Washington Pass in Rock&Ice

I wrote an article for the August 2016 issue of Rock & Ice about some of the best summer climbing in the region - new routes at Washington Pass.


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.


The Fine Line of Bailing - 3rd Pillar of Nalumasortoq

I spent August in Greenland, specifically along the Tasermiut Fjord of SE Greenland. The area was breathtaking, with some of the largest granite walls on earth. Despite both succeeding and failing on bigger objectives during our trip to Greenland, the most memorable climb of the trip in my mind is one that ended after just half a day on route, but included nearly everything I love about remote, adventurous climbing on huge mountains and walls. Writing about those ups and downs of emotion and ascension has been much more memorable than simply recounting our team's obvious success or failure. These in-between "gray areas" are where climbing becomes contemplative.

Scott Bennett, Bryan Gilmore, and myself had set out to climb the south pillar (the right, or 3rd pillar) of Nalumasortoq, as seen from our camp along Tasermiut Fjord. We figured that this route would be a fast-drying and great choice for our poor weather, as it had recently rained for 10 days or so, and several of the non-rain days still held fog and swirling clouds trapped against the peaks. We'd left much of our climbing hardware stashed in a boulder cave below Nalumasortoq, and we wanted the fastest-drying terrain in the area, and figured that a SSW-facing overhanging pillar would be it.

A day before we set out to climb, we started up the valley from our camp, and hiked for 5 hours or so up a river valley and across a small rubble-strewn glacier. Amid creaking rocks and receding remnant ice we created a bivy site for our small tent, and took some sunset photos before settling the alarms for very early in the morning. We'd try to climb the 750m 5.11+ route "Non C'é Due Senza Tre" (AKA the Italian route) on Nalumasortoq. Normally a route of that length and difficulty wouldn't be a huge challenge for us, but the huge amount of unknown is what makes remote, expedition, and alpine climbing so difficult. Seldom is the topo (or simple list of length and grade) a complete picture of the challenge. 

This route has a convoluted history, which we didn't know until coming home and doing more research. It was attempted, up to pitch 8, in 1996 by a British/Welsh team. A British climber ended up taking a long fall aiding up P8 and badly injuring his back and leg, resulting in an end to their attempt and expedition. The pillar was "completed" (given a name, and graded 5.11c and A3) by an Italian team 4 years later, and I somehow eventually acquired and read about the route in the 2001 AAJ (published years before I was a climber, but featuring American uber-crusher Mike Pennings on the cover).

 However, 2 years after that, an american team (Steve Su, Ari Menitove, Chris Chitty) attempted a "repeat" and came close to freeing this line, while also realizing that the Italians had almost certainly not completed the route, instead rappelling from a narrow, sweeping ledge 200' below the top. The Americans bivied and finished the route via a very steep, wet offwidth located 60m right of the pillar's crest. Ari and Steve Su were nice enough to fill us in on some beta about the area before our trip. A few years later (in 2003) Americans Micah Dash and Thad Friday made 6 separate attempts over a month to complete the route, and eventually finished the climb (and made an all free ascent) over 2 days. It was 23 pitches, 5.11+ R.  In reality, both the FA and FFA of the "Italian route" were done by American teams. There remained some hardware placed by the Welsh party ('96) the Italians (2000) and the American FFA team (2003). Reading Micah's article about their half-dozen tries on the route, I was reminded of wisdom my partner Bryan had picked up from the great Steve House: "You never get up anything the FIRST time..."

Scott finds the safe path (and avoids the fixed mank)
Our morning of ascent began, as it always does on these alpine starts, with a too-early alarm wakeup,  scalding hot Via coffee gulped down between gluey dollops of oatmeal, and some last-minute packing and wondering if the weather would finally clear. Our previous climb had been an all-frozen and mostly-free (I think Bryan freed the whole shebang) ascent of Nalumasortoq's 'Left Pillar' (650m 5.12+ FFA Martin/O'Neill), its 19 pitches had taken place amid some snow flurries and near-frozen fog with zero sun or blue sky until low on the descent. The three of us donned axes and pons over our approach tennis shoes and made a quick jaunt up a small pocket glacier to the start of the climb. The route began with an amazingly clean and splitter thin hands crack slicing up a scoured slab. Although this would be a 4-star pitch at any crag in the world, all I can remember was how cold my hands and feet were, and trying to race up this splitter without having to take off my shoes and socks or thin gloves. It might have been 5.10- or 5.7, but as pitch 1 of a route of this size, it was just about climbing as fast and casually as possible.

