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Rainman

Darrington climbing - a perspective

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I found the comments to Brandon's trip report for "The Page" on the Illusion Wall from Dec 5th quite interesting, especially the comments made by "crazedmaniac" aka "Zip".

Maybe it's time the climbing community had a discussion about whats been going on in Darrington.

I've been putting up routes there since 1978 and I'd like to get things rolling by giving you my perspective of the area.

The Darrington climbing area is big and wild. Always has been and I think for the most part always will be. How big? Well, for one, there are 15 major walls over 600ft tall. The biggest is Squire Creek Wall which is almost 2 miles wide and over 2000ft tall. Four of these walls have no documented climbs at all. How wild? Well, except for Exfoliation Dome and Witch Doctor Wall, everything lies within The Boulder River Wilderness. There are only two designated trails in the entire 49,000acre area. Squire Creek Pass/Eight Mile trail and the Goat Flats/Three Fingers Lookout trail. Everything else is going to require a bushwhack. Trust me, there are lots of adventures just waiting for you.

Darrington climbing has been going on since 1969 when none other than Fred Beckey climbed Witch Doctor Wall. In the 1971 American Alpine Journal, Manuel Gonzalez wrote about Darrington that; "the soundness of the rock and its proximity to Seattle should contribute to the future popularity of the area". In 1982 Don Brooks commented in his guide book Washington Rock that that had yet to be born out. In 2003 David Whitelaw noted in his guide book Rattle & Slimethat perhaps that time has finally arrived. Now in 2011 could we be there yet? I'm not so sure. With the exception of Three O'clock Rock and The Comb Buttress, everything else requires a significant approach. With some possible exceptions, I don't think it's ever going to get "crowded" This type of climbing is just not for everyone. So what type of climbing is it? Mostly, Darrington climbing is slab climbing. However, the steepness will vary a lot. Anywhere from 3rd class slab padding on Chrome Dome to steep, bold testpieces on the Illusion Wall. It's variety lends itself to a wide selection of personal expression. As for me, I've always been open to all ethics for first ascents. Whether it's ground-up, top down, sideways, solo, expedition, alpine capsule, all bolts, no bolts, whatever, you name it. I don't think any one ethic is better than another. Who are we to say what is right or wrong. We're all different with different beliefs and ideas. I think first ascents are an art form. How they're created is up to the original party. To me the most important aspect is what you leave behind. If you want to do a climb in such pure style as to leave nothing behind, go for it. Although you might find it hard to get anyone else to repeat it. If you want to put up a climb with bolts every three feet, go for it. Although you might find it hard to get anyone else to respect it. Climbers putting up first ascents will leave behind a legacy no matter what ethic they use. What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? It's up to the individual and Darrington has lots of room.

Over my climbing career one thing I've noticed whenever I've gone to other destinations, was climbers want to climb the best routes. Worthy climbs with 2 or 3 stars were vacant, while climbs with 4 or 5 stars required you to stand in line. My route "Dreamer" on the Green Giant Buttress is a good example. Climbers go for this line more than any other because it is a known "classic" while leaving many good routes untouched. Yet few know that the route they're climbing is not the original line. It has gradually changed over the years to encompass a "better" line. This process started as early as the second ascent when Steve Scott and I rap bolted the traverse pitch to create a direct, more asthetic finish to that pitch. Although we felt it was wrong at the time we knew it made for a better climb. This lesson simmered in my mind for the next twenty years.

In 1998 Matt Perkins and David Whitelaw reincarnated an old Don Brooks route "Rubber Soul" and renamed it "Total Soul" They used rap bolting techniques to create the line as it exists today. Soon after, "Urban Bypass went in using the same techniques and I realized that this concept could create classic lines right from the begining without trial and error.

I remembered a campfire discussion from years past when we were putting up routes at Banks Lake. The talk came around to ratings and how hard can they get on an open-ended scale? Then someone brought up the idea that instead of pushing the difficulty, maybe one could push the quality or "star rating" which was just getting popular around then. Put up a line that was so awesome as to be in a class by itself. The idea of the sixth star was mentioned and we all had a good laugh. But I thought, why not? I'm never going to climb 5.13 the standard back then, let alone 5.15, but maybe I could put up a route that was so good as to earn a sixth star. And so my quest began. I knew the rock quality of Darrington was good enough if I could only find "the line". I knew the best way to find it was to scour the rock for all possibilities. By pictures, spotting scope, ball buster bushwhacks, rapping down cliffs, any manner of tricks, even ground up! Not only was I driven to find the best line I had to honor the climb by doing the best job possible. With all these tricks I'd have no excuse to put up a bad climb. That includes the proper placement of the bolts. Before any bolts go in I believe the climb needs to be toproped twice by two different people to verify the best location. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than someone repeating my route and saying they had fun. After all, isn't that what it's all about? Someone once said that the most successful climber is the one having the most fun.

Darrigton is a wilderness area and as such deserves respect for the idea of what wilderness should be. Power drills are not allowed and make no mistake, all my bolts were placed by hand. As well they should be. The rock is easy to drill and when you get used to it you can easily drill one in less than ten minutes. I think bush and tree cutting should be kept at a minimum. We're not supposed to cut at all, but this is Western Washington and things grow back so fast here it will make your head swim. Follow the rules in good faith and I don't see it ever becomong a problem.

In summary, I think there is room enough for everyone to have their own special adventure. Although some areas of special interest might get more traffic than some people would like, I think it's a little bit unreasonable to believe that any given area will remain the same and unchanged over the years on a planet with 7 billion people. We need to be thankful that we have this area so close to home that still remains relatively wild and untouched.

By the way, I still haven't found the sixth star yet, but come summer you know I'll be looking.

 

Chris Greyell

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Thanks Chris. I share your perspective, so naturally I find I agree with you. Some others won't, and that's their right, but I'd like to remind everyone we're in the Climbers Board and I'd like to see a greater degree civility than this sort of thing often exhibits.

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Just so I've made myself clear, I'm not asking for support or for anyone's blessing. I've given my reason for climbing in Darrington what's yours? I'm sure we all have opinions and I'd like to hear them. What do we do if a wilderness climbing area becomes a little more used? Do we police ourselves or do we let the Forest Service do it? Let's here your thoughts.

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Reflecting over a long day moving over thousands of feet of perfect stone drinking an IPA afterwards soaking my hands in the creek nursing my thumb that I hit over and over again because Im a lousy shot with the hammer with the smell of cedar pitch and granite dust peering through the old-growth forest up to the menacing wall that looms above causing my inards to roll like the rock under my foot soaking my sock in the creek that cools another IPA for later after pulling on the bush hoping that it wont snap one more time so I can pad up the slab stepping and praying and surprisingly it holds untill it doesnt and down the wall I go cheese grating untill the rope comes tight allowing me to enjoy the beautiful views of Salish and 3 fingers realizing a whole other world is beyond the pass protected by series of perfectly cascading waterfalls that fill my mind as I try to fall asleep cause I have to be at the f-shop in the morning when I'd rather be there.

 

I know you dont need the ego fluff Chris, but thanks for your post. Your statement reflects the feelings of many. and thanks for the history lesson too.

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Good on you Chris. I agree with you, and thank you for putting this out there. I think that a FA has a duty to all those who follow. That doesn't mean adding more bolts either although having that discussion on a route by route bolt by bolt basis as a community can be a good thing.

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I really like these lines:

 

"If you want to do a climb in such pure style as to leave nothing behind, go for it. Although you might find it hard to get anyone else to repeat it. If you want to put up a climb with bolts every three feet, go for it. Although you might find it hard to get anyone else to respect it."

 

"I'm never going to climb 5.13 the standard back then, let alone 5.15, but maybe I could put up a route that was so good as to earn a sixth "

 

Thanks for sharing your perspective.

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Nice! I like and agree with all stated, however, it seems as if most if not all darrington climbs follow an ethic of using good natural gear (where available) on each pitch in lou of a bolt, even if most of the pitch is bolted. I personally would like to see this ethic continue.

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Nice! I like and agree with all stated, however, it seems as if most if not all darrington climbs follow an ethic of using good natural gear (where available) on each pitch in lou of a bolt, even if most of the pitch is bolted. I personally would like to see this ethic continue.

 

:tup:

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Does anyone know where I can get rock shoes with quick release front points?

 

Thanks to Darrington's FAer's for creating a relatively unsung jewel of an area over the last several decades.

 

If it were in the Mojave, it would be world famous. Fortunately, our weather and vegetation keep it scruffy enough to appeal to primarily local tastes.

 

There's a substantial and relatively quiet group of more occasional visitors who who really appreciate all the hard work and skill that's been put into the area by those who know and love it best.

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Ever since I first set foot on the slabs of Darrington, I knew I found a special place both in nature and within myself. I have climbed scary runouts, taken 30 foot wipers, and many long and beautiful lines out there with friends and my wife yet the place seems new, exciting, and awe-inspiring every visit. I have taken the new and old, the sport-os, novices, and those who have climbed everything. The response climbing those walls are always overwhelmingly joyous.

 

I say climb that magnificent rock anyway you wish, but be prepared to be held high for 5 star routes, be ostracized for ruining the rock, or not be heard as your route might never be climbed.

 

Chris, your routes speak for themselves. Don't change a thing. Your work is very well appreciated.

