Saturday, December 5, 2009

New Route in the Sawtooths

I recently received some photos from my friend James Q Martin. Q, (as his friends call him) is writing an article on the Sawtooths for Climbing magazine. He had arrived early in September and spent almost two weeks climbing and shooting photos at the Elephants Perch. I wasn't able to join him until the end of his stay and we ventured up to the Finger of Fate for a couple days. Q wanted to climb the ultra classic "Open Book" on the Finger and "anything else that looked good". I told him I had my eye on a line that my college roommate and I tried years ago. He inquired and I described it as "a finger to hands spitter diagonalling through a short headwall". Q's eyes light up...

We arrived at the upper lakes just as the sun was dropping behind Sevy Peak and the western skyline. If we wanted to get on the route, we'd better hustle! We dropped our loads and boogied up to the line.

I remembered climbing the first pitch years ago; a wide lichen covered crack that gave access to the upper headwall. I also remembered climbing up to a two piece, magic X anchor built with finger sized gear. Mike (my old roommate) had belayed me up to this partially hanging stance. I looked at the anchor, I looked at Mike. I looked at the anchor again. I didn't like the fact that we had only two pieces in, but our meager rack at that time didn't afford us to beef it up and still have plenty of small gear for the route. Uneasy about putting my full weight on the anchor, I set up and belayed Mike as he eased out into the thin line that split orange stone. Mike was a strong climber, but neither of us were in any sort of shape for what we were getting ourselves into. He wrenched his fingers in the first few locks and tried to wiggle in a stopper. After what seemed like forever, legs began to quiver, his forearms rippling, Mike re-racked the stopper and fiddled in a cam. Then he said "take". We looked at each other, then the anchor, then the cam Mike was weighting... the sentiment was mutual. Let's get the hell outta here! We bailed that day, and I hadn't been back... but I hadn't forgotten either.

In fading light with Q snapping photos and Rachel belaying, I climbed the route ground up, cleaning lichen and few loose holds as I went. I rested a few times on gear at the crux: thin tips and next to nothing for feet for 10 feet or so. Then it was into solid finger locks and jams to the top. The route is two pitches. P1 is probably 5.7 and a little dirty. P2 is probably 5.11-; I'd compare it to the 5.11s on the Perch. I'll have to get back next season to clean it up a bit and send!

Thanks to Mike for spying the line and Q and Rachel for making it a reality!!

Photos by James Q Martin

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