Leavenworth Rock Climbing
Icicle Creek, Peshastin Pinnacles
August 1-2, 2008
Loren Miller and I had grand plans to climb the west ridge of Mt Stuart, but when we arrived in Cle Elum the heavy rains that we encountered while driving over Snoqualmie Pass had followed us. The rain had let up a bit, but it was still too much for us to consider attempting our intended route. I hadn't forgotten what cold, wet, weather means while on the top of this high mountain.
So we made the decision to continue driving over Blewett Pass to Leavenworth and climb the classic route, Outer Space. As I told Loren, climbing one of the best routes in the state was hardly a "consolation prize" for missing out on Mt Stuart. I will always remember the first time I climbed this route so I was really excited to be a part of Loren's first taste of this excellent route.
We arrived at the Snow Creek Trailhead around 8am and parked along side Icicle Creek Road. We hoped that we would be the first people on the route since we had such an early start, but the parking lot was half full, most of the cars being left by backpackers enjoying the Enchantments. We were suprised to see two people walking around the parking lot. One person had a small pack and a camera, so we assumed he wasn't climbing. The other was a woman with her helmet on and her harness festooned with gear including a Gri-Gri.
We met her as she was starting down the trail to the river. "Looks like you're all ready to climb. Where are you heading?", I asked. "Star trek, space something, I think", she answered. "Well, I'm not familiar with that route, but we're headed to Snow Creek Wall to climb Outer Space", I replied. "That's the one!", she said excitedly. "Well, we'll see you up there", I said as I walked into the restroom there at the trailhead. I wasn't too concerned as it is expected to have company on this popular route, even on a weekday.
While Loren and I were waiting for each other to use the restroom we read the trail conditions report posted on the bulletin board at the trailhead. The bottom of the report was signed, "From your friendly Ranger Adam". We knew this to be our good friend Adam Greenstreet who recently got this coveted position. We left a message on his cell phone to invite him to come climb with us, but we figured he was out in the field when we kept getting his voicemail. Next time, Adam!
On the trail we saw that the woman we met in the parking lot was part of a three person team. We caught up with them at one of the switchbacks and started chatting with them. We talked about the variations on the route and I told them how fun the Remorse direct start is. We ended up passing each other a few times as we made our way up the many switchbacks to the turnoff for Snow Creek Wall.
We made our way up the climbers trail to the base of Snow Creek Wall ever aware to it's looming presence. At the base of the route we were suprised to find out we weren't the first ones there after all. We were greeted by a family of goats: Billy, Nanny and two baby kids.
I immediately made friends with the Billy by peeing on a nearby rock. I wasn't even finished when he got up from his morning resting spot and headed my way. Loren called out, "Look out! He's right behind you!" I was pretty vulnerable with my back to him, but I knew what he wanted: salt. And he wasn't particular from where it came from! I walked right by him as he licked the rock scrupulously.
Soon the other party approached and did the same thing we did: tried to use their telephoto lenses to zoom in on the magnificent animals, only later to realize that they could walk right up to them. Certainly, these animals (the adults at least) were very familiar with humans. We changed into our rock shoes, racked up, roped up, and stashed my pack into a little notch. I hoped that my offering would appease the goats and they wouldn't chew on my pack or my trekking pole straps for more salt.0
I started up a little too directly on the Remorse pitch but found myself at the belay ledge below the slab just fine. It was good to be back on this fun route filled with great memories of previous climbs with good friends. Loren climbed up quickly to belay, trying to keep well ahead of Kevin, Karen, and the-other-woman-whose-name-I-can't-recall-presently. They were nice enough to tell us to climb ahead of them since we were a party of two.
There's probably a limit where "being in good climbing shape" and "having experience" pass each other, but today "having experience" made all the difference for me. I had fun as I traversed across the balancy moves to the hollow flake, and focused more on sewing up the traverse for Loren than protecting it on lead. At the large ledge at the end of the pitch, I built an anchor then used the rope with a clove hitch to extend my belay position so I could get some nice shots of Loren as he made the traverse.
When Loren met me at my house, we knew the weather was suspect, so I mentioned my "contingency plan" of climbing elsewhere if Stuart didn't go. I had an old pair of LaSportiva Enduros that fit Loren, so we brought those for him to use. So, Kudo's to Loren for 1) climbing in shoes that weren't his, 2) carrying the pack, 3) on siteing a new, difficult route.
Loren did great on this difficult pitch and soon was at the belay. Loren took the next pitch which goes at 5.7 and made his way up the slab, around the spine and up the hand crack and chimney to Two Tree Ledge. Loren then brought me up and we quickly made the hand over and I was on my way up the difficult (crux) fourth pitch. It was just in time as we spied two climbers approaching from the right (original) route. "Good timing", I thought to myself. I made my way up the steep start and soon was at the hand traverse. I focused on my feet, didn't fill up the good jams with gear, and made my way across the traverse without too much ado. I knew that with Kevin and his party and the two new climbers close behind, this next belay station could get crowded, so I moved up a few feet from the tree and built the anchors there. Again, Loren climbed this route quickly - much quicker than I led it - and soon his head was popping over the lip.
I took the next pitch to try to make some space between us and the other parties. It was fun to be back among the chicken heads and in joy I let out a "brrrrrawk, brrrrawk!" Viva la tÍte de poulet!
