I went climbing in a new place last weekend! Not Leavenworth or Smith Rock, nor even Carver or Ozone, but Frenchman Coulee, a charmingly obscure name for a charmingly remote set of walls near Vantage, WA. Remote, but nonetheless very busy during the three-day weekend. The first three of us arrived around 2 pm on Friday, and were able to find a camping space large enough for our whole group (eventually totaling five people), but groups that arrived later were definitely struggling. In all, I would guess that there were about 100-150 people in the main camping area, where we were, and an additional 50 or so in the secondary area, over the Feathers to the northeast. It wasn’t much of an issue, although the vault toilet was very, very, very full and kinda gross. (But I’m so glad that it was there!)
I didn’t climb on Friday – I wasn’t sure how many climbs I would be able to do and wanted to save them for Saturday/Sunday – but J and D headed up to the Feathers after we all set up our tents, and got a couple climbs in each. (It got dark around 4:45 pm.) Having been joined by B, we huddled around the campfire for a couple of hours…without any firewood. Instead, we had a string of solar-powered LED fairy lights that D had brought, which we draped around the ring of stones. Fortunately, E was still en route, and we were able to communicate our predicament so he could stop by a store to get some firewood. The calm, fairly chilly air that evening made for just about the best campfire conditions I’ve ever been. Some of our party stayed up late, but the rest of us turned in around 10 and slept fairly well. Really, I only occasionally wanted to throttle the people at the next site over, who stayed up until 4 am and didn’t trouble to keep their voices down.
A few things colluded to prevent us getting to the walls until late morning on Saturday, by which time Sunshine Wall, in particular, was pretty solidly occupied. This meant that although we set out with the intention of finding a warmup problem in the 5.8-5.9 range, we ended up starting off with Good Directions… a 5.11a. My first-ever 5.11, indoors or out. Though my climb was in no way clean – LOTS of takes and rests, though no aided moves – I did in fact finish. I can’t really work up much enthusiasm for it, though. The route was meh, I finally discovered first-hand what “chossy” means, and I just didn’t enjoy it that much. But still, first 5.11!
Porn Star was much more fun. It’s a 5.10c, so at the top end of what I have been climbing in the gym, but since it starts with a fun, boulder-y set of roof moves, I latched onto it. I’d like to give it another go sometime, try to do it clean. Ridin’ Sidesaddle, my last climb of the day and a 5.9, was actually the most satisfying, though not the most fun. It was satisfying because it wasn’t fun – because I was fighting fear for much of the climb, because I was forced to do a ton of crack work (which I have very little experience in), etctera. I got more practice in cracks on that one climb than I think I have in all my previous climbs to date!
That evening in camp was mostly defined by WIND. We had hoped it would die down enough to allow for a campfire, but it didn’t. (That didn’t stop others from building fires, though – in one case, one of the most stupidly large campfires I’ve ever seen. It was frustrating, and a bit scary. At one point I watched, mesmerized, as a glowing chunk of wood that looked to be five inches to a side broke away, floated up into the air – still bright orange – and split into several smaller-but-still-not-small chunks, which drafted their way across the campground. Fortunately, all of them burnt out before they touched down, but still!) Instead, we huddled in the pseudo-lee of the largest of our cars, lit from above by the LED lights, which E had bundled up and put on the end of an avalanche probe he had in his car, then affixed to the top of the car we were sitting by. It was rather like snuggling up to an anglerfish.
We got moving earlier on Sunday, and went to a more distant area. I got three more climbs in, none of which seem to have registered that much. (As demonstrated by the fact that I can’t remember their names, or even their grades, four days later.) It was good to climb, despite the intermittent rain, and having done six routes over the course of two days is satisfactory to me. We broke down camp at around 2:30, went into Ellensburg for some Mexican food and coffee, and then went our separate ways.
Overall, I enjoyed the weekend, and look forward to going back to Frenchman Coulee in the future. I still don’t have the same passion for rock climbing that I do for bouldering. I suspect it has something to do with the heights involved (though I wouldn’t describe myself as “afraid of heights,” normally) and something to do with the lower general activity level. That is, when I’m out bouldering, even if I only actually complete three problems in a day and/or it’s very crowded, I can still expect to be doing something physically active every five minutes or so, as the people in front of me in the queue try and succeed or fail, and get off the problem. With rock climbing, even just trading off with one other person on a route, the actual, aerobic activity is much more spaced out. ::shrug:: I also adore the gymnastic qualities of bouldering, and the fact that it’s just me, my shoes, and the problem… even if that brings with it a higher chance of injury. But I am happy to live in a part of the country where it is so easy to get to a variety of rock climbing AND bouldering locales, and to have a set of friends to go with!