Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Opening Day

Teresa and I finally moved the skis aside to dig out our climbing gear last week... we started with a quick night of bouldering, abs, and slackline fun at the Outdoor Research bouldering wall, which is likely to be our "Home Gym" this season until the Seattle Bouldering Project opens. I have to admit... I'm a bit burned out on the existing gym scene. Partly, it's geography -- now that I live and work south of the city, it's hard to get stoked to drive north to Ballard. Partly, I miss the climbing family I had out in Bremerton, and my feeble efforts to settle in at a Seattle gym just haven't "taken" yet.

When the weather report for the weekend predicted rain for the ski areas, we tentatively started talking about the possibility of a little drive out to Vantage. As the weekend approached, and the forecast held: Saturday, temps in the 40s, low chance of rain, partly sunny... a gamble on Vantage's weather became more and more attractive.

Saturday, February 5th -- a full month earlier than my typical Vantage season opener -- we got an excited but not super early start. I honestly thought we'd be taking our gear for a drive... I've had freezing cold days at Vantage in March, and when it was still drizzling past Ellensburg, our odds didn't look great. Luckily, we had an iPod full of tunes and the two of us never seem to run out of topics of conversation even after living in a little house together for nearly a year... so the drive went fast, with little attention to the weather. I realized -- while still driving east, before even reaching our climbing destination, I already felt my climbing bliss. My eyes were relaxed and happy, and my smile exactly where it belonged.

When we reached the Columbia River and the weather was dry, my visions switched from rain and cold, to a vision of Sunshine Wall covered in climbing parties, with line-ups for the moderate routes I hoped to warm up on. I can, on occasion, be a bit of pessimist in my secret head, I guess.

An aside. If you don't like dogs, this might not be your blog. Maile the Great is likely to feature prominently in this one, since she's -- by far -- the most photogenic of the bunch (no offense, Teresa -- but you and I both know it's true). not offended, its totally true, just look at that face! she's model material -teresa

Maile did a happy dance for all three of us when we pulled into the nearly empty parking lot. The ground was soaked from recent rains, but Sunshine Wall and the other backside crags generally dry fairly quick thanks to frequent windy days and nights on the Columbia River Gorge side of the climbing area.

After a two-girl effort to help Maile through the Dog Catcher -- a notoriously not dog friendly downclimb on the trail to the back side crags -- we found ourselves looking out over a dry, clearing, warm-enough-to-take-our-gloves-off day at one of my favorite, most underrated climbing walls in Washington.

Yes, it's crumbling columnar basalt.

Yes, it gets used and abused by far too many climbing parties of various levels of skill and style.

Yes, it can be can't-hear-your-belayer-crap-the-rope-is-stuck windy.

But on a good day, Sunshine Wall is a little bit of heaven.

And we happened to be blessed with a Good Day.

We spent the whole day on 5.8s and 5.9s, each of us taking a turn on lead and also working our currently-non-existent endurance with long pitches on top rope. While we've been friends for a year (Happy Anniversary, T!) this marked only our second time ever climbing outside together, and served as a well-timed reminder, for me, of the best parts of climbing.

Teresa and I climb without pressure, and with fun. We support and encourage each other; we are quick to praise, and more patient with each other than the average bear when the going gets hard. We pace ourselves. We crack jokes. We coach each other and sing through hard parts of climbs (Me: Extraordinary Machine, by Fiona Apple. Teresa: Just Breathe, by Pearl Jam). Teresa wants me to add that her favorite song of all time is Bryan Adams "The Summer of 69." (please dont hold this confession against me -teresa) Now, Teresa is having an in-depth conversation with Maile about what HER favorite song is.

The verdict: If there were a song about squirrels, that would be Maile's favorite.

Back to climbing.

I am blessed to have a short list of the world's greatest climbing partners, and even more blessed to get to reside with one (and her little dog). From start to finish, this year's season opener was one of those absolutely perfect days I dream about at Vantage. Calm climbing. No pressure. Lots of laughter. No crowds. The sound of quickdraws clanking against each other. Clear views. Climbing without a jacket on. Maile chasing bugs.

And sunshine.

If our season opener was any indication, it's going to be a great year.

