Zig Zag - Undercover variation

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Trip Report
Washington, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Dec 7, 2009
Trad Climbing
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Zig Zag - Undercover variation
Created On: Mar 17, 2009
Last Edited On: Mar 17, 2009

Wet weather forces us north!

Ellen, Bob and I had plans to slog up the north couloir of McClellan Butte but hard snow and rising avy danger pushed us north for some rock climbing at mount erie.

We piled into a car around 7:30 and started the drive up to Anacortes in a slight rain. But as it often is, Anacortes was completely dry while Seattle got rained on all day long. We arrived at the lower parking lot just past the Mount Erie Grocery Store around 9:00 (after a stop for coffee so Bob would be in a good mood). I had never climbed at Snag Buttress before but I figured it couldn't be that hard to find. From the grocery store the "snag" loomed right above us seeming like it would be an easy target.

But as it usually ends up, my mind doesn't match reality. After hiking for what seemed like way too long and passing a small trail early on, we found a small trail cutting toward the buttress and cut up. Quickly we were following a "climbers path" through sticker bushes and underbrush. Eventually I forced my way onto a rock outcropping to find the snag. Now one would think the snag is easy to see since it stands out from the road so well. But as I looked out toward the buttress I saw snag after snag after snag.

To make a long story short, I turned my route finding nob as high as I could to try to redeem my first failed attempt at finding some rock to climb. After passing snag after snag after snag, the real snag came into view... now we just had to figure out how to get there as steep grass benches blocked out way to the dihedral below the snag, which signaled the beginning of our route.

I think climbing the grass benches to the beginning of the route was the crux of the day and was by far the scariest thing we did!

Time to climb!

After much 4th class grass climbing we made it to the base of the climb. The first pitch is a 5.6 dihedral with about 20' of slab above it to get to the belay. We had decided earlier that Ellen was going to lead the first pitch (her first trad lead), Bob the second pitch (his first trad lead), and I would take the crux. This seemed like a good was to let everyone have fun without too much first time stress!

After roping up, Ellen set out up the open book.
Ellen s first trad leadEllen starting up the first pitch

Ellen on the first pitchAnother shot of Ellen higher on the first pitch

Carefully placing a nut, and then another, she worked her way up the crack with great foot jams, stemming and mantling (all moves we had been practicing at the UW rock wall).
almost at the top!Even higher on the pitch

At the top of the open book she led out onto the arete to avoid a bush blocking the top of the dihedral and then onto the slab. THe slab above is hard to protect but Ellen pressed on taking a rather long time but finally calling off belay!

I climbed next with a second rope tied to my haul loop to eventually take bob up the pitch. Each of Ellen's pieces was set solidly and would have held a fall! Not bad for the first time! At the top of the dihedral I started up the slab following the rope. When I got to within sight of Ellen I realized she went to the wrong anchors... no wonder it took so long! She had to run it out over 30' up a slippery slab! I quickly made my way up to her, showed her were the normal anchors were, down climbed to them, then belayed Ellen over to me. Soon after Bob started climbing. As Bob arrived at the top he was dead tired and not feeling well at all. We quickly decided he wasn't going to lead the next pitch.

Another change of plans!

Since Bob wasn't going to lead the next pitch, and since we had two 60m ropes, I decided to combine the next two pitched by first climbing the undercover variation all they way up to the anchor bolts by the springboard. This turned out to be a great climb but ended much too soon!
The CruxThe second pitch (normally the second and third pitches) from the belay atop the dihedral

The undercover variation is a lot of fun. I ran it out on the variation to Ellen and Bob could climb up to the first piece, pull it, down climb a few feet and climb the normal route without risking too big of a pendulum as Bob wasn't going to have the energy to climb the variation. THis worked out great as both Ellen and Bob had never had to do an undercling lieback move for more than a few seconds. This will be a climb they both do again after brushing up on a few techniques!
a close up of the cruxa close up of the crux

Anyway, Ellen followed the pitch and was a little spooked at the exposure on the crux move but as usual didn't show it at all, pulling over the edge as if it were nothing.

After we anchored her in, she learned how to use and autoblock belay device and brought Bob up the long pitch.
Ellen belayingEllen Belaying Bob with a great view

Bob got a little stumped at a traverse from the snag where feet disappear, but finally committed trusting his hastily smeared feet and making the move with no problem at all. This boosted his confidence (which is normally unstoppable... he usually could climb a 5.7 move with his eyes closed) and gave him the energy to pull through the crux lieback move and flop onto the belay ledge.

One last "pitch"

After resting and eating some food, Bob decided he was going to lead us further up the mountain. So he took the gear and headed up the 4th class ramp to the left of the springboard. FLopping inside the ramp/corner, he got stuck for a while then wiggled his way to the top.
Bob leading out on 4th class terrainBob stuck in the ramp/corner

Ellen and I laughed as Bob responded with a desperate, "at least there was no possible way for me to fall!" Bob's pitch led us crawling in the dirt under low tree branches, up dripping 3rd class corners, up trees, across flat grassy benches and into the woods, all protected by 5 million slung trees.

As we topped out at our high point Ellen chimed in saying, "wow Bob, the sure was a great 'pitch' you led" very sarcastically making quote signs with her fingers. We all laughed and to this day he hasn't lived down his "pitch." Although I do have to say that I doubt anyone else has taken his daring line under and over the trees!

After were were done laughing about Bob's lead, we realized we had to get down somehow. Eventually we just started walking down the mountain until we found a dirty gully leading down toward the buttress. Switching back to approach shoes we scrabbled (and slid on our butts) down the loose and muddy gully, arriving at the rap bolts at the top of the springboard pitch.

Three rappels had us back to the base and packing up. On the way out we followed the obvious trail back to the main trail and realized the first trail we saw cut up fairly early was the correct one we should have taken... o well, next time.

Within 10 min we were back at the car and driving home. A fine way to spend a cool winter day!

Gear we used

Two 60m ropes
Friends 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5 and 3
Hexes 6, 7, 8, 9
A set of nuts
A bunch of single slings and a few doubles


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Zig Zag - Undercover variation

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