There are still some secret corners to be found in North Idaho.
Some years ago, I heard about a boat access-only climbing spot on the east shore of Lake Pend Oreille, with granite cliffs that dropped off straight into the water. Back then, I enlisted the help of a friend and we paddled sea kayaks from the western shore of the lake to the mostly uninhabited eastern shore and sought out these rumored cliffs. When we found them, we were exhausted from paddling across the lake in windy conditions to Granite Point, but still succeeded in climbing a few routes that day.
Several years later I again enlisted the help of climbing buddies Chris Doll, who was with me on the first attempt, and Chris Celentano, to again climb at Granite Point.
We met Wes Jones, owner of the Bayview Shuttle service, early while frost was still on the ground, and began our boat trip up the lake toward the Green Monarchs. Lake Pend Oreille has a reputation as a tempestuous lake, and after high winds early in the weekend we were glad to have calm waters for our journey.
We reached the little inlet, surrounded by morning shadows and granite cliff faces, and danced around in the boat to warm ourselves as we geared up for our first route of the morning. The sun began to show on the upper sections of the route as we climbed, and after rappelling back down to the boat, Wes had campfire hot dogs waiting for us.
As the fall air warmed, we began the second goal of the day, and bushwhacked, in typical North Idaho fashion, up a draw through Alder and Hawthorn on the ridge top, where we planned to hike south a few bays and rappel off a large cliff face with an off-width crack running vertically up the center. Off-width cracks are difficult to climb as the only way to do so most of the time is to jam your body in the crack and pressure your arms and legs against the sides of the crack enough that you can work your way up. I’m am not a very skilled off-width crack climber.
Standing above our intended route (called Ogre Off-Width) we were treated to spectacular views of this beautiful lake in our backyard. We could see almost to Sandpoint to the north, and all the way to the rockslides that dominate the view from the southern end of the lake near Farragut State Park.
The worst part of rappelling is that moment when you drop off the top of the rock face and, trusting your gear, begin lowering yourself over the edge. All three of us climbers felt the same type of fear as we first one, and then the next, dropped off the cliff face we had only seen from below.
From the base of the cliff face we then attempted to retrace our path and climb back up the face. Only one of our group was able to climb this route, and not without losing a bunch of skin from elbows and arms. We found evidence that this route had been climbed before as there were pitons jammed into small cracks going up the cliff face. These pitons are a style of protecting yourself from falling that first came to use in the early days of modern climbing and are used rarely these days.
After wearing ourselves out on this route we rappelled the remaining 150 feet off the mountainside to the waiting boat below.
Before returning to Bayview, Wes took us to the small community of Lakeview, accessed by boat or nearly 20 miles of dirt forest service road, where we had dinner at the Gold Creek Lodge and celebrated another successful North Idaho adventure.
If climbing isn’t your thing, the east side of lake Pend Oreille offers many types of adventures. Wes gives boat tours to view bald eagles and mountain goats during the winter. The Gold Creek Lodge is a mecca for motorcycles and ATVs. There is mountain biking, hunting, and hiking in the mountains surrounding Lakeview. The best part, however, is the feeling of being totally separated from the fast pace and noise that inhabits our daily lives. This area is one of my favorite secret corners of North Idaho.
To have your own adventure: Wes Jones, Bayview Shuttle 208-819-0151.