How are you starting your season? Share your season opener in the comments. And, don't miss any of the action. We're live on Facebook and Twitter!


  1. 1. Please dont hold it against me that my favorite song is Summer of 69. Really, before you judge, play it. You'll be singing it ALL THE TIME, in no time.

    2. Maile the Great really is ridiculously photogenic. I mean, really, look at that face, supermodel material, I tell you.

    3. Best start to climbing season, yet. I typically dont get my lead head on until well into my first month of climbing. That I made it up on lead the first day of the season is huge for me. Thanks to an amazing, encouraging, pressure-free partner. I've been blessed with such incredible people to climb with; and this is one of those very special partnerships where it just works in every way. Holy crap; I led on my first day out!! Time to have a celebratory glass of wine.

    Happy climbing!

  2. Nice! Glad you had a good time!

    I had 3 days at Vantage in January. Ice doesn't count, I guess?

    Weird, the climbing days I dream about are pretty much the opposite of calm, no pressure...

  3. Laurel, thanks for the comment! One of my favorite things about these sports is that there are so many different motivators. Its a refreshing reminder that there is something for all of us.

    Awesome on your ice days. No, we're not covering ice on Solo in Tandem; at least not this round. But I'll have to check out Mtn Squirrel to see what you've posted.

  4. Yay! Glad to hear that you made it out of the misty fog rain that plagued Seattle. Looking forward to heading east with you all soon.

  5. By the way, I think Vantage is a great place for trad 5.9s, especially if you like crack climbing instead of trad slab climbing (I'm looking at you, Leavenworth). Probably the best density anywhere around, especially if you include the 10a's which are pretty much 9s.

    I'm not ashamed to admit that I really like the climbing there too, if you will permit me to babble. All the moderate routes there reward being able to find feet and face holds as well as jam in varying sizes. The changing size usually allows you to get away with a single rack for a full 25m+ pitch (or sew it up if you are so inclined and have enough gear). Some have anchors on top (or neighboring routes) if you want to preview on TR or recover your gear after bailing halfway up. The ones that are a little bulgy let you use both passive and active pro (also good for the single-rack-havers). And they're straight vertical all the way up so the falls are pretty clean.

    And of course, it's sunny (and shady if it gets too hot!).

    Index is beautiful of course, but you only get like two 9s and people are always on them (well, I guess you can include the 8s and 8+s there). And you can make Thin Fingers 5.9 A1.

  6. Long-time rockclimbergirl reader here...glad to hear your back at it I'm glad to hear your back at it, and in excellent company!
    (a) I look forward to the 5.9 trad reports. I don't know whether I'm ready for the 5.9 gear, but I learn a lot from and am inspired by your reports.
    (b) I have dog envy! MTG is super cute.
    (c) Taking risks and accepting risk is a part of lead climbing and life that I at times find myself resisting. I hope the risk (or fear?) I experience climbing better equips me to take/accept risk in other areas of life. Your (plural!) openness and courage is inspiring.
    (d) I'm 1.5 weeks from a climbing trip in WA. It will be my first of the season. I aim to lead, and fall (even if it is planned). The weather, of course, will dictate the location. Perhaps we shall meet!
    (e) I, too, like Vantage. And Index. Laurel, thanks for the beta!
    A faithful reader,

  7. sounds like you were right when you said the day was "a little bit of heaven" Seems like it couldn't get any better. I hope that my first trip outside this season is equally as lucky as your was.

  8. Julie - so excited for your trip out here. Let us know where you end up going and how the trip goes for you! Perhaps we will bump into one another out there - keep an eye out for MTG, she's the sign we're nearby. Thanks for the positive feedback. Every little step gets us closer to our goals, 5.9 or less scared or whatever it might be; super excited for to be reaching towards yours.

    Laurel, great tips! One of the things I love yet dislike about Vantage is the slightly sketchy rock. Its definitely a good training ground, not only for practicing those 5.9's but also moving through the fear I feel. Thanks for sharing!

  9. AHHHH! I also sing Extraordinary Machine through hard parts of climbs. Also: the Reading Rainbow theme song ("Butterflies in the sky, I can go twice as high...").

    So excited to keep up with your adventures!


  10. Teresa, so good to see your and Mailes smiling faces! Love and miss you (both)! Hugs!