After trying and failing for several weeks to climb together, Josh and I finally made it happen. Although Rainier was off the menu, we had a possibly more ambitious plan: to climb Orbit and Outer Space on the Snow Creek Wall in a day. Both are coveted multipitch lines on the Snow Creek Wall above Leavenworth, and have been on my tick list for a while. My failure two weeks before with Jim on Orbit verified both that I thought I could do it, and more importantly, that I really wanted to.
Planning to go to Leavenworth on Sunday, we met Saturday morning in Issaquah and drove out to Vantage for a day of sunny sport at the Riverview Park wall. I’ve never been there before but have heard good things from others in the club, and it did not disappoint. We began with ‘One Move Blunder,’ a 5.9 with a bouldery start that gives the climb it’s name. The rest of the day we spent on 10s, a couple 11as, and an 11b, the names of which I don’t know. We didn’t have a guidebook, so we borrowed one from other climbers, writing down the names of good looking climbs on the inside of a bubble gum wrapper. In all we probably climbed 10 pitches and called it a fairly early day around 4 so we could drive to Leavenworth via Quincy and Wenatchee and have a restful night.
On the drive we learned that we both favored pizza as our favorite food, so of course we had to stop at the Leavenworth Pizza Company for a delicious dinner. A spot at 8 Mile CC, some gear sorting and we were asleep by 10, ready for our 5 AM alarm. For once getting up early was easy, and we were in the car half an hour later, the first to arrive in the Snow Creek parking lot. We hit the trail at 5:45 and set a brisk pace, reaching the wall just after 7. Perfectly situated to catch the early morning rays and allow for a cool, shady approach, the wall loomed large above us, dry but for the first pitch of Outer Space, our first objective. We scrambled up to the base of the climb past several goats and racked up. I drew the first lead and began up the sloping dihedral, doing my best to avoid the pervasive wetness. My best wasn’t good enough, and when I reached the “obvious crack on the left” (which I had missed and climbed past) I could not get into it and had to pull on a cam. Not exactly an auspicious start, as this was supposed to be 5.7. It was the only move I didn’t free all day, and I’d like to think it was due to the nice coating of mud on my shoes. Reaching a stance I made an anchor and Josh soon joined me, after taking a small, water induced fall, our only one of the day.
After this forgettable pitch it was nothing but pure awesomeness. We simuled across a broken ramp leading left across the wall to reach two tree ledge, the base of the crux pitch. Since Josh has climbed Outer Space on two previous occasions and we were swinging leads, I had the pleasure of leading this airy pitch. The first moves off the belay, liebacking up a short corner got the heart racing. This lead into a lower-angle dihedral and eventually out onto the face around a corner. Amazing and airy moves in a leaning crack system lead up and to the right. Rarely desperate, the moves were hard enough to be challenging but not so hard they weren’t fun and I climbed quickly to the tree belay, where Josh soon joined me. He lead up the next pitch, which begins with some zigzagging up blocky ledges to a runout, knobby slab and finally a great 5.8 right-facing corner to another comfortable ledge. It was 10AM, and we had only two pitches to go. Next up was the first of the famous hand-crack pitches, visible from below as a prominent white streak bisecting the upper headwall. The climbing was stellar, with great jams, tons of knobs and chickenheads for feet, and simple protection. It was so easy to climb far above the protection I had to stop and remind myself to place it occasionally. All too soon I reached Library Ledge, perhaps the greatest belay spot I have had the pleasure of using. I built an anchor, sat down with my feet hanging over the wall, and belayed josh up. When he arrived we sat and enjoyed the moment for a while, taking in the beautiful views and some much needed water. Far below we could see several other parties backed up on the first and second pitches. This is as close as we would get to anyone the rest of the day!
Our break over, Josh grabbed the rack and started up the committing first move of the final pitch. With only a small nut for protection and a finger tips crack, the first two moves were nervy but more mentally difficult than physically so. Above that was more great hand crack and knobs, which we dispatched in one long pitch thanks to our 70 meter rope. As I sat there on the ledge, I was totally content. My world was composed of the sound of rushing water, chirping birds, sun, and rock. Periodically a carabiner would jingle as Josh moved upwards, briefly interrupting my drowsy reverie. All too soon it was time again to climb and I joined Josh atop the wall at 2 minutes past noon. 4.5 hours for the 6 pitches; not exactly speed demons, but not slouches either. We spent about half an hour eating lunch, finishing our first liters of water, and packing up the gear and rope. By 12:30 we began the tedious descent to the south, zigzagging along loose rock trails from cairn to cairn. Eventually I spotted what I thought was the tree marking the base of Orbit, so we traversed along the base of the wall. Soon I realized I was mistaken and we were too high, necessitating a short rappel. We rapped off a single bolt, which I bounce tested with a cam+nut backup.
By 2 we were at the base of Orbit, ready to start. During our descent we observed three parties backed up on pitches five, four, and three. By the time we began, the last party was leaving the third pitch, and we were free to go. I lead up the 4th/low fifth first pitch and Josh lead up the chimney pitch. He initially decided against tailing his pack, but thought better of it when he got close enough to the awkward chimney move to see it would be much easier without. Although not exactly stylish, he got through cleanly and lead through to the midpoint of the traverse. I followed, finding the move much easier this time, knowing what to do. I joined him at the belay, took the rack, and carried on to the finger crack, where I first started to notice how tired I was becoming. Fortunately it was short and I reached the next belay, the point where Jim and I had turned around on our attempt. Josh lead the next pitch, with some scary moves off the belay on marginal protection. After he rounded the corner, exiting onto the main face, I couldn’t see him any longer and the rope progressed slowly, at times coming back down. After probably 40 minutes I felt three tugs and began climbing. As I climbed I was impressed with the lead, which felt very thin to me, with runout protection.
Confident with the rope running up ahead of me, I reached the belay and lead through, up a short finger crack dihedral. I was stymied briefly, as the crack ran out and the rock became lichen covered. Looking to my right, I realized the route stepped out from the dihedral onto the face, which I dutifully followed, stretching wide to reach the only foothold. Easier climbing lead to huge knobs and more chickenheads, which were great for climbing, but didn’t offer much protection. The 35 feet between pieces was mitigated only by the ease of climbing and I soon reached a massive flat ledge that was too good to pass up. Josh followed up to the ledge and we had a brief rest, realizing we were both tired and glad to be into the easier climbing. Soon another long pitch of massive knobs followed, with one more semi-pitch to the top of the wall. It was 7 when we both topped out.
Packing quickly, we began the descent, sped this time by our knowledge of the route from our previous trip down. We avoided the rappel and scrambled down past the base of Orbit to the bottom of the wall, quickly reaching the climbers trail. We arrived at the Snow Creek Trail at 8PM, and set a fast and focused pace down to the car, reaching it just before 9 to complete our day, 15 hours after we had left the car. As we were the first car to arrive, so we were the last to leave. Some food and bathroom stops ensued, and then the long drive over Blewett Pass back to Issaquah. Although we were exhausted, we managed to stay alert the whole way home. I sure felt the effort today though.
Despite the length (or perhaps in part because of it), this was a fantastic day with a superb partner. Everything went smoothly and we seemed very evenly matched, both in terms of climbing and personality, making the entire experience enjoyable. We agreed that both climbs got better as they got higher, and that Outer Space is the better or the two, as well as the easier. I’m not sure why they have the grades they do: Outer Space is 5.9, Orbit 5.8+. If there can really be a difference between those two grades, I would give the 9 to Orbit. In any case it was a tremendous, sunny day, quite a way to complete my first ascents of both climbs.