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Jake_Gano

Elizabeth Finger, Clearwater Mountains?

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In about 2006 (plus or minus a year), a friend and I climbed the Elizabeth Finger in the Black Canyon of North Fork of the Clearwater River. I first saw this granite thumb in a book of photos of the Clearwater Mountains in a gas station in Orofino. I don't recall the name of the book or author, but I have a copy somewhere.

 

We sneaked around the "back" and climbed one pitch of 4th or easy 5th class to the summit. We didn't have time left in the weekend to try the much larger southeast face, which overlooks the North Fork of the Clearwater River. The we guessed the face was about 5 pitches high, and consisted of highly knobby, slabby, highly featured granite.

 

We asked around and no one had heard of this feature (including JC at Hyperspud who has done about as much climbing in the region as anyone), so we presume we made the first ascent.

 

I'm posting on here because I'm not in the area any more, and I doubt I'm going to make it back that way to back the bigger face any time soon. I hope that someone else can get back there and put up quality routes on the Finger or any number of other granite outcroppings in the area that could yield multi-pitch routes. Also, if there is any other climbing history in the area, I hope to hear about it.

 

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The road in the photo is Black Canyon Road, off of 250 east-northeast of Orofino. It's a long drive.

 

Maybe I'll find some photos of the climb scan them in. This was an era when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I didn't own a digital camera.

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I know Sobo had (has?) a hard on for the South Fork. The North Fork, I don't know...

 

Apparently I was more stingy with photos before the digital era. The only picture I can find is on the summit and doesn't show any of the sexy granite around.

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After seeing the above post I put Elizabeth Finger on my "go and see" list. Finally this last weekend I had time to drive over and see what it was all about. I convinced a friend of mine to come along, and we made the drive over. After seeing a few glimpses of it from the road we found a parking spot and started the bushwhack. After ascending 800 feet straight up through the brush and trees we reached the base of the East face of Elizabeth Finger.

 

The rock is good quality and the steeper face sections are pretty clean. As a trad climber, I searched in vain for a beautiful crack or corner splitting the face. Instead I settled on a line that looked protectable with various horizontal cracks and short vertical corners. The climb, which we named "Liken' to Labor" Grade II 5.9 started out with a 150 foot pitch of sustained 5.8/5.9 climbing. It felt harder in places due to the amount of lichen and moss on the face and I spent quite a while cleaning holds. The belay was on a couple of small flat spots below a good horizontal crack.

 

The 2nd pitch consisted mostly of friction climbing. The first 30 feet in the 5.7 range, then it backed off to 5.6 for most of the rest of the pitch. It was a rope stretcher with 60m ropes and ended at a nice tree in a wide "sloped gully". Pitch 3 was an easy 5.6 pitch starting with some blocky climbing and then back to smears and slabs. We belayed at a large block just above a prominent tree. Total length was only about 120 feet.

 

From here there was an easy ramp that looked 4th class/low 5th going up to the right but we opted to stay on the main face. I picked a line going up and left following cracks for about 100 feet. Then transitioned to a ramp/ledge system that traversed back right towards the summit tower. It was mostly 5.7 climbing with a few moves of 5.8. We belayed at the bottom left side of the prominent summit tower. This pitch was also a rope stretcher at 200+ feet.

 

Pitch 5 was a short 50 foot pitch following the left hand edge of the tower up to where it meets the ridge. From there we turned right to follow the ridge up to the summit. The climbing was mostly 5.8 but felt much harder as the rock was so covered in sand and lichen that the smearing was next to impossible.

 

To descend we followed the summit ridge line north until there is a prominent gully that descends down the west side. At the bottom of this gully a short 60 foot rappel will land you back in the forrest. We opted to scramble down and around the north end the finger to get back to the base of the climb. You could also go down around the south end of Elizabeth finger. I am not sure which is easier but neither is a walk in the park. It was a fun adventure for sure.

 

I don't know if I would climb the line again. There was no ultra cool crack and the whole route needs a good hard scrubbing to make it worthwhile. However the main face to the left of where we climbed looks very good! There are no cracks so natural pro is out of the question, but if somebody invested some time/money/energy they could put up some really sweet sport routes. The climbing looked much cleaner and would probably go in the 5.9/5.10a range or up depending on the line you picked. Most likely in the 4 pitche range for length too.

 

 

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Elizabeth Finger standing tall above the North Fork of Clearwater River.

 

 

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Our route we took up the east face, Liken' to Labor, 5.9. The circles are approximately our belay locations. The 5th pitch ascends directly above the 4th circle to the summit and is really out of view in this picture.

 

 

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Matt just above the crux of pitch 1 and almost to the belay.

 

 

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Looking down pitch 2, you can see Matt on the 5.6 slabs, the valley far below.

 

 

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Matt making the traverse on pitch 4.

 

 

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Arrival on the summit ridge at the top of pitch 5.

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Thanks for the beta. This has been in the back of my mind, but nothing has materialized for me yet. Looks like an adventure!

 

How long was your drive from Spokane?

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