Tieton Gorge Climbing
Darn! There is nothing like driving for three hours, getting excited about the objective, then you get out of the car on dry pavement and it starts raining. We were looking up at Goose Egg Mountain, suitably impressed by it and Kloochman Rock across the road. Oh well, we thought maybe later in the afternoon it would be dry and we could climb some of it anyway.
So we drove back to the Royal Columns, which seems to be the most popular climbing area of the several Tieton crags. Theron and Robert had been here a year ago, but it was my first time. I wanted to try a three-star climb called “Mushmaker,” which they had enjoyed, but found pretty hard for it’s 5.7 rating. We got to the base and Theron said “I think this is it.” The crack looked kind of wide so I took a 3.5 inch cam up, I hardly ever use that thing, but I was glad to have it. The climbing was kind of difficult, with a lot of arm-barring in the 4-5 inch crack. Luckily it would constrict now and then for one of my larger cams.
“I’m not finding much hand-jamming up here Theron!” I complained. “Call me a waaaambulance!” he said. Not really, I just think that’s a funny comeback. But he did say it would narrow down a bit. A really puzzling move was overcome with a nice edge far to the right. Then I reached an overhang and got pumped placing a nut in the roof. I hung on the rope, kind of sad to be “in over my head” on the first climb of the day! Eschewing a few warm-up climbs is not always the best idea. I peeked above the overhang, where I could go right or left. Left led to a rappel anchor over moss covered ground. Right led through loose rock, but I liked it better than the moss. Sidling around the roof on the right, I belayed from a gear anchor atop the column. Theron climbed up, having trouble at the crux until he found the edge on the right. We climbed down to the rap station and slid down to our packs, overhearing some guys on the climb next door refer to it as “Mushmaker.” With that, everything clicked for Theron, and he realized we’d climbed something else (“First Blood”, described as a 5.8 fist jam climb. I probably got one decent fist jam, but plenty of it was wider than that. To be fair, I did get a few nice hand jams too). It was kind of funny because I had constantly said stuff at the base like “you remember this schrub?” Anyway, I was relieved that my internal climb-rating meter hadn’t been so far off (I thought it was 5.8+).
Theron led us up the climb “Western Front” (5.3), clean and fun although a bit short. Then I led the real “Mushmaker,” finding it really enjoyable. Robert had thought I’d like it based on my hand size, and sure enough, it was one solid jam after another. Theron’s technique had improved a lot, and he exclaimed over some great jams that he could practically hang off of. Now it was noon, and the sun was out, so I lobbied for a trip back to the Goose Egg Mountain for “Ride the Lightning” (5.9). Theron was willing to go, so we hastened back to the car even as more Seattle-based climbers drubbed out of the mountains by rain arrived.
We filled one pack with water and jackets, taking double ropes because we just hoped to climb the first three pitches and needed them to make long rappels. After a short but very steep hike to the base, we got ready to climb in a light rain. “But the sun is still shining on the rock so it evaporates instantly,” I rationalized. Theron led up a class 5.0 slab for 50 feet to reach the first bolt. He climbed a steep slab with good edges for hands. He reached an intimidating series of moves that felt beyond his leading ability, so after belaying me up from a bolt, Theron sent me off with quickdraws for 30 feet of tricky, interesting climbing on solid edges. It was pretty fun, although Theron was getting chilled in a strong wind at the belay. He climbed up without trouble (aside from painful feet from so much standing on dime-edges), and we put on windbreakers.
Pitch 2 (3 for us) started out with some unpleasant crumbly rock. I had one foothold crumble apart. Between shivers, Theron told me about it. “I know,” I replied in my best “Gimme-that-bottle” voice. A few more tricky moves (5.8) got me to one bolt below a great dihedral with a 10 foot roof. I was supposed to climb up to a belay at the roof, but I was alarmed to see I was out of quickdraws, and only had three slings. “There is no way,” I said, and so we had our second impromptu belay from a single bolt. Bring a lot of draws and slings to avoid that. Because of the time spent stacking the double ropes at awkward hanging belays, I think I should have lowered and backcleaned draws instead of belaying.
Theron was cold and happy to climb. He came up and sent me off again for two more bolts and a traverse into a corner with gear placements. With a combination of liebacking (not strenuous) and jamming, I gained elevation in the dramatic corner. “This is awesome!” I mused, glancing down at Theron and his hanging stance. I continued to the roof, then committed to a fingertip ledge and a big step to the left that gained the 2-bolt anchor. Another awkward belay with carefully flaked rope in increasing winds followed. The next pitch looked short, and we would stop at the rappel anchors shortly before the end. We were both shivering in the increased wind and clouds. I peeked around the corner, and placed a small cam followed by two more as I continued up a tricky corner (5.8) that was at times loose, slabby, off-balance or generous with a great hold or jam. Fingers growing numb, I reached the anchor and belayed a shivering Theron. “Let’s get out of here!” we both said. I had to leave a sling at the anchor which seemed odd. Theron later generously gave me a new sling because in the time he’s known me, I’ve had to leave plenty of nuts and slings. We made a 60 meter rappel to a station on the climber’s left of Ride the Lightning. We didn’t see an intermediate 30 meter rappel stations, but were told you can rappel with a single 60 meter rope. One more rappel got us to the ground.
In summary, the first three pitches of Ride the Lightning provided some great climbing. We are definitely going back to finish it, even though we know there is loose rock on higher pitches. The wall itself is pretty impressive from the base, and climbing to the top seems like a worthy thing to do. Personally, I’m keen to climb the cool 5.8+ section again, and the dihedral.
We had enough daylight to get one more climb in, so we drove back to “The Bend” to climb “Ed’s Jam,” a classic 5.8 crack providing “joyous hand jams.” That just sounds great, so we reached the base of the route and I climbed up. I found the thin hands start awkward, so I climbed in a corner on the left until a roof blocked my path. Then I traversed into the main crack, continuing another 15 feet to a tree growing healthily from it. I belayed Theron up to here. He didn’t know if he wanted to go on, but as I climbed the upper crack, I was convinced he needed to because it was really, really fun climbing. I set a belay on top of the pillar, and watched Theron jam his way up. It had been a fun day, aside from some cold, cold belays on Ride the Lightning. Now the sun was going down, so we scrambled off to the right of the columns and hiked back to the car.