Lion’s Head – East Buttress (II 5.7)

Cory Rekasie and I summitted Lion’s Head via the East Buttress on July 17th, 2021. Lately, I’ve been really psyched on exploring the climbing in North Idaho. Every time I head into the Selkirks, I am blown away by the quantity and quality of the rock. Adventure is alive in these hills. It doesn’t hurt that I can do these climbs in a long daytrip from Spokane. I previously attempted this line several years ago, but we were unfortunately rained out at the base of the SE Face. This was Cory’s first technical mountain climb – very classy.

The stunning North Face of Lion’s Head. John Roskelley and Bob Christianson climbed a central line on the face on September 30-31, 1970 with a comfortable bivy on a ledge. Roskelley rated the route IV 5.7 A3 – their notes are still in the summit register. The line was later freed by John Kitel and Mark Pierce in 1991 at 5.10c. Lion Tamer, as it is now known, is considered an Inland Northwest classic.
Hiking toward Lion’s head. The “trail” is in the middle of the photo – this is a better-than-average section for the trail.

After a very early morning departure from Spokane, we drove up the rough forest road that leads to Abandon Creek. We were in a high clearance 4×4 and things were straightforward – in a smaller vehicle, you would need to be really careful in a few spots to avoid damage. Finally, we reached a nondescript switchback in the road with a strange, blank sign. I knew this was the spot from my prior attempt, and soon we were blasting the hike/bushwhack into our objective. The trail is currently easy to follow between tracks on the ground and intermittent pieces of flagging. After reaching the talus field, we scrambled up to the shoulder on the West side of the peak and faced the worst bushwhacking of the day. I pushed my body through the thick foliage with branches tearing at my clothes. Soon we were boulder hopping and arrived at the base of the South face. From here, we wrapped around the mountain to reach the Southeast Face.

Scrambling to the West Shoulder. This is fairly mellow and there is a climber’s trail higher up that follows the path of least resistance. Photo: Cory Rekasie
Getting close to the South Face. Amazing rock up here! Yes, that wide line on the left has been climbed. Photo: Cory

Our objective for the day was a linkup of the Southeast Face to the East Buttress. This involves climbing 2-3 pitches on the SE Face and then linking into the East Buttress for an additional 2-3 pitches. After caching our gear at our best guess for the bottom of the rappel route, we racked up and located the first pitch of the SE face. It’s easy to find – a gleaming, steep granite slab, covered in green lichen. The climbing wasn’t hard per se; but it was a classic friction slab with next to no holds. With no protection available, I found myself looking at the crux moves of the slab only a few feet below a crack where I was confident I could place protection. 50 feet separated me from the ground. After inspecting the moves for a few minutes, I couldn’t justify the risk of a ground fall given the insecure climbing. I carefully downclimbed the slab, which was tense for a minute or two. Next, we moved over to the base of the traditional East Buttress.

The first pitch of the Southeast Face “sit start” to the East Buttress. No gear until the crack, perhaps 50 feet or more above. If you’ve climbed this pitch, please comment below or contact me – I’d love to hear what you thought of it! Photo: Cory

Once we got started on the East Buttress, things started going smoothly. I led the first pitch, which was wildly fun. Protection is good and the moves are secure but steep – awesome! Soon I was belaying Cory up to a comfortable ledge. From the ledge, I lead the second pitch which I took all the way to the summit. Traditionally people will break this into two pitches, but I was pretty conservative with my gear placements and even extended a couple of cams with double length slings, so rope drag was not an issue.

Cory following the first pitch. There was an old orange rusty piton (look along the lower left edge of the photo) here, but I didn’t clip it as I traversed a few feet left to avoid the funky moves.
Heading up the second pitch. To echo Thad Laird’s guidebook, this looks improbable from below but has good holds and gear. Photo: Cory

Once on the summit, we relaxed, taking time to eat snacks and read the incredible summit register. The note from the first ascent in 1938 is still in there! There are also notes from John Roskelley talking about the IV 5.7 A3 Direct North Face that I mentioned in a caption above – incredible! There’s a lot of history in this little metal box and it was fun to see how many people I personally know with their names among its pages. The summit is a little oasis in the sky – very cool. Spending the night up here would be amazing. Once we finished reading the register, we decided it was time to go home. Two rappels landed us at the base of the SE face and our cached gear.

Cory on the summit with East Lion’s Head in the background. Great day in the Selkirks!
Hydrating before starting the rappels. Photo: Cory

Strategy Notes:

Expect 3 hours to the base of the East Buttress.

Gear Notes:

For the East Buttress, I recommend bringing along cams .3-3 with doubles .5-1 along with a set of nuts.

4 thoughts on “Lion’s Head – East Buttress (II 5.7)

  1. Nice trip report! I love that area, it seems to get overlooked by a lot of people but the climbing is really fun. I climbed the linkup several years ago and I remember excavating a small crack on the left side of the slab that I could place a small C3 in, otherwise it was run out until the twin cracks in your photo. I remember the cracks and the dihedral above being amazing, the dihedral protects with small gear. After that the third “pitch” is just moving the belay over to the east buttress. Definitely worth doing. Thanks for the report!

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  2. My Dad, Bob Pace, and Everett Davidson were the first two ascentionists in ’38. That was their summer between their junior and senior year in Bonners Ferry. Dad never said much about it other than climbing slab in White Logger corks was a bit spooky. They mooched meals from lonely fire lookouts in a two week traverse of the Selkirks, including a visit to my uncle Dave’s lookout on Smith Peak. Plus they carried a Winchester, Everett hoping to shoot a grizzly. Luckily that didn’t happen, but I do have Kodak Brownie pics from that trip of a bear having fun sliding down snow snow covered scree slopes. When they got back to the West side road up near Porthill and could make a collect call, my Grandad just said “You got that far, you find your own way home”. A girl from school picked them up in her folk’s Chevy with a rumble seat, and after a mile or so of smelling them, said they could ride the rest of the way in the back.

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