading the way.


Fritz, Heidi, & Kim on top of----oops we forgot to name it!
Fritz, Heidi, & Kim on top of----oops we forgot to name it!
Credit: Fritz


Weather for our last full day looked great. Kim wanted to climb a 5.10d crack route on Big Baron Spire. No one wanted to belay and be dragged up, but I hiked up there with her and Heidi.

Later we hiked rough terrain over to where “the crystal cave” had been. Nothing remains but large broken rocks. Nice view though!

Both Kim and I then scrambled up very loose and dangerous rock to a high saddle and an awesome view into Goat Creek and peaks further west! (danger and scenery at the same time-I still love that adrenaline fix!)

Landside at right: that buried “the crystal cave.”
Landside at right: that buried “the crystal cave.”
Credit: Fritz


“The Crystal Cave” is buried. The best new routes are all climbed. It is a long hike into the area. Lightning storms are “frequent and vigorous.” A lot of the rock is “choss.” The fish are seldom biting, but wood ticks, carnivorous-flies, and mosquitoes are: usually biting.

No reason to go there anymore;<)

I will repeat: collecting mineral specimens has been illegal in the Sawtooths since 1990.





  Trip Report Views: 8,386
Fritz
About the Author
Fritz is a climber from Hagerman, ID.

Comments
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Comment on this Trip Report
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
  Jan 5, 2010 - 10:30am PT
Wow, what a TR. Thank you, Fritz!
Darwin

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Jan 6, 2010 - 02:56am PT
What Chris said. For me this is a totally fascinating mix of geology, climbing history and climbing, and it should been seen by the crowd over at http://supertopo.com/climbers-forum/1048215/Geology_Quiz .

Darwin
mcreel

climber
Barcelona
  Jan 9, 2010 - 12:13pm PT
Wow, that was a great trip report. Thanks!
Dirka

Trad climber
Hustle City
  Jan 12, 2010 - 12:23pm PT
Sweet blast from the past!
Rhodo-Router

Gym climber
sawatch choss
  Jan 13, 2010 - 04:48pm PT
Fantastic!
cologman

Trad climber
Buena Vista, CO
  Jan 15, 2010 - 10:44am PT
I haven't poured through the whole TR just yet but, back in the early '80's a couple of Stanley locals, Bill Leavell and Kirk Bachmann, and I did what they called the Crystal Cave Route. Don't remember much except that the cave which was more of a big overhang was filled with up to very large single terminated quartx crystals. As I recall this feature was about half way or perhaps a little more up the route. The route which was around 5.8 was enjoyable and about 4-5 pitches as I recall. Access was somewhere up around the Buster Back Ranch side of things. Not much to go on but ya, its there or at least it was!
oldgrom

Trad climber
boise,idaho
  Jan 16, 2010 - 12:05am PT
Fritz? Ray, how ya doin' Good to see you out in Idaho's granite wonderland. Keep climbing.

Paul
Fritz

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Feb 22, 2010 - 10:42am PT
I checked out this one and see that 1002 people have viewed it.

I do have another trip report that covers the Sawtooths: currently posted here. http://www.supertopo.com/tr/Elephant_s_Perch_Sawtooth_Range_Idaho_NR_Epic_Pacydermial_Pleasantries_1977/t10566n.html

If you enjoy my stories-----I will enjoy your feedback! Even a "Thanks Dude" is a complement.

Please! Post up!

Thank you, Fritz
kent

Trad climber
SLC, Ut
  Feb 22, 2010 - 01:51am PT
Awesome!!!
Paulina

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Feb 22, 2010 - 04:35am PT
Still reading! Thanks for posting and for bumping this up.
greasemonkey

Trad climber
Davis, Ca
  Feb 23, 2010 - 12:59pm PT
wow!
small chrystal
uh? Thanks for the beautiful pictures.
Fritz

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Feb 24, 2010 - 08:05pm PT
Since this story was also posted on the forum, I want to add some of the comments that add to the story:



Tarbuster


climber
right here, right now Jan 3, 2010 - 08:53pm PT
Superb!




