Our goal was to climb Heart of Gold (5.10-) and link it with Prime Rib (5.10b). I had roughly done this combo with Steve last year, but were rained off of Prime Rib. I also got us off route on Heart of Gold and we never climbed the third pitch of it.
We arrived in Leavenworth around 7:30am and it was still in the 30°s. So we stopped by and hassled some friends we saw in the Snow Creek parking lot before driving up to Duty Dome. It was getting warmer and as we hiked to the base of the route. We had a little difficulty determining which start we wanted, and I opted for the direct start. (The "cheat start" as called in the book involves coming in from the left on a ledge system. But it puts the first bolt at your feet making clipping it a strange scenario. Or you could run it out to the second bolt and risk a nasty fall.) The direct start goes up some flakes and cracks for about eight feet before you are near the first bolt. I had difficulty with the moves and it messed with my head, unfortunately setting the tone for the rest of the day. After numerous balks I finally made a committing move that would allow me to place gear in an overlap that would keep me off the deck if I fell. I then placed one more piece before getting to the first bolt.
After that the next two bolts are on a rightward traverse and kept my head spinning until the route started progressing in a more upward fashion. Once above the initial section, the pitch is thin slab/friction moves all the way to the chains. I arrived and started to chill in the wind as I brought Sabrina up. We discussed the next pitch and she was off. Shortly after she went out of sight she exclaimed she saw chains, which were actually below her. (So it is sort of a downward traversing pitch.) Once there she brought me over.
While I am not sure where the actual crux of the pitch is, I am sure it was within the first three bolts. Sabrina would say it was between the second and third bolt as she fell in that area. (But possibly due to the fact she was a little to the left of the route.) The route steps steeply rightward off the belay and then heads up relatively straight to the next anchor. The first bolt was about six feet to the right of the anchor. Rather than traverse out there, I put a draw on the anchor and reached out to clip the first bolt and then clip the rope to it. This may have proved to be an unnecessary step because as I went to lead the route, I down climbed a few moves giving me a top rope advantage even if I did not clip the first bolt. Those first moves went smoothly and soon I was finding my way up the slab. Sometimes there were nice little pockets, other times it was palms or tiny crimping holds. Closer to the top of the pitch the difficulty eased back considerably as many crack like features started to appear. This was a nice slab pitch that rivals those found in Darrington. I brought Sabrina up and she mentally prepared for her lead.
I didn't remember any of the final pitch of the route from last year. We could see to the first bolt and the moves looked relatively easy to get there. But minimal protection would be found between the belay and the bolt looming a dozen feet above us. Sabrina got at least one cam in before getting up to clip the bolt and gazing in wonder at the next group of thin moves to reach the next bolts. After some contemplation she disappeared out of sight (and sound.) She brought me up the final pitch and we did a walk off from the anchor which was maybe 3rd class slabs with some exposure.
We sat and had a snack. Since neither of us had brought a summit pack, we were a bit thirsty and contemplating the Prime Rib route. Both of our nerves were a bit frayed from climbing Heart of Gold, and we weren't sure we could tackle Prime Rib. I looked at the first bit (a dirty wide crack) and could see the moves. I decided to give it a go. Two pieces up and I was struggling to make my next move up. The footholds I thought I would use when viewing the route forced me away from the crack and made my position awkward. I had also placed a cam in the crack which used up a valuable jam location. I moved the cam around to see it having that location for my hand would make things better, and it didn't. So I told Sabrina I was done with this route and let's head back to the packs where we could drink and contemplate our next moves.
The walk off Duty Dome is a somewhat miserable scramble down wet mossy ramps avoiding going over a waterfall. It was exposed and took us a fair amount of time to get back to the packs. As we proceeded lower, the temperature seemed to soar. We arrived hot and sweating back at the packs as we contemplated our next move. We discussed doing one of the two 5.7 3-pitch routes on Duty Dome but then decided to head to Keen Acres where we saw some people climbing on our descent. No route was harder than 5.9, and they were all low commitment single pitch slabs.
Once over there, I decided to climb the namesake route (and the hardest on the crag at 5.9.) It had a 5.9 crack on the slab. How hard could that be compared to a 5.10 slab? I made my way up the route, but heavily protected it because of my nerves. The crack section proved difficult with tiny finger locks. It was somewhat difficult to protect as well, making me wish for my new nuts. Above that section there were a few more bolts before the chains. I brought Sabrina up and we rapped down, making two raps from the 125' perch.
We discussed the possibility of climbing one final route on the left side. It was a 5.7 (Kilt Lifter) and we figured that it would be a good cool down. Sabrina convinced herself that she could lead it (which was good, because I may not have been able to.) Interestingly the route starts with a roof to gain the slab. While the first moves are not too difficult after a few attempts, Sabrina still couldn't get a good stance to clip the first bolt above the roof. I went up and clipped it, and then she pink pointed to the first bolt and proceeded to tackle the slab. This route was fun, but had the rare option of exposure on the slab. This is because this is the leftmost route before the rock falls away about 15'. This added a little mental difficulty to what might have been an easier route. There was a nice hand crack about halfway up, but I climbed it to the right to stay away from the exposure? Why? I guess that is just how the mind works.
Once at the top, we were both spent. We rapped to the packs and had an unpleasant hike down the gully before reaching the car.
I would highly recommend climbing Heart of Gold to anyone climbing at that level. I was hoping that the "easier" routes on Keen Acres would be recommendable to people I know, but I felt they were fairly difficult. Perhaps heading out with a fresh mind my opinions would have turned out differently. Sabrina and I discussed in the ride home how starting with the awkward, not well protected moves at the beginning of the day really sets the tone mentally for the climbing. I need to be aware of that in the future and climb a warm up route before getting on a route that starts like that.
My pics are here.