Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Half of the time I am broke. The other half of the time, I do not have any money. I finished school at the University of California at Santa Cruz in the middle of June and headed straight to Yosemite. Graduating was not good. With the sponsorship of Pell Grants and Federal Direct Subsidized Loans, I managed to pay for climbing trips, buy gear, and climb a lot for four steady years. Recieving my degree meant a dry well; no more student loans. I needed to work and be able to climb somewhere. My old friend and climbing partner, Jens Holsten, instisted that I could find a job in Washington. “It will be rad," he told me in the Toulumne Meadows parking lot. "You can stay at the climber's house in Peshastin, you'll just have to spot and belay for room and board. Plus, we can carpool to Leavenworth." The Icicle Ridge Winery needed help in a couple days, and Jens, a typical dirtbag, needed a ride.

Imagine that.

We left California, and headed to the northwest. Outside of Seattle, Jens picked up his Toyota Tercel, a rusted washing machine of a car, whose muffler was held in place by a coat hanger. The hour and a half long trip took its toll on the car and it broke down in the Grocery Outlet parking lot the next time it drove more than twenty miles. Ghetto. But before the big break down, I followed the rattling rig across the Cascades, heading east on route two, passing through the evergreens of the wet side of the Cascades towards the dry side of the mountains. On the way through Goldbar, one of the local bouldering spots, a crew of firemen plied a sedan from the inside of the local bar. The driver had backed up six feet into the building, all the way to the rear doors, knocking over a section of wall onto her car, and destroying the neon Budweiser sign. The woman, who looked like she had gotten lost on her way to a Twisted Sister concert, swayed her frazzeled hair while she talked to the police. The woman’s teeth described the scene in Goldbar. She could have eaten corn on the cob through a chain link fence.

Yikes. Locals.

A few miles beyond Goldbar is Leavenworth, a town loggers established in the middle of the Gold Rush, around 1860, making a strip of businesses out of the saloons and brothels. As the need for lumber decreased, the economy declined, and the boom town slowly became skeletal and desolate. While Leavenworth's fruit industry made significant contributions to the economy with the hills of pear, apple, and cherry trees, the town needed more. In the 1960's Leavenworth locals made a last ditch effort to bring business, adopting a Bavarian theme. Now the town boasts status as Washington's second most popular tourist attraction with a strip of restaurants and gift shops all built like a village in the Swiss Alps. The alpine setting of the area also attracts many adventuorous Washingtonians. A half dozen rafting outfits run daily trips down the white water of the Wenatchee and Tumwater, both of which feature excellent kayaking and raftin. Besides the boaters, Leavenworth attracts backpackers and hikers, who often make the twenty mile trek to view the Enchantments and the large trees, conifers which burst into glowing yellows and oranges in the autumn. After their outings on the river, their hikes on the rocky hillsides of Icicle Canyon, or listening the non-stop accordion waltz in the town green, the tourists often walk along the Bavarian fronted streets, stopping by the Munchen Haus and Kink Ludwig's to stuff themselves. Most people come to Leavenworth to eat and drink and they are fat and drunk.

Wilkommen in Leavenworth.

Some days the crashpads cover ice screws, other days ropes cover the thick foam. But most days at the Peshastin house, the climbing gear is buried beneath a pile of Olympia cans. This was the situation on a summer Saturday night, when we had a drink or two or eight and bumbled from the house just outside of Leavenworth to another climber's abode in Derby Canyon, three miles up the road. We blasted hipster dance music from tiny Ipod speakers, flicked a headlamp to strobe, and filled the night with a frenzy of limbs. At two in the morning, with a techno beat bouncing between the cherry trees and the house, the porch caved, and the entire party sunk six inches. The music skipped and then stopped. The six-person rave stared at the porch for a second. A wave of shrugs moved through the party and then the speakers jolted back to life. This crowd developed the bouldering in Leavenworth. While classic problems on the Fridge Boulder, at Mad Meadows, and a circuit around Swiftwater saw ascents as early as thirty years ago, the majority of the bouldering developed within the past decade. Just before the turn of the century, Cole Allen and Johnny Goicoechea rallied out to the east Cascades to establish a hoard of neo-classics including The Sail (v9), Mushashi (v9), Pimpsqueak (v9), and The Peephole (v10). They were joined by Kelly Sheridan, the author of a new extensive guide book, local poster boy Kyle O'Meara, and the uber-strong Joel Campbell. These boys diligently scrubbed the boulders, unearthing a series of slopers, crimps, and granite jugs. In between discovering new problems, they bouldered out many of the classic top rope problems in the area. Going ropeless on the Sword (v3), the butt puckering Ruminator (v6), and running afternoon laps on the Sleeping Lady (v2), a jug haul located directly above the raging Icicle River with death potential, became standard practice. Recently, Charlie Barrett beat a bout of excessive Guiness and a subsequent morning of the Irish Flu to establish Second Most Famous, a thirty foot double digit highball problem in the Forestland. And there a number of other airy boulders waiting for ascents. The Dick Ciley 5.12+ toprope Gutbuster, and the back side of the Sword with its 5.13 crux twenty feet off the deck are prime for the strong and bold. Beyond the highballs, a number of projects exist. A problem next to the Peephole at the popular Mad Meadows, the arete at the Carnival Boulders, the faces in Saul's Canal, and the Ladder project, are all aesthetic, double digit sickness, waiting to see first ascents.