Many or all of the belays were bolted (the route has been rappelled), but a British team had recently ripped half of the p2 belay anchor out of the wall on their attempt. It wasn't clear if the threaded machine bolt ever even had a sleeve on it, or if the sleeve was somehow detached and still in the wall. In order to remedy this situation, we wrapped the bolt shaft in some duct tape and smashed it into the wall with a rock. Alpine shim = Bomber!

After three pitches we did a bit of scrambling and arrived at the base of the main pillar itself, unable to find a belay anchor shown on our topo. Maybe this talus-covered ledge had previously held 10m of snow, which would have allowed us to reach a bleak-looking piton (and maybe one bolt?) anchor now hanging above our heads on an otherwise blank wall, but we found ourselves unsure of where to go. Scott continued leading his block, and wisely chose to follow his own routefinding and FA instinct, beginning on the far right and making a long, loose, marginally-protected traverse left above the (apparently off-route) fixed hardware, gaining a tat-strewn belay perch. Despite having 3 different bolts (all in fairly significant stages of decay) and a possible jingus piece of pro behind a small flake, we hung nervously and gingerly from the 4-piece anchor, which Scott had wisely set very low under this arrangement of dubious anchor points. In retrospect, I think that the 2 completely rusted rivet bolts were relics of the '96 Welsh team, while the mis-drilled aluminum petzl hanger was placed for some free climbing protection in 2002 or 2003, as the start of the next pitch could easily have resulted in a factor-2 fall. Above we could see at least 1 more bolt, but reaching it looked like it would require at least 10m of wet and very difficult face climbing straight above the belay. And given the state of decay, corrosion, and bad location of fixed hardware we'd encountered in Greenland, it wasn't clear if Scott should even climb toward it. Scott eventually climbed straight right off our belay and methodically whittled in a bunch of halfway-decent pro behind flakes and grooves, veering steeply upward and then back left into the bomber corner we'd come to reach. These two pitches involved key routefinding and judgement moments, and I feel like Scott did a great job getting us through them quickly and safely, rather than blindly charging toward the old (off-route, or aid) bolts. Since we were climbing in a team of 3 with 2 dynamic ropes, these pitches actually were dispatched by switching over into half-rope technique mid pitch, and having both followers belaying the leader on one rope each. The overall challenges of these pitches belied their moderate freeclimbing grades.

After a straightforward steep corner, I took the lead for what we though would be the heart of the route - several hundred meters of amazing-looking cracks and corners on the pillar crest. It appeared to have water streaks in many spots, but we were happy to have routefinding challenges over . I began up an immaculate huge white corner, like something out of the Needles in California. Although this pitch was just marked as 5.11c or maybe 5.11+ on our topos, it exemplifies so much that I love about these kinds of routes. Low on the pitch, upon looking up at the long stretch of tips or sub-tips looming overhead, I had Bryan and Scott grab a rock off the belay ledge and clip into into a chalk bag on the tag line. I hauled up the rock while perched on a small stance, and used it to bash vigorously on a couple pitons which were coated in a healthy layer of rust, the only fixed pro on the pitch. The corner looked to remain mostly a seam for the next 50m, but without pitons. Above this point I climbed steadily if nervously. Luckily for me, both sides of the very obtuse corner would occasionally hold a small and squared-off crimp edge, making for great footholds to complement the tips and finger openings. However, I was having a rough time trusting the smears of tiny feet while feeling wool socks, cold toes, and oversized shoes slipping on slick or wet granite. I came very close to trying to bail out of this lead, either by finding a good piece and lowering off, or resorting to aid and taking my shoes and socks off to warm my feet, depump, and get my head together. But I kept whittling away at the lead, and after ~30m I arrived at a small ledge where I could finally get in a bomber red camalot. I'd placed nearly every small cam or RP on our rack (a double set from tips on up), but was still looking at another 100' of the same.

