Washington Sandbags

Jessica Campbell gets after it on a local testpiece
"Washington IS a sandbag!" said my friend Jessica Campbell, after returning
from a trip to the New River Gorge and Red River Gorge. 
And I somewhat agree, although I'd say it's more specific than that. To me, Index and Leavenworth have tough grades (the dreaded Hwy 2 vortex!), but so does Smith Rock and Trout Creek. Meanwhile, Newhalem, Washington Pass, and Little Si aren't nearly so tough, and ovciously neither is vantage or a lot of the roped climbing in the Icicle Canyon (or further afield, squamish). But we in Washington do lack a stacked crag of simple, friendly, juggy, and easy-to-read 5.11, 5.12, or 5.13 sport routes. There are a lot of strong folks in the area who would have certainly ticked far harder grades if they climbed with the same frequency, skill, and strength, but lived in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, or many other states. On the subject of grades and sandbags, I wanted to come up with the biggest sandbag at every grade from 5.8 to 5.14. After chatting with a few local friends, here's a start:

Pat McNerthney - CBR - Photo: Supertopo
5.8 - Chimney on the West Face of Colchuck Balanced Rock
More than a few 5.11 climbers have called this pitch the crux of the .11+ route.

5.9 - Damnation Crack Leavenworth
The classic old-school 5.9 wide pitch. Want to climb 5.9 in Yosemite? Here's your training tool.

Honorable mention: Prusik Peak's Burgner-Stanley Route (retro upgraded to .10- in Cascades Rock)

5.10a - Sagittarius - Index
To the first anchor at the ringing flake, this pitch gets the nod for the most intimidating and hardest .10- in the area. The full .11b version is no pushover for the grade either.

5.10b - The Sting - Leavenworth
The "approach pitch" to the 5.11 splitter classic R.O.T.C. 
This pitch might be the harder of the 2, and is often wet, always a little grainy, and generally a slap in the face.

5.10c - P1 Boving-Pollock - S. Early Winters Spire
This is one of the few serious/sandbag pitches at WA Pass.
Honorable mention: Lamplighter P1. (AKA P1 of Heaven's Gate)

5.10d - P3 NAD - Index 
Mike Pond on Ellen Pea, P2
There are always a lot of tough routes with "d" grades.
Honorable mentions: Ellen Pea P2, Slow Children - Index

5.11a - Newest Industry - Index
A bolted 5.11a on perfect rock. 
Sounds like a nice warmup for the real climbing later on...

Honorable mentions: Toothless - Leavenworth, Hang Dog - Leavenworth, Rhythm & Bolts - Index

5.11b - Heironymous Bosch - Index
Hard vertical boulder problems that you can't read.

Honorable mentions: Full Sagittarius, Phone Calls from the Dead, Narrow Arrow Overhang (to 2nd anchor) (all Index)

5.11c - Tadpole - Index
Good no-holds flare training for Yosemite!

5.11d - Swim P1 - Index
Honorable mentions: basically every .11+ at Index, especially on the upper wall

5.12a - Rise and Fall P1 - Index
Given either .12a or .12a/b, this one's a laughable sandbag. Both hard to decipher and hard to climb, it took prolific Index strongman Mikey Schaefer more effort than the nearby newly-freed Town Crier (.12d) or Green Drag-On (.13a).

5.12b - Numbah Ten - Index
Just push apart the two halves of the lower town wall...

5.12c - Last Waltz, Smith Rock
Not Washington, but why does Smith have so many hard 5.12c pitches? Is this the hardest? 

Honorable mention: Technicians of the Sacred, P1 - Index.

5.12d - Never Never Crack - Leavenworth
Todd Skinner overhanging thin-hands testpiece. Redpointed just once or twice more. Will never be downgraded.

5.13a - Rock a Rolla - Leavenworth
A simple 20m overhanging and well-bolted route, climbing a plumb line with lots of big holds. AKA a nonstop barrage of quality V4-V7 bouldering with a single quasi-legit stem stance.

Honorable mention: Narrow Arrow Overhang - Index

5.13, 5.13+, 5.13-

Anything at Little Si or Equinox stand out? Amandla (short) is no pushover at .13b/c

City Park should probably be on there somewhere, but it first needs an established grade before that grade could be considered a sandbag or not.


  1. Can't wait for some vacation grades in Spain!

  2. I never did get rock a rolla. Next year!

  3. 12c-Last Waltz is a good one, I'd add Lower East Face of the Monkey. Sustained, hard moves with bad-ish gear in soft rock.

  4. Dylan, you're taller and lankier than I am so you don't have the short person (Siegrist) excuse for 5th Forsce - is it really harder than Numbah Ten, P1 of Rise & Fall, or Stern Farmer? I was able to do it a lot faster than those other pitches for sure, but maybe because it felt like a few local boulder problems with rests between them.

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