The Greatest City in Idaho
For the past three years, I have been involved with Post 58, a citywide organization that provides climbing and mountaineering trips to Portland-area youth.
Some of the best experiences I've had to date have been on trips with that organization. It has taken me to new heights (quite literally) that I would never have imagined four years ago. What follows is a trip report I wrote for a recent six-day rock-climbing trip to City of Rocks, Idaho:
The order to abandon the climb was given at 4 p.m.
Four days earlier, we had parked our cars across from Bath Rock, one of countless granite mounds and spires that range from 30 to 200 feet high. There, in that semi-shaded grove, with a slight but warm shower raining down on this desert, we set up what we would call home for the next few days with nothing more than six tents and two stoves.
The next day, forgetting about the storm from the day before, we set off to conquer the granite formations. Never choosing the easiest path to the top, we crimped and jammed our way up, sometimes falling, always smiling. We returned to camp at 6 p.m. that night, everyone content with the day, yet eager to push even further the next.
On Monday, our third day in the park, a group of six of us branched off to climb Theater of Shadows, a four-pitch odyssey ascending one of the tallest formations in the park, Jackson's Thumb. Unlike the rest of the park, which consists of 25-million-year-old granite, Jackson's Thumb and its neighboring formations are composed of 2.5-billion-year-old gneiss, the final product of eons of burial and uplift.
Despite the 400-foot length of the climb, the grade never rose above a difficulty rating of 5.7, allowing for a rapid and joyous ascent. Looking down from the top of the third pitch, 300 feet above where we started, I was reminded of an alpine ridge, the trees waving in the wind far below. At the top, we were graced with a view of the entire city, with rocks jutting from the prairie for miles in any direction. To top it all off, we rappelled 200 feet off the back side of the spire, part of which was free-hanging such that we were spinning in space.
On our drive back to camp, we passed Camp Rock, containing a piece of history younger than the 25-million-year-old rock itself. On this rock, from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, dozens of people wrote their names in axle grease as they passed through, one stop along the Oregon Trail. Despite their age, many names were still visible, leaving their mark long after the wagons continued on.
That night, around the campfire in the fading Idaho light, the students and advisers shared with the group their various talents, from skits about climbing to songs on the guitar to stick-clipping abilities. Not one person refrained from performing that night, and the campfire was ended with a group rendition of "Fisherman's Blues."
Tuesday was our last day in the city. None of us wanted to leave, but such is the way with every trip to a magical place. We split off into a few small groups; mine went to Elephant Rock in the morning. In the 80-degree morning sun, my toes ached and baked up some of the best and most outrageous climbs in the city, all feeling more difficult than their grade would suggest.
That afternoon, we moved over to Bath Rock, where my friend Marcell was reborn on Private Idaho, a hard 5.9-grade difficulty crack with an improbable squeeze chimney at the top. I had led it earlier in the week, so I empathized with his struggles in the chimney. As he exited the "birth canal," as we had named it, he laid down face first on a ledge, still not finished with the climb.
As he was lowered to the ground, our watches chimed 4 p.m. It was time to disembark from the city and head to our first home, in Portland.