Myself near the end of a long, demanding lead 

Rather than belay on this small sloping stance, I lowered 15m or 20m down the pitch and cleaned most of the small cams that I'd placed. I wouldn't bring up Scott and Bryan to where I was, but instead would keep heading up towards what I hoped would be a bolted belay. In this silly yet fantastic world of trying to freeclimb routes like these, I'd still consider this to be free climbing. Rather than belay up my followers and do 2 separate 30m pitches via natural ledges, I'd resupply with gear from below and then keep going. The friction and rope weight from dragging up 20lbs of ropes would add some real challenge to the top of the corner. To climb the entire 60m without back-cleaning, I think most folks would happily place at least 4 or 5 each blue and green alien sizes.

The next pitch is almost certainly the pitch where the initial Welsh attempt stopped due to a long, injurious fall. I moved 5m up and left from the belay, and found myself peering up a very shallow and obtuse corner, which was running with water. Rather than a finger or hand crack, there was a closed-off seam which wouldn't accept cams, and which featured a string of 4 bashed-in copperheads. Unfortunately, 3 of the 4 had been rusted and broken, no longer featuring a cable to clip as protection. I gingerly reached up and clipped the only remaining head with my tag line, and down-stemmed to the belay. After pulling on the rope with about 15lb of force, the remaining hardware snapped, and the rope came whipping down to the belay. Test result: negative. This pitch had been the aid crux, and also perhaps the mental freeclimbing crux, but had gone free at 5.11a R by Ari Menitove. Micah Dash and Thad Friday had also freed this section. So I hung at the belay staring down at a soaring thin corner I'd just push us through, having climbing past my self-doubts, but now hesitating beneath a short section of climbing that I'd been excited about testing myself on. We had no pitons (though the presence of 4 copperheads gave us doubt that the flare would take pins) and no bolts. If we had bolts, would we feel justified in placing them? Would we feel compelled to ask the Italian non-FA "FA" team? The Americans who actually made the FA and freed this pitch? Or the other Americans (one now deceased) who made the FFA of the whole route? I looked up at the pitch again, tested a few smears along the wet sides of the corner, accepted that we'd have at least 10m of factor-2 terrain above some sharp ledges and flakes, and decided that I didn't want to commit to the corner. Knowing that others before me had sent this pitch, climbers I'd long read about and admired, I was feeling pretty low. As Bryan and Scott both also demurred from committing to the runout, we set up our harness for going down rather than up.

Pouting as we prepare to bail
When the route was freed, the 4 fixed heads above the belay were at most 7 years old. Now they are likely 20 years old and in a natural watercourse, which likely explains why they are all now broken stubs of metal. I'd like to think I can climb 5.11 R, but that day and in those conditions I couldn't. In the end, I think we made the right choice but I will never know if we could have pushed through and sent or not. I'd certainly suggest that the next team bring a few (stainless steel) bolts and hangers.

Movies in the tent

Approaching Nalumasortoq

More nice weather on our climb day


Friends Don't Let Friends Belay

I've just returned to Washington from a trip to Greenland with friends Scott Bennett and Bryan Gilmore. Among bunch of climbing, fishing, crosswords, bailures, and tent-sitting, one of the biggest revelations from the trip was that multipitch climbing shouldn't typically involve belaying a follower.

  • Lead, and clove hitch to the belay. This automatically puts the leader "off belay" and fixes the rope for the follower to begin immediately.
  • The follower should then TR-solo the pitch, and not be tied in to the rope.
  • Upon reaching the belay, the follower should clip in with a tether or daisy chain, and then simply pull up a few meters of the dangling rope, clip it through a progress capture device which is hung from some part of the anchor, and throw the leader on belay to lead the next pitch. As the the leader moves up, the follower/belayer just pulls up a few meters at a time of rope, which is never all brought up to the belay or stacked.


Next Step Climbing Clinics in WA

If you are stuck on a plateau in your climbing, want to get faster and lighter on multipitch climbs, hone your crack technique, or prep for some larger alpine goals, I'm offering a series off 100% personalized instructional clinics in September - and I would be able to meet up with you at various climbing areas around Washington for a day or two of specific instruction in whatever area you want to improve!

  • Any days September 2nd - 12th
  • Index, WA Pass, Leavenworth, or any PNW route you want!
  • Run via Mountain Madness guide service


Liberty Crack - First/Third Free Ascent 1,200' 5.13b

Donni Reddington - http://www.donnireddington.com/

Liberty Crack, on the East Face of Liberty Bell, is one of the most famous routes in the pacific northwest. It's an obvious natural line up a proud feature. While researching the history of the route for a guidebook ( Cascades Rock ) I learned that the crux pitch (a crack climb and by far the hardest lead) had never seen a redpoint ascent, but had been climbed *free* two times in two different ways. My interest was piqued and I set out to try and make a free ascent of the wall. I installed a new belay bolt high on the stance above the Lithuanian Lip, below where the bolt ladder begins. This bolt supplements an older Mammmut bolt (doesn't match any other bolts on route), and a blue alien or equivalent can be placed here as well. This comprises a free climbing belay above the crux.

