St Paul Peak – Northeast Arete (III 5.7)

Ben Ward and I had a great weekend in the Cabinet Mountains, climbing St Paul Peak’s NE Arete and scrambling Rock Peak’s West Ridge on August 13-14, 2022.

St Paul’s East Face. The NE Arete climbs the skyline on right, generally on the crest or just left of it. Photo taken from the W Ridge of Rock Peak.

I’ve been consciously planning mellow “vacation alpinism” trips in between bigger, harder objectives this season. Marked by a chill pace, good food, plenty of sleep and quality time spent among the mountains, these trips to make for relaxing and replenishing weekends. Ben and I drove up the surprisingly rowdy road to the Cliff Lake trailhead on Friday night and camped. We chose not to put the rainfly on our tent given the heat and clear forecast… of course, a 3am rainstorm moved in and sent us (Ben) scrambling. Classic. In the morning, we traversed to the St Paul – Rock Peak saddle and rapelled (single rope) into the cirque below the East Face of St Paul. After a traverse under the East Face, we began scrambling toward the first pitch of the NE Arete.

Ben begins the scramble approach to the first pitch.
The Pinky, a weird rock feature near the start of the route.

The fourth class scramble went quickly and soon we were swapping leads, with Ben taking the first pitch. This route is undoubtedly fun adventure climbing, but is not really a high quality rock route. The second and third pitches had some memorable sections, otherwise we were simply romping around on loose but mellow rock. You can pretty much choose your own adventure on this route – I recommend putting the route desription away after the first three pitches and following your nose. We were feeling lazy and elected to belay every pitch rather than simulclimb, but we still hit the summit faster than expected. A relaxed descent brought us to our cache of plush camping gear at Cliff Lake, where we spent the afternoon swimming and quaffing beers brewed by Ben’s own hand. Classy.

Ben leading the first pitch.
Ben leading the crux third pitch, 5.7+. There is a fixed knifeblade as the first piece on this pitch, but we never saw the second piton mentioned in some route descriptions.
Ben coming up to the belay on our fifth pitch, 100 meters of low-mid fifth class.
The Northeast Arete of St Paul in profile as seen from the W Ridge of Rock Peak.

The next day, we woke up early to beat the heat and had a nice scramble on the West Ridge of Rock Peak. This route is only occasionally fourth class; mostly it consists of steep hiking. After returning to camp, we had one final dip in Cliff Lake before hiking out and slowly crawling our way down the access road.

A glorious morning in the Cabinets!
Scrambling on the West Ridge of Rock Peak. Photo: Ben Ward

Strategy Notes

I would not venture up the road to the Cliff Lake/Chicago Peak trailhead without a high clearance 4WD vehicle. Best practice would be to head up there with an aired up full-size spare tire, a big jack, and preferably another friend in a truck. Hiking the road from midway up is possible. A tow call up here would easily cost $1000 and it’s a LONG walk back to the highway for spotty cell service.

Gear Notes

A single rope (minimum 60m), set of nuts and a medium size rack of cams should do it. Nothing larger than a 2 was necessary, but we used a lot of doubles for long pitches.

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