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Adventure sport climbing at Mazama, WA

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
10 min read

So, Don and I have been talking about doing a Mazama trip for awhile… I had heard good things about the place from other climbers, had read some trip reports online, and chatted with Jason Keith about the place he calls home part of the year… all of which got me interested in taking a trip up that direction. Don has alpine classic aspirations, so his interest started with reading and learning about Liberty Bell and other classic routes in the North Cascades.

Despite some concerns, we decided to stick to our Mazama plan for the weekend. After several phone calls to the various gear shops between Bremerton and Mazama, Backpacker Supply in Tacoma had a copy of the new Bryan Burdo guidebook, Mazama Rock, which they were willing to hold for us, and Don, Teresa and I set off from Bremerton pretty much just in time to pick up the guidebook before the shop closed. When we got there, Matt and Mike were working… they were chatty, like us, so while I shopped camp kitchenware and Teresa looked at headlamps, we chatted about our plans for the weekend with Matt and Mike. While checking out, Matt and I joked back and forth about him tagging along — he is a climber, had no firm weekend plans, and we were short a fourth. We didn’t exactly pack for a fourth, though, so fitting him into the car seemed an insurmountable challenge. We headed out, fresh new guidebook in hand, and about ten minutes from the store, Don and I agreed — if Matt was in, we’d go back for him. So, we called the store, and after a bit of hmmmmm-ing and aw-ing, Matt was in. We got directions to his house, he headed home to grab his gear, and we met up at his place a few minutes later.

No, mom — I don’t typically pick up strangers. But, the climbing community is a bit like extended family… plus, though Matt is a big guy, Don, Teresa and I could have taken him in a cage fight.

Anyway — we had a nice long drive out to Mazama… we took I-90, then turned up through Leavenworth (where I briefly contemplated just heading for Icicle instead of adding another several hours of driving to an already late night), and drove through what I’m sure is beautiful country, although we couldn’t see any of it because it was night time. There were fewer deer on the road than expected, although there were some… and we rolled into a forest service undeveloped camping spot late that night.

One of the benefits of traveling with Don is that he eats, well. The pleasant side effect of that is that the rest of us eat, well. After a breakfast of the world’s best hash browns and a side of bacon, we headed down to our first stop, Fun Rock.

Fun Rock was unmistakably fun, and the approach was fantastic (think, amble three minutes from the crag back to the parking lot to use the unusually clean and well-maintained sani-can). Matt lead Megafauna, a 13-bolt 5.9 to warm up, and indeed — the route requires a 70 meter rope for a safe lower off; if you lower to the right into a little dirty chute, you can make it down on a 60-meter, but a 70 would be safer (more on that later). The guys then headed down to Two bolts or Not (10-) which is now fully bolted. I can’t remember exactly the sequence of me and Teresa’s climbing… I think Teresa climbed Megafauna, then we warmed up on the 10- once the rope was up. Two Bolts was really fun despite the waking up of many, many wasps… the wasps seemed peaceful, and they took a little while to get used to, but if anybody’s going to get stung it’s me, and I didn’t get stung despite invading the wasps space on holds a number of times.

After that, I headed for Cream, a 5.7 pitch, to get my lead head on. I had looked at the book enough to identify the start of the route, and then read the route from the ground. It looked like a pretty easy start on good holds, then a traverse to the right, to follow close bolts over a bulge. The bulge definitely didn’t look 5.7… it looked like a challenge. But, I could see a sequence even from the ground, so I set out on lead. Clipped the first couple of bolts, then got to the bulge, and it was STEEP. I took, to try to suss out the sequence and make sure that I had a good idea of what to do. While I was hanging, Don and Matt finished up Gridlock, 10b, and came over to check on my warmup.

They called up to ask how it was going, and I responded… “this 5.7 is HARD.”

To which Don responded, “That’s because you’re climbing an 11a.”

Um, huh?

The 5.7 route goes up and left; the 11a route (Swell) goes up and right, over the afore-mentioned bulge.

I considered my options… I could bail to the 5.7 on the left, pretty easily… just pull my highest draw and downclimb. But, I looked up, and thought… I can totally do that sequence. I could see it from the ground, it was so straightforward. The bolts were super close together, so the moves would be well protected. I had done a little bit of climbing, so was warmed up enough to try the moves. So, I decided to finish the lead.

I don’t actually remember the details of what happened next, but long story short, I got the rope up. I was stoked… partly, for getting a rope up on an 11a… partly, for reading the route (even if I was reading the wrong route) and knowing that I could do the moves and then doing them. Teresa and I climbed Gridlock while the guys toproped Swell, and then I came back and did a toprope lap on the 11a. Don was so inspired by the route that he got back on it on lead, and did a fantastic job.

While we were climbing, I started to hear hammering, and though… Bryan Burdo must be out. Sure enough, after a round of introductions, we made friends with Bryan who literally wrote the Mazama book, and who put up nearly all of the routes at Mazama (as well as many of the routes at North Bend). He was cleaning a boulder traverse that faces Fun Rock, so we all chatted and got to know each other over the course of the morning.

After we all took turns on Swell, Matt got back on Megafauna while I went to get a snack. I’ll make a long story short… none of the three (Matt, Don or Teresa) remembered the minor detail about the length of the rope and the length of the route, so Matt took a tumble on lower. It was really lucky… he did bruise his heel good, but we were lucky for no major injuries. When I got back from my snack, I lead and cleaned the route — very carefully ensuring that there were knots in my rope ends for my rap off, and I made it down with a few inches of rope to spare on rap. And, noticing that 5.9 runout is way more scary than 11a well-bolted!

From there, we headed over to Rhinozone. Teresa rocked her first outside leads, although I’m not sure what the routes were. I got on Rhinovirus, 10a, while Bryan worked on cleaning and bolting a new LOVELY looking 11a to the right of us. Rhinovirus was ridiculous (or, I was ridiculously tired, which is entirely possible). At one point, I think I had to take about seven or eight times, and I just could not figure out the moves. I had to move a bit above a bolt, on very tenuous holds, and had a hard time committing. After numerous tries, though, I rather desperately put it together (complete with a huge rush of adrenaline, something I almost never feel while rock climbing) and made the next clip; the route was fun and pretty straightforward from there. Don cruised up it, stopping only briefly to suss out the crux, while Matt and Teresa kept working routes to the left of us. By the time we cleaned these routes, we were all pretty wiped and ready for food, so we headed to camp to grill some fantastic T-bones Teresa contributed to the cause.

We set up camp up the road from the climbing areas, out Lost River Road. After a good night’s sleep, we he
aded for Prospector Crag, home of many long 10-ish routes, on Bryan’s recommendation.

The approach to Prospector was tougher… steep and switchbacking, on loose terrain. We got up to the base of the crag, and it wasn’t 100% Teresa’s thing… the belay area was pretty loose and slippy, and there was a fair amount of loose rock (the area of the crag we were climbing actually has a shale layer that you climb past, so this is definitely a helmet-wearing area). Don and Matt got on Come Out and Play (5.9, with a 10a option at the top — take the 10a, definitely) and I got on Goody 2 Shoes, 5.9. The route was so fun, and so unscary, that I sang silly songs to myself most of the time… if you’re new to 5.9 leading, this is a good choice (despite having to climb through a shale layer, which is very loose). We switched places and I lead the 10a variation of Come out and Play, including one VERY tenuous clip…

Me: “Clipping!”
Teresa: (pays out rope)
Me: “Not Clipping!”
Teresa: (pulls in rope)
Me: “Clipping… Clipping DESPERATELY!”
Teresa: (pays out rope, and braces to catch a nasty fall)

But ultimately, the desperate clip took, and no falls were taken. It was another really fun lead, but by then we had a bunch of company at the crag, and decided to head back for the lower crags to get in a few more pitches before heading home.

