It's not just hanging around
The climb up Chimney Rock is lots of fun as long as nothing goes wrong
By Fremont Shields
Ting. Ting. Ding. I looked down to confirm what my ears had told me. Yep, my last piece of gear had just fallen and now rested limply 15 feet below me. If I fall right now, I think, it's going to be a 30-footer. Every rock climber's nightmare is to be in the middle of a difficult section the crux and look down to see their protective gear has fallen out below them.
So why does this have to happen now, I thought, on the hardest lead I've ever been on? Climbing back down was not an option, so I recalled the old climbing expression, "When in doubt, run it out."
Reaching back to my chalkbag, I quickly dipped each slippery hand in for some "powder courage." I knew if I could get to that ledge 15 feet higher I could take a rest, and have a chance to place my next protection. I don't recall doing the next sequence of moves, but when I squeezed onto that big, beautiful ledge, I do remember taking my first conscious breath in the last five minutes.
"Are you all right up there?" yelled my partner, Alex.
"Yeah, (breath, breath) I'm fine," I yelled back. "Just (breath, breath) hang on, I've got to place some gear."
Reaching to my gear rack I selected a No. 1 Friend and place it solidly at eye level next to me. At last, I'm safe. Knowing the rest will be easy, I yelled to my partner, "Alex, I've got another 20 feet to go until I hit the traverse ledge. Then we're in there."
On an adrenaline-conjured magic carpet ride, the rest of the climb seemed easy. A half-hour later we were standing on the summit of Chimney Rock.
From our perch, we could gaze at the entire Selkirk ridgeline stretching 60 miles from Schweitzer south of us and north to Canada. Far below there were giant V's following boats across Lake Pend Oreille. As the wind whipped through the clefts around us, I could smell the coming snow in the September air. I felt both thankful and sad thankful to have just wrapped the season with a route I had only daydreamed of doing a year earlier, but sad that the summer was ending. It's like my experienced friend Carl says, "You get in what you can, with what you have, when you can."
Fortunately, good North Idaho climbing is something everyone can enjoy. The Sandpoint area has some wonderful areas for the beginner and the advanced alike. But if you want to try climbing locally, remember that ultimately you are responsible for your own safety. Climbing is an unregulated activity only because we with occasional help from natural selection regulate ourselves.
To learn more about climbing or to arrange a guided trip, call local climbing instructor Craig Mearns of Granite's Edge, at 208/265-6377. In addition, Outdoor Experience, at 314 N. First, provides some gear.
The following descriptions provide a brief overview of two climbing opportunities. The book Idaho Rock by Randall Green contains detailed route information but you'll have to borrow a copy because it's out of print. To reach the Chimney Rock area, use U.S. Forest Service maps.
Laclede Rocks: These south facing crags are located on Highway 2 a few miles west of Laclede, which is about 10 miles west of Sandpoint. Use the first parking pullout along the highway to access routes directly above you. Here you will find at least 30 worthwhile routes rated from 5.6 to 5.12+. All of them are single pitch, and most have rappel anchors in place. If you want to climb something other than the sport routes bring a standard rack up to 3 inches. My personal favorites include: Hornet's Nest 5.8, Dihedral 5.9, Chicken McNubbins 5.10b, Railyard Blues 5.10c, Landshark 5.11a, Psycho Killer 5.11a, and Poster Child 5.11d.
Chimney Rock: A high clearance vehicle and strong legs will bring the adventurer to North Idaho's best multi-pitch alpine granite. Accessed from either the Pack River or Priest Lake side, Chimney Rock sits high on the Selkirk Crest near Mt. Roothan. Its 450-foot east face provides clean crack climbing from the classic Cooper-Heiser 5.9 watch out if 5.9 is new to you! to the super burley Tsunami 5.11d. On the other side, the west face harbors more moderate lines like The Standard Route 5.3, Rappel Chimney 5.6, and It Ain't Hay/Fun Roof 5.10b. Other can't misses: Free Friends 5.10c, Yahoody 5.11b, and Kimmie 5.11c.
One of the joys of traditional climbing is that you get to carry lots of heavy gear with you. Be sure to take a double set of cams for the harder routes including TCU's. The hike in from the Pack River side is one to two hours longer than from the Priest Lake side and has at least a thousand feet more total elevation gain.
Sandpoint native Fremont Shields is a senior at the University of Idaho majoring in English and finance.