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Tieton River Climbing, May 2009

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
11 min read

View of Lava WallI spent last weekend thrashing myself at Tieton River climbing area, near Yakima, WA. We arrived late on Friday to find our usual abode, the Windy Point campground, closed. We made do; Don and I were in the C-RV so stealth camping isn’t usually an issue; friends Susie, Steve and Kari were in a tent and got blown around badly. Despite not much sleep, we had a cheery morning of breakfast and coffee around a Windy Point picnic table.

Saturday: Lava Point & Royal Columns
Day one’s plan was Lava Point, an area I’ve visited and had tons of fun at before. The crag was empty — I don’t believe we saw another climbing party all day.

We started out on Steal Your Face, a fun 10c on the Deadheads wall; Screaming for Rope, a 5.9 with a tricky start; B Weir of the Dead and Artificially Insteminated, SUPER fun 10a’s that might be slightly easier for us shorter / smaller fingered types; and Travalava and scoria, two 5.9s that make great warmups and are both get thumbs up. I had my eye on Saint of Circumstance, a 10c that looked like it had great moves up to two challenging roofs, but didn’t quite have another 10c lead attempt in me after having to take on Steal Your Face on lead. Don was inspired by Fit to be Tie Dyed, a 5.11a that you can toprope off the anchors of B Weir of the Dead. He absolutely styled it on lead, and I decided to finally indulge in a little “ice cream” (aka, toproping) since I’d been leading so far. The route was FUN. There’s one really big move on it that stumped me for a bit, but after trying a bunch of different approaches finally figured it out.

Here’s a view of Rimrock Lake from the base of Lava Wall:

View of Rimrock Lake

And, Steve on lead:

Steve on lead

We only saw a couple of ticks on Saturday, which was an unexpected treat since this is the high season for ticks up there.

From there, Colin and Susie wanted to get some time in playing with toys (aka, traditional gear) so we headed for the South Fork area in the hopes of getting up toward Astral Wall. The show stopped us about five miles below the trailhead, so that excursion will have to wait. The walls up there looked AWESOME from the road, so I can’t wait to get back when the roads are passable.

Susie on leadInstead, we headed to Royal Columns, which was packed with more climbers than I’ve ever seen there. There was a big herd at the Bend, as well. Susie got on lead (route unknown, see picture), and Colin and I headed for Twin Cracks, which looked like a fun 5.6 from the ground. I’m not 100% sure what the rest of our party did while Colin and I mini-epic’d on Twin Cracks (#57 in the Tieton guidebook), but Colin and I had a mini-adventure, for sure.

Colin lead, placing great gear all the way up. He reached a point where he could go straight up to the cliff top, or right, exiting out on top of a pillar (where the anchor bolts are indicated in the Guide). He scouted around and didn’t see bolts, so headed to the top of the cliff, where he also didn’t find bolts. He did a very careful downclimb to reach the decision point, again, and then went to his right to exit on top of the pillar — still, no bolts. He luckily had enough gear to build an anchor, which he did, then we tried to plan the descent sans bolts. There are bolts down and climber’s right at the anchor of Render us Weightless (#54 in the book) but Colin wasn’t crazy about that prospect, and since he was on a solid gear anchor we decided he’d bring me up, I’d clean, and we’d walk off. We heard from another party, once he was already anchored and we were trying to sort the situation out, that there was a walk off, so that sounded like the best option. As an alternative, even if we couldn’t find the walk off, our gear would be cleaned, and we could use the gear anchor to belay one of us to the rap station on #54, so going up was the best course of action.

The climbing was 5.6 MY ASS. Colin wow’d me with his lead on Classic Crack during our last trip to Leavenworth; I found that 5.8 much easier than this “5.6.” The route was uncomfortable offwidth in areas. I actually enjoy offwidth — but this was a funny offwidth. In between for feet (too big for foot jams, too small for heel toe jams) and small offwidth for arms — my forearms kept getting stuck in the crack when I tried to move up on my jams. Usually on “easier” offwidth you’ll find edges inside that you can grab onto … if they were there, I sure didn’t find ’em. It was a thrashy, desperate jamfest for me, all the while impressed with Colin’s lead. I topped out, breathing hard, after grunting my way up. Colin’s improvised anchor was great, so we could have belayed over to the rap anchor on #54, but we agreed to try the walk off. I pulled up the rope and butterflied it to backpack it (figuring, I didn’t want to drop it, in case we had any issues with the walk off) then we headed up to the cliff top to look for a way down.

