This last weekend we went to Leavenworth for class on Saturday and a little personal climbing on Sunday. A couple of good stories came out of the weekend, some good, some scary, all awesome in the end.
The weekend began on Friday afternoon when we piled into Carl’s Prius and drove over to Leavenworth. I have never seen so much stuff packed into a Prius: packs, firewood, a big cooler, camp chairs, sleeping bags, tents, rope, mountaineering boots, and beer, somehow it all fit! Upon getting to Leavenworth we drove through town so Kyle could have a look at it, since he had never been there before. He was both amazed and a little befuddled by the Bavarian theme. They are just so… consistent out there in Leavenworth. Every building has a Bavarian facade, even the Starbucks and the Safeway. The pizza place’s tag line is, “Pizza unt brawts, dast es gut, ya?” We left town, heading down Icicle Creek Canyon, speaking in German accents (or attempts at German accents, mine kept slipping into an Indian accent). But all shock at finding a German themed village aside, Leavenworth is seriously beautiful. It is full on alpine Eastern Washington ponderosa pine trees and craggy peaks glory, with a setting sun and a full mood and all the time a river running through it. I know we all felt lucky to be there and happy to bask in the hot sun and the dry heat.
Our first night just consisted of rolling into camp, eating too many burritos, and lounging in front of a camp fire before heading to bed pretty early. We were up at the crack of dawn the next morning so that we could head back down the canyon towards town and meet the rest of our group at the Snow Creek trail head. From there we hiked up off the road to Mountaineers Dome and set up ropes to practice setting anchors, escaping the belay and rappelling past a knot. We were practicing on the routes Right Crack and Left Crack and after completing all our skills everyone got a chance to climb both routes. We then went in search of another route to climb to fill up the end of the day.
A little ways above Right Crack and Left Crack we found, The Big O. It was another crack route but it also had a roof, or a completely overhanging section, right before the top. Rated a 5.9 it was significantly harder than Right Crack and Left Crack but for some reason when I saw it, I just felt that I would be able to get it. It is a pretty easy scramble up the first twenty feet and they you get to the first part of the crack. I have never crack climbed before but it is pretty intuitive, so with some lay backs, some foot jams, and some smearing I managed to get to the top of the crack and at that point was stuffed right up under the roof. There was a great hold right at the base of the roof so I had an easy time holding on while I felt up inside the roof’s crack for a hand hold and behold, on my left hand side was a nice little ledge. Holding this with my left hand allowed me to swing my right hand up and over the top of the roof to a fairly sturdy jug up top and then heel hook to the top left of the roof. After that it was just a scramble up to the finish. Where I found that the locking carabiner that the rope was hooked into had not only been unlocked but was locked partially open. I took a few deep breaths, re-locked it and added another locking carabiner of my own before calling down to our lead instructor about the situation. He came up and watched the carabiners for the rest of the climbers. It was easy to see how the carabiner, having been scraped over the rocks, back and forth, had been unlocked and then the locker had been re-locked in an open position. A good little lesson for me in anchor setting for sure.
At the end of the day we headed back to Boealps giant group campground for the group BBQ and a lot of drinking. We did not participate in getting overly sloshed though because we had plans to wake up fairly early and head to Peshastin Pinnacles State Park for some more climbing.
We managed to get up the next morning and get out of camp fairly early, butting us at Peshastin Pinnacles around ten. Peshastin Pinnacles is a really beautiful and unique place. It is about twenty miles further east on Highway 2 and at that point you have left the alpine feel behind and emerged into more of a prairie/desert feel that (for me) defines Eastern Washington. The park itself is characterized by these giant limestone slabs that stick out of the sand and grass at incredible angles, tilting this way and that way, and towering in clumps, between which trails wind too and fro. We wandered to deep into the little park until we reached Sunset Slab, which had a nice 5.6 to start on. When we got there we discovered that just a little further down the trail was a swarm of bees. They were clumping on a bush right next to the trail but they didn’t seem interested in us or aggressive so we decided to ignore them and continue with our plan. Carl led the route and set an anchor we could top rope off of. Sarah climbed next but when she was about a third of the way up we heard Kyle say, “Um guys, the bees are moving.” Sure enough we turned around and the bees had un-clumped and were now filling the air around us. Sarah, high above had no idea that we were about to be engulfed by a cloud of bees. Having not been prepped on what to do if you, as the belayer, is suddenly surrounded by a swarm of bees we were stunned for a moment, before calmly asking Sarah if she minded if we lowered her and took cover. She did not. So down she came and we all moved off to the side, out of the thick of things.
Ultimately the bees were not aggressive at all, so it was an incredible experience, to be surrounded by them but they were not touching us, landing on us, buzzing us, nothing like that… they were just looking for a new place to go. Eventually their giant cloud moved away from us and further down the trail, which allowed Sarah to finish her climb and Kyle to get on the rope. After Kyle it was my turn and, being the last climber, my responsibility to clean the anchor, something I had never actually done before. After talking through the steps with Carl I headed up. I had also never climbed slab before which is a very strange experience, so much of it is smearing and hoping your foot doesn’t slip, because if it does you are going to face plant into the rock. Once at the anchor I clipped with my personal anchor, tied a figure eight on a bite in the rope, attached it to myself, untied myself from the rope, pulled it through the chains on the anchor and tied a figure eight on the end of it so it couldn’t slip back through them. Then I undid the figure eight on a bite, fed the rest of the rope through until the end had reached the bottom and my rappel was set up. I put the ropes through my belay device and then dismantled the anchor. Putting my break hand on I unclipped my PA and I was ready to rappel. Only then did I realize I had been coaching myself through the whole time, out loud.
After finishing up at Sunset Slab we check out some other routes that we want to climb first next time but didn’t have time for anything else that day since a couple of us wanted to get back to Seattle fairly early. It was very hard to leave though. Very hard to leave the mountains and sleeping in a tent and camp fires and climbing adventures. But home again, home again. Tomorrow we climb Unicorn, the tallest mountain in the Tatoosh range which is near Mt. Rainier. The climb sounds awesome and there is a rock pitch at the top which we are going to rope up and climb in our rock shoes! The weather is supposed to be stunning and views of Rainier are rumored to abound. Can’t wait.