Sick stuff.

The Leavenworth crew sat around the Canal street house eating strawberries, barbequing steaks, and drinking beer for most of the evening. By the time I arrived everyone was melting into the couches, satiated from all the food. Coaxing them into climbing seemed like a mighty task, but the mention of a lantern excited everyone, and within a few minutes we had walked down the road to the boulders above the canal, where Isaac Howard had brushed off a half dozen new problems the week before. On the arete, next to a heinously hard mantle, and a difficult project, Heel or Peel (v6), resides, taking a path of steep flat granite edges from a hole in the ground up through the arete and onto a huge jug at the top. With a few crashpads, a couple lanterns, and crisp summer night temps, the problem was in ideal conditions. Ryan Paulsness went first, burping, giggling, and slurring about drinking so much wine. He pulled, cranked, and fired through to the top of the problem. John stepped up next, and with a back full of muscle, he stayed tight to the wall, controling the vicious swing at the top of the problem. I went third and managed to wrestle my way through until I was at the mantle, where I dry humped the granite for two minutes until I finally topped out. As I descended, Jessica Campbell stepped up to the problem. She dropped her knee and bumped to the first hold. Heel hooking, she locked off on her arm and bore down on a flat edge, moving up and left to another hold. She stabbed her left leg out, eyeballed the jug at the top, and hucked. Bitty, bitty, bop! She stuck the hard swing and finished smoothly. After the caboose of our midnight send train topped out, we gathered the half dozen crashpads, the empty beer bottles, and walked to a fire on the Wenatchee, just two minutes away. The full moon reflected off the caps on the rapids as the campfire burned. We stood around laughing and slandering each other eventually, moving the conversation onto more crucial matters: where we would go climbing the next day, what new stuff we could brush off, and what problems we wanted to send.

Nothing like a good campfire slander fest.

The majority of the bouldering in Leavenworth rests in three separate locations: Icicle Canyon, Tumwater Canyon, and Mountain Home Road. In my first few days, I studied the guide, found the cutty pullouts and made the hops between the groups of boulders with little effort, eventually dialing out the exact stops. While areas like Mad Meadows, the Forestland, and Swiftwater have a denser concentraition of boulders, the best lines sit on invidual blocs and small one or two boulder clusters of steep, featured, granite. In the sping months, the forests hide the rocks but come autumn, the dense brush dies and the leaves fall, and these lines, the aesthetic arete Answer Man (v6), the difficult Swiss Project (v12), and the Lonely Fish (v9) become clearly visible from the Icicle Canyon Road. The lack of brush reveals the enormity of the climbing here. Estimating that only fifty percent of Leavenworth has been developed, Cole Allen stated, "It gives you a feeling of infinity. In the fall time there is nothing. No leaves. No flowers. And you can see thousands of boulders up the canyon." He is right. There are numerous unexplored fields of granite blocs lining the sides of Icicle Canyon. Beyond Leavenworth, enormous granite blocks sit in the clear-cuts of Goldbar. The burly road to the bouldering keeps the crowds away, though the climbing there is as good if not better than the stuff in Leavenworth. In between Goldbar and Leavenworth, a field of boulders sits high on the Skyline Ridge at Steven's Pass with a number of excellent problems. There are enormous fields of bouldering in Barclay, Skykomish Ridge, and by Lake Serene. All of which have seen little to no development yet.

The amount of climbing here is offensive.

When I arrived at the Peshastin house, a dirty Bjorn Borg was already sprawled on the living room furniture. Luckily, Max banished the dirtbag to the basement and I replaced him on the couch. I searched for work, stopping at Der Copy Shoppe, the Gingerbread factory, and Das Rad Haus. When I applied for a bussing position at the local brew pub the manager examined my resume, glanced at my academic work, and told me, “Don't you think you are overqualified?” He had obviously never seen me work. Max and Jens assured me that I could find employment. They had even found jobs, though they were not always ideal. The Fudge Hut once employed Max, having him sell chocolate and wear the local costume for Octoberfest and the tourist filled summer months. He packed fudge in his liederhosen. Eventually, I found work in town at one of the many restaurants. I boulder in the mornings, bus tables for minimum wage in the afternoons, and then bring out the lantern to climb more into the night. With gas so expensive, and my income so small, I do not have enough money to leave. But why would I want to? I am Leavenworthless.

Imagine that.


JohnClimbRok said...

Does this mean you've put the ethical dilemma to rest?

James said...

I guess so. I submitted it and didn't hear anything back from Samet. I guess you have to live in Boulder if you want to make things happen.

Justin said...

I heard that once, when you were particularly desperate for money, you were paid pack fudge wearing liederhosen too.

Katie H said...

update! I'm bored at work! I like this piece on Leavenworth- makes me want to go there to see if they have any vegan food. What happened to your hand? Are y'all up in Canada somewhere?