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Alex M

Best Beginner Trad Routes?

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Any route recommendations for a newbie trad climber? I have been sport climbing for a couple years and had the opportunity to follow some trad and alpine rock routes this summer, took a class, and am now preparing to strike out on my own for my first trad lead. I have a couple routes scoped out that I have climbed on top-rope, and are a few grades lower than I normally lead, which seem like good candidates, but since I mostly frequent sport crags I'm not familiar with many good trad areas in the state.

(Also, in total honesty, it's been pretty rainy so I'm trying to live vicariously by making plans about climbing since lately I haven't actually been able to go...)

Any suggestions? :grin:

Edited by Alex M

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Kinda tough this time of year but if you can squeak in a weather window up Icicle Creek near Leavenworth there is Twin Cracks on Mountaineer's Dome (5.3 or so), a crack I can't remember the name of (5.6) at Barney's Rubble that you can lap on top-rope then give it a lead, or over at Roto Wall further up the road are some easy ones. R&D on Icicle Buttress is a lot of folk's first muti-pitch lead (5.7) and well protected - but has a slab section, which can be odd if you're not used to that.

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Pretty wet of course this time of year. For a few cracks closer to Seattle, pretty short and not that great - try Chain Saw Wall at Exit 38 (Crack one with me 5.7). Also at Exit 32 (Lil' Si) is a short crack/arête on Repo I - First Things First 5.6 - not much on the West Side. There is a dirty crack on the left side of the SR 900 Rock near Issaquah, probably 5.6, also TR.

 

 

 

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Smiley Kylee and Mean Mug on the East face of the Wart at Index. Both 5.7ish, clean, 35 meters, and have a walk off or hardware to rap off the top.

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There are a number of threads that cover this question thoroughly if you search for them.

 

I wouldn't bother with Chainsaw Wall unless you're going up there to climb other bolted routes already. Long hike, short route, and I believe there were a few questionable blocks of substantial size. You could probably be in the Icicle by the time you were leading off at the base of it.

 

The Little Si stuff (Repo I mostly) is worth doing though if you don't have time to drive far.

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As mentioned, there's some threads on this site that have come up with some trad favorites. There is also some good cracks at Tieton in the 5.7/8 range- and may be a bit drier (until it gets to cold). Also check into Mt.Erie - I haven't been up there since the new guide has been out, but usually has some good practice areas (sometimes has a good weather window). Ditto on Great Northern Slab.

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Interesting to read these posts and not see a single reference to Castle Rock, Midnight Rock or Snow Creek Wall. When I was living in Tacoma and then Seattle in the late 60's and was still learning, Leavenworth was our usual destination for several reasons: 1. Dry weather (usually) e. of the mountains. 2. Lots of moderate routes suitable for first-time leaders, short enough that you couldn't really get into trouble, but enough exposure to make it real 3. A good variety of routes demanding different techniques.4. Excellent rock. 5. Relatively close to Seattle area, and the climbing is easily accessible from the highway, mostly very short or easy approaches.

Perhaps these areas are more crowded today, and I know from experience that holds and cracks have gotten pretty slick and polished from use over the years. I took a friend who was a solid 5.12 climber to Castle Rock a few years ago, we did Angel Crack.He wanted to lead it; but he had a hell of a time with it, and I was surprised. I'd told him it had been rated 5.9 back in the day; it was my very first 5.9. The newer guidebook calls it 5.10 or 11. He thought it was the stiffest 5.11 he'd ever seen, and finally gave up. Since I'd climbed it before all those years ago, and several times since, I gave it a go; remembering the sequence, it all felt familiar. But even so I just barely made it to grab the horn. Very tough for me, but then I was almost 60. The rest is easy from there. Most of the old routes like Saber, Rainshadow, Cat Burglar,etc., show quite a bit of wear from what I remember, but they're still very moderate. Later, on Snow Creek Wall, routes like Umbrella Tree, Outer Space,Orbit, White Slabs and Easter tower, it was the same, but still very doable and excellent training, suitable for climbers who've got a few years of learning experience and are ready for leading.

 

You don't say what degree or rating of difficulty you're climbing at, but if this all sounds too easy for you, consider that when you're on lead, a 5.5 or 5.7 will be much harder, especially when there's exposure, than it is to follow. Don't turn up your nose at this. Take the example of the great Colorado climber Harvey Carter(founder of Climbing magazine) to heart: Carter spent a number of years traveling all over the intermountain west and southwest, climbing and putting up hundreds of workaday, homely, modest routes in the range between 5.3 or 5.4 to 5.8 or 5.9, in all seasons. He was taking it slow and easy, one step at a time, and building a broad, deep, solid foundation; and what he learned over this period in the way of routefinding, adaptability to all kinds of conditions, on all kinds of rock, dealing with mishaps, the unknown and unexpected, pushing his levels and limits, little by little, grade by grade, gave him an invaluable, priceless, and literally rock solid background of experience which was to give him huge advantages later on, on big walls and big peaks all over the world. He was famous in Yosemite for being absolutely calm and unflappable in the most dire situations, unendingly resourceful and creative in finding a way out of the most difficult and stubborn of problems. He was the Alex Lowe of his day, continually upbeat, cheerful and positive, a climber's climber, a true master. And he got that way by taking every step in it's course, not skipping or skimming over a thing. Today, I don't care where you go, in the entire intermountain west, you'll find climbs that Harvey Carter put up all over the place. You name a place, Carter's been there and climbed the hell out of it. Just amazing. You could do a lot worse than to travel around and follow in his footsteps. By the time you're done, you'll have learned what he learned, with of course your own weather and difficulties, fatigue and challenges, that will make it your very own. A great way to learn and get really, really good.

