Outer Space (5.9) and Orbit (5.8)
Snow Creek Wall
June 24, 2011
Adam Greenstreet and I climbed two classics today, Outer Space and Orbit, under beautiful sunny skies! I met Adam in Leavenworth a little after 6am and after organizing some gear we drove to the Snow Creek Trailhead. There were several empty cars in the parking lot when we arrived, but a few minutes later a party of three pulled in. We said "Good morning" as we walked by and they asked, "Where are you guys heading today?" That is always the #1 question as no-one wants to get stuck behind another climbing party. We told them that we were planning to climb Outer Space and Orbit, and they replied, "See you up there!"
The morning air was cool as Adam and I hiked up the Snow Creek Trail. It had been three years since I had been on this trail. Adam, on the other hand, probably knows every tree and rock of this trail. He has spent the past several years as one of the Rangers for the Leavenworth District. About a half mile in on the approach, Adam stopped and pulled up a weed that was growing by the side of the trail. He explained to me that this was a noxious weed and its presence in a shipment of wheat could cause the entired shipment to be turned around and refused. Wow! We pulled up several more plants that we found and snapped the seedpods off to be carried back down with us. Ten more yards up the trail we found more of this weed, but we left those for the trail crews since we already had our hands full for what we were planning to climb today!
Winter storms had blown down many trees in the forest between the trail and Snow Creek Wall, so we had to pick our way through a jumble of boulders and fallen logs to regain the old trail. Soon we were standing at the base of Snow Creek Wall looking up at this 900 foot face. We hiked over to the start of Orbit and geared up there then cached our packs. Adam had wisely brought two water bottles and topped them off at the stream. He left one here for later and took the other one with us to climb Outer Space.
We hiked back over to the base of Remorse where we met up with the party of three we had talked with at the trailhead. They were looking further right where the true start of Outer Space is so I asked, "Are you guys climbing the original route?" " One of the guys replied, "We'll climb whichever route you guys don't!" Ahhhh, very nice! Thank you fellas! Adam and put on our climbing shoes and scrambled the first pitch of Remorse then flaked out the rope for the slab/flake pitch. It was about 8:30am. Adam lead this pitch beautifully and commented how he never feels comfortable with trusting cams placed in the hollow flake. I agreed! He efficiently moved across the friction moves and soon I was paying out rope quickly as he reached easier terrain. I was suprised how tenuous some of the moves felt as I followed the pitch. When I recall leading these sections from previous climbs, my mind must block out the "tricky bits"!
After a quick exchange of gear I headed up the slab for the next pitch. I've always enjoyed this pitch and tried to use double runners to reduce rope drag. I moved around the corner on the right and up the fun hand crack, protecting it well. One last chimney and I was up at two tree ledge where I built an anchor and called "off belay!" As I belayed Adam up, I looked up at the next pitch and thought how glad I was that Adam chose to lead the first pitch which also gave him this next pitch, which I believe is the crux pitch. Soon Adam was with me at the anchor and we could look down on the party of three below us on the first pitch of the original route.
Another hand off of gear and Adam was off on the hand traverse pitch. At start of the traversing crack he stopped to take a picture of me on the ledge. I told him that I didn't have a camera with me because I hadn't replaced my little Nikon CoolPix form when it met its demise when I dropped it from the second pitch on Canary at Castle Rock a few years ago. Adam methodically moved up the sloping traverse and around out of sight. A few minutes later I heard off belay and started to break down my anchor. The first steep crack system of this pitch always works we over and this time was no different. All too soon I was at the start of the traverse and tried to just focus on my feet. Adam did a great job of protecting the traverse with just enough gear in just the right places. Once above the traverse I saw a small pocket that I remembed trying to fit a cam in when I lead this for the first time. Adam had wisely bypassed this poor placement location and had continued up to a more solid crack for his next piece of gear. I was glad to be at the anchor after this challenging pitch.
We took some time organizing the gear since this next pitch is mostly chicken heads with a 20 ft hand crack at the end. Adam prefers to rack off his harness while I am more comfortable with using a gear sling. With all the gear I needed, I headed off on the 5th pitch. I was beginning to get my "climbing legs" back and felt good moving across the chicken heads to the crack at the base of the pedestal. I carefully moved up the crack, utilizing the chicken heads on the wall when I needed them. At the top of the crack, I clipped the bolt and climbed down the other side of the pedestal to the sandy ledge by the tree. It felt good to be back at this awesome location. I built an equalized three piece anchor from stoppers and called "off belay". The winds had picked up so it was getting more difficult to hear each other. I called "Belay on!" and after tugging on the rope a few times, it started moving up! These last three pitches are fairly long, but Adam cruised up with only a few pauses when he was stopping to clean gear. Once he was secured at the belay we took a break to get some water and eat some food. I had brought a small backpack with me that I was able to carry our water and a windbreaker in. We had been making good time and felt good about our progress thus far!
