Sacred Adages Proved Wrong
April 27, 2002
Michael and I had planned to drive over to Leavenworth today and climb the classic multipitch rock climb, Orbit. It was raining in Seattle when I left to pick up Michael at 5am. As we made the "WOW!" turn just before Index, we were still in rain. We had to rely on our memory of this awesome view of Mt Index. It was still raining at Stevens Pass, but we weren't worried yet because, "It's almost always nicer east of the mountains in Leavenworth". Little did we know, but this was just one of several locally held beliefs that were proved wrong today.
We arrived in Leavenworth and it was still pouring. Our hopes of climbing on the Snow Creek Wall were now officially crushed. I must admit that I was more relieved than disappointed. When I first read about Orbit in the book Selected Climbs in the Cascades, I labeled this climb as a "crazy and dangerous" climb. It was in the "I could never climb that" category along with Slesse and the North Face of Chair. So even though I now have the experience and ability to climb it with relative safety, it still has that original mystique about it.
We could look up Icicle Creek Canyon and see nothing but dark clouds, so we kept driving down the highway to Peshastin because, "When it's raining in Leavenworth, it's usually dry in Peshastin." Well, not today. It was still raining heavily when we drove up through the orchards to the Peshastin Pinnacles parking lot, and parked alongside a camper and one other car. Evidently we weren't the only people whose plans were being squashed today. We talked about making "the loop" to Vantage because "It's almost ALWAYS nice at Vantage". We couldn't bear the thought of seeing, yet another, of our sacred adages be controverted, so we decided to brave the weather and climb a nice, easy, route.
Stepping out of the car into the rain, we noticed several other new cars in the parking lot with climbers standing around talking. "Hmmmm, maybe we're not the only ones with this idea." And with that we hoofed it up the trail to the Martian Slabs to climb the Diagonal. A nice stream was running down the face as we flaked out the rope. "Sure, sure, Michael. You go ahead and take the first pitch. That's fine", I said with a grin. As always, the first bolt is 30 feet up the route, so Michael started up with a full rack by his side. A #3.5 camalot placed in a hole offered some relief halfway to the bolt. It was still raining pretty hard so Michael was carefully working his way up the slippery sandstone. He made it to the belay anchors and since we were using my 60 meter rope, he continued on. At this time a large group of new climbers hiked passed us, probably on their way up to Sunset slabs. As they passed I overheard one of them explain to another, "That's the Martian Diagonal. 5.4 when it's dry, 5.9 when it's wet."
The route traversed up and to the left at this point, under a five foot "roof/wall". There was a bolt on top of this wall to protect this section, but the slab was so wet that Michael couldn't get close enough to reach the bolt, so he found two places for small cams. This proved to be a wise decision because 10 feet past this last cam, Michael slipped. I was watching him climb and noticed that his movement was downward, and a split second later I heard him yell "FALLING!". I immediately pulled my break hand, and stepped back a few steps to take in some of the slack and yelled back, "I got you!". Michael slid down the slab for about 10 feet before he stopped. His cams held nicely. He was alright and not even scraped up. I guess that's one good thing about climbing wet sandstone, it's less abrasive! As Michael climbed back up to his previous high point, someone from the large group (still) hiking by yelled, "Good demonstration!" I was intently belaying Michael, so I didn't make a reply.
Michael reached the next bolt and belayed me up from there. The rain had let up considerably by this time, so I had a much easier go of it. I took the rack and cautiously started the next pitch. Of course the next bolt was about 20 feet above us, with no cracks to be found for protection. I focused on my footwork and climbed up towards the bolt. I let out a sigh of relief after I clipped into the bolt. Michael was thinking the same thing as me when he called up, "Nice! No factor two fall now!" "Factor two is RIGHT OUT!", I replied in my best pythonesque voice. I continued up and to the left traversing under a rounded ledge. At one of the bolts I had to decide to go up or to continue with my traverse. Going up meant some tricky friction moves on wet sandstone, so I decided to continue traversing. After 25 feet I didn't see another bolt, so I placed a cam in a runnel. About 15 feet later I spied an old piton with a ring so I clipped into it as well. After making an exciting move up steep section I clipped a bolt and finished the pitch at the far top left of the slab. I didn't immediately see a belay anchor, then I spotted the massive rappel anchor on the other side of the nearby boulder. Michael flew up the pitch and we rappelled to the ridge and scrambled down to the trail. Wow, that was pretty exciting for a 5.4 route! We were glad that we made the decision to climb in spite of the poor weather. We hiked down to our packs and started to put on our boots when Phil Fortier and Alpine Dave walked by. Phil recognized Michael and Michael introduced me. It was great meeting both of these excellent climbers. Both
On the way back to town we stopped by Safeway to pick up some sandwiches. Michael made me wear my harness in to the store to "save time". We drew a few looks standing in line at the deli, but we were "saving time" so all was good. Having stocked up on rations we ventured up Icicle Creek canyon and ate lunch at the Snow Creek wall parking lot. There were several parties hanging around, playing frisbee. We couldn't tell if they were coming or going. It was around noon so we decided to forget about climbing on Snow Creek wall and just practice climbing cracks that had easy approaches...
