It was a great trip for me (aren't they all?) because I got to climb w/ 2 of my top five climbing partners. We considered going w/ the Mazi advanced rock class over to the City of Rocks but w/out a bomber forecast, we weren't up for another 12 hour drive. We settled on Leavenworth but hit Frenchman's Coulee on the way, also known as Vantage.
Vantage has some fun climbing but its also the camground where all Gorge Amphitheater concert goers stay. We had plenty of company. We were woken from our slumbers to series of cheers and shouting contests well past 200 am. If it weren't for the ghouls, I mean girls, I would have partied my brains out. As it turned out, I had to be satisfied w/ rock climbing.
We all took turns leading sport routes. On our 1st day we logged something like 10 routes. Above you can see Amy just past the bulge on Alter of Sacrifice. Vantage is also known for its strange route names. Many religiously themed, most sound as if they were named by middle school boys trying to sound cool. Oh yeah, I guess thats us, climbers stuck in adoloscence. "Party in my Pants" anyone?
Here the very pious Sue Nelson leads "Jesus Saves." One of the best things about vantage is there are about 30 sport routes all in the same acre that are all moderate. We lead everything that had 3 or more stars that was rated 10b or easier. It's a great place for new lead climbers as there are many routes rated 5.8 and under.
Above I'm leading Blood Blister. It had a cruxy section low on the route and lots of power moves higher up. To the left of this was Satan's Wagon, the only 5 star route in the feathers. It's rated 10b and felt like a solid 10b. It's hard for me to give it 5 stars simply because the Feathers area has a bit of a trailer park feel. We rapped up by taking turns leading a small handful of 5.8's and 5.9's. There was a 5.9 arete route named Desert Shield that I thought was the best route in the Feathers. The Uprising was also a fun route w/ a Smithy feel in the middle, the first bolt is about 25 feet up which is weird since there are 50 foot routes w/9 bolts right next to it.
I couldn't resist showing this pic of Sue hangdogging. Mostly, I wanted to show the camp sites in the background. If you can zoom in enough, you'll see garbage and get the general junky feel of the area. This was in huge contrast to our next stop...
Here Sue and Amy are racking up for our first Castle Rock adventure. (One of Leavenworths many climbing areas) You can see Amy created a small pack for the group water out of her top pouch and prussik sling. We had beatiful views of snow filled couloir's and rivers and streams. The setting was magnificent.
We borrowed a guide book from Vincent which we appreciated but... The route discriptions were very vague and often the sketches were wrong and/or missing giant sections of the wall. Some buttress were shown in the wrong place. All of this added to some very exciting route finding. For example one 400' route w/ many variations and cracks was described like this: "Ground falls are very common on this route and should be avoided." That's all the description it offered. Ohhhhh, ground falls should be avoided, thanks for that nugget of wisdom. I like to complain but after a day of getting used to the rock and route finding, I come to love the added adventure of discerning routes while standing on nickle sized smears while hanging by my fingertips.
At the parking lot we met a guy who was extremely helpful. He also warned that the grades were sandbagged by atleast 2 number grades, especially the Fred Beckey routes. I have to agree. The good thing about the Beckey routes was if you imagined being the first guy climbing the rock, the direction was natural. Above, Sue starts up the dihedral/chimney which wasn't excedingly difficult but certainly one of the most awkard sections of climbing I've ever done.
Since virtually all of the climbing is multi-pitch we had to climb as a threesome. It's really important to me not to hold up other climbers. Especially when you're climbing Classic-popular routes on a busy day. Whoever lead the pitch would then build a bomber anchor and the second and third climbers would climb in tandem off of the new Reverso, belay device. It's definetly my belay device of choice, but I don't like the old one, nothing wrong w/ it except that the moving parts tend to get razor sharp after wear.
Here I am trying to find my way. Again, nothing like trying to follow a route when there are 5 variations, all of which are complete w/ old rusty Pitons; some were trustworthy, others were quite scary and I hoped people could tell the difference. I was very impressed w/ the rock quality. In many sections the runouts were 40' but you didn't have to worry hold breaking off or gear pulling out of the bomber granite. At one particularly sketchy section, I imagined slipping of my hold and cartwheeling down the granite slab, waving to the girls as I sailed past them. For some reason, this made me laugh and helped me to relax. The line between baffoonery and climbing w/ confidence is a very fuzzy line; sometimes I fear I've crossed it.
In true dirt bag fashion, we took our "baths" in the river. You kind of mentally apologized to the people across the river and 200' downstream. Sue said it best, "If they get out their binocular's, they get what they deserve." Speaking of dirtbag's, let me tell you about our "camping" arrangement. Being memorial day weekend, we called a head to reserve a campsite and were shot down time and time again. Hotel rooms were going for 4x the normal rate. We called a Hotel outside of town. The kind of rooms you where you're afraid get rented by the hour. The lady asked what we had in mind, I informed her that we wanted to camp but couldn't find a campground. She said if we paid cash, we "camp" in the yard between the hotel and the diner. $60 bucks later, we had our "urban bivy." It was also situated 50' from a weigh station that was complete w/ an outhouse. Can you say Deeeluxe?
So if you look closely, you can see the Vacancy sign say YES. We opted for the yard. Surprisingly the lady gave a receipt and we felt that everything was kinda on the up and up. Sorta. A father and his sons walked from the Hotel and you can bet they had an object lesson in the diner. "Sons, if you don't go to college, you'll end up like those people sleeping in the parking lot." Oh well, we are what we are.
Here, Amy cleans gear atop a tower. The scenery was breathtaking. Weather you believe in the big bang or Creation or something else, you have to admit, this is a beautiful planet.
On our last day we headed up another multi-pitch. Here Sue leads the particularly slippery dihedral. You can see how polished it is by all of the white color. It's some type of quartz and lots of desperate pawing w/ chalk. The two lady's ahead of us appeared particularly anxious. We went and climbed a different 350' route, when we returned, they were still stuck on the 1st pitch. I climbed past them and gave as much encouragement / insruction as I could. We were stuck on a ledge waiting for them for about an hour and a half. Right when I felt high and mighty, I pulled a rookie mistake of my own. I forgot to put my radio back in my pocket and left it clipped a runner around my shoulder. From 40' up I was stemming and pulling over a small roof and it came unclipped. It bounced on the belay ledge and fell another 100'. Dropping rocks/gear is my biggest pet peave in climbing. I was grateful nobody was hurt and I'm still disappointed w/ myself. If you're in the market for radio's get a Cobra, amazingly enough, we found it on the ground and it works! Mine is the one w/ the dent.
For a threesome, we climbed fast, we didn't hold anybody up all weekend. By the end of the trip, we had climbing as a trio down. Just a few weeks ago, Amy was afraid of doing exposed routes. Now she's an ole' pro.
This top out felt like 5.10 w/ two ropes worth of weight and two ropes worth of drag. I was amazed when the girls walked up it. It was probably more like 5.5 but it was just another reminder that life is different on the sharp end.
From this final belay, I lamented it would likely be awhile before I was back. I was also incredibly grateful for the opportunity to live life to the fullest and I'll likely never forget our Urban Bivy.