The previous two weekend attempts to rock climb down along the South Fork of the Clearwater river had not exactly succeeded. The first weekend the weather pushed us to Frenchman's Coulee near Vantage and last weekend Dave Hampson and I drove all the way down there to make sure it really was pouring down rain, just like it looked like it would be from Lewiston on. This weekend was a different story, however.

Al, Gwen, Russ, Dave, Eric and I packed into a couple of vehicles and headed south to Grangeville where we cut down onto State Route 13 which runs along the South Fork of the Clearwater and eventually ends up at Elk City. The weather in Grangeville was sunny (though cool, there was fresh snow on the hill above Grangeville) but it looked fairly cloudy in the valley. We pushed on though, hoping that it would not be too wet and that maybe the clouds would break up as the day went on.

Getting to the climbing involves a little bit of a hike up the hill to the base of the rock. As we were getting our climbing gear on after the hike, Gwen spotted a couple of mountain goat on top of a cliff on the other side of the valley. It's probably just as well they were over there, since it is my impression that they can guard the top of cliffs fairly jealously. Dave and I are fairly new to rock climbing and Gwen does not do a whole lot of leading so we split up into three climbing teams consisting of Eric and Gwen, Russ and Dave, and Al and me. Al and I started out on a nice three pitch warm up route. The hardest part is getting started, and after that it's pretty much all straightforward friction climbing. I'll say one thing for sure, climbing these routes is much easier in shoes made for rock climbing than in regular trail shoes (which is what I tried to use last year). When we reached the top of Stoney Staircase it was windy and the sun was behind some clouds so it was pretty cold. We did not waste any time hanging around up there before rappelling off.

After rappelling off, we ate a little food and top roped the first part of a route called Jumped Up. I had struggled mightly last year to make it up part way on this but this year I had very little trouble. I think part of it was having had a little more experience on top of my shoes and the different shoes made a difference as well. After spending a little time on this and then waiting a few minutes to see what the others were going to do (as well as to let them know where we were headed) we hiked over to the beginning of a route called Black Pine.

Black Pine is so named because at the beginning of the route there is a large pine tree which, at one time, was black due to a fire. The fire occured many years ago and the tree no longer shows much evidence of it. It was on the first pitch of Black Pine that I think I finally started to "get" what friction climbing is about. Not too far from the beginning I reached a place where where no holds. There was nothing to grab on to with my hands and no obvious place to put my feet. After a minute or so of searching in vain, I decided to go on up as if I knew my feet would stick. It turned out they did. I guess you just have to have a little faith. It does not look like you could get up without slipping and it does not feel that way either. But if you put some faith in your shoes and balance and just start going up, it works remarkably well.

From the top of Black Pine there is a bit of a traverse over to the start of the Y-Chimney. Though you cannot really see it from the start of the route, the chimney/crack splits about halfway up and forms a large 'Y' shape in the rock slab. Al told me that people seem to either love this route or hate it, and that it was pretty unlikely that I would be able to make it through this route unscathed. Perhaps it was due largely to my reach, but I did not have a whole lot of trouble making it up. Except for a couple of small scrapes on my knees, I even made it up without much damage to my flesh (and I probably would not have even had what I did, had I been wearing long pants, like most sensible climbers seem to do). The back of my shirt got ripped up a little bit, but I did not notice that until later that night when I got back to Pullman.

The completion of Y-Chimney leaves you a short scramble away from the top of the rock formations which make up this climbing area. From there I would imagine that it is not too far from the top of the ridge, but that was not where we were headed. Instead we walked over to where we could scramble down to the first rappel at the end of Stoney Staircase. It was much warmer at the rappel anchor this time around, though no less windy than it had been the first time. After the rappel down, Al and I walked back over to the base of Black Pine to pick up the stuff we had left there. We met the others rappeling off of Black Pine. Al, Gwen, and Russ were staying for the night but Dave, Eric, and I needed to get back to Pullman so we hiked off the hill and drove back to town.

Looking Down River From Black Pine
Looking Up River From Black Pine
Looking up River From Above Black Pine
Looking Up River Y-Chimney Walk-off
Al Rappelling

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