After seeing the cliff top up close and personal, I’ll reiterate…

Kari with antennaeHelmets are mandatory at Royal Columns.

I’ve seen trundled rockfall there before, but the cliff top is extremely rocky and loose in areas. We worked our way up a sandy and rocky lightly vegetated trail (on which we ran into a friendly local rattlesnake) and then cut to climber’s left before reaching the very top of the ridge to see if we could make our way. We carefully worked a sandy trail to a point where it looked like were were going to cliff out and sure enough — it cliffed out right at a site with a couple of options for rap stations. SCORE, and glad we hadn’t tossed the rope. We rapped off the anchors for #67 just as Steve reached us on his search party. The sun was setting, we were all on our way down safely, and it had been a full, great climbing day.

Sunday: Dream Wall and back to Lava Wall
After a leisurely morning, we made our way toward Dream Wall. The wall is further climber’s left of Lava Wall, but takes a slightly different approach. We hadn’t explored the area before, and wound up descending a gully to climber’s right of Tick Wall. Don trucked ahead to scout Dream Wall, and the rest of us started to notice ticks. Lots, and lots of ticks. We tucked in what we could tuck in, and picked ticks off of each other, then followed Don to Dream Wall.

The wall really is lovely despite an appearance that would suggest “loose
and chossy.” I can’t vouch for the rock quality since I didn’t climb there; instead, I got out my Naturapel and got to (hopefully) tick repelling. Kari carries Jungle Juice, and while I don’t usually use DEET-containing repellents while climbing, I did put a shot of hers on each ankle, just in case. We also resorted to the old-fashioned approach of covering up… after Susie found a tick that had sunk in at her waistline, we tucked pantlegs into socks, shirts into pants, and stayed as covered up as possible. Extensive photography was not allowed because we all looked so ridiculous, though I couldn’t help but take a picture of me & Susie’s rockin fashion. I predict this will be the next big “look” on the runways of Paris, Milan and NYC:

Me & Susie's feet

Steve, Kari and Susie all had fun on the PG rated Pickles, a 5.8 that seems to be cleaner than at the publishing of the guidebook, since none in our party mentioned anything particularly scary. Here’s a photo of Kari on it:

Kari at Dream Wall
Don started up a 10a (Lava Sundae, perhaps?) but a few bolts up was not feeling it; Steve started up it later to clean the draws, hit the same point, and was not feeling it either so down-lead to clean the gear. I’ll definitely go back to Dream Wall on a day when conditions are better (namely, when it’s not literally crawling with ticks)… there are a few routes there and on Tick Wall that looked fantastic, though some were wet this trip.

From there, Steve, Don and Susie crossed the talus to get back to Lava Wall proper; Kari and I decided to head up and over on the trails at the cliff tops since that was a known quantity and we didn’t want to risk bushwhacking through tick infested foliage. The report from the adventurers was that the low route wasn’t bad.

Back at Lava Wall, we were a bit bummed to find the place covered in ticks. In addition to crawling around down low, they seemed to be falling from the cliff tops, and inevitably in the bushes that our ropes were drawn to. Eeew. Despite the bugs, Don officially stepped into Ropegun Mode and put a rope up on Saint of Circumstance, the 10c I had my eye on the day before. The route is awesome. I should have just gotten on it on lead, but didn’t want to try a 10c lead for my warmup, so toproped it. The roofs at the top are hard, and it took me awhile to figure out a sequence for them, but the climbing down low is balancey, delicate, technical, body tension fun. I am finding 10c to be My Grade outside for projects, and am amassing quite a list of 10c projects. This one was no exception, and I look forward to getting back to it to work it on lead. I’m not sure what Kari and Susie got on, but we took turns on the 10c, and Steve started Muted Reality, a bold 11a with a seriously strenuous, difficult section from the third through fifth bolts. Don finished the lead, and Steve and I toproped it. This one is, I think, a bit more challenging for us shorter people — the crux section for me required really awkward footwork and an impossible two finger gaston with my right hand if I was going to do it statically, which I was just too tired to do. Instead, I shifted gears and went for the dyno approach, which I stuck after a few tries.