The following slab pitch avoids a bolt ladder and is in the .12b/c range, and has 4 protection bolts. It forms an arcing backward "C" shape. It would be possible to clip the first 3 of these bolts and then climb straight up to the anchors atop P3 of Freedom or Death to join that route or even out right into Thin Red Line or Slave to Liberty. There was already one single bolt on this pitch (maybe an abandoned attempt?), but it was actually in an amazingly bad spot. It was removed from the pitch. This pitch features some nice subtle patina crimps and a crucial thumb-press divot that looks like a jam cookie embedded into the wall.

After equipping the pitch for freeclimbing, I returned to Liberty Crack with my friend Nathan Hadley to attempt a free ascent. Despite being new to the area and multipitch routes, Nathan is an impressive granite climber who has already flashed .12a at Index and recently joined me for day in Leavenworth, warming up by onsighting Rainshadow (5.12), the hardest pitch at Castle Rock. He works at the Seattle Bouldering Project and can pull much harder moves than I can. Being fairly new to trad and crack climbing, he would routinely stop mid pitch to ask me which cams were bigger or smaller than other cams, then proceed to fire in the wrong size and send anyway. He proved to be a great partner.

Nathan and I needed to let the wall go into the shade, and we had ended up climbing the wall on a very warm day. After an 11AM start, we began climbing around noon, and were soon trying the Lithuanian Lip and tips crack (P2). My first couple attempts were pathetic. Unlike Nathan, I was reluctant to whip onto the upside-down piton at the lip of the roof, and I was having a hard time switching gears from delicate stemming to full-on power mode out the roof. We traded lead attempts, and on my 3rd go I pulled the roof and barely missed sticking the first good finger lock out on the face. With a blood-curdling scream and a little profanity, I flew through the air and was soon lowered to the belay, again trading rope ends with Nathan. Nathan tried again, but was again unable to complete the pitch. I think that this particular crux sequence is harder for lanky/taller folks. I racked up for my 4th go of the day (now probably about 3:30PM) with our small selection of gear (along with the 3 pins and a bolt, we were using one green alien in the roof, then one red c3, one green c3, and one small stopper). This time I was really really angry. I hadn't come this close on a pitch and then fallen off in a long time. My patience was worn thin and I was ready to be done. I managed to stick the kneebar and pull out and over the roof on try #4. With Nathan screaming me on, I linked a couple sections of .12- tips crack up to the belay.

I hauled our gear and belayed Nathan, who was still just shy of making these moves free. I know he'll be able to get them after some skin recovery and another couple days on the pitch. He gamely said he wanted to continue up the wall swapping leads as we'd planned, and off he went on the slab.
Nathan Hadley photo

He had a couple slips on the 5.12 slab, which were likely due to simple fatigue, heat, or wanting to move very fast on my account. I came pinging off the wall after the jam-cookie thumpress, but ticked a few more small holds, lowered down, and managed to send the pitch on the 2nd go. Now just the long 5.11c/d pitch remained, but it was around 5pm and some sprinkles of rain began.
Nathan Hadley photo

I hadn't taken off my shoes before I was racked up to lead. Just above the first fixed copperhead, I could feel myself sweating off the quartz edges and unable to clip a bolt while freeing. I aided up to hang a draw on the pitch's lone bolt, and lowered back down. Now armed with a little more courage but still sweating buckets and fairly exhausted, I started up the pitch. Despite some nervousness I managed to get past the 2 fixed heads and fire in a textbook #3 camalot. Thinking the pitch was over, I relaxed for a few bodylengths until things steepened again, and I found myself with a very real possibility of a big whipper onto a questionable brass wire, arms failing and sweat pouring into my eyes. I tried to get my breathing under control, placed a stopper (of course filling the best lock), and actually downclimbed and upclimbed about 4 times to try and get a decent shakeout. I could not get ANY power back and was feeling properly worried about blowing the whole ascent. In desperation I removed the stopper I'd been trusting for pro, which allowed me better purchase into the crack, and deadpointed with everything I could muster, barely sticking a finger lock near a half-driven angle piton. I again came within a hair of whipping off the pitch near the end, stabbing my cramping arms toward a finger lock while sketched out above a purple C3. The mix of too many layers of clothing, too tight of shoes for too long, and some late day adrenaline surges amidst heat and raindrops, had all turned this pitch into one of the hardest fought battles I'd done in a while.

