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This weekend's two-fer: Marmot Pass Hike and Exit 32 sport climbing

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
7 min read

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That’s a view of the Olympics from the false summit below Buckhorn, and just up from Marmot Pass. Breathe deep, and you can almost imagine the crisp, clean air way up there.

This was a fun, busy training weekend. I’m getting ready for my four day mountain skills course this weekend (I’m super, incredibly, excited) and wanted to get in a two-fer this weekend. I had originally considered some ambitious solo goals, but ultimately have too many friends that I want to spend some time with before some additional trips on the calendar in the next few months, so opted for some closer to home activities. Saturday’s goal was to do a nice hike in the Olympics, then Sunday, to head out to Little Si (Exit 32) for a short hike and some sport climbing with friends.

Marmot Pass

I chose Marmot Pass as the destination for Saturday, which turned out to be great. Here’s a great trip report and beta on the hike, on Mike’s Hikes blog.

There were other hikers and backpackers during the day, but all either totally quiet or friendly. The hike up was pretty uneventful… it seemed that most of the wildlife knew it was the weekend, so were laying low. The fungus is out in full force… I saw all different kinds of mushrooms, in a variety of shapes and colors I’d never imagined. The trail is pretty steady… up, up, up, up through the woods until it opens up… then up, up, up, up until you reach the meadows below Marmot Pass. From the pass itself, the views were lovely. The Olympics spread out on one side, with strikingly little snow to see this summer; the other direction is views of the Hood Canal, the Puget Sound Basin, and more. Seattle and the other “civilized” areas are just fuzzy blurs… you can hardly tell they’re there.

I had hoped to make it to the top of Buckhorn, which is just a steep scramble up from Marmot Pass, but we moved a little bit leisurely so only made a false summit before our turnaround time. Even from the false summit, the views were phenomenal.

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There’s a view out over one of the cairns that marks a false summit on Buckhorn.

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And, that’s a view out across at the true Buckhorn summit, with Puget Sound, Hood Canal, and pretty much the rest of Western Washington in view. From that false summit, we could see everything from Mt. Baker to Mt. Rainier, although my camera doesn’t do it justice.

The hike down was uneventful. It was a bit punishing on the knees, even after we’d offloaded a half gallon of water to another hiker we met on the trail coming down from Buckhorn, and even though we’d drank the other nearly three gallons (!) of water we carried up. The trail down seemed to go on forever, but it was a steady fast downhill, and round trip we moved fairly speedily. Some stretching, a lot of water, and a good dinner… then it was time to sleep up for the next day’s part two.

Little Si Climbing (Exit 32), in North Bend

Exit 32 is one of my favorite places to sport climb… partly, because I’ve climbed there each season, and always have projects or goals to work on, so it’s rewarding to be able to measure my progress. It’s also reasonably close to home, and the scene is, on its best days, friendly and fun. There are only a few climbs 5.9 and under, with the bulk of the action at 10+ and harder.

What it lacks in sheer number of routes, the area more than makes up for in quality. I find the routes at Exit 32 inspiring. I tend to prefer onsight climbing, where I can start and finish the route in one try, with no falls. That means, my comfort zone is at a level much lower than my actual maximum difficulty potential. The routes at Exit 32 are different. I think, partly because the harder routes are closely bolted, and tend toward being vertical to overhung, the falls are cleaner and not as scary as falls on easier or less vertical terrain. For some reason, I tend to pick projects at Exit 32, and it’s always fun to actually finish one.

Earlier this year I finally was able to tick off “The Big Easy,” a super fun, great movement 5.9 on Blackstone Wall. That day, I worked Goddess, a slightly harder route, taking a small fall up high and then getting the route up bolt to bolt on lead, so that I could spend some time on toprope rehearsals. I also tried Son of Jesus, a harder route, on the World Wall that day, making it through the lower and upper crux only to pump out because I didn’t do a good job reading the route up above.

This weekend, I wanted to get back on Goddess and Son of Jesus. After a great warm-up on Big Easy, the peer pressure was on (and really, I had zero excuse) so we set off for Goddess.

This is what I look like when I’m psyching myself up for a redpoint attempt. I think the blue helmet I had to borrow because I couldn’t find mine in the approximately 2.5 minutes I took to pack for the day gave me extra send-o’s, since it matches my eyes.

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And, this is what I look like when I’ve made the first clip on a route where if I were to fall before the first clip, my belayer and I would go tumbling down a steep embankment and probably be seriously injured. I suppose that’s a place for a ground anchor, if you’re concerned about making the first clip. I’ve rehearsed the start enough times up and down, that I was confident about my ability to either get the bolt clipped properly and safely, or, to downclimb off the route.

I racked up with a familiar amount of nerves and anticipation. I was stoked to have one great belayer on belay, and one great belayer taking pictures (thank you, guys), and as I read the route, it didn’t look quite as hard as I remembered. I got a good look from the ground, then set off. Once the first bolt was clipped (without difficulty) everybody started breathing again, and the climb was just fun from there. The crux was way less scary than I remembered; I was above it before I even knew what was going on. After I pulled the crux, the first flash of a thought I had was “It’s all over but the shoutin” but I knew I had to keep it together and finish up the route, since I typically pull the crux then pump out on the 5.7 finish.

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Not this time… finished ‘er up, then lowered off happily. Unlike most finished projects — I didn’t think, “great, now I don’t have to do it again…” this time, I thought, “ooooohhhhh… I wanna do it again!”

But, instead, I belayed and hung out with other friends taking Burns on Goddess for awhile, then we set off for World Wall.

My date with Son of Jesus didn’t go qu
ite as smoothly… the rock felt more slippery than usual, so this stemming problem felt more challenging than usual. Just after the move that’s a bit tricky for me down low on the route, I moved up a bit past a bolt then realized… crap, I’m out of position. I reached up to slap for what I hoped would be something to move up on and slid right off a greasy sloper. I called “Falling!” then fell for probably a split second before doing what I always do… screaming bloody murder. I have GOT to get that under control… it’s totally an uncontrolled fear response… but I keep it together long enough to call “Falling!” then I totally lose it. During the fall, I can feel myself shaking with fear, and I uncontrollably scream.

Shawn caught me (thank you) and I pulled right up to my high point to rest for a bit. Then, much to my surprise, still shaking a bit from the fall, I got back on. I made a better organized move, to gain the next clip, then worked my way up to the upper crux, which really isn’t that hard — it’s just always hard for me to remember exactly what beta works best for me because there are a few options. I started to try one of the options, and then “Falling!” … and the “Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!” of another blood-curdling scream. Again, I took a deep breath, pulled back up to my high point, and then took a rest then climbed on. I ultimately finished the route, I think after two falls (I can’t remember) and still pretty shaken up by the falls. I felt tired, and a bit out of steam, so did a clean toprope run on it and tried to drill my preferred beta into my head. At least I’m a little closer on it, and I was proud of myself for trying hard enough to fall, though I do want to work on being a less noisy faller. Screaming in the backcountry (or even at a crowded suburban sport crag) is for when something is Really Really Wrong. When I’m on a safe belay, with a safe fall, and good gear, there’s no reason to make such a ruckus.

The guys all climbed sick hard, and John and Candace did too. New friend Josh, as well as a great herd o’girls (and Bill) from Olympia rounded out a really fun, positive crew at World Wall for the day. All in all, it was a lovely Sunday at Exit 32, which made for a great two-fer for the weekend.

Trip Reports

Sara Lingafelter

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