Independence From Gravity: Outer Space on Snow Creek Wall (5.9)


I was fortunate to get a four day weekend for the 4th of July this year. After considering and tossing out a few alpine suggestions due to the thunderstorms, Rick and I agreed upon spending the weekend in Leavenworth. We drove up on Thursday morning at about 6 am and reached Leavenworth around 11 am. After a quick stop at the Safeway and Subway (cheapest place to eat in Leavenworth), we spent a few hours scouting some of the roadside crags. In the afternoon we decided to hike up to Snow Creek Wall to check out Outer Space while it was in the shade. After screwing around a bit, we decided that we didn’t have enough time to complete the wall and decided to tackle Outer Space on Saturday morning and brave the sun instead.

We started hiking at 9:30 am quite casually and reached the Snow Creek Wall at 10:50 am. Geared up, I led half of the 65 meter first pitch (low fifth) to a sandy ledge and let Rick deal with the sketchy, slabby traverse to the base of pitch 2. This section starts as a undercling flake traverse and transitions into a smearing traverse with no hands. It’s more heady than sketchy but it definitely felt easier in the shade and relatively cooler temperatures on Thursday afternoon.

Sketchy slab traverse of pitch one. The tiny human like dot on the left before the dead tree is the brave gentleman Rick Atherton. The flake used for pro would flex outwards if you pulled too hard but it’s the only place for pro.

Pitch two consisted mostly of slab and chimney climbing. I have grown to like chimney and some off-widths so I started up on this pitch. After a super easy slab section I went up to the narrow chimney and found that I have to wiggle up on the left wall with feet on right wall. I started those moves but despite the lean physique, I wasn’t able to get into this section with all the gear in my harness. May be one could wiggle into this chimney but a fall during the process would result in hitting the slab below and I wasn’t willing to plunge into that adventure, so I traversed right on the slab and all the way around it. Just out of sight, I found a sweet easy hand crack which led all the way to the upper section of the chimney. I made an anchor and got Rick up to the base of pitch three, dealing with tremendous rope drag along the way.

Pitch two chimney: I made it up to the first narrow section but couldn’t get inside the chimney any further with all the dangling cams.
Change of plans on pitch two: I down climbed from the first narrow section of the chimney and traversed on the slab. As you go all the way around, you will find an easy hand crack to the top of the chimney.

Several parties had been waiting on this ledge so we spent the next half hour in conversation with Galen who is a software engineer at Nvidia and honing his 5.9 trad leads. He and his partner Raphael were quite strong and fast climbers two parties ahead of us. Fortunately, by this time the 4 gentlemen in front of us got tired of yelling and drinking beer at the belay ledge, put their shirts back on, declared this a “conga line”, and rapped down. Strangely enough, after they left everything flowed perfectly and no one had to wait at belays for the rest of the climb.

Rick comfortably figuring out the moves on the crux pitch of the climb.
Raphael (near climber) pulling through the crux of pitch three, while another climber follows the rightward crack towards the next belay.

I felt pitch three was the crux of this climb: welcome to diagonal cracks. The first 20-25 feet were easy but the diagonal crack section was extremely exposed with good hand jams and tiny edges for feet. Fortunately some practice on mixed slab climbing on Friday helped to boost my confidence for this pitch.

Pitch four was described as a run-out 5.8 peppered with knobs. After that description I didn’t want to lead it; but when I followed it, I found it a super cruiser. When you get to the knobs section the dihedral is on the far left and there’s no protection after the beginning, but you are literally walking across the knobs. If you are cautious, this is easy to do without pro. I was bummed that I didn’t lead this pitch, but the fact it had some of the most horrendous rope drag of the climb helped temper my disappointment.

Pitch five started as a short finger crack to a fun cruiser hand crack. This was my most enjoyable lead despite the fact my pro was quite sparse from having to ration my #1/#2 cams. There are an abundant amount of knobs so you can avoid jamming your feet into the crack and just walk up on hand jam after hand jam.

Pitch five starts with a short finger crack which can be protected by a .3 at the slightly wider section at the cost of your finger jam, yikes!
So I chose to protect it with a .2 above finger jam. A slightly strenuous start for an awesome long hand crack peppered with knobs.
Enjoying pitch five lead.

