El Capitan




The Fall 2010 IdahoSummits group hits it big on El Capitan.

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

I participate in the IdahoSummits forum, where our gang chats about all things Idaho mountains (and assorted off-topic stuff). The webmaster for IdahoSummits.com, Big Dan, puts together a group outing twice a year to climb a peak. This fall's objective was El Capitan in Idaho's Sawtooth Wilderness area.

Our group of 12, new friends and old acquaintances, left the trailhead a little after 8 in a cold fog. But those of us who had not camped at Pettit Lake knew there was bright sunshine above the fog. The bowed heads here make the gloomy start look a little extra grim.

Morning fog

A little later, it was sun glasses and sun hats. Dylan, 15, was to date the youngest participant of one of our outings.

And... what's that in the background?

Dylan in the talus
It's our peak, El Capitan. It was wearing a raiment of light snow, a dusting that happened earlier in the week. But our route would proceed from the snowy bowl at the left onto the south-facing slabs hidden behind the dark arete nearer the middle. We had faith (or hope, at least) that our route would be dry. El Capitan

But first we had some more hiking to do. After several creek crossings we were finally at the right altitude to leave the trail.

Off trail
It's a short bushwack to the bottom of the huge cirque. The early going was grassy and pleasant. Snowy talus
As we ascended into the bowl, the sun was warm but not enough to burn off the snow. Dylan and John (the less-mature one) had a snowball fight. Snowy talus

Then the talus got a little more serious. Still no sign of the summit.

Snowy talus

The cirque follows a curving path clockwise. Up high, you complete the turn and face north. As hoped, our south-facing route was dry.

The red line might make the route appear obvious, but when we first got here there were a couple of doubters in the group. Kinda steep looking, eh?

Jacob had raced up the mountain on his own, so was already nearing the top. We watched as he stalled out on the right ridgeliine, backed down, and after traversing to the left finally hit the summit.


Here the group works up the ramp. For the majority of the group, the work at hand took away most of the worries about what lay above. Margo is checking to see what her feet are up to.

We tried to always criss-cross the slope to lessen the rockfall hazard. And there is plenty of rockfall hazard here.

Note: In the background you can see the valley we had hiked up, and also Yellowbelly Lake and Pettit Lake.

Looking down the ramp

Up above there were awesome views. The Smokies (in the background) and White Clouds both seemed to have much more snow.

We're not sure if Margie is catching her breath, or the climb above is taking her breath away.

Steve is just behind. C'mon, Steve, follow me!

Summit ridge

The final bit required some steep scrambling with just the right hint of exposure. Thrilling!

Final moves

Incredibly, all 12 people fit onto the small summit. Just behind Dan, standing in the back, is a drop of about 6-800'.

In some sort of order (left to right):
Dave, Jacob, Pam, Margo, Dan, Steve, Margie, Dylan, Kris, John, Bella, and John

Summit of El Capitan
Everyone marvelled at the clear September air and incredible views. That's Snowyside behind Dave. Descent

Then it was time to head down.

No one fell.

No one was left behind.


When we got off the talus, everyone looked pretty happy.

More trip reports:

Mission accomplished

Mr. Natural Home | 2010 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski