Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tieton River Climbing - 04.25.09

Julie injured her foot in Montreal. So mountain excursions were out of the question as should could barely walk at times. So, she was interested in some rock climbing. Due to her injury, and the suspect weather forecast for Leavenworth, we decided to see what Tieton was all about. The forecast for Tieton was to be 60° and mostly sunny. Since it is a two and a half hour drive, we left Seattle at 5am to maximize our climbing. This was unfortunate, as when we first arrived in the parking lot around 7:40am, it was still quite chilly.

We figured we'd warm up on the hike (about a quarter mile of trail - the second half uphill.) When we got to the base of the climbs, it was windy and in the shade. It felt even colder than the parking lot. We sized up our first climb, and neither of us were willing to start climbing due to the cold. Since we were the only ones there, we left our packs, and headed back to the car where the sun was shining. As we got to the car, a few other climbers showed up. We chatted, and decided to drive down the road to check out "The Bend," another area of Tieton climbing. (We were at Royal Columns.) After our short drive and a stop at the toilet, we headed back up to the crag.

Once there, we put on all the clothes we had, and started slowly to do our first climb. The first choice was the three star Western Front (5.3). We started easy to gauge how tough the climbing would be. Tieton has a reputation for having stiff grading, but we didn't really think so. I will say, that the climbing is fairly steep for the grade in concern to Western Front. I led the route, and found it very heady, as many of my gear placements were not ideal. The climbing is crack climbing between the andesite columns and the moves were pretty straightforward. However, I found gear placement to be difficult, and some of my gear to be suspect. Julie followed the route and saw the difficult placements. One of the issues I had with gear was that I neglected to bring up a #4 Camalot, because the guide book said gear to 2.5". This was regrettable, as there were multiple good locations for it along the route.

First cold lead of day

After completing the route, I ran down near the car (and sun) to warm up a bit. I returned as the sun started lighting the tops of the columns where Julie had waited for me. It was somewhat warmer now, but still chilly. But the sun was starting to heat the columns, and it was around 11am.

Julie led out on the next route, The Rap Route (5.5). It was a short stem/chimney, that became a crack above a short column. The route did not feel any harder than Western Front, but seemed to have easier gear placements. After I followed, and we rapped from the top, we contemplated our next move.

Now that the sun was out we decided to eat lunch and relax on some rocks at the base of the columns to warm up a bit. We briefly sought out our next objective, but returned to the rock when we realized how windy it was just around the corner from our lounging spot. After more relaxing, we finally got up to do our next route.

It was my lead, and I chose Good Timer (5.4) because the small roof on Slacker (5.4) scared me off a bit. (That and Slacker was more in the shade and seemed to be windier.) Good Timer had some loose rock on it, and again was somewhat difficult to protect. The climbing was fine, but nothing remarkable. After I led it, Julie cleaned it and we contemplated our next move.

We found a route on the far left that looked interesting to us. Julie asked if I would lead it, and so I gave in. It wasn't in our guide book, so we weren't sure of the grade at the time I started up. The route seemed to be a lower angle than our previous routes, except for the last 6-8'. About a third of the way up it had a small crack which was too small for my fingers except at the very top of it. I worked my way around it to the right and made my way up the rest of the pitch. I found this route to be the most enjoyable climbing of the four we did. Perhaps it was because it took gear better and I felt better protected because of it? Perhaps it was just the route? After we climbed it, we borrowed another climber's guide book in the parking lot and found out the route was a 5.7. ("The finger crack" which I bypassed probably gave it that rating.)

After that, we left for home.

My take on Tieton is that the rock is slightly better than at Vantage, but still quite dubious. The climbing is fairly interesting and enjoyable if you can look past this issue. However, it is difficult, especially when leading to get over this. After Julie followed Good Timer, she told me she thought the whole column was going to fall. I found myself more concentrated at times on the pro and its ability to protect a fall, than on the climbing itself. The terrain is somewhat different than Vantage as well, as it is a greener part of Central Washington. I'll probably return to Tieton at some point, but not likely soon.

A few more pics located here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Exit 38 - 04.20.09

Steve called me Monday morning telling me he got sent home from work and wanted to know if I would like to go out. I told him I was tired and could be persuaded. After a talking on the phone I decided that I would go out after eating a lunch, and Steve agreed to pick me up at 12:30pm.

We decided on Exit 38 as it was close. He asked if I wanted to go to Gun Show. Since I had never been, I agreed, and after a short hike we were there. I told him due to my tired state, I wasn't sure how interested I was in leading, which was fine with him. So we geared up and he led Endless Bliss in a single pitch and then brought me up. The beta we had listed it as a 5.9, but we both felt it a bit easy for a 5.9 and was probably more like a 5.7 or 5.8. (Even with a wet seep at the bottom, it did not feel 5.9) However, it easily deserves the three stars it has in the guide. The climbing is enjoyable, and it is in a wonderful position. Highly aesthetic.

We then climbed the 5.9 (GS-7) immediately to the left of Endless Bliss. This was a fun short route which had two small roofs to negotiate.

After climbing GS-7, we set out sights on top-roping Super Squish. Our beta said it was a .12a, but we thought it looked easier. Steve set up a top rope, and I gave it a go first. There are a few easier moves to gain the rock, then there are some difficult crimpy moves to get into a shallow corner. Once mostly up the corner, the moves get easier again to the chains. I hung a few times through the crux. Steve climbed it and slipped once at the crux, and then got back on and climbed it to the top. We both agreed afterward that the climb should be no more than a 5.11a. When I got home that night, I looked in the book and it was listed as a 5.10d. Sounds about right for an Exit 38 rating.

It was already 4:30pm so we decided on one more route before leaving. We walked around the corner to GS-6, a supposedly easier 5.8 to finish up on. This route seemed more difficult for us than either Endless Bliss or GS-7. There was a short chimney bit near the bottom that was somewhat trying, and the last moves to the chains were difficult. (Perhaps due to the wet seep that made traction difficult.) After that climb we hiked out under the hot sun.

Pics are here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Leavenworth Weekend - 04.18-19.09

I took the Intermediate Students out to Castle Rock for their Rock II field trip. Sunday was going to be a fun day with no real plans but to get some climbing in.

We started Saturday morning early and immediately got down to business by climbing Midway and Sabre at Castle Rock. Toward the afternoon, a queue developed for Midway, and Castle Rock was seriously crowded. So, a bunch of us headed over to Ground Hog's Day to leave the crowds while the others completed their routes. This was now the third time I've climbed Ground Hog's Day, and still find the route finding a bit difficult on the third pitch. It appears someone added a foot of chain to the top anchors to make the rappel easier, but we chose to double rope rappel to the anchors at the top of the alternate start. It was still a bit of a rope stretcher, but worked for our purposes.

Afterward, we had dinner in town, and returned to 8-mile campground, which is now open for the season.

We planned out a Sunday that would involve climbing R&D and then The Tree Route. However, we were a little lazy with our wake up time, and had three parties in front of us when we got to R&D. So we headed to Domestic Dome to do a link up of B.S. and Connie's Crack. I am really amazed at the rating on B.S. as it feels much stiffer than a 5.6 through the slab section. It is also a bit run out through that section and quite a wake up call. Connie's Crack was fun, and should probably have a one star rating as it is quite enjoyable with a really fun finish.

After our period of time at Domestic Dome, Matt J. and Adam decided to call it quits for the day and spend the afternoon slack lining at the campground. Matt P., Shari, Steen and I headed up to The Tree Route to climb. I was set to take first lead, but perhaps due to heat or tiredness, I didn't feel up to leading the first twelve feet of lieback that starts the route. Matt was willing to, and we worked out a system where I would follow and we would each bring one of the women up to the top of the first pitch. During the lead, Matt weighted a few pieces including a 0.5 Camalot which I could not remove. Both Steen and Shari spent time trying to remove it, and none were successful. A bit of a bummer for Matt.

I led out on the second pitch which is mostly 3rd class terrain with a few 4th or 5th class steps in it. This brings you to a large ledge where the start of the third pitch is.

The third pitch is the reason this route has a two star rating. It starts on some enjoyable cracks up a short face to a roof. The roof is not particularly imposing, but looks a bit difficult get around. But once up at the roof, the holds are there, and it is fairly easy to go around the corner. After that, you reach the start of the crack system that the final pitch is known for. Around the corner from the roof, it is a large fist crack for someone of my hand size. For most people it is an off-width crack. I managed to get my #9 hex in shortly after the roof as I was saving the #4 cam for higher up, and the #3 cam was too small to be effective. After a few moves, the crack sort of disappears, and I was able to place smaller protection in that period. Then the crack picks up again after a short sandy ledge. I placed my #4 cam as high as I could get it, and decided that I would try to leap frog it up with me to have protection for the last stretch. I made the tricky moves off the ledge and into the crack. Then I moved up past the piece. At this point, I was in a comfortable stance with my feet about one foot higher than the piece. I tried a few times to get at the piece, but decided that it was too difficult to get, and that there was a real possibility that even if I did manage to access it, that I may drop it, and it would slide down the rope leaving me with no protection. So I made the decision to run-out the last 15' or so to the top. Since the crack goes through a slab, and it is off-width, most likely a fall would have resulted with me slipping deeper into the crack anyway.