The wall was starting to lean away and I could look back down the route as Loren made his way through the sea of chicken heads. The next pitch is the "money pitch" IMHO, so as a gentleman climber, I gave it to Loren. We had been climbing at a good pace, and the other team of two was close behind us, so we decided to relax, eat our lunch, and let the other party pass. Nick and his partner were guides with AAI and we had a nice visit a the belay.
Loren started up soon after they left the belay and carefully made his way up the thin crack to where the true hand crack begins. Loren hadn't done much crack climbing this summer, and we didn't have any tape to help our cause, but none-the-less he made his was steadily up the crack. About halfway up, his pace slowed, so I called up, "How's it goin'?"
"I think I want to be lowered down", came the reply. We had planned our rack for simul climbing up the West Ridge of Stuart, not for a 300ft hand crack that sucks up 2" gear like a Hoover on steroids. Loren equalized two pieces then I lowered him back down to the belay ledge. We switched the rack and belay over and I started up the pitch. It was nice getting to climb half of this route on top rope.
Since I was on top rope I was able to back clean several pieces which ended up allowing me to protect the pitch adequately, although the last 60 feet was a bit runout for my taste. Usually on lead, you get up to a good stance and plug in a piece. This time, I would look at my rack, look up the crack, and think, "OK, I have to make it up to there since that is the only place I have gear that will fit. Exciting! Neither of us had taped our hands either, so that made a big difference to me.
Once up at Library Ledge I built a three piece anchor with the few nuts and tri cams I had left. As Loren climbed up to the belay he made the comment that he might have to climb this route again, to really enjoy it. Sorry Loren! Lighter packs, and taped hands would have made this climb enjoyable the first time.
In my memory the 6th pitch was shorter and much easier than the 5th, but in reality it was longer and had a few tricky parts of its own. I was able to get past the initial boulder move start much easier than previous climbs, so I felt good about that. The winds had started to pick up so communication was difficult. I made it up to the tree belay where the crack ends and built an anchor consisting of a slung chicken head and a medium sized nut equalized. Loren cruised up the pitch and only had difficulty near the end when he was lured by the coaxing siren-like sound of the chicken heads, and left the painful but secure crack. A few difficult and tenuous friction moves later he was back in the crack and at the belay.
We made quick work of the last short pitch and soon found ourselves on top of Snow Creek Wall. We had talked with Kevin and his crew about meeting up and showing them the way down so we hung out for about 45 minutes, scrambling up to the true summit. I watched the sun dip down behind the mountains and I knew that we would be hiking down the Snow Lake trail in the dark, but I was not willing to make the descent back to the base of the wall in the dark.
Kevin was up when we hiked back down from the summit ridge and we confirmed that he had made the descent before and they had headlamps, so we said goodbye and made our way down. Many cairns marked the way, so we were able to make it down without losing the trail. We found the single bolt above the gulley that is next to Orbit and made one rappel and then scrambled up the other side to the belay at the first pitch of Orbit. We made one last rappel and found ourselves at the beginning of Orbit. A short hike along the base of the wall, and we were back at our trekking poles and my pack- still in tact!
A hike down through the forest, and we were at the creek where we refilled our bottles and took long drinks. The hike down the trail was long and dusty but at least the evening breeze had cooled things down. Once in town, our first stop was the Chevron station where we were happy to learn that the friendly attendant had just happen to stay open late so we were able to buy a Pepsi and wash our hands. It was 10:45pm. Hungry for some dinner and a celebratory barley pop, we drove to the various establishments looking for a well earned meal, but alas, everything was closed or closing. Even Der Safeway was closed, even though it was only 10:57pm. Jerks.
I had mentioned to Loren on the hike down that I had always enjoyed a beer after climbing Snow Creek Wall, and that the climb wouldn't count if I didn't have one. So he was quite concerned that we make this climb count! I laughed at remembering saying this and said, no that's ok, this climb definitely counts. So we made our way back up Icicle Creek, pitched our tent at Underwear Rock (campgrounds were full) and fell in for a well earned rest.
The next morning we got up around 8am and drove into town for a hearty breakfast at Kristall's. When we returned to Icicle Buttress to climb the R&D route, two parties were already at the base of the buttress. One party was beginning the direct start and the other was up at the regular start. We quickly put on our harnesses and scrambled up to the regular start.
Once there we saw that the other climbers were a party of three, a woman and two men. We chatted with them and learned that the leader was taking the other two for their first outdoor climb and that the leader was going to "sew up the route" with a lot of gear, so the two men could get experience cleaning gear. I also noticed that they were tied into two ropes end to end again like the party we climbed with the day before. I really don't understand why climbers don't use the popular auto-block belay devices such as the Petzl Reverso or the Black Diamond Guide. If any readers are unfamiliar with this technique of belaying two seconds up simulaniously, I highly recommend getting familiar with it. Mark Twight says, there's no reason why a party of three can't climb the same speed as a party of two, using this system. Yes, yes, I know that two person parties will always be faster, but the point here is that three person parties don't have to move as slow as glaciers!
Since the leader of this party had already started up, Loren and I quickly tied in with Kiwi coils and simul-climbed the first pitch and a half, quickly over taking the other leader. Once comfortably in front of them, I set up a belay and then Loren led the next pitch up the chimney to the easier slabs above. He did a great job of climbing this tricky chimney with little rope drag. I got the next pitch and we climbed up to the base of the hand crack on the last pitch.