Yesterday, my brother and I completed our first big alpine rock climb: ‘Sky Pilot’ on Peak 11,280. Located Northeast of Sun Valley in the Pioneer mountains, Sky Pilot follows a prominent arête up the towering north side of the unnamed mountain. Since seeing a picture of the 2000 foot rock face earlier this summer, I wanted to climb it.
As soon as we decided we were ready for the climb, the massive Beaver Creek fire started nearby and for weeks we were unable to do much outdoors due to the smoke. Once the smoke cleared, our only concern was thunderstorms. A few days ago, upon seeing a forecast for calm winds and blue skies for the coming weekend, we decided to go for it. With minimal beta other than “follow the arête”, we headed out with a little too much gear and drove to the “trailhead”.
The route is fairly straightforward. Starting at the old Wildhorse mine, the approach begins by climbing off trail for 1000 feet to reach an upper basin. Another mile or so of easier terrain leads to the base of the North face of Peak 11,280.
There are multiple options for gaining the arête. We followed the obvious left-facing couloir (which was snow-free) about halfway up and started climbing from there. We found this first move to be one of the more difficult on the climb, and ran out almost an entire pitch on one cam, although it was easy fifth class other than one 5.7 move right off the bat. I’m sure an easier option existed.
The route is beautiful. The exposure once on the arête is captivating. Throughout most of the route, the rock was good quality, and protection was easy to find and place. As expected on any alpine climb, loose blocks were encountered, but the route was stable for the most part.
We ended up pitching it out only for about 7 pitches; the rest we short-roped or simul-climbed. There were several 5.6 sections, all of which protected nicely and have very fun moves with great exposure. Low fifth class and fourth class terrain connected the steeper pitches. There are great belay ledges the entire way, many with a large, safe horn or boulder to sling for a belay.
Gear wise, we were over-equipped. We brought a lightweight single rope, 13 cams, 4 hexes, 7 nuts, and plenty of slings and webbing. Cams were the most frequently used pro, mostly in the 1″ range. Nuts and hexes were used, although I would leave my big sizes of hexes and cams at home next time. Several cams in the 1″ range, a hex or two, and a couple nuts would be more than enough gear. We never placed more than 3-4 pieces per pitch.
The climb itself took 6 hours, including a lunch break. It could be done faster, but we enjoyed ourselves and took our time. The approach took about 2 hours. After summiting, we descended the south side, followed the steep basin down to the creek (which we quickly bathed in while crossing), and then followed the road back to our car for a round trip of 11 hours. It was a long, fun day. We have our eyes on some other alpine routes, but I would love to be back on this one before the snow flies.