We were all starting to feel our fatigue, so after cleaning the routes we called it a day. Susie, Steve and Kari turned back toward Bellingham, and Don and I headed for White Pass to home. We took the cutoff on Highway 7 on the way home which was lovely… off the beaten path, and it spit us out southwest of Mt. Rainier for Buffalo burgers at the Mt. Rainier Railroad Dining Co. We wound our way northward and when we suddenly went from middle-of-nowhere to Spanaway, we both would have traded the bustle and lights and noise of Spanaway for the most tick-infested crag on the face of the planet. Going back on the grid, even after a quick weekend trip, just keeps getting harder and harder.

The Tieton River area is an absolute treasure, and it’s quickly overshadowing other Washington areas to become my favorite, partly because of the climbing, and partly because of the beauty and peace of the Tieton river area itself. Enjoy!

Things to know…

  • Area Overview: Courtesy of Washington Climbers Coalition, with current information about closures (none in 2009, but raptor closures happen here) and efforts by The Nature Conservancy to acquire property in the canyon.
  • Guidebook: Tieton River Rocks, by Marlene Ford & Jim Yoder
  • Objective hazards: Despite the ticks, ticks and more ticks we saw this weekend, I’ve seen as many (or more) on Outer Space at Leavenworth, so don’t let them stop you. I have it on good authority (thanks, Andy) that Lava Point and the Cave are the worst for ticks, and their season is March to May. According to Andy, “13 Ticks” got its name when my buddy Matt Perkins took a nap in the grass waiting for Andy to bolt the route. The snakes are no worse (or, even less) than Leavenworth. Use your best judgment, be prepared, and take precautions. Rockfall is a hazard in some areas more than others, so why not just wear your helmet. This weekend, I wore mine while belaying, leading, and toproping. No kidding.
  • New routes: New route development continues around the area. I haven’t found updates to Marlene & Jim’s book online yet, but if I do I’ll update. From a climber who loves this area to Andy Fitz and the other first ascentionists who continue to spend their free time scrubbing and cleaning routes (not to mention, their own funds on bolts and anchors), THANK YOU.
  • A few more logistics: If you come in via White Pass, you’re out of cell range from pretty much I-5 until you get back to I-5. The peace and quiet is a welcome change from other areas where you routinely hear ringing cell phones at the crags! Plan a communication method with the rest of your party that doesn’t rely on cell phones. Camping is abundant, though before Memorial Day many of the developed campgrounds are closed. Also, watch carefully for deer and elk when on the roads. They are EVERYWHERE, and are unpredictable.

And, a final note on de-tickification, since this is news to some outdoorsy types… I take de-tickifying post trip seriously. Here’s my approach, please share yours in the comments!

  1. Before I set foot in my house, I strip into a plastic bag. I go straight to the bath for a good long soak, and then the clothes I was wearing (as well as any other washable goods) go straight into the washing machine.
  2. Check yourself, especially unmentionable areas, armpits, waistline, and hairline / scalp carefully for ticks. If you don’t have a buddy to help, use a mirror and be thorough!
  3. Empty your gear onto a white sheet one or two pieces at a time. Sort and inspect for ticks and kill any you find. I leave my gear out, on the sheet, for a day or so in case I miss any crawlies … they’re easy to spot moving at their creepy pace on the white sheet. Here’s my gear post-inspection:

    My gear

    Places I tend to find them most often in this inspection are sleeping bags, tents, rope bags and ropes. Eew.

  4. Detickify the car. Once all the gear is out, inspect and vacuum thoroughly!

Even with all this, I sometimes find one or two in the car a couple days later. Just be alert, take care, and if you do have the unfortunate experience of a too-close experience with one that digs in, here’s advice from the CDC generally, and on removal here.

Regarding repellents… We all got crawled on, repellents or not. Given the number of ticks we saw (and the number that crawled on) and the relatively few that actually bit in, I’ll be carrying repellent as a regular part of my crag kit from here on out. We even applied some of my non-DEET Naturapel (thanks again, Frank and Kelly at Adventure Medical Kits) during our gear sort just in case, to feet, ankles and arms.

Trip Reports

Sara Lingafelter

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