Mighty Hiker


climber
Vancouver, B.C. Jan 3, 2010 - 08:57pm PT
Fantastic! Indiana Fritz and the Crystal Cave.

Though I believe that the "real" Indy didn't wear a bonnet.




Jan


Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan Jan 3, 2010 - 09:05pm PT


But was there anything left of the "crystal cave" years later?

Is there going to be a sequel to answer this tantalizing question?





Minerals


Social climber
The Deli Jan 3, 2010 - 09:19pm PT
WOW!!!

That “crystal cave” blows away the “crystal cave” in Tuolumne!!! Forget calcite… pegmatites are PRETTY!!! Very nice!!!

But, don’t mind the fact that the big specimen that you are holding contains uranium! ;)

Thanks for sharing! Good stuff up there in the Idaho Batholith!





Fritz


Trad climber
Hagerman, ID Topic Author's Reply - Jan 3, 2010 - 09:25pm PT
Minerals: Uranium in my quartz crystal! I know that is why it is dark colored.

Is that why I never spawned successfully?




Minerals


Social climber
The Deli Jan 3, 2010 - 09:38pm PT
LOL!!! :)

Cheers, Fritz!






Jello


Social climber
No Ut Jan 3, 2010 - 11:12pm PT
Great stories and photos, Fritz! Rob Kiesel introduced me to Lois Sturr in about 1971. Louis was effusive about the climbing potential on the north side of Warbonnet, but it wasn't until years later that I got around to taking a look. I borrowed the following post from the Survival of the Fittest thread that appeared in the middle of last month:

I think it was about'80 or '81. Kevin Swigert was in the middle of winning all those Survival contests. I was in the Ketchum area in need of a partner for an adventure on Warbonnet Peak. Somebody put me in touch with Kevin, who they said, was a good climber too, and we hatched our plan. We would get up in the wee hours of the morning, do the long drive around the north end of the Sawtooths to the appropriate trailhead, leave the car with daypacks and a skeletal rack, run/hike the many miles (10?) into the remote, unseen and unexplored north face of Warbonnet Peak, make the first ascent of the 1,200' face, descend the southwest side (regular route), hike east several miles to a pass, then descend down the canyon to rejoin the trail for the final leg back to the car. There we left some beers stashed for refreshment on the drive back to Ketchum, which would supposedly take place later that same night!

The strange thing about this ridiculous plan, is that it worked! I must have been fit to keep up with Kevin on the trail, and Kevin did his best to keep up on the climb. In our wake we left behind a classic grade IV climb: the Black Crystal Route, 10 or 12 pitches, 5.12a. It's the only climb we ever did together.

-JelloSwearsBy/AtHisDecades-oldMemory

Edit: I think the above events are true...?
Edit edit: Somewhere on our route, probably on the 6th or 7th pitch, there is an off-balance move to the right where you're underclinging a diagonal crack and you'd just love to have a good hold in the blank wall about two feet above the crack to counter a barn-door feeling. Surprise - you look up and just where you want it, there appears to be a perfect pocket for all the fingers of your left hand. But when you grab it there is something loose inside the hold. You pluck the object out and you see that it's a perfect smokey quartz crystal, about 4" long by an inch thick. Cool! So you put it back in for your partner to discover, and after he makes his discovery, he restores the crystal to its' little cubby hole, and you both hope that generation after generation of climbers will do the same thing, so each generation can share in that initial discovery.


Jello: Thank you for enjoying my tale and posting up your Warbonnet memories.

Your "Black Crystal" route is in "Idaho, A Climbing Guide," but the cool reason for the name is not explained. Hopefully that crystal will still be there a thousand years from now.

I have not seen Kevin for ages, but rumor has it he is still in the Wood River Valley. He was "one burley dude" and none of the locals were surprised by his winning "Fitest of The Fit." It speaks well for your toughness at the time, that you did all those miles and vertical feet in and out in one day. Rob Keisel is still around too, although I haven't bumped into him for a while either.

I have been an advocate of "catch & release" crystal hunting for some time. Parts of the Sawtooths were trashed by professional miners in the 1980's and it was heartbreaking.

