Elevation: 2,523 ft
GPS: 45.82, -115.853 Google Map · Climbing Area Map
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Shared By: kurthicks on Mar 16, 2013
Admins: Mike Engle
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A collection of largely south facing granite slab climbs along the remote, and incredibly scenic South Fork of the Clearwater River.

Climbing History
The history of climbing along the South Fork is difficult to accurately assemble. The area has long been used by college students attending Washington State University and the University of Idaho. Upon leaving the area, they have taken their route information with them, leading to a lack of information about first ascents.

The area was definitely explored as early as the 1960’s, but likely even earlier. The Rolling Stone Wall was probably first climbed in the 60’s since pitons were found in and below the orange overhang; this route is currently known as Brown Sugar. Judging from their spacing, it is probable that some of the wall was climbed with aid. The 60’s and 70’s brought climbers training for greater venues like Yosemite and the Cascades, where many went on to establish or do early repeats of now classic routes. During this era major features were attempted or climbed for the first time.

The area then underwent intense route development in the late 1980’s by members of the Washington State University Alpine Club. Russ Johnson, Rick Gustavson, and John Crock all established classic lines during that period. Espousing a traditional, bolt-while-leading style, these routes still get the heart pumping twenty years later.

More recently, new routes have been established near the road at the Roadside Slabs and on the Golden Wall.

The rock in the South Fork of the Clearwater River valley consists of Cretaceous Period granite of the Idaho batholith. This intrusion covers much of central Idaho. It typically offers large sweeps of thinly featured slabs, but relatively few cracks. Most pitches are less than vertical, have very solid rock, and end on good belay ledges.

Recommended Equipment
Most climbs along the South Fork can be protected with a standard free climbing rack with protection including nuts and cams to 3”. Bolted routes rarely have more than 8 bolts per pitch, but bringing ten slings is recommended just in case. Most pitches wander and extendable slings are helpful in reducing rope drag. If a route requires additional specific gear it will be listed for that route. A wire brush can be a useful tool if venturing onto unclimbed or infrequently done slabs since they do overgrow with lichen over time. As always, it is a good idea to bring enough cord or webbing to replace faded rappel slings before you descend.

Most of the developed climbing along the South Fork of the Clearwater River faces south with a base elevation of approximately 2500’. The main climbing seasons are spring (although the cracks and summit often seep with water) and fall (September & October are best). Summer can be too hot, but climbing in the morning and later in the evening make the summer months manageable.

During the winter the rock is typically wet and snow covered, precluding most climbing. There are, however, reports of ice routes being completed in the area, notably two routes across the river from the Road Warrior area and a WI2 route about 200 meters upstream from Head Trip. There is certainly more potential in this valley for ice climbs.

The Clearwater River valley is located within Nez Perce National Forest. Developed camping ($8/night) can be found at numerous US Forest Service campgrounds downstream from the climbing areas including Castle Creek campground (mile post 14.8) and South Fork campground (mile post 15). Free camping is located at Meadow Creek campground at milepost 17, just four miles from the main parking area. There are three independent sites here and room for about 6 cars. Other free camping and bivying areas abound on nearby National Forest lands. Do not camp at the Cougar Creek Trailhead unless you want to get roused and ticketed. If camping outside Forest Service campgrounds, please utilize Leave No Trace practices.

All campgrounds have toilets, please use them.

Food & Drink
The Clearwater is about a half hour drive from the nearest restaurants, grocery stores, and pubs. It is recommended that you bring all that you need with you into the canyon. If you run out of food or beverages, head to Grangeville. There are a couple of decent breakfast joints in Elk River, which is worth visiting if you have the time.

Potable water is available at the Castle Creek campground from Spring until mid-October.

Rest & Rain Days
There aren’t many options for killing time along the South Fork. A number of roads and trails nearby provide ample hiking and mountain biking opportunities. Working on the crag by replacing bolts and scrubbing routes is also a great idea. This is best accomplished by hiking to the top of the crag, rappelling in, and cleaning your way down.

Environmental Hazards
Although not terribly dangerous, the Clearwater area does have some potential hazards. Bees and wasps are prevalent in the late summer and fall months and are often aggressive, especially when the temperature is high. There are no reports of poisonous snakes in the area, but care should be exercised anyways. Lightning Dome is aptly named, however, due to numerous lightning strikes on the summit in the past. Be cautious climbing during thunderstorms. Natural and party inflicted rockfall is rare.

