June pt. 2: The Elephant's Perch


Kranzley and I (he goes by his last name), over the course of a month of outdoor adventure together, had discussed in detail the idea that there are two types of fun: Type 1 fun and Type 2. Type 1 fun is the kind of fun that happens in the moment, when an activity gives the immediate reward of pleasure. Type 2 fun is the sort of fun that really only starts to feel fun after the fact, a feeling that comes with the exhilaration of success and the elation that seems to be a byproduct of the adrenaline that works to help keep you alive. It goes nicely with an adage I came upon while traveling that to me says a lot: “With travel, there are only good times and good memories,” an observation of the strange phenomenon whereby an unpleasant experience somehow transmutes into a memory held fondly. Only somewhat unwittingly we had set out for some lessons in the pursuit of Type 2 fun.

Our first adventure along this path arose spontaneously enough while visiting with an old friend in Sun Valley, Idaho. Having driven through and past some of the impressive peaks of the Sawtooth Mountain range on our way to and from the put-in for the Middle Fork run, we commented on what an incredible outdoor playground the Sawtooths must be, with jagged peaks, alpine lakes and beautiful creeks and rivers for miles and miles. Knowing that we were climbers, our friend from Sun Valley mentioned that not far north in the Sawtooths was some of the region’s best rock climbing, alpine ascents on large granite faces among the jagged ridgelines that give the Sawtooths their name. Quickly we began researching climbs in the area and our host, we noted, began to backpedal with a noticeable regret for having given us the idea.

We quickly narrowed down our options to two climbs: multi-pitch alpine ascents of formations known as the Finger of Fate and the Elephant’s Perch. We set about generating the logistics for the Finger of Fate, a 700-foot rock spire with climbing of moderate difficulty, but risk compounded by its scale and remoteness. Our host opted to put us in touch with a local connection, a veteran climber with all types of crucial information. It was his advice that steered us away from the Finger of Fate, a climb apparently subject to cold winds that would make a long day’s climb feel quite a bit longer. This left the Elephant’s Perch, a thousand foot face on a granite formation in the midst of a pristine alpine playground.

As we saw to our planning and preparations, the boat ride and hike required to access the climb seemed like an easy approach to such an epic climb, but it didn’t take long for those miles to impart a feeling of remoteness to my first alpine climbing experience. After an improvised crossing of a swift creek with packs laden with ropes, food, climbing and camping gear, the gravity of alpine self-reliance began to sink in still long before we donned our harnesses.

It will suffice to say that the climbing itself went smoothly enough. With a 5.8

rating, the ‘Mountaineer’s Route’ was the easiest way up the face but where the climbing didn’t present challenges directly, the mental game of a big wall climb landed me into the realm of Type 2 fun not long after the third pitch (a pitch being a section of climbing limited by the rope’s length). As we were nearing the final and crux pitch of the climb, a solid eight or nine hundred feet off the deck, we were disappointed to notice that the regular afternoon thunderstorms seemed to be arriving a few hours ahead of schedule. Safely anchored on a small ledge just big enough for us both to sit, we waited and discussed our options over granola bars. A push for the summit with nearby lightning strikes seemed unwise. Climbing on wet rock likewise seemed less than ideal. Without fixed anchors, backtracking by a series of meandering rappells would be interesting to say the least, and cold and hungry night on our ledge seemed unpleasant but a logical last resort. Having weighed our options, nerves stressed by the seeming onset of a survival-mode type mindset six or seven hours into a climb, we agreed to try and wait out the storm and I enjoyed one of the more peculiar naps in my memory.

With dry air and only light rain, after an hour and a half on the ledge we decided push for the top. Two pitches and a steep snowfield traverse on the backside would bring us to a steep hike down a gulley to a rappell and some much anticipated food and sleep after ten hours on the wall. Exhaustion and relief, not to mention the euphoric rush of some classic Type 2 fun, had us vowing days of rest and relaxation we felt we had earned. Despite our best intentions, the next day we recieved an invitation to run some of the biggest rapids of our lives and our much anticipated month of Idaho adventures continued apace.

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A view of the side of the Elephant's Perch from the approach as we discuss how to cross the stream.

Waterfalls and jagged peaks surrounding the climb, one of the more impressive mountain scenes I've been lucky enough do discover.

Evening route planning/memorizing before a dawn departure for the climb.

The face of the Elephant's Perch. In the center of the face you can make out an large X, the top of which is made by the pink colored diamond. Our route followed the lower right leg of the X up along the left side of the diamond.

Poor image quality but a shot of Kranzley placing protective gear about halfway up the climb.

A little video to capture our situation during the climb. (note: some profanity. I'm sorry, I was a little nervous.)

The two climbers, happy to have made it to the top.

Some views of the neighboring mountains from the top/backside of the climb.

A very rewarding sunset after a long day.