Best Wishes, Fritz


L

climber
California dreamin' on the farside of the world..
  Feb 25, 2010 - 01:58pm PT
Fritz,

You're the real deal, dude. I loved this TR!

It had everything:
Great old photos
Excellent commentary tinged with humor
Hair-raising adventure
Even more hair-raising near-death experiences
And a magical ending...where Mother Nature waits just until you know for certain that there is this amazing crystal cave--and then She slams shut the door, so to speak, to keep it safe from the rest of mankind. (She does have a sense of humor, doesn't She?)


I am, of course, sitting here lusting over that incredible crystal you brought back with you.


Thank you for a wonderful trip through time, into the Sawtooths. I'm happy I made it back alive! ;-)
Andescross.com

Trad climber
Bariloche, Patagonia , Argentina
  Mar 17, 2010 - 12:57pm PT

the pics made me dream!
all hippies, I hope I get to your age as you do

The area looks similar to the cascades

A pleasure to meet you guys,
Jorge
erata

Mountain climber
Boise, Id
  Mar 26, 2010 - 02:36pm PT
Fritz, thanks for the great report and adding a big chapter to Sawtooth Climbing History.

Tom Lopez

http://idahoaclimbingguide.com
Fritz

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Mar 26, 2010 - 09:39pm PT
L, Jorge, & Tom: Thank you for your thank you. It means a lot: since L writes so well, Jorge climbs and guides so well, and Tom's very tasteful guidebook "Idaho: A Climbing Guide, is one hell of a book.

Best Wishes,
Fritz
TomCochrane

Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
  Apr 5, 2010 - 05:34pm PT
I made a series of climbing trips into that area of the Sawtooth Range during the late 1950s as a teenager teaching myself to climb. After meeting Royal and Yvon and Becky I went back with a better idea of what could be done and attempted a solo ascent of a wall above the Baron Lakes.

The crystal cave that I found was about halfway up the center face above the Baron Lakes in the picture posted of Verita Ridge. The crystals that I found measured about 5 inches by 10 inches and were carefully stood upright in the sandy floor of a small alcove that was set back into the rock about two feet across and two feet deep. It was obvious to me that someone had placed the crystals there by hand. In retrospect I wish they were still there. However I packed them out and they decorated the garden of my girl friend at the time in Boise.

The Kirk Bachman mentioned in the post is my brother's brother-in-law and runs a guide service out of Sun Valley. He might have heard about my discovery of the crystals during family conversations, as my brother was with me on that trip.
Dudeman

Trad climber
Idaho/Beyond
  Nov 7, 2010 - 02:05pm PT
Fritz,
Awesome story and pics! Those areas are some of the most remote and beautiful the Sawtooth’s have to offer. Amazing accomplishments for the time for sure! Thanks for sharing!
graniteclimber

Trad climber
The Illuminati -- S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Division
  Nov 18, 2010 - 08:09pm PT
Thanks!
pcousar

Sport climber
White Salmon, WA
  Nov 18, 2010 - 08:28pm PT
A great read, thanks for the effort!
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Nov 18, 2010 - 09:43pm PT
This is such a killer TR I can't believe it has not gotten more attention. Thanks for a great write up.
steelmnkey

climber
Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
  Nov 18, 2010 - 09:59pm PT
That was cool. Everything's better with Bluebonnet on it!
guido

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  Nov 18, 2010 - 10:51pm PT
Thanks Fritz-What a classic and I appreciate all the effort in putting this together. Things certainly were a lot simpler back then hey what.
WhiskeyToast

Social climber
Hawaii
  Nov 19, 2010 - 06:00pm PT
Thanks Fritz. This is the kind of story that got me interested in climbing as a teen. A story of Adventure and Exploration.
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Nov 19, 2010 - 06:27pm PT
Great TR Fritz. Nice crystal and nice memories. Getting in shape for the COR, are you?
Fritz

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Nov 19, 2010 - 09:01pm PT
Gentlemen, and Guido and Donini. I am honored that you appreciate my tale of derring do in the ancient days of Idaho.
imStein

Trad climber
Triumph, Idaho
  Nov 16, 2012 - 01:00pm PT
Good work, Fritz. Too bad the cave is lost forever. (or is it?)
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Nov 16, 2012 - 03:57pm PT
I guess I missed this the first time around.