 

As for over crowding...

I think the approaches are doing a good job with this issue. Cheers to the wilderness for healing the wounds of our old timber and mining days.

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Interesting and informative posts about my very favorite place to climb. Even having climbed up there for nearly 20 years, I’m still excited by the sheer number of beautiful domes, climbs, trees, and features of the place, and all of the great friendships made along the way. I even dragged the family out closer to live in an effort to be closer to these amazing valleys. Each year when I return after the never ending winter, a short and brutal road/trail reclamation project usually rewards us with renewed access, though quite often a bit longer than before. It’s good to hear from several people whom I respect very much on the topics of how we do what we do. As far as FA ethics, the climbs I have been involved with have been a fairly steady mix of techniques including ground up, rap based, hand drilled, power drilled (where allowed on Exfo), inelegant moss hummock aid, and a fair bit of cedar wrangling thrown in for adventure. One specific/stringent/exclusive approach applied to all route development here would not be representative of the great diversity of features or history of the place. This diversity is the essence of Darrington climbing in my view. Just take a glance at a few of the many characters who have provided significant contributions to this place: Beckey, Brooks, the Gunstones, Christiansen, Greyell, Strong, Constantino, Whitelaw, Smedley, Tower, Perkins, Karner, Miller, Burdick, Fox, the Laddermakers, the Engineers, the Miners, and many more. If you know or have met any one of these folks, it’s quite clear that they have a strong passion for the adventure that DTown stone brings.

 

I believe that after many, many years of being so low key to the point of not even being recognized as a legitimate user group, we have in the last several years established a good working relationship with the FS through ongoing communications, trail and road repair projects. While more climbers visit, I do share the opinion that these valleys can be attractive to climbers and still not being overrun by the masses. Despite several guidebooks and lots of positive feedback from anyone who visits, a super busy weekend at 3:00 Rock involves usually less than 5 or 6 cars at the trailhead. An important yet overlooked topic is that of route maintenance. Always easier to think someone else will take care of it. Given the climate, large number of excellent climbs, and relatively low visitation, my goal (past, present, and future) is to adopt a fading classic each season to remove remaining piles of slings at belays and to replace old quarter inchers with some fresh hardware. Lots of great candidates out there.

 

My $.02

Mark Hanna

 

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Right on Mark!

I tell you what it has been a great pleasure and I consider it a privilige to have met and climbed with many of the folks you named.

I agree with the maintenance idea and kudos to you for making that a goal of yours!

I look forward to meeting more of the folks that make it out there and I feel privileged to have been one of small percentage of the overall climbing community that do and have been doing the Dtown thing. I feel lucky indeed.

This place has been a great source of adventure for me and I anticipate it to contiue to be so!

 

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I think the over all lack of posting on this thread gives one a good idea that Darrington is still way off the radar of most and will remain so for the forseeable future.

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Thanks for posting, Rainman.

 

I know a number of next-generation route developers, including myself, whose philosophy is very close to what you've described: live and let live, and strive to develop great routes that others will follow and enjoy for ages to come.

 

We are VERY fortunate to have so many wonderful FA adventures waiting our own backyards. If I ever feel sorry for myself I read the Orygun forum and feel much better right away ;)

 

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I just "discovered" Darrington this summer on a whim...AFTER living and climbing here for 25 years. What a cool place and made more so by the spirits that love and respect it.

I will be up there more next season and hope to cross paths and savor the gems.

Cheers.

 

 

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It's one of my favorite places to climb, even the drive out there is nice and has a remote feel. The approach to exfoliation dome convinced my girlfriend we were going to die! Haha! Everytime I climb there my toes go numb for weeks after. I thought fear of road rash ended when I sold all my moto bikes, gotta love running backwards on those slab falls! It's a wild and wonderful place with some sweet camp spots and scary leads. Totaly worth losing the feeling in my toes!

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this thread kinda exceeds my skimming ability, anyone care to sum it up?

 

There is a bunch of big awsome shit to climb in Darrington but 30 years latter after continuous new routing hardly anyone still goes there.

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After climbing here for over 30 years I'm always amazed that more people don't climb here. Not that I'm complaining. You gotta love it!

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To become popular , Darrington (broad term) needs a few things:

 

almost road side access (think most craggin areas and WA pass)

 

Bolts every 8 feet (think smith and exit 38)

 

major city within 30 minutes (Leavenworth is closer for me and I live in monroe-via)

 

damn near wheelchair access trails to base

 

all of the above would not matter if seattle and surrounding areas had a climbing population that is not afraid of adventure.

 

So if someone really wanted to make darrington popular, maybe some verbal taunting and betting of manhood on a community level would force the pansies out there. But we don't really want that so this is a moot point. :)

 

 

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