After carefully getting through the final moves it was time to bring Steen up. I told her to leave in the big hex and #4 cam for Matt to use, as I knew he only had one #4 cam on him as well. Unfortunately, he spent his #4 cam lower and had only my #4 to protect the final stretch of crack. However, he was more successful than me in leap-frogging the cam up to halfway through the final stretch. He arrived on top after leaving the crack to climb the slabs and belayed Shari up. We did a walk-off to climbers right with a short single rope rappel off a Douglas Fir. By the time we got back to the car, it was almost 8pm. I think we blew a lot of time trying to remove Matt's stuck piece. I guess also we just climbed a little slow. Long weekend. When we got back, we were met by Matt J. and Adam who had just returned from town and dinner. I jumped in the car with them, where I was told they both napped fairly long while we were on the route. I guess we all needed some sleep.

My pics are here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Steven's Pass - 04.17.09

Ken and I opted to use our free passes to Steven's Pass on the last Friday of operations. The weather wasn't forecast to be great, but we were going anyway. After all, you can't be a Pacific Northwest skier without skiing in the rain at least once a year.

The first ride up the chair was cloudy, but no precip. The second ride up involved rain that turned into "Wintry Mix" near the top. By the third time up, we had that precip freezing on the outsides of our shell pants.

First chair ride up.

The snow was decent on groomed runs and corn like at times with icy patches and some thicker patches. Anything that was not groomed was heavy, wet and hard to turn in. We stuck to Hog Heaven, and Barrier Ridge for our first few runs then decided to see what the other side of the ridge was like.

We rode the Tye Mill Chair up to the top and then went down Gemini which felt like the best run of the day so far. There was no one on the backside, and the weather was somewhat better. That changed, and the wind kicked up and the rides up the Jupiter Chair had us getting blasted in the face with icy pellets. After 3-4 runs down time was running out on the backside (they close the lifts at 3:15pm) so we decided to get back on the front of the ridge.

We had a few super enjoyable runs down The Crest Trail and Skid Road before making a few last runs down Skyline as the skies turned blue and we warmed up and dried out.

Overall we had a great day. The snow was pretty good where it had been groomed, or where lots of people were skiing. We stuck to all blue runs as the black diamonds were not groomed and not too many people were skiing them. The snow in those areas was not appealing, and neither Ken nor I were looking to get injured on our last day of lift served skiing this season.

Last chair of day.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Peshastin Pinnacles - 04.11.09

Julie and I set out for Leavenworth with the lofty goal of going to Castle Rock and climbing Canary (5.8). We did not want to warm up on anything that we had done before, and decided on Cat Burglar (5.6) as the warm up climb. When we arrived at Castle Rock, we were dismayed by the "boulder start" of Cat Burglar and the amount of run out at the start of Canary. (No wonder they call it "Scary Canary.") After some attempts to make sense of starts of both routes, Steve McKim showed up and recommended we not attempt Canary if we were not feeling up to it. Julie had been sick during the week, and I didn't feel great about getting on these routes. So Julie and I made the decision to head to Peshastin where we believed it would also be sunnier and warmer.

It turned out the weather was great at Peshastin. Clouds blew through most of the day, and temps were warm. My only complaint would be the wind. It made it chilly at times when it was really blowing, and added an extra element to the climbing.

We started the day with Martian Diagonal. I led out on the first pitch. While the opening moves are fairly easy, it is about 15' to the first bolt and a little heady because of it. I found protection opportunities sufficient on the first pitch with the rock being a little low in quality. I ended the pitch at the big anchor for the top of the first pitch of Martian Direct. There was another anchor a few feet higher, but I did not see it. It also did not have as comfortable a stance. When Julie arrived at the belay, she still wasn't feeling up to a lead, so I led off on the second pitch. From the dish the anchor was in there were a few steep moves, then the climbing got really easy. However, protection wasn't as abundant as on the first pitch, but then again, the climbing was easy and secure. I arrived at an alcove with three bolt hangers that I thought was the next belay. Two were old Leeper hangers, and the third was a modern stainless hanger. While I could see a large "truck hitch" anchor bolt about 30' above me, I did not see other options with it. (It turned out when Julie and I arrived there that there was in fact two modern bolts for an anchor. Oh well.) I belayed Julie up to the dubious anchor and then she set about leading the final pitch. This involved finishing the final bit of the ramp, and then some ridge climbing to another interesting homemade anchor. (A large 3/4" bolt with a piece of plate aluminum attached to it with a hole drilled in it. Not confidence inspiring.) I arrived at the final belay, and then we set up a rappel for the 15' so we could walk off the north end of the ridge.

