Frenchman Coulee
October 12-14, 2007

The cold air meant that the evening should have been short. But you don't get a show like this in the Sound and none of us were going to bed. As the sun set the world lit up with a display that never bores, no matter how many times you see it. But the show wasn't over, as the stars then made their appearance. Bill pointed out numerous constellations and we watched satellites racing overhead. Shooting stars fell. Even with the cold air, none of us ran to the comfortable warmth of our sleeping bags for several hours after the temperature dropped to 40. But to bed we would have to go, for tomorrow looked like a busy day.

i didn't rise until nearly 9 in the morning, yet the looming rim of the Feathers kept the sunshine from reaching the campground. Hat on, fleece on, tea in hand, I stumbled out and gathered with Bill and Joy and Tom as we waited for the rest of our friends to show up. It would be a big group as the Tacoma Mountaineers were holding their second field trip for the sport climbing course. Although only five students were enrolled, there were easily twice that number of people who wanted to help out, and so here we were. After the camping area filled and people collected, we headed out in two large groups to try to break up our impact. I headed over with one of them to Kotik Memorial Wall, a very fun area located near Sunshine. The heat, once we stepped out of the shade, and into the sun.

Tom and I jumped on Rod of God (5.8), a fun, moderate climb on a free standing pillar. Here is S styling up it.

To the right of the Rod is a newly bolted 5.9+ (new since the last Yoder guidebook). i didn't get a chance to jump on it, but here is Ben near the beginning of it. Note the huge bucket holds: Vantage climbing at its best!

Gordon hung a rope on Silhouettes (5.10a), a very fun, well bolted, and very soft route that runs up, like so many other climbs here, the arete of a column. I stretched myself out too far near the top, skipping smaller crimpers, and ended up taking a couple of falls three feet below the chains. I finally got my feet high enough that skipping the crimpers was possible. Here is Casey near the bottom of the same climb.

Casey moved up without too much difficulty and didn't even come close to falling. Here he is a move or so below where I took my fall.

In between Silhouettes and the Rod is Wild Thing (5.10a), a route described as moderate until the very end, when the last move to the chains involves a big move across small holds. Here is Gordon cruising on the middle regions of it.

Gordon shows off his foot work in traversing over to the beginning of the Wild Thing move. You can see a bolt just above his head, then a rather blank looking section to get to the chains. When Gordon has to stop and hang for a while, you know that a route isn't obvious. Well, he took five minutes to figure out what to do. And then he did it with ease.

Tom decided to give Silhouettes a try. The route is pretty vertical with a few slightly overhanging sections that are easily passed via excellent foot holds.

And another action shot of Tom.

I don't know who these people are, or what they are climbing, but it sure looks like a lot of fun. This is actually on the Sunshine Wall side of things. Having climbed Kotik to our satisfaction, we migrated to the lower cliffs below Sunshine wall. Known as Fatman Skinnyman Wall, the rock is much different down here. Gone are the buckets and ledges found elsewhere. Instead, many of the holds are directional and sloping in the wrong direction. Footwork and balance are called for, power is not.

I hung up a rope on Teaser (5.5), a route that is aptly named as from below it looks big and blocky. But most of the holds slope, forcing you to look around a bit for something comfy to use. After getting the rope up, Ben took off for a mock lead. That is, he was on top rope, but trailing another rope that he used to clip bolts and eventually build and anchor with.

After Ben finished, Paul did a mock lead as well on Teaser. To the right of Paul's line you can see a 5.7 that got put up. Without a doubt, it was the hardest 5.7 that I had done at Vantage, with sloping holds, balancy moves, and a slightly overhanging finish on small holds to the chains. Interesting for sure, but not consistent with the other 5.7s at Vantage.

The others were down the way playing around on a 5.11a whose name escapes me. The whole area featured an overhanging,Thailand-like boulder start. Unlike the fully featured Thailand limestone, the basalt afforded few good holds and pulling the overhang was exceptionally difficult. Only Mindy was able to make it. Here are some sequenced shots of her working it.

Beginning the overhang. Notice the open-handed holds.

After gaining a little elevation, she could use part of the overhang as an undercling.

She got her feet wedged against some rock and stood to get a small hold on top of the overhang.

A sweet lie back and high feet are the key to the overhang.

Just keep moving the feet up and up. Note the constant froggy position that she's in: Feet and hands close when climbing on steep stuff.

Once above the overhang, the route eases up a bit, with the overhang replaced by small crimpers and good feet to the top.

Almost there. We're screaming encouragement at this point, as everyone was thrilled to see a 5.11a climbed by one of our own.

Two more powerful moves and Mindy made the chains.

I had gone through the two liters of water that I had brought with me and was dying for some shade and some cool. While the others headed off for climbing at Jigsaw, in the sun, Tom and I headed back to camp around 2:30 and sat in the shade of someone's SUV drinking a Sierra Nevada and contemplating climbing. The below shot is from the slot coming down from the plateau to the Sunshine area. It is my attempt to be artistic in the midst of all this climbing junk.

Well, we cooled off and did manage to get back to Zig Zag wall for climbing on Unfinished Business (5.8, hah!). I won't bother to describe what happened there, but let me just say that it involved a 15 foot lead fall and the hardest 5.8 I'd ever climbed at Vantage. No other 5.8s in the area are remotely as blank, or poorly bolted. I'll come back when I can lead 5.10b. Another attempt was made to climb at the Feathers, but the day was done and Ben had brought a mini-keg of homebrew.

I didn't have a whole lot of motivation to climb in the morning, but Tom, Pat, and I headed up to the Feathers to get a little action in before we had to leave at noon. A few standard climbs were had, and then we worked on Pat's project, a variation of Shin Smasher (5.9). Below you can see Casey working the project part.

The ordinary route goes from right to to left across the face below the small roof. It bypasses the roof on the left arete and then heads straight to the top. A fun, sometimes thought provoking climb. But Pat, being Canadian, can't let it go at that.

So, he set up a project to tackle the roof directly. Requiring a lot of power, he put it in the 5.11a range. But, there are only a couple of moves, so thinking of it as a V2+ boulder problem, that you happen to do on a rope, might be better.

Casey hung a lot, but managed to make it through the project in the end. He has some strength.

And no climbing pictorial can be complete without a picture of a climbing dog. Here is Tundra, a 13 year old husky with stunning eyes. Casey and S are her owners.


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. 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.

The Feathers are the big, obvious walls above the camping area. To get to Zig-Zag Wall, leave the parking lot and make a left turn at the rock haystack (Agathla Tower). The wall is on the right. To get to Kotik Memorial Wall, continue right past Agathla Tower following the trail up onto the plateau. Make left at a fork signed for Sunshine. Drop down through a slot that leads down to the wall. Kotik is to the left. To get to Fatman Skinnyman Wall, descend from the slot exit on another trail and make a left. 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.