Harrison Peak – South Face (attempt)

Harrison Peak – South Face Standard Route attempt.  June 17th, 2016.

Zach had a long-standing desire to climb the South Face of Harrison Peak in Idaho’s Selkirk Crest.  Excited to get after it, we got up early and made the quick 3 hour drive from Spokane to make an attempt.  Zach warned about how rough Pack River Road is, but we were pleasantly surprised to find the road in excellent shape.  Score!

The approach turned from good trail to decent snow.  The peak came into sight once we arrived at Beehive lake. Immediately concerned about how wet the rock appeared, we pressed onward beyond the easy hiking into scary 4th class slabs.  The rock was wet, and a fall would be serious in this kind of terrain.  The route is defined by an incredible white streak up the face and is impossible to miss.  Once at the base, our hearts dropped.  The whole face was wet, and several areas were running with water.  Occasional volleys of ice and snow rained down from the top of the face, further diminishing our desire to commit to the route.  We decided to take an alpine siesta before re-assessing the situation.

Once we woke up, our naive optimism convinced us that we could patch together a dry route up the face, even though the hardest section looked to be soaking wet.  Zach delicately lead the first pitch, shouting “watch me!” in several spots as I nervously belayed.  The climbing was slabby and very wet in spots – not a good combination.  Finally, he was able to engineer a decent two point anchor and brought me up to his stance.  I was grateful for the top-rope belay as my feet skittered around on wet, lichen-covered rock.

Zach holding down the belay. Photo: Nick Sweeney

At the anchor, I assessed my options and set off to lead our second pitch.  A short traverse to the right brought me into blocky terrain, where I was able to make upward progress on wet rock.  I was alarmed to find that I was climbing through a jumble of blocks – ranging in size from microwaves to refrigerators, all of which could be moved by hand. The sight of the rope hanging freely between my harness and our belay confirmed that I was in the no-fall zone.  Half of a ropelength of insecure, loose and wet climbing with poor protection culminated in a dead end – I was faced with an overhang guarded by a wet slab on either side.  I must have been on lead for 45 minutes at this point and was not happy to find myself in this position, where my last piece of protection was a sling girth-hitched around a wobbly dead tree 20 feet below.  An attempt to continue would force me outside an acceptable level of risk.  Unable to find any anchor options, I carefully reversed the pitch.  At the belay, Zach lowered me with the pack and then rappelled, leaving two nuts behind as a bail anchor.

Despite our failure on the route, the trip was a success. Each of us came home in one piece after spending a day in Idaho’s beautiful back country – a fine day out, if you ask me.


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