Rockin’ and rollin’ on new climbing routes

Karly LaOrange approaches the top of the first pitch of a rock climbing route at the Mortal Earth area of The Fins. The limestone formations are at the southern end of the Lost River Range west of Howe. Although it doesn't look like it, Karly is about 40 feet off the ground. (Jerry Painter photo)

I looked at the wall and chose a route named “Light My Fire.” Then I climbed a route named “Maybe I’m Amazed,” followed by “Born to be Wild.” All these rock climbing routes proved to be fun and worthy.

I think it’s fun getting to know a new area. On Saturday, I went with friends to an area being developed for rock climbing next to an established climbing area called The Fins.

The Fins are giant limestone walls jutting straight up from the ground standing a couple hundred feet tall. Oddly, many of the walls are only a yard or two thick — thus the name “fins.”

This sport climbing area is on the southern end of the Lost River Range just west of Howe. It’s up a bumpy road that can deter most vehicles without high clearance or four-wheel drive.

In recent years, The Fins have been introduced to climbers throughout the West after a famous pro climber spent a month or so camped there and bolted several super-hard routes, including the hardest sport route in Idaho. Now, it’s common to see Utah, Colorado and California license plates in the parking areas.

While The Fins have been around for several years, a newer addition to the area is still under development and boasts about 70 routes, most put in within the past year. While the main Fins area has a reputation for hard climbing (almost all routes are 5.11 and harder), this new Mortal Earth area has more beginner friendly ratings (5.6 to 5.12).

One nice feature of these routes is that the first hanger of each route features a metal tag telling the name of the route (climbers like to name their routes) and the suggested difficulty. The names have a decidedly old school rock and roll theme with names taken from 1960s and 70s rock tunes.

On Saturday, we met two of the guys doing the developing. They had that middle-aged rocker vibe about them. They were working on a new route next to where we decided to climb.

Limestone walls can often be sharp and spiky. The first few climbs we got on were like climbing up a porcupine’s back. Falling would be like sliding down a cheese grater. Personally, it wasn’t my cup of tea.

My partner and I climbed a tall, two-pitch route that required me to belay from above, then for the two of us to rappel back down the route. After those spiky walls, we moved to another wall and found much kinder rock to climb. It was definitely more to my liking and restored my faith in limestone.

All in all, though, the next time I go back, I plan to head to the main Fins area, especially to the Discovery Wall for overall better rock and challenging climbing.

If you’re interested in The Fins, a good guide to the area is “Eastern Idaho Sweet Spots.” The new Mortal Earth area is not in this guide, but can be found on Mountain Project online.

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The weather station at the Lower Saddle — between the Middle and Grand Tetons — is up and running. The station posts conditions such as wind speed, temperature, and water in the sky about every half hour. You can find the online posts at https://bit.ly/2IR2knr.

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