On to our next target, the classic Potholes on Dinosaur Tower. We hiked up the rest of the hill, and mused about our attempt at the Skyline route the previous year. I then proceeded to lead the first pitch. The first pitch was steeper and had more bolts than I remember it from climbing it with Ian two years ago. Again, in typical Peshastin fashion, the anchors at the top of the first pitch were dubious. There was a two bolt anchor with rap slings. (One hanger was a spinner, and the bolt looked as if it could be pulled out of the rock.) The other anchor was another Peshastin truck hitch, combined with a homemade piece of plate steel, and an older SMC 1/4" bolt and hanger. I opted to use the second anchor and added a cam for a four point protection anchor. I belayed Julie up, and she headed off on the second pitch which she led in fine style. After rapping the route, we headed to our next destination: Grand Central Tower.

Our goal was to climb the West Face Route, but once in site of it, noticed a handful of people at the base. We opted to head to Sickle Slab and hit the classic Windward Direct (5.8). From the base of the slab, the route did not look intimidating, and followed a series of typical Peshastin grooves/cracks up the slab. It was bolted, but judging from the cracks, it could take extra protection. I led out on a particularly windy lead. (Must be where the name comes from.) I found the route steeper than it looked and very heady. The moves were all there, but it was a bit of a distance between bolts, especially near the top where additional pro could not be placed. The grooves and cracks were great for foot holds, but really hurt my feet most of the way up. I stopped for a period when my feet were in comfortable pockets a few bolts from the top to give my feet a rest from the pain. The route has a somewhat scary finish as it is not obvious where it heads, and appears to drop off the other side of the ridge after the last bolt. A few moves past the last bolt, and I saw the anchor over to my left. Surprisingly, this was a comfortable belay stance, once again using the Peshastin "truck hitch" anchors. There were a couple of museum bolts up there as well. The nice thing about the route, is that you can rappel about 30' down the back side of the ridge to the ground, instead of taking a second rope to rappel the 140' of the route.

After that excursion, Julie and I headed back to Grand Central Tower for another shot at the West Face. It was Julie's turn to lead and she started up. Maybe it was the stress from the previous route, or perhaps it was just late in the day, but Julie struggled on the pitch. I followed, and found it difficult, even falling at one move. After reaching the anchor, we agreed it was time to call it a day.

While it was not the day we had anticipated, we had a great time. We notched a few 4-star routes, and a couple 3-star routes. We each climbed seven pitches and generally had a good day. Oddly, I found Potholes significantly easier than when I climbed it in '07, but found the West Face to be harder than I remembered it from '07. This visit should probably sate my Peshastin cravings for the year. Plus, it seems the weather is improving, and I'll be able to climb in Leavenworth more reliably from here on out. (It won't be long before the alpine season is in full swing, and Peshastin will have to wait until next year.)

My pictures are here.
Julie's pics are here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Smith Rock - 04.03-05.09

The stars aligned for the possibility of Ken traveling to Smith Rock with Julie and I to climb Monkey Face. Ken could do the Friday and Saturday, but couldn't do Sunday. That was alright with Julie and I as we had planned to ski Mt. Hood on Sunday on the way home. So we took two separate cars.

I rode with Ken on the way down Thursday afternoon. We met Julie in the climber's bivy parking around 10pm at night where we promptly went to bed. It was a cool and windy night. I had a bit of ice in my Nalgene bottle the next morning. (I left it on the ground outside my bivy sack.) The morning was windy and cold. We decided to let the day warm up a bit by driving into town and stopping at the Starbucks inside the Safeway. We got back to Smith Rock and proceeded to hike up Misery Ridge to Monkey Face. Hiking got us warmed up, and the day was not looking bad. There were some clouds, but the sun was shining through. When we arrived within view of Monkey Face there was a group who appeared to be setting up a Tyrolean Traverse. We asked them if they were going for the summit, and they replied "no."