 

So, that's process. But to get back to the local area here, my main point is, there's just so much in Tumwater Canyon and other areas around. People seem to seldom visit Midnight Rock or Noontime Rock anymore, but these have some of the best trad crack climbing in the state; it's bit of a hike, but what the hell, that's just good conditioning. And they're south-facing, perfect for chillier days when it's sunny. I suppose it's getting a bit late now, probably getting, and staying, pretty damn cold. But at least nowdays you can check the local weather online before you go; we always had to guess. And nowdays, with all the great new cold-weather clothing gear there is, it's great practice, both mental and physical and conditioning, to go over there and get some cold-weather/bad weather climbing experience in a relatively safe, easily escapable environment. I still think it's well worth the drive from Seattle to go over there, just get up early, or leave Friday afternoon or evening and camp out when you get there. And it doesn't take that long to get there. We always used to carpool and chip in for gas,it was very inexpensive for the weekend. You can still do it that way for pretty cheap, and besides it's fun to go with a good group of your best friends. Those were great days, and there are more to come yet. Get out there and make your own great times. It's a wonderful training ground, and the huge number of good new routes is amazing. It's the best.

 

Finally, we also used to spend lots of time at Index Town Wall, kind of the next step. And as you progress, it's not that far to go over to Mt. Baring and Mt. Garfield where it gets a lot bigger and more serious. And Mt. Index will throw a lot at you that provides excellent experience for bigger things later on. With each of these steps you're also increasing the number of total pitches per route, which helps you develop your skills of efficiency and speed doing the actual climbing, placing pro, setting up and breaking down the belay, etc. All excellent preparation for the bigger, wilder, more remote and serious ranges. One recommendation for your reading and study, if you haven't already seen it: "Traditional Lead Climbing:Surviving the Learning Years" and "Traditional Lead Climbing: A Rock climber's Guide to Taking the Sharp End of the Rope"(with a chapter on Transitioning From the Gym to the Great Outdoors)", both by Heidi Pesterfield, Wilderness Press. Very important--can't stress it strongly enough. Both are excellent, essential reading for a climber at just exactly your stage of the game. Also see if you can find a copy of "Care and Consciousness in Climbing" by Pat Ament,1989, Boulder, Colorado. Really required reading. Might be hard to find, but the library or Powell's Books can probably find it for you. Or if they can't, let me know, and I might be able to scare one up. Just send me a PM on the site here. Best of luck ! :grin::wave:

Edited by Mtguide

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During the winter there is really only one crag for western Washington that presents reliable conditions on easy climbs: Mt. Erie.

 

I know, there will be several people here who will argue that blah blah blah is good but, really, go to Mt. Erie. The Zig Zag route, via the 'Undercover" variation (which is probably now the standard route) will entertain. It is well protected with gear placements that are not difficult. You can get some good practice leads at a bunch of routes at Mt. Erie but that one is a good start.

 

Head to Castle Rock, in Leavenworth, in the Spring. Maybe try the Beckey route on Liberty Bell in the summer. Although there may be better crag climbing at Smith Rock (Oregon) and at various destinations in British Columbia, Washington has a wealth of climbing opportunity that should not be overlooked.

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During the winter there is really only one crag for western Washington that presents reliable conditions on easy climbs: Mt. Erie.

 

I second that! :tup:

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I have to agree; don't know why I didn't think of it sooner. As far as ease of access and being close to Seattle you can't beat it. Definitely warmer, but not as often dry.

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A correction here, regarding Mt. Erie weather; Since the mountain and the nearby town of Anacortes lie within the rainshadow or the Olympics, it stays dry for much of the year. There is a website for Mt. Erie's daily/current forecast, or you can just check the forecast for Anacortes, which will be the same. Of all the times I've climbed there, I can only remember it being showery once.

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Squamish has been good the last couple of weekends and there are lots of great single pitch trad routes in the 5.7-5.8 range in the Smoke Bluffs. Walk offs are easy, there's easy access to anchors if you want to TR a route first, the rock quality is good, and the drive isn't really that bad.

 

I've had generally bad luck on anything that's listed as "great first trad lead" in a guide book, I think it might be code for "doesn't take nuts very well".

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