STELLAR!

Fritz, can you believe that with all the years I lived in Seattle I
never climbed in the Sawtooths? I guess my thinking went along the
lines - "If I'm gonna drive that far I might as well go to the Tetons
or the Winds." There is some logic to that, isn't there?
pile

Mountain climber
Lone Pine CA
  Nov 16, 2012 - 01:52pm PT
Screaming awesome!
much respect...
portent

Social climber
your mom's house
  Nov 16, 2012 - 01:55pm PT
RAD-I-CAL!!!! TFPU
adikted

Boulder climber
Tahooooeeeee
  Nov 16, 2012 - 02:19pm PT
Great report....i love the taco stand!!
Psilocyborg

climber
  Jun 7, 2013 - 01:04am PT
this is a great read so i thought I would bump it up
Fritz

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Jun 7, 2013 - 07:59pm PT
Thank you all for enjoying my story of old-times in the Sawtooths.

If you like this one, you may well like my tale about doing a new route on Elephant's Perch in the Sawtooths in the mid 1970's, which shows a little more humor.
http://www.supertopo.com/tr/Elephant_s_Perch_Sawtooth_Range_Idaho_NR_Epic_Pacydermial_Pleasantries_1977/t10566n.html

Another favorite is my story about our late 70's ascent of the Chouinard Route on Mt. Fay in the Canadian Rockies. Humor is again part of the mini-epic.
http://www.supertopo.com/tr/MARK-FRITZS-BIG-MT-FAY-1978-CANADIAN-ADVENTURE/t11242n.html
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Dec 7, 2013 - 09:07pm PT
BUMP for an awesome TR!
McHale's Navy

Trad climber
From Panorama City, CA
  Dec 7, 2013 - 10:06pm PT
What a trip and story! 1977 was a good year.
Dirka

Trad climber
Hustle City
  Dec 7, 2013 - 10:15pm PT
TFPU!
tom Carter

Social climber
  Dec 8, 2013 - 12:35am PT
Thank you very much. What memories!
Fritz

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Dec 8, 2013 - 01:24pm PT
It's great fun to see this story bumped again by folks who enjoyed reading it. It was also enjoyable to read the story & earlier comments again this morning. Thanks all for your positive feedback &/or other area information.

In the story of the 1971 trip, I mention Harry and I left the Baron Lakes area and did another 3 days of exploring to the south & east. The first two days were spent climbing & exploring in the Upper Redfish Lake basin, where we strolled up the East Ridge following a frisky Mountain Goat to the 10582 ft. summit.
Looking SE from near Packrat Peak into Upper Redfish Lake Basin.  High...
Looking SE from near Packrat Peak into Upper Redfish Lake Basin. Highest peak at right center is Elk Peak. We hiked up the right-hand ridge.
Credit: Fritz


The next day, we were in starvation mode again, and could only think of food. The Upper Redfish Lakes appeared to not be inhabited by fish & the few greens we found did not ease our hunger. We hiked out and down Redfish Lake Creek, but Harry somehow talked me into diverting up into the basin under Elephant's Perch.
The view down from Upper Redfish Lakes to Refish Lake.  No trail and a...
The view down from Upper Redfish Lakes to Refish Lake. No trail and a Lodgepole pine jungle for the first 2 miles of the descent.
Credit: Fritz


The lakes there were "Brook Trout" lakes, full of thousands of stunted and hungrey Eastern Brook Trout that are able to reproduce in lakes without gravel inlet streams. Their ancestors were likely packed into those lakes in the 1920's. My journal tells the story:

"Harry and I caught 11 Brook trout each. They were in the 8"-10" range and we consumed them all for dinner."

"Last night I ate so much that it was a real battle not to throw-up. My stomach is now friends with me again."

