Leavenworth Rock Climbing
"Adrian!" The cry echoed up the valley. It was the sound of Sylvester Stallone impersonations shouted enthusiastically from the Tyrolean traverse station. I was a few hundred yards away helping Lead Instructor Morten set-up the free-rappel station, but I could still hear the Stallone-esque slurred shout. I laughed because the so-bad-its-good Stallone movie Cliffhanger was a hot topic of conversation that morning. The opening scene which features a Tyrolean traverse was on everyone's mind as we each took our turns shimmying across the ravine suspended from a climbing rope that was stretched horizontally over the gap.
We were climbing at Clamshell Cave, one of the numerous rock climbing and bouldering spots that flank Icicle Creek Road near Leavenworth, Washington. The other three Saturday Teams were climbing at different spots along the road. It was the seventh outing and the eighth week of the BOEALPS Basic Climbing Class and we were treated to blue skies and warm weather. We were lucky; Icicle creek road had only just melted out. Although it felt like summer in the valley, only a couple hundred feet above us the hills were still covered with snow. The last six BCC outings had featured cold, rain, snow, and hikes of up to twelve hours with heavy packs in thigh-deep powder so our sunny twenty-minute hike from the road carrying only daypacks felt like a vacation.
Saturday morning I started the day off groggy after a poor nights sleep. For the Leavenworth weekend BOEALPS reserved a group campsite for the weekend. I had rolled in around 9pm Friday night, making the three-hour drive from Seattle after work. There was a bonfire, so after setting up my tent I joined the other BOEALPers around the fire. I was surprised by the appearance of a group of male and female BOEALPers who had all decided to dress in cutoff jeans, plaid flannel shirts and wolf masks as a joke. In the flickering firelight it had the fever dream surreal quality of the bunny mask in the movie Donnie Darko. I felt like I was in some sort of hipster music video.
After a few beers and a couple hours of good conversation around the bonfire I called it a night. We were starting our day BOEALPS-early at 7am, which meant meeting the rest of the team at 6:30am. When I walked back to my tent I was in for a rude shock. In my haste to pack after work I forgotten my sleeping bag. When preparing for a climbing trip I always pack the night before double- and triple-checking my gear, because forgetting one piece of vital equipment can ruin the climb. However, for Leavenworth we were car camping so I took a "how-hard-can-it-be" cavalier attitude towards packing. Although the days were now warm in Leavenworth, the nights were still cold. I had at least remembered my tent and sleeping pad. I pulled the space blanket emergency bivvy sack out of my first aid kit and wearing all of my clothes attempted to get some sleep. I had a miserable night. The heat-reflective polyethylene material didn't breathe so the bivvy filled with condensation. Spending the night in the emergency bivvy sack was like sleeping in a sweaty Mylar trash bag. To its credit I was cold all night, but the emergency bivvy provided just enough insulation that I never got so chilled that I was shivering. I felt like a complete idjit. One of the reasons I decided to teach the BCC was to relearn some of the skills I forgot over the intervening ten years since I took the class as a student in 2002. I did not think one of the lessons I would be relearning would be about car camping.
In the morning I needed to warm myself in the sun just like the lizards we saw sunning themselves on the rocks at Clamshell Cave. The first half of the day was spent demonstrating and practicing skills. At Leavenworth we were supposed to teach how to build anchors for belaying and rappelling. We also demonstrated and practiced skills like how to tie off a fallen climber and rappel past a knot. Myself and the other 1st year instructor Angie led the demonstrations. After completing all the skills we moved on to the fun part of the day: a sixty-foot free rappel, the Tyrolean traverse, and rock climbing practice. Setting up the Tyrolean traverse took Lead Instructor Morten and Senior Instructor François a long time and involved an elaborate set of anchors and ropes to secure and tension the main traverse rope. It was a hoot, but we all struggled to think of a practical use for it.
The rest of the day was spent rock climbing. The routes we climbed were named with typical climber whimsy: Noisy Oyster, Keep Clam, and Shrimp Salad. They were rated between 5.7 and 5.8, but just like at the very first BCC outing at Mt. Erie we were not climbing in rock shoes. Instead we wore our mountaineering boots so that made the climbs feel more like 5.9 and 5.10a. That night back at the BOEALPS campsite there was a potluck BBQ which was well attended since not just the BCC, but also the Intermediate Climbing Class were in Leavenworth that weekend. It was a good end to a fun day. I think the BCC's timing of the Leavenworth weekend is strategic. After almost two months of tough weekend outings, by design the class gives the students a fun weekend to give everyone a second wind going into the last month of class.
Tatoosh Range: The Castle and Pinnacle Peak
"That was fun…and it was easy," was the opinion voiced by one of the students and was echoed by all as we stood in the parking lot a Narada Falls after a day of climbing in the Tatoosh Range near Mount Rainier. At the end of every BCC outing each team circles up for a debriefing where first students and then instructors discuss the day. It was a week after Leavenworth and it was a sign of the swift progress all of the students have made in the last two months of the BCC that they now consider a ten-hour day climbing two minor peaks "easy".
