American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

United States, Idaho: First Ascents in the Sawtooth Range

  • Notes
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1949

Idaho: First Ascents in the Sawtooth Range. On 13 June 1948 an eight-man party assembled at Redfish Lake, took a motorboat to the S. end, and made a base camp on Redfish Creek beneath Mt. Heyburn. Present were Joe Hieb, Ralph Widrig, Jack Schwabland, Art Holben, Wesley Grande and Fred Beckey, of the Seattle Mountaineers, and Graham Matthews and Harry King, of the Harvard Mountaineering Club. Inspired by R. L. M. Underhill’s article in Appalachia (1937), the party closely surveyed the two aiguilles W. of Heyburn from a camp at their base (9000 ft.). On June 14th, after some bitter experiences with eroded granite, five members of the group (Hieb, Grande, King, Holben and Matthews) climbed the lower of the aiguilles via a solid vertical vein on the N. face. The next day Hieb, Widrig, Matthews and Grande assaulted the Grand Aiguille, a grim-looking 600-ft. tower. They circled from N. to S. across the W. face. Hieb led a very difficult crack with an overhang on the upper S. face, and was surprised to find three pitons left by the Durrance brothers in a 1939 attempt. The entire climb was quite spectacular. The rock was excellent (unlike that of the lower aiguille), and good cracks for pitons were found.

Meanwhile, Beckey, Schwabland, Holben and King made a back-packing jaunt toward Red Finger Peak, but were thwarted by storms and soft snow. Several climbs near Alpine Lake had to be left unfinished because of violent thunderstorms. On June 17th Widrig, Hieb, Matthews and Grande made one of the highlights of the trip in climbing Heyburn’s W. peak—for which Underhill had suggested rope-throwing as a possible recourse. From a base ledge on the N. face, the party initiated a rather complicated maneuver. Hieb placed pitons for aid, in minute cracks. When these ran out, he managed to lasso a horn of rock 10 ft. above his head. Widrig then swung up, using Prusik slings, and finished the climb with pitons. Nine pitons were used for tension, and several more for protection.

On the 19th the party made ascents of the three main summits of the Splinter Towers, the only important climbing area between Heyburn and Alpine Lake. Holben and Schwabland climbed the highest—Splinter Tower (10,200 ft.)—by an eight-lead, fourth-class route on the S. face. They found excellent granite. Beckey and King climbed The Thimble and The Steeple. King led The Thimble, using direct aid once on the summit block. Pitons were not used on The Steeple: when they were needed, there was a dearth of suitable cracks. Beckey led a route on the W. ridge involving a most difficult friction slab. The summit had room for only one at a time.

F. B.

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