If you are an adventurous soul and decide to cross the river to climb, be aware of the drowning hazard. The river is very cold throughout the year and can be shockingly cold even on the hottest summer days. River levels are lowest in late July and August, though a boat crossing is possible during the climbing season from the main parking pullout. Inflatable kayaks and rafts work exceptionally well.

Emergency Services & Important Phone Numbers
The South Fork is remote, even though it abuts a highway. Cell phones will not work once you descend into the canyon, but often get reception from the upper half of Lightning Dome. The closest payphone is located at the Forest Service office in Grangeville, about half an hour from the climbing area.

The nearest hospital is in Grangeville. Syringa General Hospital, located at 607 West Main Street, provides 24 hour emergency care.

Idaho County Sheriff (SAR) 208-983-1100
Nez Perce National Forest 208-983-1950
Hyperspud Sports 208-883-1150

Minimizing Your Impact
The South Fork of the Clearwater is a relatively wild and unspoiled climbing area. It is imperative that you help keep it that way. Most environmental impacts related to climbing can be avoided by planning ahead. Know your descent route and be prepared to replace sun faded webbing on rappel anchors. Follow trails as closely as possible to reduce erosion. If cleaning routes, avoid disturbing bird nests (there are no reports of falcons at these crags) and other wildlife.

No one likes to see “toilet paper bushes,” so please use the bathroom prior to getting on a route. The closest toilet is at the Cougar Creek trailhead, about 1/3 mile downstream from the main parking lot. Modern “WAG” bags for packing out human waste are the best solution for emergencies at the crag, but if you don’t have one, dig an 8” deep hole and bury your waste. Please use the restrooms at the campgrounds whenever you can.

About the Climbing
The climbing along the Clearwater is primarily a traditional climbing area where multi-pitch routes are the norm. Surely there are lots of bolts, in fact most of the routes are primarily bolted, but this is not a sport climbing destination! Since the vast majority of routes were bolted-on-lead, there are serious runouts on both easy and difficult terrain. Having a solid grasp of slab climbing technique and a confident mindset is crucial for climbing these routes and having fun.

Local Ethics
The Clearwater has a well developed ethic. Please remain true to the practices of those that came before you.
• Traditionally the bolting of new routes was done with hand drills while leading. This explains why some pitches have unreasonable runouts. Consider using a ground-up tactic for new first ascents, but it is better to not kill yourself establishing a new climb! Generally, new routes will require bolts and extensive wire brushing.
• Chipping is not tolerated. If you need to chip it to climb it, go climb elsewhere.
• Retrobolting (adding new bolts) is not tolerated, unless you have the permission of the first ascent party. Old bolts should be carefully removed and replaced with modern 5-piece expansion climbing bolts. Use of 3/8” x 3” Powers stainless steel bolts is highly recommended. Anchors should use at least 2 quicklinks on each hanger to facilitate rappelling, while a short link of chain on each bolt also works. Fixe rappel hangers are best.
• New routes have mainly been climbed from the ground to the top in one push. As a result many climbs do not have rappel anchors atop every pitch.
• Don’t crowd established lines with new ones. There is a lot of unclimbed rock and plenty of room for new routes.

The rock in the South Fork of the Clearwater River valley consists of Cretaceous Period granite of the Idaho batholith. This intrusion covers much of central Idaho. It typically offers large sweeps of thinly featured slabs, but relatively few cracks. Most pitches are less than vertical, have very solid rock, and end on good belay ledges.

Getting There

The South Fork of the Clearwater is best accessed from Idaho Highway 95 through Grangeville, Idaho. This small community is located approximately midway between Coeur d’Alene and Boise.

Turn east off US 95 into Grangeville, ID at the OK gas station. Drive through town (east) on Highway 13/Main Street for 1.2 miles then turn right onto Mt. Idaho Grade Road, just before the US Forest Service Office. Continue down Mt. Idaho Grade Road for 9.9 miles until it intersects Highway 14. Go straight through this intersection, heading upstream. The main parking lot is located at milepost 21 in a large gravel pullout. No parking pass is required.

Driving Times & Distances:
Moscow, ID / Pullman, WA 2 ½ hours 135 miles
Spokane, WA 4 ¼ hours 200 miles
Boise, ID 5 hours 250 miles
Missoula, MT 3 ¾ hours 160 miles

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