August 18, 2013

Pass the Potential, Please

Heather amongst towering walls in Pass Creek

Have you ever dreamt of a place where limestone walls tower high above a meandering stream and forested valley floor? A place with roadside cragging, free camping, and where potential for new rock routes exist, both single and muli-pitch? Perhaps somewhere remote and off the grid for most climbers; located in a part of the world close to home with friendly locals and a mild climate most summer seasons?

It just may be that you have dreamt about a little known canyon in central Idaho called Pass Creek. Now before you jump into your Subaru with a mountain of stainless steel hardware and freshly charged batteries, or enough psych and food to stay for a month of cragging and projecting on already established routes, there are some things you might want to know about Pass Creek Canyon.
Short and Savage in the Pass Creek Canyon

 Pass Creek Canyon - Lost River Range, Idaho 

Looking South down Pass Creek Canyon
Located between Arco and Mackay, Idaho just off of Highway 93 is Pass Creek. This mountain stream cuts a deep limestone canyon as if flows south into the Big Lost River Valley. The Pass Creek Road connects the Big Lost River Valley to the Little Lost River Valley as it bisects the central portion of the Lost River Range.

Home to Idaho's highest summit, Borah Peak and a couple of small but high quality crags know as The Fins, Cedar Creek, and Bear Creek; the Lost River Range isn't a complete unknown destination for most local climbers and mountain enthusiasts. Even Pass Creek itself is known for having seen some rock climbing development over the years. Despite falling off the radar as a potential rock climbing destination, the location itself hasn't faded from the minds of locals climbers.
Heather starting up a route at Grey Slab Sector
Local Hailey, Idaho climbers Dave Bingham and Marc Hanselman are accredited for the first known wave of sport climbing development nearly fifteen years ago. Their efforts produced a handful of routes spread throughout the canyon but the rotten nature of the stone kept development to a minimum. Soon enough, motivation for development at Pass Creek faded with the discovery of better stone in Box Canyon on the southern end of the Lemhi Range and eventually the Fins on the southern tip of the Lost River Range.

The Present

At present, Pass Creek Canyon holds less than a dozen sport routes. This might be the point in my story where you question reading any further! But, I assure you, I will present a good case.

Heather Lords climbing Troll Bride on the Portal Wall. This route was the first in a recent flurry of development by Dean and Heather Lords
The established routes range from fun slab to savagely powerful overhangs and are anywhere from 3 bolts sport rigs to two pitch Box Canyon style experiences. Typical to most central Idaho limestone, much of the climbing is on highly textured rock that can be rather sharp at times. With that being said, the routes are varied in style and angle with the majority being vertical with bulgy sections and steep slabs.

There isn't a guide or published information about the climbs in Pass Creek. As routes get added to the canyon, more information will become available. In the meantime, if you're really keen on checking this place out, embrace the adventure of hunting for and climbing the routes sans beta. And if you really want to know more about route location and grades, please contact me, i'm happy to share what I know.

The Future

Heather warming up on Hornet at the Portal Wall
With enough interest and patience to wander the canyon in search of good sections of stone, Pass Creek could become an enjoyable cragging destination for climbers looking to escape the desert feel of Box Canyon or forgo the summer heat and crowds at the City of Rocks for weekend trips. Like the City of Rocks or Box Canyon, the climbing is spread out amongst various features making for a "tour" style destination. And once a larger number of routes get developed it will be a great place to just go cragging.

Having only spent a short amount of time in the canyon, it is unclear to me whether Pass Creek will host a multitude of hard sport climbs or if it will be a location for easy and moderate sport climbs. As of right now, I feel the latter is more in line with the nature of the canyon.
Excellent steep stone on Deja Vu at the Portal Wall
Pass Creek will over time become an option for climbers looking to escape the normal routine of summer destinations in Idaho. It is unlikely Pass Creek will become a destination for high quality limestone climbing, but if the current routes are any indication as to what the future of Pass Creek will be, I suspect over time with the addition of more routes, we will have another great venue for climbing.