 I belayed up Nathan while I caught my breath. It was almost 6pm and we'd have about 7 pitches and many rappels to manage with 3.5 hours of daylight and one headlamp.

Luckily, the route massively kicks back after this point, and despite some rain drops here and there, we topped out at dusk and managed the dark descent ok. Drinking chocolate milk and sharing some Ramen back at the car around midnight, the moon illuminated the east face of Liberty Bell and I never thought that 25 cent noodles had tasted so good.

Andy Porter Image

A little history:

Brooke Sandahl had sent the route with pre-placed protection on the crux crack pitch, and then freeclimbed where the next pitch bolt ladder ascends, backing up the original bolt hangers with a short bit of fixed line tied to newer anchor boltsd above. Mikey Schaefer had sent the roof/crack pitch with protection in place, and then TRed the erstwhile protectionless slab to the right of the bolt ladder. (this topo is wrong) Both then went on the complete the next long 5.11c/d pitch and the entirety of the route. My only minor improvement in style was to place the protection on the crux pitch. And I did the community service or sacrilege of making the free climbing version of P3 (right of the bolt ladder) leadable with a few protection bolts, as a logical freeclimbing pitch. 

  • 25 years ago, famous Oregon/California climber Brooke Sandahl and a couple friends set out to free the route. They used portaledges 150' up and spent a few days working the route. Brooke was generous enough to provide some photos and an account of their time on the route. 

Brooke: Yes, sent the roof with the gear left in place!  I graded it 5.13a - and I tend to grade things for someone with no knowledge of the route (ie trying it onsight) who would go up there and figure out the sequences and place the gear on lead. I think if that was done - then 13a is fairly close!  Generally I could care less about grades/numbers, I use them only to give people a general indication of around what difficulty they may find.  I had done a number of 13a's onsight at that point...but wasn't even close to doing the roof (even) in a day, (took me three days of cleaning, placing the gear, rehearsing and then sending) - regardless its a really cool sequence of moves!

Bolt Ladder:  I followed the old devil horns (1/4" bolts), very closely & just under them on the original aid ladder.  They were in very poor shape, some more than halfway pulled out & seriously bent over...so I didn't want to fall on them and pull them all the way out or slam in a bunch of new ones.  To me, part of the allure of an alpine route is using the things you find along the way.  Those original bolts had a lot of history and character...and they were part of that route, if one pulled while you were climbing...then you'd have to improvise ( way before cheater sticks were common place) to get past it to the next bolt or not.  Didn't feel like it was my call to alter this for others. 

I also didn't think people would be lining up anytime soon too free the route either and my assumption was correct...as I think Mikey is the only one to even get tr linkage.  The bolt ladder section is pretty freakin' hard...but totally my kind of climbing, bouldery, on really small crimps..and I did it my first try with the rope on (after totally dialing it the day before).  Again, since I went through it first go I felt it to be around 12c.  But, its pretty low percentage, easy climbing to fall off of & condition dependent...so may in fact be harder than the roof section itself??  To me personally the roof section felt a bit harder!  Again, need more people doing it to really reach a concensus!  I was really stoked to get through it first try...as I could see flailing on that thing pretty easily!  

Mikey: I quickly free climbed up to the lip and promptly pulled on a few pieces up and over the lip again. I continued on to the bolt by the little stance and had Kate lower me from there. I made sure all of the gear was where I wanted as I went by. A pinkpoint attempt would have to do right now.Back at the lower belay I pulled the rope, gave myself a little inward motivational talk, laced my shoes a little tighter and started upwards. For some reason I had the heebee jeebess inside me, which is something I usually only get when I’ve been trying really hard to redpoint a pitch. At this point my attachment to sending this pitch wasn’t that high so I was surprised to feel this way.As I reached the base of the roof a strong breeze kicked up cooling the stale morning heat. I stuck the entry sequence better than I had previously and was quickly and blindly pinky locking over the roof. A few primal screams, a heal hook and deadpoint to the good lock brought me over the roof. I shook out from the good lock in a state of amazement wondering how the hell I just pulled that off. Kate says I have a knack for pulling shit out of my ass, this may have been one of those times. I finished up the next short tricky sections with less thrutching than expected.

