For the past few weeks I've been trying to hook up with someone to climb Orbit. Weather and schedule finally worked out for me to be climbing with Josh. While the forecast was for 20% chance of precip, I felt that was a solid enough to attempt the route.
We left casually at 6am from Seattle. After a brief stop in the ranger station and a quick hike in, Josh and I were at the base of the climb around 10am. We spent a fair amount of time casually gearing up as another party arrived behind us. I was off leading the first pitch around 10:30am. Perhaps we took a slightly different start, but there was a small step at a tree, before going into the fourth class gully that is most of the first pitch. The protection was thin or non-existent in the gully, but when the moves got harder before the finish, there was plenty of pro to be had. I arrived at a comfortable belay ledge and brought Josh up.
We re-racked, and Josh headed out to lead the dreaded chimney pitch. He cruised to the crux, and then told me to watch him. He also noted to me that his top piece of gear was a piton. He started working out the crux moves, but complained that it was wet. He then fell on the fixed pin. I caught him, but he fell a little farther than I would have expected. He was alright, but had some road rash to prove his misfortune. He made another attempt, but this time placing a cam in the crack higher before the attempt. After another slight fall and some hanging, Josh managed to work the moves out and stopped the pitch at a slung horn just above the crux. I followed, and slipped/fell a few times before making the wet moves.
Once at the belay I informed Josh he had stopped midway on the pitch, so we agreed to let him continue so that I could get the 5.9 finger cracks. We discussed the belay options and we believed a belay could be set at the base of the cracks, giving me a short pitch. However, as I followed, I realized Josh had gone past the cracks to a belay below the "low fifth" bypass. I didn't have much gear on me and really couldn't set a belay to bring him back to the base. He also didn't want to down climb through a bush between him and I. I struggled in vain to come up with a solution that had me leading the cracks. In the end, I continued to his position. We talked about setting a top rope once we did the bypass pitch, but with the party behind us, that didn't seem like such a great idea. I led the short wet bypass pitch and wedged myself in behind the block as I anchored to the bush there. I guess the finger cracks will have to wait for next time.
Josh didn't spend too much time at the tight belay and was off leading the next 5.8 pitch which many people feel is the crux of the route. The climbing is fairly sustained, and is run out or has difficult pro. Josh sailed it in fine style. I followed, using tiny edges for hands and feet. While I found this pitch to be fine technically, it really was a drain on my feet to climb it and I got to the belay wishing for a foot bath. The hanging belay stance Josh had near an old bolt wasn't much better for feet, so a quick change to me leading and I was off on the next pitch.
Josh felt that this next pitch was equally as hard as the previous, but more due to it being strenuous than technically as challenging. I led up to the ledge which is an alternate belay. (Josh couldn't make it there because he ran out of slings.) I was at the ledge a bit because Josh had to deal with a rope issue before I could continue. There are two old rusty bolts, one Leeper and another home made looking number. I clipped both as there was no other pro to be had before heading up. It took me a bit to commit to the next moves, and then I was on my way. The were some interesting moves when you step out of the corner on to the arete just before finishing the pitch. I stopped just below a small roof, and set a belay as I feared I couldn't go on without running out of slings. Not to mention I had a nice crack in which to build an anchor. It appears after checking the topo, that I stopped in the correct spot, and Josh led the next short pitch to below the big roof. I think stretching that pitch to below the big roof would have been a great tactic, as there wasn't much pro for that short pitch anyway.
Below the big roof, we were in a more comfortable stance again on a good sized ledge. We ate a bit and Josh put on his shell jacket as we were out of the sun. He looked at the start of the pitch and said "I hope to see you slinging chicken heads on this pitch." And off I went. This pitch was wild fun. It was a face covered with knobs. The climbing was easy and if you slung some of the knobs, the run out was not as bad as the guide books make it sound. The only issue is finding your way. It is truly a choose your own adventure style pitch and I wandered around looking for the large ledge it was supposed to end on. I scooted up to a roof and found a ledge to the right of it and a chimney behind it. "This must be the place," I thought as I built an anchor and sat on the ledge to belay Josh up. Josh arrived with a big smile on his face.
We looked at the next pitch with the supposed 5.7 chimney and Josh started to lead. The climbing was so easy that he placed only a few pieces in nearly a rope length. I came up to him where he almost tricked me into climbing an off width before telling me the real route went up one final knobby face. I went right past him hopping boulders before reaching ground and pulling the rope in. Josh soloed up the remaining terrain to meet me and a goat at the top.
We hung out a bit on top snapping some pictures before packing our stuff and heading down. The descent was as bad as I remembered it. (Perhaps worse.) Last time I was up here is was later in the year, and now the descent was a little more wet. We scrambled down, I more slowly than Josh. We reached a spot where I was sure that we were supposed to go left and we went that way. The two options were a sketchy gully downclimb or a rappel off a single old bolt. I told Josh I wasn't rapping off a single bolt and we went back to the descent gully to down climb a bit more before getting on the trail back to our packs. The final scramble out felt easier after the full descent and then we were at my crux of the climb, the log crossing. I tried in the morning to walk across it, but ended up au cheval. I didn't hesitate to au cheval on the way back, but the log is uphill in this direction and took me a bit longer. The hike out was uneventful, except that it marked the first time I had hiked out the Snow Lake Trail in daylight.
I really enjoyed this route, and it was nice to get out and do something harder and more difficult than I have been doing. To make the obvious (although apples to oranges) comparison, I did not like it as much as Outer Space. I have to say that it has more varied climbing on it which makes it a little more interesting. The route finding is not difficult but a little more difficult than on Outer Space. The wildly knobbed pitch was a ton of fun and just really different climbing too. I'd recommend this route (and want to return) but I'm going to hit Outer Space again before returning to Orbit.
Route Profile: Mt. Erie's Zig Zag Route (5.7 or 5.8 II)
34 minutes ago