OuterSpace (5.9 ****) and Orbit (5.9 ****) in a day
Arun Jacob and Ryan Allen Saturday June 1st, 2002
The Icicle Canyon of Leavenworth offers lots of great climbing on solid Cascades granite. One of the most sought out features of the canyon is Snow Creek Wall. The wall offers two of Washington State's most sought after, multi pitch climbs; Outer Space and Orbit. It's 2 hour hike to the base is no deterrent for the motivated climber, for even on most week days, these routes see multiple ascents. Most climbers I've talked to, make the hike in to Snow Creek Wall, to tackle one of these excellent classic. On on Saturday of June 2002, Arun and I decided to work our way up both climbs in a day.
The plan was to drive and hike in Friday night, bivvy at the base of the wall, get up early Saturday and be the first ones on Outer Space, the more popular route of the two. The hike in went uneventful but slower than anticipated because of our heavy packs. Five AM alarm, and we were up and scrambling to the start of the climb. To our surprise, there was a party of 2 already tied in and starting up the first pitch! They mentioned they left the cars at a quarter to four, and made the hike in that morning! And we thought we were so motivated! Well the party in front of us, fresh from El Capitan, turned out to be so fast, we lost sight of them before we could put our first piece of protection in. In climbing, it seems there is always something to aspire to!
The first two pitches were quite simple, and went very quick. The third and crux pitch turned out to be easier than I remembered. I think it had something to do with having a perfect sized cam to place before stepping across the face. I had lead this pitch years ago, and I remember spending a lot of time trying to protect that first, committing and exposed move. The move involved putting your hands in a slanting and flaring crack, and stepping your feet out onto some smaller foot holds over the very exposed lip of a roof!
Arun pulls past the crux of Outer Space
After the crux pitch, the climbing difficulty really mellowed out, but the quality of the route kept getting better! A long face with large chicken-heads lead to a cool pillar that placed us on a small flat platform, about 2 feet by 3 feet, and a good 400 feet off the deck! Straight up from this platform was a remarkable 5.7 hand crack, with knobs, chicken-heads and nubbins coming out all around it. It was steep too! Climbing this thing makes the 4 star sating obvious!
Arun on the incredible 5.7 crack!
The most amazing part of this climb was the famous "library ledge". At almost precisely 50 meters, this crack system is broken in half with an incredible belay ledge. This ledge was the exact size of a park bench, and has a flat slab for your back at the the perfect angle. I took my shoes off, dangled my feet over the edge, and watched Arun climb, and the wind blowing through the trees, some 500 feet below.
Arun leading out of the comfortable ledge, high on the route.
This put us on the top of the wall at around noon. Normally a great time to sit around, eat something and absorb the spectacular views. But not today, we had to change shoes and high tail back down the gully to start the second route! There is only so much sunlight.After two unplanned rappels in the descent gully, we arrived at the base of Orbit 15 minutes later than planned. So we hurried up the starting pitch; a simple 4th class scramble.
We seemingly flew up the first two pitches, then I was suddenly thrown into the sustained 5.9 crux. It sure was nice of Arun to let me lead the two crux pitches of the day :) Anyhow, the crux turned out to be quite fun, with a steep and longer 5.9 finger crack that swallowed protection with ease. I was also thankful that Arun lead the following pitch, witch although slightly easier than the crux, was difficult to protect and involved bold climbing high above marginal protection! The belay was not something to be excited about either. There were a few rusty 1/4" bolts next to an akward, slanting and small ledge. When I got to Arun, I could tell he was slightly uncomfortable. After carefully exchanging gear, I climbed above him about ten feet and onto a comfortable, large ledge with plenty of spots for good protection. Make a note for next time!
Arun getting ready to clean the crux pitch on Orbit.
The climbing once again became easier but more incredible! About 7 pitches in total, each a little more fun than the previous. The final two pitches were sustained and steep face climbing, with most of the moves probably going easier than 5.5! Where else in the world can you find such steep and sustained and moderate face climbing, so high above the valley floor. I'd like to know!
We toped off around 7 PM, an hour later than we planned! No time to waste, for we still had to descend the long and loose gully! Well, the descent, now memorized from our previous attempt went quite smoothly, until I insisted on taking a short cut toward the bottom.I bet that will be the last time Arun listens to me! We ended up having to take an extra rappel to get to the back packs.
With the help of headlamps, we hiked out of the valley in the dark, tired but feeling good. Arriving back to the cars at an early 11:30 pm. A great day cragging indeed!
Excellent face climbing high on Orbit.