I chilled out on the stance for a bit trying to decide what to do. I ended up yarding past the original bolts to get to the anchor on top of pitch 2. Kate quickly followed with some good french free technique.I had to figure out what to do about the steep slab section below. There was no way I was going to lead that thing and I really doubted that Brooke Sandahl (who did the FFA) had lead that pitch with the single bolt. [He had not] He must of done some sort of monkey trick to protect it. I had heard stories of him fixing a line from some anchor and using that for pro but I had always figured that was for the section past the Lithuanian Lip. I have no idea what he did but I don’t know of many people that would lead that pitch in it’s current state. If it were me doing the FFA I would of had a total of 4 bolts protecting the slab. I need to email Brooke and find out more details.I decided I would have to settle for the toprope for the time being if I could even pull that off. After an hour or so of toiling on the pitch yesterday I still had a couple moves I couldn’t do and a move I only pulled off once. As I lowered down with my nose 6 inches away from the rock inspecting every fleck, chip or bump for potential I realized this was going to be really hard. I worked the upper moves on the pitch for almost an hour before I could figure out the 10 foot traverse back to the anchor. This was the move I couldn’t do yesterday so I figured I had it in the bag after lapping the move 3 times in a row. After a short rest I lowered down to give the whole pitch a burn. To my dismay I fell off the lower portion of the slab over and over and over again. I had done this part somewhat casually yesterday but that was in the shade. It was now approaching noon and with high’s in the 80’s things weren’t feeling very sticky. I can’t even count how many times it took me to figure out the moves on the lower bit. Again after 3 straight laps I figured I had it wired. Up at the belay I rested for awhile pondering my chances of sending. I wouldn’t of put 5 bucks on the table saying I’d send next go. But luckily i beat my own odds on my next attempt. It had all the makings of good redpoint (though i was only on TR) , blown sequences, deadpoints to crappy holds, fighting back the urge of the Elvis leg and just barely sketching it out to the belay. I was glad to have that one over. Even though it wasn’t in the best style I’ll take it for what its worth given the lack of info and time I could put into it. The pitch could really use some more bolts if anyone besides the likes of Tommy or Honold are going to go up there and truly redpoint it.


10 Non-Essentials

I recently spoke at the Boeing Alpine Club in Seattle, which is a really supportive and enthusiastic group of climbers with a wide range of abilities and experience levels. It was fun to chat with the group, and one of the topics I was thinking about is the variety of items that I don't typically use or carry, but which many people bring along.

  • Camelback systems - These are heavy, cumbersome, hard to fill (relative to a bottle), hard to pack in/out of a full bag, horrible in the cold where they freeze up, bad amid bushwhacking, and make it hard to know how much of the liquid you've got left or have consumed. I'd only bring one if there's simply a long casual summertime hike into a basecamp area, from which I'd be doing short climbs. (Wind Rivers, Pasayten...)
  • Quick Links - These get rusted shut and are hard to remove from the bolt that one uses them to bail from. Just bail from a wiregate with a sticky gate. It's far easier and doesn't require you carrying around a special "just in case" gizmo for months or years beforehand.
  • Rap Rings - See above. When rapping from new cord or webbing, you don't need to leave any metal at all.
  • 1" Webbing - Use ~5mm cord
  • Nut Tool - For long routes or difficulty backcountry rock climbs at or near my limit, I often wont bring a nut tool. I don't place or fall onto too many small wires amid this kind of climbing, and don't mind having to leave the random piece behind if needed.
  • Maps - Don't bring a paper map, download a super cheap phone map APP like "Topo Maps" - It lets you download all the maps for the area where you'll be, then you can put your phone in airplane mode, and the internal GPS will show you just where you are on the map.
  • Water Pumping Gizmos - Drink from small feeder streams or tributary sources that are running from snow patches or terrain not crossed by popular trails. You'll be fine.
  • Dishes (on serious multiday climbs) - Just eat a freeze dried meal from a durable pouch on day1, and then use the bottom half of that bag/pouch for future meals.
  • Knife - It's easy to cut webbing or cord with an ice axe, lighter, cam lobe, or small rock. Just hold the piece taut and hack away.
  • Pack Frame - Use your foam or inflatable pad and fold it into the frame sleeze.
  • Hexes, Medium-Large Tricams, Cordelletes, Padded gear slings, Large Lockers, Snowshoes, Gaiters - Nerd Alert!