This hand crack pitch, the plum of the route, eats up a lot of gear, so Adam gathered all the medium sized cams we had on our rack and headed up. While belaying I took in the view of Leavenworth and followed the Snow Creek trail cut in the hillside across the valley from us. What an incredible place to be! Two falcons were flying by the wall, chasing each other. The tailing one calling every so often. Adam has said they had been nesting near the tower at the lower right of Snow Creek Wall. I recalled seeing a picture someone had taken of a falcon and it's nest that it had built on Library Ledge...where Adam had just about reached! The ledge was unoccuppied today so Adam built a nice anchor and brought me up. This is such an enjoyable pitch and I wondered at the amazing forces that cracked this huge wall straight down through chicken heads for 300 feet.
At Library Ledge, I clipped into the anchor, sat down and took a short break. Adam told me that a peregrin was buzzing me as I climbed up! Either it must have been in "stealth mode" or I was too focused to notice because I had no idea. I didn't want to wait too long because the first move of this next pitch is another one of the "tricky bits" of this route. Adam mentioned this and I told him that I was trying to savor that last pitch before I had to turn my attention to this next sequence. At least I could take comfort that it can be well protected! After rebuilding the rack, I reached over the crack and slotted a bomber nut. "Protect the belay", is what my friend Todd Hogan said often when we were climbing the north ridge of Mt Stuart. Good advice, indeed! Once on belay I moved out to the crack and made the moves. Once I got into the wider portion of the crack, I could relax and enjoy it more. From climbing in Indian Creek last fall, I think my crack climbing improved because I was able to stay in the crack with my hands and feet for more than previous climbs.
I tried to focus on climbing efficiently and making thoughtful gear placements. I made my way up the crack and a little past the bushy tree I built an anchor and called "Off belay!" Usually there is only 40 more feet of climbing then we would be done with the route, but today we were only halfway there since the 7 pitches of Orbit were waiting for us next.... I called "Belay on" down to Adam and soon I was pulling up rope. At the belay we clipped Adam in, I switched my Petzl Reverso 3 belay device mode from autoblock mode to lead belay mode and Adam was off on the last pitch. He saw that I had girth hitched a chicken head as one of the points in my anchor and he told me that on previous climbs he and his partners would try to see who could make the most "natural" gear placements by slinging chicken heads, chockstones, trees, shrubs, or any other natural features...NICE! Very Sporting!!
After a few moves through the chicken heads the rope started moving quickly and then I heard Adam call down, "off belay!", and then soon after, "belay on!" I tried to climb up quickly and once I reached Adam at the top he looked at his watch and said we had climbed it in a little over three hours. We changed back into our approach shoes for the decent and coiled the rope. As we were doing this a family of goats approached in search of salt. Adam walked behind a rock and obliged them. I got great shot of a nanny and a kid running past Adam to get to his peace offering! Goats are such amazing animals! I would have loved to have stayed up a the top, taking pictures of goats all day, but we had more business to attend to!
Adam took the rope and we started the decent down the climbers trail to the base of Orbit. We had left our packs in a tree at the lower ledge, so we had to downclimb down to our packs to get Adam's second bottle of water and my extra food.
Once we were geared back up, we scrambled the first pitch up to the large tree with the rappel slings. I took the first (second) pitch and soon was at the base of the awkward chimney. I protected the move as best I could then ventured out onto the face only to be thwarted by my pack hanging up on the wall behind me. I decided to leave the pack for Adam so I clipped it to a cam then started back up only to be tugged back down because one of the straps for the pack was caught on my gear sling! This was not the way I wanted to begin this next route! I finally got everything staightened out and was able to make the move by getting out onto the face the bypassing the chimney. Since I had taken so long on this section I decided to run the rope out to extend the pitch as far as I could. I built an anchor near a shrub on a slab to the left of the where Mary Jane's Dihedral continues up.
At the belay, I apologized to Adam for having taken so long and leaving my pack for him to deal with. Always gracious, Adam said not to worry about it and re-racked for the finger crack pitch.