Warbonnet Peak


After dreaming and trying for 30 years, I finally get to the top of Warbonnet Peak.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

Originally, Brian and I had planned on doing something in the Cascades for our annual Celebration of Life. But the flooding in that area last November destroyed many of the trails and backcountry routes. So we instead chose to do something in Idaho. That also meant two new inductees for the Celebration: Tom and Little Bob. Tom, Little Bob, and I have all tried to climb (or just find) Warbonnet for almost 30 years. Back in the day, there were no maps, and no one really could tell you how to get there. You needed to find someone who had already been. The ultimate secret handshake?

But today, with internet groups, google earth, and such, we thought we had a great trip planned with two ropes of two, and all for one. But Saturday morning, I had to wake Tom, which is not usual. He was in a great deal of pain, probably a pinched nerve, and he couldn't lift his arm over his head and that didn't seem like a good thing for this trip. We were down to three (and without my rope gun!).

So we three piled into the rig and left Boise a little after 6am. It was smoky as we neared Banks, but it cleared up a bit after Lowman. We took the boat across Redfish and were hiking by about 9:30. We had a nice lunch at Flatrock Junction, then headed up to Alpine Lake, seen in the background here.

We left the Baron divide trail at the 3rd switchback and headed for the two saddles that would take us into the upper Goat Creek drainage. Here Bob is smiling because he's made it to the top of the first one.



Bob with Alpine Lake behind

The traverse from the first saddle to the second actually has a trail now, but it is still a steep, loose affair. If you look to the right side, at middle height, you'll see Bob laboring away.

The "trail" down from the second saddle is almost worse. But if you're accustomed to Sawtooth cross country routes, this one isn't really that bad.

Scree traverse

Once down in the drainage, we were stunned by the scenery. This little spire sits just above one of the Feather lakes- I think it is Mayan Temple. In the late 80's, Tom and I climbed it, thinking we were on Warbonnet. We had followed our instructions to a 'T' but things didn't seem quite right. When we got to the top, we could clearly see Warbonnet about a mile and a half away, similar (but much higher) to the view in the next picture.

Mayan Temple


So here's the real deal with Warbonnet on the left. This is from our campsite at the lower Bead Lake. We got here around 4, for a little under 7 hours of walking on 8 miles.

There were lots of fish. They were even nibbling at the hose of our water filter.

And swimming was great. Note the smooth water and blue sky. Picture cropped to maintain family values.


Brian drying off from Bead Lake

Over three days, we saw a total of about 17 mosquitoes. No flies. Most pleasant! Here we are enjoying dinner.

Around 5:30, we heard voices. But these were different from the ones Brian normally hears, and they seemed to be yelling. What's that? "Off belay"?

Dinner at Bead lake

We suddenly realized that someone was on the route. This picture was taken at about 6:30pm, and you can see a lone climber standing at the bolt station on the summit block. Click for a bigger picture.

Their lateness worried us, and then they appeared be off-route as they finished a rappel. They went back and forth on a ledge system several times. The sun was sinking. We had a feeling of dread: Were we going to spend our day tomorrow doing a rescue? Fortunately, they finally got down a little after 8pm, and apparently walked back out in the dark (we did not see any other tent in the valley).

Climber near summit

The next morning, the clouds moved in, the wind blew, and the sky spat. We chose to hike up to the saddle while we waited for better weather. When we got there, the cold, howling wind forced us to take shelter under some boulders.

Eventually, the sky lifted and the wind eased somewhat. But when we started climbing at 9am we were in jackets, which we wore for the entire climb.

This picture show the lower route in red, and our last two rappels in blue.


The first pitch climbs an easy layback to a tree. The second pitch traverses some ledges hidden in greenery and goes into the dark crack behind a monstrous flake (note the dark crack in the picture). Even with my pack off, I barely fit through the gap at the end of the flake. After a brief moment of panic when I thought I was stuck, I was able to to slide up and down to find the narrowest portion.

From there, the route wasn't clear. But there were several options. We went directly up what we believe was the "middle chimney," which involved a tricky layback that turned into a very wide stem, ending at rap slings. I think the layback/stem was 5.7. When I did the wide stem, my stiff old legs tried to cramp, and I grunted a lot as I struggled. Bob, sitting just above me with a great view, took the opportunity to make fun of me.

Pitch two traverse

The next pitch moved up and left, then across to a hard finger crack/layback. The hands aren't too bad, but the crack is in an awkward corner with no place to put your first foot. There is an obvious foothold at about nipple height, but it was a bugger getting my foot onto that. And it stayed awkward for the next 8 or 10 feet. I think this was 5.8, and it definitely was the hardest part of the climb. This time I didn't grunt much, but I did leave some skin behind.

Then there was a scramble up to a tree festooned with rap slings (which we did not use on our descent) and quickly scrambled to the bottom of the 5.7 hand crack. This feature is very obvious and we had seen pictures, so were knew we were now on route. This crack is about 25-30 feet long, fairly sustained, and lots of fun. The picture shows Bob taking his turn. It had been about 20 years since he had pulled stone, but you couldn't tell by watching him.

From the top of the crack, you follow an arete with tons of exposure on one side, and a block of granite trying to push you off from the other side. It's not steep, and it's easy, but it's exposed and there is no pro. The arete ends at the rap slings for the first rappel, but the pitch continues up a gully filled with large blocks to a notch overlooking the summit block.

5.7 hand crack
So here's the summit block from the notch. Brian is clipped into the belay bolts and Bob is working out the moves on the face. Most of the moves are easy on nice small ledges with good hand holds, but the exposure is horrendous.
Brian belays Bob up the summit block

And this is Brian's view of the same scene. Aren't digital cameras wonderful?

Bob moving up the summit block
When I got to the last belay station, I took the invitation to be the first to the top, about 20 feet away. From just below the little point of the true summit, I took this shot of Bob and Brian, looking back at the direction from which we had come. It was noon.
Briand and Bob at the top belay station
The previous picture looks pretty casual, so I've included this one taken last spring from Baron Peak. Brian and Bob are sitting on top of the spire marked by the red arrow.
Warbonnet from Baron Peak

When I pulled up to the top, the wind was gusting very strongly, so just a peek was good enough for me. Then Brian went to the top and I shot this pic of him peering over the edge. CrappyClimbers.com has a great picture that shows the 1200 foot vertical drop at which Brian is looking.

Brian peeks over the dropoff

We downclimbed the summit block, then did four raps to the ground. On the last one, it was a full 200'. We were back on terra firma at about 1:30. We took our time getting back to camp, where it was much warmer. Brian and I went swimming again, then gave Bob his full indoctrination into the Celebration as we enjoyed a pot of coffee with Milanos in Jeff's memory.

The next morning, we got up early and hoofed it down to Redfish, making it in time for the noon boat. Another great weekend: Gorgeous scenery, an interesting and challenging climb, fun fellas, good weather, and fulfillment of a long-standing dream.

An explanation of the Celebration of Life explains what it is all about. I have done several Celebrations with Brian:

  • 2000 St. Helens and Adams
  • 2002 "Peak Week", 8 peaks
  • 2003 Elephant's Perch
  • 2005 Mt. Hood
  • 2006 Adams- St. Helens traverse

Mr. Natural Home | 2007 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski