Sawtooth National Forest (early 90’s)

I had some extra money for a one-way train ticket to Shoshone, Idaho.  A relaxing journey, I shared a car with a young English couple, who were very intrigued when we passed through Ottumwa, Iowa, where ‘Radar’ from M.A.S.H (the television show) was from; “been there done that” as if ticking off a bucket list item.  I arrived at Shoshone Idaho at 2:30 am, and slept in the train “terminal”, a slightly larger version of a bus stop, but just as cold and uncomfortable. I “awoke” a little later that early morning, and groggily hitchhiked/walked to Sun Valley, Id, about 20 miles. I called my parents to try to connect with Daff, and get some sort of moral support (of which they always, unquestionably provided (although Dad asked me to never tell Mom how I got to these places (hitchhiking/train jumping – although, I’m sure she always knew).  I camped just outside of town, near the river.  After two days, I went into the park, to hopefully meet Daff.  I finally met up with him after a day and a half, ah, the days before cell phones!  We finally met up and headed into the Park.  We were in for just over two weeks, with our goal of climbing ‘Elephant’s Perch’, the longest, uninterrupted granite wall in Idaho.

elephants-perch-1

  It would be my first multi-pitch climb, and I was nervous, I asked a lot of questions at the climbing equipment shop in Sun Valley, before heading to the park, what was the rock like, how to get to and from the route, what was the route like, where is the crux (the hardest part of the climb), and so on.

On the day of the climb, Daff and I took a good deal of psychedelic mushrooms and headed over and up to the crag.  It being mid-August, with the huckleberries fruiting, Daff and I went off trail, and made our way up to the climb by following the sporadic huckleberry patches, moving up the escarpment ‘bear-style’, zigzagging up the slope from berry bush to berry bush.  We finally made it to the foot of the climb, and started up Elephant’s Perch the first three pitches (a ‘pitch’ is approximately the length of the rope, about 150 feet) went relatively smoothly, considering the ‘dirty’, loose granite.  We set up the belay station for the crux pitch, on a nice ledge, roughly a foot wide by four feet long – a luxury!  Daff started up the climb, a pronounced, but dirty crack in the rock, leading up to a difficult rounded, overhung  knob, and placed several pieces of protection, one of which, just over half-way to the crux, was a three piece, spring loaded cam, called a ‘friend’. Daff tried the crux three times, before yelling the phrase that send chills up a “belay-slave’s” spine; “Falling!”.  I jumped as high as I could, to take in as much slack as I could to lessen the impact my friend would feel at the end of the fall.  The protection pieces “zippered”, pulling out of the rough, dirty granite like a zipper being unzipped, until the “bomb proof” ‘friend’ bit.  Daff had fallen about 40 feet before the mechanical miracle cam device “saved our shit!”  Daff lost his glasses, which we miraculously found in-tact later, and most of our water bottles.  Recollecting our thoughts and nerves, we recoiled our rope and prepared to set up a rappel, using as few pieces as possible (we ended up just draping the rope around a small rock spire).  The rope got jammed in a vertical crack, and after a while (‘seemed like a life-time) of trying to un-jam it, we reluctantly cut the rope, and tied it back together to continue down – we were about 250 ft from the “deck”.  We rappelled down again, the rope got suck, again. We finally decided to abandon the rope, and “free climb” down the rest of the way.  With the wonderful little brook, gurgling below us, mocking the fact that we had also lost our water bottles in the fall/rappel fiasco. Once we made it back to terrafima (I think I might have actually kissed the ground), we bee-line to this oasis, and bellied down and drank directly from the stream, giardia be damned (thank goodness we dodged that!).  Dejectedly we headed back to camp, although our unorthodox method of approach hadn’t prepared us for our egress.  We followed the vague trail until the cairns (stacked rock markers) ran out, and in the dying daylight, we ran circuitously in to an Alder swamp which meant an imminent river crossing – in the dusk, I fell in.  The last mile up switchbacks to camp was exhausting. Finally relived to be ‘home’ in our tents, we decided to roll another joint before mercifully falling asleep, but discovering that we (I) left the weed at the river crossing, and had to go back, find it, and bring it back. (in retrospect, I think, think the ‘long/short cigarette game was rigged – fair play to you Raff!)

We spent another week or so hiking the park, a beautiful park!  Rugged, and raw, the Sawtooth mountains are relatively geologically young, and therefore rough and pointy, not yet worn by the elements. We trudged through the wonderful winding trails, enraptured with nature’s embrace, regardless of the extraneous extra pounds we were carrying in the form of the now useless climbing gear.  I would like to say that didn’t matter, but when you’re carrying that much weight, you mentally catalog every piece of clothes, food, equipment in your pack, in your pockets for anything you might divest yourself to lighten the load, like the Joker from your pack of cards.

We wandered wonderfully through the Park until our in-park rations were all but exhausted.  Thankfully, our trek back to Milwaukee was relatively uneventful, as multi-state hitchhiking can be.

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