We went back to where we’d climbed Saturday to take a look at Canine Crag. We didn’t crack the guidebook right away… just walked up to look at the wall (which was really impressive — it’s got a huge roof, and a lot of texture… the rock itself is lovely). We decided to just see what looked inspiring, without regard for grade. All we had to do was walk up to the rock to have Toupee, 11a, jump right out at us. Don hopped up the slab to the right to setup a toprope and we all set to work. The route is really just a couple of steep bouldery moves on smaller holds, but it was super fun. We burned up our remaining energy, and now have three 11a’s to come back to visit at Mazama… Toupee, Swell, and the new one Bryan put up on Rhinozone.

The weekend wrap-up… the climbing was great… Matt was a great addition to our trip… and after spending a lot of time basically guiding, he had fun climbing with other leaders. Abundant free undeveloped camping was also great, as is the little Mazama store. We mostly had the place to ourselves… although the broader distribution of Bryan’s book is likely to change that, as folks discover the benefits of Mazama. Right now, the book is in stock at most of the independent stores (the non-
Bremerton Vertical World locations, Marmot Mountain Works in Bellevue, and Backpacker Supply in Tacoma) but as of last week hadn’t yet hit the shelves at REI.

The drive home was lovely… we took the North Cascades highway and listened to Matt’s stories from all of the classic climbs that he’s done and that we have yet to do. I’d only ever done that drive during the winter… seeing it during the fall was spectacular.

Otherwise, spending almost an entire day with a walking, talking guidebook who climbs 5.13 was awesome. Bryan was great fun, very patient and encouraging with us moderates. He was a fantastic coach… Bryan, if you don’t want me sharing all your secrets let me know, but here’s the Burdo Wisdom we learned over the course of a few hours of chatting…

  1. The harder the route, the closer the bolts tend to be, and the less-treacherous the falls. TOTALLY true. I was happy, calm and comfortable on my lead ascent of Swell; I was sketched on my lead of Megafun.
  2. Traverse, traverse, traverse. It builds endurance, and works your shoulders laterally instead of just pulling, pulling, pulling. The bouldering traverse just across from Fun Rock, which Bryan finished cleaning while we were there, is excellent.
  3. Think of a fall as an opportunity to rest. I’m terrible about taking… I take, rather than risking a fall. I tend to take, get my energy back, then pull the move… which tells me I need to work on (1) my head; and (2) my endurance. Thinking about pushing through to a fall, and then being rewarded for falling by getting a little rest, is interesting to me. I’ve already tried it in the gym this week, and I think that may be a bit of a breakthrough for me in thinking, if I can apply it.
  4. Underclimb the route. Climb hard routes like they’re easy. Climb as calm and relaxed as possible, and the route really does feel easier.

Unfortunately, since I’m finally sitting down to write this a whole week later, I’m sure I’m forgetting some of the wisdom that I intended to scratch down in the back of my guidebook, since it was some of the best coaching I’ve had in a long time.

Here’s a huge thanks to Matt for joining a car full of strangers for a looooong drive and sleeping out in the woods… Thanks to Matt’s roommate Mike for feeding the amazing Ruby (Matt’s dog). And, thanks to Bryan for the coaching, company, encouragement, and the unbelievable amount of work that’s gone into making Mazama the Next Big Thing in Washington sport climbing. The place will be worthy of many visits in the seasons to come, especially since we didn’t even touch the long stuff (Methow Inspiration, a 5-pitch 5.9, for example — which was one of the routes that we set course for Mazama to do). And, I can’t wait to get on Euphoria, at Prospector Crag, an 18-bolt (150 foot) 10c, which is one of Bryan’s personal favorites.

September and October are prime season, before North Cascades closes for the winter… so I’ll cross my fingers we get one more trip up this fall. Teresa had her camera out, so if we got any pictures I’ll post an update.

Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis.