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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.