So we went to the base of the Pioneer Route, and geared up. Julie was to lead the first two pitches, and in less than 25 minutes, we were all at the base of the second pitch. At this point the weather turned a bit more sour (snow flurries.) Julie headed out on the second pitch only to encounter high winds at the notch, and a bunch of men in various states of climbing. Ken and I could only watch as the other group's ropes blew in the wind with horizontal flurries. Julie got to the ledge and belayed Ken up. Ken belayed me, and after crossing the notch, my hands were so cold, they were practically useless. Once all three of us were on the ledge we started to gear up for the aid pitch. Only to realize that the other party had started and they were taking an horrendously long time. Ken was trying to give pointers to the guy on lead, but he did not seem to grasp even simple concepts of leading on rock. Ken predicted they would take 2+ hours to reach the cave mouth and that we should bail. We all agreed. As Ken set up our bail rappel from the end of the Bohn Street Ledge, Julie and I discovered that this other party was a bunch of army guys on their first rock climb. We were astounded. Monkey Face is not a good first rock climb.

After bailing we decided to head over to Superslab(5.6). The wind and snow seemed to fade out and I started up the first pitch. It was enjoyable climbing that followed a crack up a steep shallow corner. I brought Ken up and then he belayed Julie up. Then the graupel started. We decided to wait it out a bit, but then Ken got impatient and started off on the second pitch. The snow subsided as he crossed the traverse, but the cooler temps prevailed, and Julie and I climbed the second pitch with gloves on. At the belay, Ken offered the third pitch lead to me, but I let him have it. He started up and led the pitch to the top. Julie and I arrived at the top without incident. Two rappels later, and we were back at the packs heading for the car.

We decided to go for Monkey Face first thing in the morning on Saturday and went to bed after dinner. It turned out there was a record low(15°F) for the area Friday night and I awoke to a Nalgene completely frozen solid. It was time for another trip into town to let the sun warm things up. Getting back to the parking lot, and hiking misery ridge a second day seemed worse. To our delight, no one was on Monkey Face when we got there. We tried to experiment with the notion of connecting the first two pitches, but when Julie started the first pitch again, there was too much rope drag for that to be a possibility. Soon, we were all back on the Bohn Street Ledge with no one else there. Ken started up the aid pitch while I belayed. Once in the cave, he hauled the pack and fixed the lines. Julie got the easy jug of the free line in space. I had the more difficult task of cleaning the route. What seemed like an eternity later, I was finally in the cave. I had opted not to re-aid the final traverse into the cave, which didn't prove to be any faster, and involved a lot of grunting and struggling for me.

In the cave we organized gear and I got ready to lead the scary Panic Point pitch. The pitch is rated at 5.7, but felt much harder the first time I did it. The difficulty comes from leaving the relative safety of the cave and stepping out with 180' of air between you and your packs at the base of the climb. I hemmed and hawed and tried to offer the lead up to Julie. She didn't bite, so it was out of the cave on the sharp end for me. Fortunately, you can clip two draws from the cave before stepping out on a bit of top rope. Shortly after stepping out you are heading up a face (that I remembered to be steeper.) The crux for me was the not ideal hold you have to hold onto while placing the second draw and clipping. The rest of the pitch seemed to be a cruise after that. After Ken and Julie came up, I set off leading the final pitch. It is fairly easy climbing to the top, but not particularly easy to protect. We all reached the summit, lounged, had lunch and then proceeded to rap over to the rap station to get off Monkey Face.

Ken set up the rap and went first. This was the part Julie was waiting for. About 180' of rappelling free in space. I followed Ken so I could take a few pictures of Julie on her way down. The rappelling went smoothly except for a bit of confusion on which rope to pull at the end. After pulling the rope, the time was 3:30pm and we decided to just head for the car rather than climb anything else. We celebrated at the cars with Monkey Face Porter from the Cascade Lakes Brewing Company.

We had dinner and checked the avalanche conditions for our Mt. Hood attempt. Avy conditions were high above 5000', so Julie and I decided to stay another night in Smith. We said good night to Ken as he would leave for Ellensburg earlier than Julie and I were waking up.

On Sunday, we headed straight to the dihedrals to climb Cinnamon Slab. There was a group there, but they were only interested in the sport routes, so we were able to get on Cinnamon slab early and climb both pitches. From the guide we had, the second pitch is rarely climbed. Which is a shame, because it was fun easy climbing. Although I will admit, that the route gets its three star rating from the first pitch. After climbing Cinnamon Slab we waited a bit for some of the sport routes to open. Julie led Lichen It (5.7) and I led Easy Reader (5.6) before the sun got to hot and we started our 5 hour ride home.

Unfortunately due to the army (and some uncooperative weather) we didn't get as much done as we wanted to. It was fun for me to finally get on something other than Monkey Face. I really enjoyed Superslab and was jealous of Ken for having led the third pitch. I found that the second pitch on Monkey Face felt way harder than I remembered it as well. Overall, still a great trip.

My pics are here.
Julie's pics here.