Cascades Film

Over the past 2 months I've done about 12 slideshow events around the PNW related to the release of my new guidebook to the multipitch and alpine climbing in the Cascades. It has been great to see friends and meet new climbers everywhere from Bellingham to Beaverton and Spokane to Vancouver, BC. If you're interested in buying this book, you can get it here. At these events I've given a slideshow and then shown a film about climbing in the Stuart Range.

The subject of the film was a 24 hour alpine rock climbing marathon conceived by myself and Jens Holsten several years ago, when we realized that our 3 favorite area routes were all amazing new freeclimbs, all with roughly the same grade, and all on different mountains near our home. It would become our motivator to try and complete ascents of each of these peaks and routes in a single day from the car. The 20 miles of hiking and the necessary transitions and rappels meant that we'd have to do each route in under 4 hours. This wasn't something we were very confident in being able to do. A couple days before we set out to try it, we sat down for a beer at the brewery with local ski/bike/paddle photo and video guru Shane Wilder. Shane was moderately interested in the idea of a climbing film, but knew we'd need a lot of help. And as much as Jens and I though it would be rad to make a video, we weren't going shift the focus away from our climbing challenge by taking time or added weight required to film and pose down on our attempt, or go back and re-create stuff later. Fortunately, good friends Max Hasson and Shaun Johnson agreed to go film. Those guys did all the technical shots, achieved by climbing easier routes up the first and third mountains and fixing ropes from the summits toward where Jens and I climbed. The footage of the middle peak (Dragontail) came from distant shots that Shane managed from the trail, and our small point-and-shoot. (Dragons of Eden has spacious belay ledges). Without Shaun, Max, and Shane, this movie wouldn't have happened. It's the only film I know of that shows climbing in the Cascades. As these areas grow in popularity, let's all strive to keep them as clean and pristine as ever.


Back to Chulilla, Spain

'Chorreras' zone, with 'Masters' zone behind.

I went to Spain for some amazing sport climbing over the holidays, and climbed the entire time (maybe 18 climbing days?) at the gorges around the small town of Chulilla, roughly 40 minutes inland (west) from Valencia on Spain's Mediterranean coast. 

Single-pitch climbing doesn't get much more fun, and Chulilla has a great lineup of classics. Most of the really world-class climbing is in the 7c-8b range (Basically mid 5.12 to hard 5.13). If you can climb .12- you'll have a good time, but there's not a lot of great (or uncrowded) climbing easier than that. I spent most of my time trying to onsight or flash routes. Mostly I failed at that, but did manage to do quite a few routes 2nd or 3rd go! Highlights were onsighting a 40+ meter super-soft vacationy 8a (even hanging the draws like a true vacationer), and sending an 8a+ on 3rd go.

Scopin' Lines
Here are a list of 5-star classics that I'd suggest for anyone visiting the area. Each of these pitches is truly fantastic.

Front Side (AKA Pared Enfrente wall, AKA the wall that faces the town) - We could see this wall form our balcony.
Allison and I. We need a selfie stick.

Conflicto Territorial - 7a+/.12a  Excellent technical stemming and pockets in a long warmup with a high crux.

Los Franceses - 7b+/.12   A double or triple-roofed corner with some crack climbing, leading up to 10-15m of overhanging tufa pinches and pockets.

Ramallar - 7c/.12+  A 40+ meter marathon! Amazing technical overhanging face climbing for 20m to a kneebar tufa, then 20m of tufas and pockets out a final bulge. A contrived direct finish variation is a bit harder. Skip the first few draws to make belaying easier.

Remanso de Las Mulas - 7c+/.13a   Thin face climbing and commiting crimps lead into sustained tufa pinching and a hero finish.

Las Clochas de Targa - 8a+/5.13   Pumpy and sequential climbing for 25m (with a few rests) leads to an OK shakeout before suddenly confronting a relative slab crux, where barely-overhaning stone is dotted with too many tiny, upside-down holds. This is one is all about keeping it together as you probably wont be clipping the final bolt if you send via some tenuous trickery.