Pitch six had strenuous finger locks to get off the deck and remains a finger crack for a few moves, then it’s a wavy hand crack all the way to the summit. A 70 meter rope will just get you from the belay at the top of pitch five to a #1/#2 crack under a boulder on the summit.

Looking down on pitch six. The other rope goes the the belay ledge right below this pitch. This pitch has a bulge to pull up on finger locks which can be protected with a .3.
The rest of pitch six is a splitter hand crack.
Sparse gear topping out pitch six.
Rick comfortably belaying at the summit with a back rest rock.
More views from the summit.

I feel with enough practice of simul-climbing and an early start a party can comfortably simul pitches 4/5/6 to speed up this climb. This route is packed with groups especially over the weekend. We reached the summit at 5:50pm. It took us about 6.5 hours to climb the route with ~45 minutes waiting for pitch three.

The descent consisted of sections of class 3/4 scrambles down jumbled granite and dirty wet gullies. Once we crossed the river and got back to the main trail, we ran back down to the car. This trail is irresistible to run down and to me it feels safer to run than to walk.

A baby mountain goat who shared our descent.
Panorama from the summit.
Descent gullies.
Class 4 down climbs.

By 9:30 pm we were celebrating victory over beers at Icicle Creek Brewery.

Cragging Stories

After hiking up and running down Outer Space on Thursday, Rick only got a few hours of sleep that night and, after having packed a week’s worth of running into the previous 4 days before the trip, woke up sore and tired. I was surprised — almost shocked — as it was totally opposite to my perception of him. He is the most happy vertical monkey I have ever known and was unwilling to lead anything on Friday morning. We went over to Castle Rock anyway and decided to climb Catapult. I started off by leading the Fault chimney to the bolt anchors on the left. Above us were roofs and pitch two had a scary looking bulge I was hoping Rick would lead, but he was full of sore apathy. So, I decided to “go see how it looked up close” and ended up having the best time of my life pulling over this awesome 5.8 pitch. I rejoiced with lots of cheering and watched Rick stoked jumping up and down. He took some amazing shots of me leading this pitch. I then linked this pitch with the lower fifth pitch three, which took us to the base of the Upper Castle. From here I led Midway (5.6 chimney), but I totally missed recognizing it shares the same anchor with Damnation Crack. We could have gotten a top rope burn on this cool 5.9+ crack.

Leading The Fault chimney.
Entering the crux of The Catapult.
Bomber pitch three pro.

Afterwards we sipped coffee from Argonaut Coffee and miraculously Rick got his stoke and energy back. He wanted to lead Classic Crack (5.8+) so we drove up Icicle Creek and he flawlessly led Classic Crack and Twin Cracks. Last year he couldn’t lead Classic Crack clean and I couldn’t even follow it. But this year we both found it a bit easy; despite having to hang off hand jams for at least 5 minutes while I took pictures, he casually romped up it.

Rick, smiling in blissful ignorance just before the salamanders and lizards started crawling out of the crack.
Witness to the food chain process.

I dipped into the ice cold river in order to feel a bit clean after two days of sweat and dirt. It was quite refreshing.

Refreshing bath in the river.

Then we headed to another crag down opposite to the Eightmile Campground. Rick again onsighted a 5.9 mixed-pro slab and put a toprope burn on a 5.10b slab crack.

On Sunday we went to Alphabet Rock and I onsighted Dogleg Crack (5.8+). Rick continued to amaze me by onsighting Meat Grinder (5.10a). It has a bulge and a short wide overhanging crack as challenges. The overhanging wide crack can be protected with a #5 and an attentive belayer to avoid decking on the ledge. I found the bulge was quite strenuous but I am eyeing this to probably be my first 5.10a lead.

Top roping Meat Grinder (5.10a).
Full view of the route.
Rick refining his beta.

Gear Notes

  • Singles from .1-3, doubles from .3-3, offset nuts.
  • 8 single slings, 3 double slings.
  • Even when it’s 78 out, its good to have a softshell when the wind picks up and the wall goes into shade.

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