For me the outing started Friday night. BOEALPS rented a cabin near the Nisqually entrance to Mt. Rainier for the weekend. I just started a new job on Thursday, so leaving work early was not an option. I still had to pack, so I didn't leave Seattle until 8pm. I should have studied the route a little closer, because I second-guessed myself several times on the drive down (I was going the right way the whole time). The cabin is surprisingly close to the park entrance. I rolled in around 10:30pm to a full house. The BCC and ICC were both using the cabin so by the time got there every bed was taken and I had to sleep on the floor. There was a rowdy crowd at the cabin who were loud so I didn't really get to sleep until 1am even though I went to bed at 11:30pm. At least I managed to remember my sleeping bag this time unlike Leavenworth.
I woke up at 5:45am so we could meet everyone at Longmire at 6:30am. We had a pleasant surprise at the park entrance: we did not have to pay. It was National Park week so all National Parks were waiving their entrance fees. The road to Paradise is gated so we couldn't leave until the opened the gate at 7am. The three other Saturday teams were there too. We drove up the winding Paradise road and parked at Narada Falls. From Narada we hiked up a steep snow covered hill to cut one of the switchbacks on the road, but after that we hiked on the road until we reached our turnoff at Reflection Lakes. The reason we walked the road is there was no place else to park the cars near Reflection Lakes and in fact just a few hundred yards up the road from the lakes, park crews were at work with snow removal trucks clearing the road. From Reflection Lakes we took bearings from the map, as it was too foggy to see either Castle or Pinnacle. Navigating by compass we started marching up towards The Castle, our first peak of the day. The snow was fairly consolidated so we didn't sink in much, a big improvement over every previous trip. On the way up our path crossed what looked like bobcat or lynx tracks. I have never seen a Bobcat or a Lynx in the wild and it would have made my day to see either, but those tracks were as close as I got.
We got to the base of The Castle just as the fog was lifting and were rewarded with a sea-of-clouds view of the nearby Mount Rainier and Unicorn Peak, while to the south we could see Mount Adams. It was a sublime and otherworldly scene except for the sound of the snow removal equipment. The piercing beep-beep-beep sound of heavy equipment backing up tends to spoil any sense of being in a pristine wilderness. The Castle fits its name. It's a rocky ridge of flat toped rocks spaced out by small gaps that resemble the crenelated battlement of a medieval castle's wall.
We climbed up one side of the Castle via a fixed line set by François. From there I was tasked with setting a fixed line to summit: one sling girth hitched to a tree, one picket in the snow, and one piece of pro anchored in the rock. However, I was a little anxious about it and forgot to clip rope to the tree anchor, which meant I was hiking the Castle traverse for almost eighty feet without protection. Eighty feet was roughly the distance between where Lead instructor Morten was belaying me and where I set the picket anchor. As a first year instructor I'm still learning too. From the summit the plan was to rappel down. Senior instructor and aerospace engineer François wasn't satisfied with his anchor and kept working at it until it was a thing of beauty. The team rappelled off the summit but left our ropes in place for Team 2 to use (we are Team 3). Team 2 returned the favor and left their ropes on Pinnacle Peak for us.
By the time we reached the summit of Pinnacle Peak the fog had returned and what would have been a great spot for a team photo with Rainier in the background was instead an anti-climax where the most interesting photos we got were of some exotic moss and lichens. After descending from the summit Pinnacle we hiked over the top of a saddle that in the summer is the top of the Pinnacle Peak trail. The snow was still too deep to reveal any path and the Tatoosh range was again wrapped in clouds so we could not see Reflection Lakes to take a bearing. We relied again on bearings taken from our maps and navigating by compass returned to our starting point on the road. The BCC teaches traditional map and compass skills and you are not supposed to use a GPS device to navigate on an outing. As they say "a map doesn't break and a compass can't run out of batteries." Hiking in thick forest, not sure of where we were going, but trusting that our compass' needles were taking us in the right direction we hit the road less than a hundred feet from where we started. All the training in the class was paying off.
Back at the cabin there was a potluck dinner. Just like at Leavenworth both the BCC and ICC classes were there so there that weekend so there was a ton of food. Sitting around a crackling fire in the cabin's fireplace while chowing down from my overloaded plate with the other BOEALPers was a good end to a good day.
Kramar, Viktor. Leavenworth Rock. 3rd ed. N.p.: Leavenworthrockclimbing.com, 2010. Pg. 122.
The Castle and Pinnacle Peak:
Beckey, Fred. Cascade Alpine Guide : Climbing and High Routes. Vol. 1, Columbia River to Stevens Pass. 3rd ed. Seattle: Mountaineers Books, 2000. 4th printing, 2011. Pgs. 129-130.
Smoot, Jeff. Climbing Washington's Mountains : summit hikes, scrambles, and climbs in Washington's Cascade and Olympic Mountain Range. Guilford Conn.: Falcon, 2002. Pgs. 310-314.
Pandell, Karen and Chris Stall. Animal Tracks of the Pacific Northwest: Washington, Oregon, B.C. and Southeast Alaska. Seattle: Mountaineers Books, 1981. 6th printing, 1992.
LinksLeavenworth Trip Report from a BCC 2010 student
Mount Rainier National Park
National Park Week
Kendall Peak with BOEALPS Basic Climbing Class (1 of 5)
Devils Thumb with BOEALPS Basic Climbing Class (2 of 5)
Sun and Fun with BOEALPS Basic Climbing Class (3 of 5)
Crevasse Rescue Training and Trail Work with the with BOEALPS Basic Climbing Class (4 of 5)
Little T Graduation Climb with BOEALPS Basic Climbing Class (5 of 5)