Text and pictures © 2003-2020 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2018/10/17
"Chipmunk perch, I can understand, but for the Elephant Perch, I want a picture."
Left: City of Rocks, Idaho, 2003
After Jenny blew her knees up the Wind River Range, what can we do ? She can't even get out of the car by herself, much less climb or even be a belay slave if there is any approach involved. A long look around the 'Rock'n'Road' climbing guidebook and we find the perfect spot: City of Rocks, Idaho. We are amused by their potato license tags (nothing better in the state ? must have been one hell of a brainstorming session when their congress picked that moto) before we reach a place where they only seem to grow tall rocks, if somewhat potato shaped. We select a camping spot among a mess of other campers: we'd forgotten it's labor day. On the first day Jenny climbs one route with stiff legs, and after she belays me up a few other good ones we head back to our camp only to find it occupied by two families. We are both furious as their excuse is: "oh, we forgot to put the pink slip on the pole this morning...". 'tards. We repack the tent, stuff the car and start looking for another spot, unsuccessfully. A ranger gives us a list of available spot. First, taken; 2nd, taken... very last one (out of 80 spread all over), yes, available. Two minutes after we have the tent out, a big SUV shows up with the driver going: "Damn!". Sorry.
On the 2nd day she climbs 2 pitches, actually next to the 2 families of yesterday; so no hard feelings. On the 3rd day, four. But her knees are still stiff and painful. And as much as I like the combination of sport and trad climbing I found on the 25 or so routes I lead there, we'd like some bigger stuff. And some company. So we head out for Brad and Koren's summer hideout, in Stanley, in some Idahole...
Right: Climbing an arete at City of Rocks, with exposure.
Left: Crossing the lake towards the Sawtooth Mountains: Koren, Jenny, Brad, Pina and Jason.
Right: Brad and his old dog Dozer on his last trip up the mountains.
When we arrive in Stanley, not only I can't get a local phone number for my Internet provider, but the entire city is closing for the season and it's only September 4th ! We also discover a bakery that doesn't make bread. We find Brad and Koren in a house infested with mice (that's what you get for preferring dogs over cats) and they are also waiting for two other friends, Jason and Pina, to show up for the weekend. We sleep in a bed for the 1st time in a while and wake up all stiff. After their arrival we head for the docks to get the boat that crosses the lake. As I go park the car, a crazy chipmunk starts running all around the car like a maniac. I stop the car in the middle of the road with all doors open to shoo it off: I don't want to come back 5 days later to the smell of dead chipmunk (or, rather, find a fat chipmunk and our stash of power bars gone). About power bars, I give the so-called 'variety pack' of Cliff bars I got off the Internet to Brad; as it happens, 'variety' in the American language means choice between peanut butter, peanuts and chunky peanut butter. Yuk.
Left: Brad and Koren on the middle of SuperSlab (5.10).
We camp near Elephant's perch, under a place called SuperSlab. The next day we all climb separate routes on it. Jenny and I are on the left where two 5.10 slabs await. The face is not that impressive to look at, angled at something like a lowly 50 degrees. But it's just dead smooth, with only vague crimps we can only use with nails. And the bolts are old and rusty. And far between, making for an exciting day. The last 15 meters of that 60m pitch are devoid of bolts but I see a seam, hoping for some placements, or at least some good holds. The seam only offers some slightly different colored rock and some vague bumps. After that we rap off and do the leftmost route, but I can't do the direct start and have to cheat from the left. And I can't do the end either so I end up on the same dyke as before, but even more runout below my soles this time. Jenny starts straight up and, yes, it was even harder than I thought.
Right: Jenny on the super slabby left side of SuperSlab (5.10).
In the evening we eat our freeze dry food while the others have cans of refried beans, salmon and other heavy stuff (hint, we are camping 10 meters from a spring). No wonder they were so loaded on the way up. They even asked me to carry a water bottle up, which I discover happily contains red wine. Well, some Idaho red cleaning liquid at least.
Left: Brad on Astro Elephant.
Right: Brad pulling on a piton (although he says not) at the end of the 2nd pitch.
In the early morning we leave a gloomy Jenny to keep watch on the dogs: Jason and Pina go back to SuperSlab, Koren goes on a solo hike while Brad and I go onto Elephant's Perch to climb Astro Elephant, a harder alternative to the classic Mountaineer's Route. We only have a vague description of the route and, after an insanely hard 4th class approach where we tie up and put rock shoes while hanging by one arm, near what we think is the start we see no less than 5 cracks next to each others. No chalk marks. I select one and start up, then move to another one, then move back when it gets too hard and I make a mess, even with a double rope, forcing Brad to do a risky move to reach me at the belay. The climbing is nice and very sustained, but I keep going off route, or end up with total rope drag on many pitches.
Left: Brad avoiding my smelly foot.
Right: Searching for the route.
I manage to make a mess on almost every pitch I lead. When I see an offwidth inside a roof, I flee to the right where I saw a bolt, but when I get there it's rotten and so is the rock; I go back down and find an easy way on the outside of the roof, but I've left one rope on the bolt, completely out of the way of the roof. Brad is not happy cleaning it, even with a directional above, but by now he's getting used to my sideways ramblings.
Left: The visual search having failed, I'm going offroute.
Right: Brad, also, is wondering where the route goes.
The next pitch has some runout moves and more connecting traverses generating even more rope drag. When I finally reach the summit (with a ton of rope drag), there are plenty of bushes of raspberries. On the way down I keep stopping to eat them while Brad runs ahead on the descent he already knows. Time to let friends go back to work and head west.
Left: Brad backlit (and searching for the route).
Right: Brad on the descent from Elephant Perch with view on lakes.