The Feathers, Frenchman Coulee
April 14 - 15, 2007

I hadn't been on actual rock in more than four months, since returning from Thailand, and was itching to get back to Vantage to rub off the rust of winter. Wayne, Sonny, and I met up at the painful hour of 5 am at the 512 Park and Ride to make the 3 hour drive out to the columnar basalt of Frenchman Coulee. Being the vigorous types that we are, we, of course, stopped in Ellensburg for an hour breakfast at the Palace Cafe. We had little spittles of rain coming at us when we arrived, but not enough to really wet anything down. Wayne and I quickly got his Everest quality Wenzel set up and staked down in the iron "soil". The purple trim makes it more technical.

This weekend was supposed to be about leading on rock, at least for me, so I borrowed some gear and jumped on the sharp end, hoping that I would remember something of what I had learned last year. I promptly back clipped every bolt on my way up the 5.6 that we had started on. I then remembered that I hadn't really learned anything last year. As I was leading Tom and Tori arrived from Seattle, giving the crew a nice size and a little feminine influence to keep us partly in line. Sport climbing doesn't lend itself terribly well to the narrative form, at least when you're doing sissy little routes, so now that everyone is accounted for, here is something slightly less creative, but much easier to write.

This student from WSU is cruising on something like a 5.10c next to an unknown 5.9 that we climbed. She was rather powerful.

Sonny was feeling rather full of pep after the Palace Cafe and so got on the sharp end of a 5.10b next to Don Coyote. Its rare to see Sonny having to think hard over a route, but the start and first two bolts seemed to be rather tough.

The route moves you over onto an arete and then back across a slightly blank face toward a crack.

Once you get near the crack, the climb seemed to ease up and Sonny got his send (that is fancyspeak for making it to the top without falling).

I got on a 5.9 at the far end of the Feathers that I had watched two climbers sieging, complete with air gear, for about an hour earlier on. What possessed me to lead it, I still don't know. Perhaps it was Sonny and Wayne's relentless taunts. After hanging on the third bolt, strategically, I finished the climb and returned to the deck rather happy, but also a bit wigged out mentally. After kicking it for a while, we headed back down to the cars for a few mid afternoon beers.

After an hour of rest we all felt a bit better, but I didn't have things together mentally do lead much more. I wasn't really scared. Rather I just didn't have the mental burst needed to lead. I played around on a 5.7 that Fred Beckey put up, thanks to a top rope hung by Wayne. Here is Tori top roping it. This was her first 5.7 outdoors and she made it through without a fall.

As you can see, the route has a lot of features and isn't quite vertical, making it a good route for beginners to climb.

Tom wanted a project, wanted to see where he was, and that meant an attempt at leading at the 5.10 level. Next to Don Coyote was a 10a, and in the beautiful golden light of the late afternoon he set off.

The climb is airy and scenic.

And perfectly vertical.

Tom worked the route hard, but couldn't pull the last move to the chains. Pumped and tired, he came back down and left the route for Sonny. Considering it was his first attempt at leading at that grade, he did a really great job and we were all happy for him. Here is Sonny on the start of the climb.

And Sonny powering up through the middle section. Note the climber at the bottom. He's on the arete of the 5.10b that gave Sonny problems earlier. The guy got pitched off a few times before making it up the arete and across the face. Definitely a tough climb.

Sonny resting before starting on the last sequence to get to the chains.

Rested, Sonny starts up the crux.

This what Vantage is all about: Clear, dry high desert climbing. When the light is right, the Feathers really glow and the place has a magical feel to it. Sonny is about one move from the chains here, which he reached without issue, though seemed rather pumped when he got down to the bottom.

The climbing over, we retreated 200 yards to our campsite and fired up stoves for dinner in the increasingly strong winds.

This speaks for itself.

In the morning it was time to lead again and I felt the mental juice needed to lead again. But, there isn't any reason to start hard. This is a 5.4 (=easy) called Mandatory Suicide. Despite its low grade, it had some interesting climbing, especially for the leader as some of the bolts were in odd places. Very little upper body strength is needed here and there are lots of places to rest.

A 5.6 got led next and then I hopped on a 5.7 next to it. Tom is at the top of the 5.6 taking photos of me as I lead this one. Here I'm searching for the absolute best hold, even though there were plenty of good ones around. Note the bolt about a foot and a half from the end of my right hand.

Got to the bolt! Note the not so calm face. I'm not sure why its there, as the climb isn't particularly tough. The next bolt is also visible a few feet from my left hand.

Clipping the last bolt before the chains. I managed not to back clip anything on any of the routes this day.

A few last moves and you're to the top, which is a little slab and shelf below the chains.

Here is the slab and shelf, which looks a lot less than it really is. The chains are just out of sight.

With lockers on the chains and the rope run through, it was time to get back down to the ground. You can see the rope that Tom used to get up to the top of the 5.6 where he shot these photos for me.

We played around a bit more and then decided to head back to the Sound. But not before a few beers and a stop in Ellensburg for another visit to the Palace Cafe.


From Lakewood drive I-5 north to SR 18 and take that to its junction with I-90. Drive on I-90 to exit 143, a few miles past the Columbia. Exit and make a left onto Silica road. Drive about a mile to the first house and make a left (Vantage Road). Drive another mile until you reach a rough parking area with some outhouses on the left. The Feathers are the big, obvious rock formations. You'll need an annual $12 state game and wildlife pass, available at local stores (Fred Meyer, GI Joes, etc). A pass issued by the feds (Northwest Forest, Golden Eagle, etc) is of no use here. There is no running water at Frenchmen Coulee. It gets pretty hot in the summer time, so be sure to drink plenty of water and cover up from the sun. It gets very windy, so stake out your tents.

In Ellensburg, there is an excellent eats place called the Palace Cafe. The food is super tasty, reasonably priced, and comes in large portions. The biscuits and gravy, Denver Omelet, and the Palace burger are highly recommended. To get there, take the eastern most exit from I-90 (there are only two and this is the main one). Exit and head into town. Drive for about 4 minutes to reach downtown. The Palace Cafe is on the left side.