Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Climbing Mount Heyburn - Stur Chimney

The weekend of June 29 and 30th 2007 we had our second official Teton training weekend. After checking out Tom Lopez guide to climbing Idaho and summitpost.org we settled on making an attempt at climbing the Stur Chimney on Mount Heyburn. We felt that the challenges of this climb would hopefully start to mirror our upcoming assent on Grand Teton. Mount Heyburn is one of the more distinguished peaks in the Sawtooth Mountain Range, boosting several distinct summits.

"Mount Heyburn from Upper Bench Lake"
The Stur Chimney is a great alpine trad route, with a fairly high discrepancy of number of pitches and grade. Between several online accounts and Tom's guide book the route is between 2 and 5 pitches and has a rating between 5.2 and 5.8. I found that the route is somewhere in the middle of all the ratings. However we did not get a chance to climb the route on our first try. We left from the Red Fish Lake backpacker’s parking lot at 5am, but by the time we had reached the base of the climb we were low on drinking water and physical drained, plus the day was well into the mid-afternoon. We spent lots of extra time walking around the snow fields instead of crossing them and in my opinion the descriptions on how to find the route are way off. We spent a few extra hours looking for the route up on the upper saddle; I should have thrown away all the description on where the route was and listened to my gut. We decided that the mountain isn’t going anywhere and opted to save the climb for another weekend.

"Beggars can't be chooser, when getting beer up here!"
About a month later on July 28 - 29, 2007 we decided to make a second attempt on Heyburn. We were still working on getting ready for climbing the Grand Teton and we had lots of linguistics to work out. Our main problem with climbing the Grand Teton is we have 4 climbers and only 1 lead climber. Steve and Nicki joined us so we could get some actual practice with climbing with 4 people. We set off in the morning at about 8am from the upper Bench Lake; much of the snow has melted from a month ago. The hike to the base of the class III gully was easier than the last trip but still a tough hike for us.

"Angela, Nicki and Steve"
Once we arrived at the start of the class III gully we took a short break and stashed some extra gear. We scrambled up the gully until we hit a short 15ft section near the top, where we decide to rope up for safety.

"Angela and Nicki scrambling up the gully"
Next you traverse a horizontal pitch to the base of another narrow short gully with twin cracks. This pitch is more of a careful walk and not much in the way of rock climbing.

"Angela and Nicki doing some easy walking."
This next 25ft section is where we broke out the gear and decided to practice climbing as one team of 4. The plan was to have me lead a pitch and set an anchor, then I belay Steve and Nicki up together on one rope. Nicki would be tied into the end of the rope and Steve would tie in about 8ft up the rope with an alpine butterfly knot. Nicki would also be trailing a second rope. Once Steve and Nicki were up and into the anchor, we would re-rack gear and Nicki would belay Angela up the first pitch and I would have Steve belay me up the second pitch. Sounds good in theory but didn't work very well for us on Heyburn. Perhaps with more practice in a non-alpine environment we could get this technique to work.

"Nearing the top of the twin racks."

Everyone made it to the base of the Heyburn chimney, however due to our difficulties with the last pitch, Angela and Nicki agreed to sit out climbing the final 2 pitches.

"Ryan and Steve ready to climb."
The first pitch of the chimney is about 50+ feet easy and fun climbing, the crux move on the pitch is a small chalkstone that is protected by a fixed piton. This pitch ends below an enormous chalkstone that makes an obvious small cave. Another fixed piton is located near the back of the cave and makes for a good place to set a belay station.

"Steve all anchored in!"
From the cave, move climber's right around the roof, there's another piton on the face that I used to protect this section. Once past the chalkstone I decided to stay out of the face and forgo getting back into the chimney. I stopped about 15 feet from the summit at a natural 10’x10’ ledge and built an anchor. The last 15 feet we soloed up to the summit.

"Steve Scrambling to the Summit.

From the summit we had amazing views of the Sawtooth Range; you could see most the Bench Lakes and Red Fish Lake. I wished that the gals could have reached the summit with us, perhaps another time.

"Nice View eh?"

After we got our fill of being at the summit we climbed back down to the 10'x10' ledge and found an existing repel station. We used a 60 meter rope that got us down to a second repel station. After a second short repel we were back at the start of the Stur Chimney. We did 2 more repels to get everyone back down to the start of the class III gulley. The climb was great and a lot of fun; I would definitely recommend climbing the Stur Chimney.

"Showing my approval with a nice hefty thumbs up!"

Here's all the pictures from both trips: Climbing Stur Chimney