Dog Leg (5.8+) crack fit this bill, so we drove up the road and saw that no one was on the route, so we quickly parked and scampered up the trail (good thing we still had our harnesses on). Michael had made an attempt to lead this awkward crack last summer and the result was his first fall on gear. He was anxious to do battle with it again, but after getting in a few awkward positions on the wet, diagonal crack, I talked him into top roping it. Once on top rope, we were more willing to experiment with various technique. We finally figured out that it was best to keep the left foot in the crack while stemming out onto the face with the right foot! Next time we'll lead it.... While we were climbing the sun came out and dried things up. Hmmm, now that the rock was getting dry we thought about some of the routes Phil recommended to us earlier and Condorphamine Addiction came to mind. So we hopped in the car again and drove down to Underwear Rock.
Here we looked for the trail that headed up to Bathtub Buttress and on to Condor Buttress, but we had no luck in the fire damaged forest. So we just started hiking up the hillside. We'd find a cairn here and maybe part of a game trail, but nothing that resembled a climbers path. After an hour of huffing and puffing we spied some climbers on a buttress that we hoped was Condor. We got closer and realized it was Bathtub. Condor was still higher up. We were anxious to climb so thought about climbing the second and third pitches of a popular route up Bathtub, but the descent requires two ropes and we only brought one, so we decided to just climb an unmarked slabby bolted route to the right of the second pitch of Bathtub. Michael was almost to the second bolt when it started sprinkling. A few seconds later it was a full on downpour and the slab was quickly drenched. Climbing 5.4 friction route in the rain is one thing, but a 5.9 route in the rain is a little too much. I was tired from the hike up, but now I was COLD and TIRED. I told Michael that I would pay him to clip in the "leaver" carabiner that I gave him so I could lower him off the route. He grumbled something about wanting to the reach the next bolt. So he made a couple more moves to the third bolt, clipped in, and I lowered him.
It was somewhat disheartening that we had hiked all the way up here for nothing. But always looking for the positive, we pointed out that now we were more familiar with the area so next time we could make a faster approach. We hiked over to the base of Bathtub and quickly located the trail. It wasn't as well developed as I expected but it got us down. On the descent we met a couple coming up. They had plans to climb on Condor also, but were now considering Bathtub. We exchanged information on what we each knew about the area and took a look at their topo. As we thought, Condor buttress was about 500 feet higher than where we had stopped. We wished the couple luck with the weather and continued down.
The sun was shining again when we reached the car so we sped down the road to Mountaineers Dome to practice simul-climbing some of the easier pitches. We had done this a little on scrambling sections of previous climbs, but this was on mid-fifth class rock. Exciting! Michael started his stopwatch and quickly climbed up a crack, slinging horns and slapping in cams every so often. We had coiled some of the rope between us so there was only 50 feet or so between us. When I ran out of rope to belay with, I yelled up to Michael and started climbing up. I climbed up with the rope. When it stopped, I stopped. When it started moving up, I continued climbing. This was a really fast way to climb and we reached the top of the third pitch in 27 minutes. Not bad for our first try. We scrambled down to the bottom and I lead up. I took a different first pitch that slowed me down some but we still made the top in 38 minutes. It was getting close to 7pm so we packed up and drove into town to get our fill of sauerkraut, sausages and radlers at Cafe Crista's. It was a great ending to a full day of climbing. And Michael finally let me take off my harness.