I’m sitting on a ledge, 600 feet up the Elepant’s Perch, barefoot, thirsty and relaxed. It’s a hot July day on the 1000’ southwest facing wall, and it’s 5 p.m. I pull the rope through my belay device steadily as Chantel climbs up toward me. My stinky t-shirt is draped over my head, and the sun is hot on my forearms, the sunscreen I put on at 7 a.m. long gone.
Afternoon light softens the Sawtooth Mountains’ aptly named granite ridge lines and peaks. Patches and couloirs of snow remain on northerly aspects. When a big puffy cloud covers the sun, this is heaven.
We’re six pitches up the Direct Beckey, a striking and sustained 12-pitch 5.10+. I took a surprise whipper on the steep and clean second pitch, and opened a scab on my knee. Now long blood streaks are dried on my calf and caked on my cuticles and knuckles.
I haven’t been to the Perch in 10 years. The last time, Lisa, Chessie, Julia and I were 13 days into an 18 day backcountry climbing trip – my first. Lisa and I bailed off the classic moderate Mountaineers Route when I couldn’t pull the 5.8 mantle on the second pitch.
While my rock climbing has come a ways in the last decade (Chantel and I had a casual day on that same route yesterday), we’re clearly not going to make the boat back across Redfish Lake and it’s going to be a long night.
But I don’t care. The climbing is awesome, and it’s fun as hell hanging out with Chantel.
We top out at 8 p.m., melt snow in our mouths, high five, then scramble 20’ to the summit and hug. On the hike down, we drink from a delicious drip. When we reach our packs at dusk, mosquitoes swarm us.
We start down by the dim light of our headlamps, and wander up and down the wooded hillside trying to find the faint trail to the new river crossing.
Climbing over deadfall, I break a branch and stub my knee on a sharp stick. It stings like I kicked the coffee table, and when I lift my pants up hot blood is streaming down my leg. Chantel pulls out gauze and tape, and I cry, embarrassed, as we clean out the puncture.
Another 45 minutes of bushwhacking, and we’re at the river crossing. On the trail at 11:30, we have seven miles to go. By 2:50 we’re at the trucks, chowing food before bed.