"We had trout for breakfast, and another ten each for dinner along with rice, noodles, and some greens we found. After fish for breakfast the next morning: we hiked out in much better shape."
Brook Trout Lakes under Elephant's Perch.
Brook Trout Lakes under Elephant's Perch.
Credit: Fritz
wilbeer

Mountain climber
Terence Wilson greeneck alleghenys,ny,
  Dec 8, 2013 - 01:33pm PT
That is one fantastic trip report.
Thank You.Terence
Fritz

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Apr 9, 2014 - 11:23pm PT
wilbeer & all: Thank you for your positive comments on this fun report. Please remember that the climbing parts of it are true.
Larry Nelson

Social climber
  Apr 10, 2014 - 12:38am PT
Wow, this is one of the most interesting and fun TR's I have read.
Great photos, great storytelling, well written.
Sanskara

climber
  Apr 10, 2014 - 01:23am PT
Wow.....

I was not even a turd in my mothers womb the first couple times you took this adventure.

Awesome!

grey thunder

Trad climber
Hanover, NH
  Apr 10, 2014 - 07:45pm PT
Nice going Fritz, well done...
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
  Apr 10, 2014 - 06:58pm PT
Great TR and photos, thanks Fritz!
Fritz

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Apr 11, 2014 - 12:05am PT
Thanks again for your kind comments on my long-ago adventures. The story is still fun reading for me.

I really appreciate all the comments, but one I want to share again is from Jeff Lowe, who posts as Jello on ST:

Jello


Social climber
No Ut Jan 3, 2010 - 11:12pm PT
Great stories and photos, Fritz! Rob Kiesel introduced me to Lois Sturr in about 1971. Louis was effusive about the climbing potential on the north side of Warbonnet, but it wasn't until years later that I got around to taking a look. I borrowed the following post from the Survival of the Fittest thread that appeared in the middle of last month:

I think it was about'80 or '81. Kevin Swigert was in the middle of winning all those Survival contests. I was in the Ketchum area in need of a partner for an adventure on Warbonnet Peak. Somebody put me in touch with Kevin, who they said, was a good climber too, and we hatched our plan. We would get up in the wee hours of the morning, do the long drive around the north end of the Sawtooths to the appropriate trailhead, leave the car with daypacks and a skeletal rack, run/hike the many miles (10?) into the remote, unseen and unexplored north face of Warbonnet Peak, make the first ascent of the 1,200' face, descend the southwest side (regular route), hike east several miles to a pass, then descend down the canyon to rejoin the trail for the final leg back to the car. There we left some beers stashed for refreshment on the drive back to Ketchum, which would supposedly take place later that same night!

The strange thing about this ridiculous plan, is that it worked! I must have been fit to keep up with Kevin on the trail, and Kevin did his best to keep up on the climb. In our wake we left behind a classic grade IV climb: the Black Crystal Route, 10 or 12 pitches, 5.12a. It's the only climb we ever did together.

-JelloSwearsBy/AtHisDecades-oldMemory

Edit: I think the above events are true...?
Edit edit: Somewhere on our route, probably on the 6th or 7th pitch, there is an off-balance move to the right where you're underclinging a diagonal crack and you'd just love to have a good hold in the blank wall about two feet above the crack to counter a barn-door feeling.

Surprise - you look up and just where you want it, there appears to be a perfect pocket for all the fingers of your left hand. But when you grab it there is something loose inside the hold. You pluck the object out and you see that it's a perfect smokey quartz crystal, about 4" long by an inch thick. Cool! So you put it back in for your partner to discover, and after he makes his discovery, he restores the crystal to its' little cubby hole, and you both hope that generation after generation of climbers will do the same thing, so each generation can share in that initial discovery.
Sanskara

climber
  Apr 11, 2014 - 02:01am PT
Who would had though it could get batter..

Guess I gotta keep working toward 5.12 lol..
jonnyrig

climber
  Apr 11, 2014 - 06:04pm PT
Thanks for sharing that!
StahlBro

Trad climber
San Diego, CA
  Apr 11, 2014 - 06:09pm PT
Great stuff Fritz! Glad this one was resurrected
PotatoHead

Trad climber
Nunya,ID
  Apr 13, 2014 - 03:28am PT
Such a good TR!!! Sawtooth goodness. Still need to check Warbonnet off the list
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