Alpine Shangri-La on a 1,000-foot granite wall
Elephant’s Perch is the West’s hidden gem, with golden granite and airy climbs above sapphire lakes. Fred Beckey, S. Marts, and H. Schwabland put up the Perch’s first line in 1963 (the Original Beckey, then V 5.8 A2), when the approach involved eight miles of bushwhacking and 2,000 feet of gain. Now a boat takes you the five miles across Red Fish Lake, but the remaining hike still stings enough that most stay overnight. The splendor of the sheer, 1,000-foot south face is hidden until the switchbacks to Saddleback Lakes. Look left of center for the Mountaineers Route (III 5.9), the easiest way up the wall.
Begin beneath the golden diamond that forms the Elephant’s Ear, moving into its lower apex. The climb’s first quarter (two pitches of corners and cracks) leads to the line’s dominant feature: the triple roofs that skirt left around the diamond. Pitches 3 and 4 climb into, and then out of, these tiers, 800 feet off the deck.
Next, the route moves into a deep, left facing corner via incipient seams. Once here, circumnavigate the occasional suspended chunk of granite guarding an ever-widening crack. These two 5.7 and 5.8 pitches likely gave the Mountaineers Route its name in 1967, when Gordon Webster, TM Herbert, and Dennis Hennek put it up — the blocks are big (and loose) enough to force creative stemming, face climbing, and selective jamming. (Two climbers died here in the mid-1980s when their anchor, behind a loose flake, pulled — stay sharp!) According to Herbert — now 73 and still climbing near his Reno, Nevada, home — his group bivied en route “just as we bivied on everything back then,” he says, while their wives waited at the base.
“Loose blocks?” asks Herbert. “Loose blocks were just part of climbing.” (The otherwise-solid rock on the Perch’s other technical climbs — the Beckey Direct, Fine Line, Astro Elephant , etc. — makes the Mountaineers Route a bit of an anomaly.) This rock-quality deterioration is standard on many alpine moderates — think, the North Ridge of Spearhead, in RMNP; and Dark Star, on Temple Crag — but if you hang in on the Mountaineers Route, your reward will be a final, three-inch 5.9 crack, the route’s technical crux leading to easier terrain and a lunar summit.
Five more classics at the Elephant's PerchBy Majka Burhardt / www.majkaburhardt.com
Direct Becky/Original Beckey (5.11+) Another example of Fred’s ability to pick the greats. This plumb line shoots straight up the perch through thin cracks, stemming corners, wide pods and huecos. The two options for the start are equally good — do the direct and save the original for when you do the Fine Line. Standard rack, small gear helps, and take it to the top.
Fine Line (5.11a) An appropriately named endeavor up the obvious right leaning diagonal slashing the face east of the Beckey Direct. Lots of 5.10 and good 5.9 give you the full Perch experience. Some bolts, some pins, and a standard rack.
Myopia (5.11a) Yet another example of the grade at which the Perch excels. A bit harder to follow than the Beckey’s and the Fine Line, Myopia is the next step up on a slightly different aspect so you can even our your tan. Like most routes up here, a standard rack works here, but extra brass nuts and small cams would serve you well.
Astro Elephant (5.10-) A good warm up to the Perch with an optional exit at the halfway point. Take a big cam (3.5”) to keep you happy and opt for morning sun or afternoon shade on this east facing route with 2, 5.10’s and enless 5.9.
Sunrise Book (5.12-) This was the coveted hard route at the Perch… until people started freeing the aid lines. There are only so many times you can climb to the top of the Perch and pass this on the way down before you have to go and do it. Jam and go and take extra hand and thin hand sizes for this 4-pitch route, one of the shorter at the Perch.
Beta for the Elephant's Perch
Guide Service: Sawtooth Mountain Guides — (208) 774-3324, sawtoothguides.com
Equipment Shop (Ketchum): The Elephant’s Perch, 280 East Avenue — (866) daperch, elephantsperch.com
Season: July through September
Rack: Set of nuts, cams to 3 inches (optional No. 3.5 Camalot), 60-meter rope
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