Thursday, July 08, 2010

Sawtooth North Peak, sweet climb

Lisa Easton through the gap in the knife ridge

Jim Heckel on top Sawtooth North

Coming off the ridge

Now, down and out on the scree
It seems that the more often I climb Sawtooth Mountain (North Peak, 8,135 feet), the more I like it.
I get up this gorgeous peak west of Augusta at least once a summer.
Matt Marcinek and Lisa Easton gave me my excuse this year as Matt will lead a Glacier Mountaineering Society climb in September and wanted a pre-climb to establish the route.
I was a little nervous about leading Matt up Sawtooth because I was a bit shaky on a route Mark Hertenstein had established several years ago and I had accompanied him on it only once.
Much to my relief, we hit every point we needed directly and the climb went smoothly.
Clear, sunny skies enhanced the scenery.
It was a perfect climb.
Hertenstein’s route follows the high ridge east of Sun Canyon Lodge straight south directly to the Sawtooth North Peak where there are several large limestone cliff bands.
The route goes to the east face of the peak, below the two highest bands.
The trick is to find the break in the second highest band just above the head of Rose Creek.
From there it is a scree slog back in the opposite direction (North) to the shoulder below the North Peak summit cap. The route wraps around the shoulder to the west side of the peak below the cap.
Then it is up through the ledges, including one, short and airy 4th Class “step.” Just before the large gully to the north of the summit ridge itself there is one Class 3 pitch up a small chute. Then it is an easy walk to the top.
On top the views are stunning, with the middle and south peaks and the rounded fourth Sawtooth peak coming into view, their jagged summits thrusting upward.
To the east, the Great Plains, the buttes and island mountain ranges like the Sweetgrass Hills, Highwoods and belts. To the west Gibson Reservoir on the Sun River, Castle Reef that is the other “bookend” to Sawtooth on the Sun River, and then the jagged peaks of the Front and miles of mountains in the Scapegoat and Bob Marshall Wilderness Areas all the way to the snowy Swan Range.
It was simply breaktaking.
I’ve always thought of Sawtooth Peak as one of the symbols of the Great Falls area. It is a prominent and recognizable backdrop to the west of the Electric City.
Before Hertenstein developed this route we used to hike to Agropyron Flats and take one of the prominent ridgelines from the valley floor to the top.
I like this route so much better because it is more alpine and follows ridges all the way.
Unfortunately, we encountered elk hunters blinds along the way.
I make a point of taking them apart, the best I can.
Some consider them a traditional part of Montana hunting.
I consider them the detritus of slob hunters.

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