North America, United States, Idaho, Sawtooth Range, Elephant's Perch, Free Ascents
Elephant’s Perch, free ascents. During the summer I realized the free-climbing potential on the Elephant’s Perch. A number of old aid routes, created on perfect granite in the 1970s and 80s, had not been free climbed. The Seagull, a nice 5.10 A3 line up the steepest part of the wall, came highly recommended by parties who had attempted to free it. I don’t know details of their attempts, and since I did not lead the crux pitch free, I can’t claim the first free ascent, just a free ascent of the A3 pitch with a top rope at 5.13+. The crux section offers an extreme layback sequence, with no chance to place gear in the hairline seam. Since a fixed-anchor ban exists, placing fixed protection is out of the question. A stronger or bolder climber than I might be able to run out this section from a decent piece of gear.
During the two-day effort Brad Heller and I added a direct start to the original traversing first pitches, instead following the great dihedral of the Seagull directly from the ground. Pitch three of the direct start begins with a difficult-to-protect 5.1la overhang, with belay -ledge-fall potential. Our version of the Seagull: 5.10a, 5.9, 5.1la, 5.11, 5.13+ (TR), 5.11+, 5.10, 5.10+, 5.10, 5.9, 5.9, 5.9.
To the right of The Seagull, King’s Highway (5.9 A3) begins with a system of arching cracks, then crosses The Seagull at pitch 4. After it joins The Seagull, King’s Highway’s climbing eases off after a short overhanging section of 5.12-.
The difficulty of the free King’s Highway is not more than 5.12. The first 5.12 pitch is a 170' perfect crack. The A3 pitch protects adequately with such gear as TCUs and follows an arching crack with some sketchy protection to three old bolts. The first-ascent party pendulumed into The Seagull here, but Doug Colwell and I followed the crack to a knifeblade placement (removed) and traversed on small holds to The Seagull’s 5.11+ pitch.
I greatly admire the first-ascent parties of these beautiful climbs. Protecting them with the gear available that many years ago was quite an achievement. We are just followers in their footsteps.