Entre Dos Caminos - 8a/5.13-  Stellar twin tufa climbing to a rest, to some technical and blind cruxy climbing 10-20m up, to a rest. The final half of this route is immaculate and just hard enough to keep your attention, as folks were blowing the redpoint on the final few moves.
My friend Moritz and I went "Dawn Walling" -
(rope trickery and bandalooping to reach the belay ledge)

Back Side (AKA the mile-long shady wall that holds every "sector" from Pared Blanca to Masters)
There are about 100 amazing routes in the image. Note ropes hanging 50'+ out from wall.

Plan Z - 7a/.11+  Excellent barely-overhanging technical face climbing.

Danos Colaterales  - 7b+/.12  This one is 25' of thin, granite-ish techery, then an amazing long stretch of overhanging pockets and pinches, with a final crux gunning for the jug under the anchors as the holds get worse and worse.

Barrieros - 7c/.12+   The top route at the newly-developed Masters zone, on the far right (west) end of the gorge. This climb is world class, ascending dripping tufa flows past numerous roof and bulge features.

Super Cantina Marina - 8a/.13-   An unforgettable marathon (43m?) combining technical tufa stemming, voodoo crimping, and steep flakes.

Nibelungalos - 7c/.12   Gently overhanging 30m of dripping pinches, pockets, small flakes, and some major committing movies with the chance for enormous airtime. Hardest moves are low down, but everyone was falling up high.

 El Diablo Viste de Prana  - 7c+/.13-  Several cruxes include numerous places where you've got to fight or fly. There are some small/sharp pockets and a bit of real crimping on this one.

Planeta Namek  - 8a/.13a  This one is somewhat unusual for Chulilla in that it's got a definite stand-out crux down low (V5?). A couple of the higher moves were reminiscent of granite no-hands standups.

Steepness is evident. Climber on Tequila.
Tequila Sunrise  - 7c+/.13a   This is the easiest line (but an amazing one) on the overhanging Balconcito Wall. Crux climbing is down low, and learning the left-knee kneebar is crucial. Really fun single steep tufa to begin. Tie knots in the ends (or have the belayer tie in) even with an 80m.You've got to have a second rope handy to throw out to the lowering-off climber so you can reel them back in to the belay ledge.

El Bufa  - 8a/.13b   A powerful boulder problem off the get-go leads to a nice tufa-chair rest. The upper 35m is a marathon of minor cruxes, culminating in a committing compression boulder problem. Tie knots in the ends (or have the belayer tie in) even with an 80m.You've got to have a second rope handy to throw out to the lowering-off climber so you can reel them back in to the belay ledge.

Montana Magica  - 8b/.13+   Basically a parallel and harder version of El Bufa, with sustained long reaches on crimpy .12/12+ headwall climbing up high. Tie knots in the ends (or have the belayer tie in) even with an 80m.You've got to have a second rope handy to throw out to the lowering-off climber so you can reel them back in to the belay ledge.

Los Veteranos - 8a/.13b    This is a steep route by Chulilla standards, tackling a series of powerful roofs and bulges. Really gymnastic and powerful climbing! If using the tree just before the anchor isn't allowed, I guess I'm a Washington climber and couldn't help myself.
Myself exploding a foothold off Veteranos
Agente Naranja - 8a/.13b   One of the proudest and most varied lines in Chulilla. 40m of everything, including a steep boulder start, techy face moves, stemming, and a wild arete up high. The final bolt is REALLY hard to clip without a long draw.

Super Zeb - 7c/.11+   This route is an excellent stemming and face climbing pitch right above the trail. And although it's 40m and never truly easy, I think it demonstrates the differences in style/familiarity for different climbers. It's a stemming feature and I swear it'd be .11+ at Index or Trout Creek (it gets .12+ in local grades). There aren't always handholds.

Altos, Guapos, y Fuertes - 8a/.13-   This thing is powerful and bouldery down low, but doesn't much relent. You'll have to fight for any rests and keep it together on all 40m. One of the best in Chulilla.

Siempre Se Puede Hacer Menos - 8a/.13-   I only climbed to anchor #1, there is an anchor #2 and a anchor #3. The whole thing is 64m and 5.14c. I was worked after managing the numerous cruxes and style switches on the 40m first pitch. Excellent, varnished stone and cartoonish tufa daggers.

High up on the Balcon sector, east end of the far gorge. Camera is tilted to make it appear slabby.