Leavenworth Lift Off
If you had asked me during years prior to use a vacation day to climb the distinctly subalpine Snow Creek Wall, I most likely would have said no. But this year I have been returning to the rock, with a focus on climbing quality routes. I have had some great evening Index sessions with Rio (favorite route: Godzilla + Leaping Lizards) and frequented some of the man made climbing structures in the concrete jungle. It has been nice to come back to a sport that I have largely ignored for the last few years.
My OG climbing partner from college Jacob has been enjoying remote life, climbing an absurd amount of rock in Flagstaff and Tahoe. For July, he booked a place in Skykomish. We had both hiked by Snow Creek Wall many times and figured it was time to actually climb the famous route Outer Space. I frequently hear horror stories about crowds, parties taking 2-3 hours per pitch, and unplanned epics on this little wall, so we planned to go up on a weekday to minimize our chances of running into a crowd. If things went well, we probably could tack on Orbit, another moderate climb.
We got to the Snow Creek Trailhead at 5:30 am and hiked up the trail. We took the strategy of hiking with no water and just filtering 2 liters each where we crossed the creek beneath the wall. Despite mosquito horror reports from a friend who had been in the area the day before, there were no mosquitoes basically all day.
There was one party ahead of us on Outer Space, which was surprising given our early weekday start. They took the original start, while we did Remorse for the first few pitches. I am glad we did the Remorse start. Both pitches had interesting, varied 5.8 climbing. I had thought the main appeal of Outer Space was the splitter hand crack up high, but actually each pitch is pretty high quality.
Pitch 3 was the technical crux, with a bunch of 5.9 climbing on face holds, hand jams, and finger locks.
Pitch 5 is the splitter hand crack, the money pitch. Not only was it a perfect crack, but it was peppered with these incredible knobby face holds. You could jam, put your feet on the knobs, pull on the knobs, whatever you wanted. It was definitely one of those great pitches that make you marvel at how wonderful nature can be and how marvelous the movement of the human body is.
I led pitch 6, which started with a few strenuous finger locks off the deck and then proceeded to provide with another 65m of beautiful hand crack and knobby face climbing. It was nearly as good as the previous pitch. On any other climb, it would be the money pitch.
The descent of Snow Creek Wall is a cairned walk off to the left. There is a bit of scrambling and route finding, so it is not terribly fast, but it beats rappelling with a single rope. We even found running water just off the trail, which was a life saver on this hot summer day. We were dehydrated, even with the extra water. I have never been so thirsty while climbing.
We had a relaxing lunch in the shade of a big pine tree before starting up Orbit. The start is non obvious. Reports mention a “hanging tree with many slings”, which is a bit misleading. The tree is not hanging, but rather somewhat horizontal and has no slings. The rock next to it does have slings, although this is not visible from the ground. A blue collar pitch of scrambling leads up to the tree and the obvious pitch 1 squeeze chimney.
I led the chimney pitch, which reminded me how hard 5.8 chimney climbing is. It took quite a few attempts to figure out the crux. It was definitely the hardest move I made all day.
After the strenuous lead in the sun, I was feeling parched and worked. With the short approach and “only” 12 pitches up to 5.9, I thought this would be a pretty casual day for us. I have done many long alpine days with four hour approaches and 2000 ft 5.8 climbs. The difference is that a typical alpine climb rated 5.8 probably only touches the upper grade on one or two pitches. With Orbit and Outer Space, the first 10 pitches we climbed were all at least 5.8. The climbing was never hard, but always attention grabbing. It wore us both out a bit more than we expected.
I led the “delicate” pitch 3, which involved a full 40m of focused, 5.8 face climbing with sparse thin gear and a few very old rusty bolts. I started the pitch in a bit of a dehydrated daze, but rose to the occasion and moved quickly through some substantial run outs. Jacob said he was inspired by the lead; I was inspired by not whipping 30 ft onto a small cam or rusty bolt.
We were both happy to be through the hardest climbing and entering the “stratosphere” of Snow Creek Wall, which is marked by more of the incredible knobby face climbing. The features on this part of the wall were even huger. P5 was a full 70m of hero F.fun jug pulling madness on huge knobs, grooves, and water features. There is not much in the way of pro on this pitch, but nothing could feel more secure. It reminded me of the famous “furrows” pitch on the classic south face of Charlotte Dome in the High Sierra, which I still consider to be the most incredible pitch of alpine rock I have every had the pleasure to experience.
At the top of the wall, I let my feet feel the cool in the evening breeze and gazed out towards Leavenworth. The other party had long since departed and we were all alone on this fantastic hunk of rock.
We managed the descent a little faster this time, grateful for the water once again. Then we packed up and booked it out, making it back to the car in less than hour, in time for some evening brats at the Munchen Haus in town! A successful day in L-Town!
Outer Space and Orbit made for a wonderful day of moderate trad climbing on some of the best rock around. Both routes were excellent, but Outer Space was a little more classic while Orbit was more exposed and heady. For both Jacob and I, it was probably the highest volume of quality 5.8-5.9 climbing we have done in a single day. Climbing with Jacob always brings back the inner joy of climbing, tracing back to the days of our youth, cutting our teeth at Minnehaha, Post Falls, and Banks Lake. For the meantime, while he is finally close by, we are going to hop on the send train and rock on!