Well, it finally happened. I went on a trip to go bouldering, and it wasn't to Frank Slide. Kyle and I had hatched a plan - months ago - to go to Leavenworth Washington to boulder in the Icicle and Tumwater canyons. I was skeptical that it would happen, since I haven't been on a proper climbing trip for a decade or so, but when the 17th of May arrived the van was packed, and we were headed west!
Over the past several years Leavenworth has been getting more and more press. When I lived on the coast, boulderers from Squamish and Vancouver would often head down to Leavenworth to escape the rain (Levy is a lot drier, as it sits in a rain shadow) or to enjoy warmer temperatures (Levy is further south and east, and sits in the mountains just off the edge of the desert of eastern Washington). An ever-increasing number of photos and videos of Leavenworth boulder problems populate the internet, including such brilliant and unique problems as Was (V8) and Pimpsqueak (V9). I always wanted to visit Leavenworth, but the opportunity never seemed to arise.
Originally, there were supposed to be four of us making the trip; Kyle, Colin, Mark D, and I had planned to squeeze ourselves and as many mats as we could into my van for the drive west. Colin was flying out to Alberta to be able to make the trip, and I was excited as I hadn't seen him in years. He is a brilliantly technical climber, and a lot of fun to spend time with as well. We would also be meeting up with his sister Caitlin and her boyfriend Chris in Leavenworth for a few days, so this trip would be somewhat of a reunion as well as a bouldering trip. Mark D pulled out of the trip the day before we were supposed to depart, leaving us with only three people in the van. Fortunately, this worked out in our favor, as it made for a little more room in the van for sleeping, gear, and mats.
We left Lethbridge late Friday evening, and drove through the night to reach Leavenworth by early morning. I won't bother with any unneccessary details; from Lethbridge to the Johnny Creek Campground in Icicle Canyon is 950 km. I drove from Lethbridge to Sandpoint (about half way), and Kyle drove most of the remaining distance. We rolled into the campground at about 6:00 am, and set up our tents. Colin and Kyle then went to sleep for a few hours. I couldn't sleep (it was simply too sunny for me) so I poked around the area for a bit. By midday Kyle and Colin were awake, and we headed off to the boulders!
I immediately learned that Leavenworth is not like Squamish. At all. The boulders of Squamish lie in large clusters of hundreds of boulders (essentially coarse talus fields), whereas the boulders of Leavenworth lie in small clusters on benches above the river. These clusters are spread out over several miles along the Icicle River. Also, the landings in Leavenworth (often flat sandy forest floors) are generally much better than those in Squamish (often uneven scattered blocks in a forest floor) and are ALWAYS better than the landings in Frank Slide (piles of blocks and rubble). The first area we visited was Egg Rock, a collection of large granite blocks in the shade of Douglas Fir trees. We climbed a handful of moderate and fun problems there, including the fun and high Smokestack Lightning (given V2, but felt easier), Weather Report (V3, with amazing holds), Sunshine Daydream (V4, very fun blunt arete on good holds and bad feet), Ace (V4), Bertha (V0), and the slab China Cat (V2). We then packed up and headed over to The Sword area, where we did a handful of tall slabs (including the very fun X2 (V2)), and tried The Prism (V9) and The Hourglass (V7). Kyle made very short work of The Hourglass, sending it in absolutely immaculate style in just a few tries. There were a couple of Leavenworth locals (who would prove to be fonts of information) working The Prism; after seeing how strangely intricate the sequence was, I was glad to not have to muddle my way through it! I worked it for a half-hour or so, making it to the second-last hold, but upon seeing that the last move is a huge dyno I walked away from it. Very cool, but too dynamic for me! With fingers already feeling a little sore, we headed into Leavenworth to get water, buy groceries, and meet up with Caitlin and Chris. Having accomplished all these things we headed back to our campsite to enjoy dinner around a campfire with good friends. Not much better life than that!
The next day we headed off to warm up at The Sword area, with plans to move on to another area in the afternoon. We warmed up on several V0 to V3 problems at the big boulder/bluff at the entrance to the area, then headed in to the area proper. We did the rather tall The Classic (V2), and the fun The Stairway (V0), then tried the desperately crimpy Cole's Corner (V8). While it had fun moves, the tiny feet combined with sharp holds ensured that we didn't spend much time on it before moving on. We wanted to try one of the very tall problems on The Sword Boulder (must be at least 25 feet tall), but after staring at it for 10 minutes we decided to move on to the shorter problems of the Twisted Tree area.
The very cool Twisted Tree Boulder. Twisted Tree (V4) climbs out of the cave immediately left of the tree, Mr. Leftist (V6) climbs Twisted Tree but then heads left along cool holds to a fun mantle, and With A Twist (V1?V4?) is on the right edge of the boulder.
The Twisted Tree Boulder must be one of the most ideal-looking boulders I've seen. It looks as though it were carefully composed to grace the pages of a boulderer's desk calendar; a oblong block of compact grey granite sitting in an open conifer forest, with a Douglas Fir growing and twisting against its flank. The boulder hosts several fun problems, which we jumped on upon arriving. I flashed the short cave problem Twisted Tree (V4), and then Colin, Kyle, and I all did the remarkably Squamish-like Mr. Leftist (V6), which follows fun lip holds to a tricky though not terribly hard mantle. I also did With a Twist, a fun problem with a really punchy start. It's given V1 in the guide, but I felt that it was more like a stiff V4, which led me to think that the start hold must have broken (it's denoted as a 'jug' in the book, but was more like an incut edge in real life). We moved on to try Scrambled Eggs (V8), but were confounded by the reachy moves and lack of good footholds. We did a handful of fun moderates on the Scrambled Eggs boulder before packing up the mats and heading into town for some groceries, then back to the campsite for a nice long dinner / sitting around the fire session. Colin, Caitlin, and Chris are eternally entertaining, and they made for fantastic companions!
The next day - Monday - was a rest day for Kyle and I, though Colin decided to keep climbing with Caitlin and Chris. Kyle and I went into the Barney's Rubble area with them, to hang out and check out the area. It was a real highlight to watch Colin do the highball slab The Hesitator (V2). There was a much harder slab to the right that looked uncleaned, and we cleaned the first half a bit so Colin could try it. He made excellent progress, but was eventually stymied by the slightly mossy second half of the slab. Colin and I swore to return (maybe next year?) with a slab-hunting mandate. There could be dozens of world-class slab problems in the Icicle and Tumwater Canyons, and few of them look as though they've been cleaned. After they had warmed up in Barney's Rubble, Caitlin, Chris, and Colin headed up into the Forestland Area, which is likely the biggest collection of boulders in the Leavenworth Area. It was a fun place to spend a few hours, and it gave Kyle and I the chance to run around looking at the boulders without cutting into future bouldering days (we looked at The Coffee Cup (V9), it looked brutal!). By midafternoon, it was getting hot at the boulders, so everyone headed into town to stroll around Leavenworth and hunt for ice cream / coffee / taffy / vice of the day. Then it was back to camp for another evening of campfire stories. Superb way to end another day in Leavenworth!
The story will continue in the next post...