Frenchman Coulee
November 10-11, 2007

Writing about sport climbing, in Washington at least, is about as much fun as trying to write about the best way to change motor oil: You can write about what you did, but no one would really care. So, instead of trying to be creative and make the best of the situation, I thought I'd instead focus on just one climb of many that was done at the Mountaineers annual Turkey Climb. Toward the end of the day on Saturday a group of us found ourselves at Sunshine Wall staring up at a long (14 bolt!) 5.7 climb called The Chossmaster. Almost 30 meters in length, it has a nice, large platform about 22 meters up with an anchor there. I did what seemed pretty obvious: Strap my camera to my back and climb to the platform to get shots of my friends coming up. Of course, the bulge on my back didn't make using the wide crack at the bottom very easy, but I got up without issue. What follows below is a montage of Sue, Steve, and Chuck climbing Chossmaster, with Sue and Steve leading it and Chuck on top rope.

Sue begins the climb by working into the body crack below. There are plenty of holds, but the crack is so stable that you can hang out and think about things before you do them, which is nice when you are on lead. Chuck is at the bottom belaying her.

When you're leading, you have to clip quickdraws into bolts drilled into the rock, and then clip the rope through the quickdraw. This means that you have to be stable enough to take one hand off the rock while you clip. On easier routes, this isn't too hard. On more difficult routes, though, this can be a scary thing. Sue is clipping a bolt in the below picture.

As you can tell from the below photo, the route is slightly overhung where Sue is coming up. Everyone paused at this exact spot to think things through before committing to a move. The move isn't hard, but it took everyone a little while to sort it out.

Sue's almost to me now. Notice her feet in this shot: They are stemmed out against the sides of the rock. This is a really comfortable position to be in, as you can balance perfectly. She could probably take her hands off the rock at this point and not fall.

Now we switch to Steve and what he did at the same spot. He's gotten past the slight overhang and is now faced with some rather loose chockstones in the crack. The danger isn't so much to him , as he's well protected with the bolts. But, people below are in danger, in particular his belayer. Should Sue get taken out by falling rock, Steve would be in a bit of trouble. He was careful, though, and nothing came out.

And now we jump to Chuck, who turned 70 last December. Chuck doesn't like the look of the chockstones either and is trying to figure out a way to get up through this bit without using them.

So what does Sue do? Work on the outside face instead of inside the crack! You can tell by her left hand that the hold is pretty good: Wide and positive. Positive is just a quick way of saying that there is plenty for you grip.

Once past the looseness, there is one more bolt to clip before reaching my perch. Below you can see Steve clipping. The bolt is attached to the rock. The quickdraw is attached to the bolt. And Steve is now attaching the rope to the quickdraw. One of the draws (pun intended) of sport climbing is the relative ease of protection: You don't have to think very much about it and quick draws are much cheaper than things like cams.

I had to wait until the last minute to get this shot of Chuck climbing into my perch. My feet are actually in the air, out of sight of the camera and I had to get the picture fast and then get out of his way.

Once you reach the perch, you have only a short ways to go to make it to the chains. But the character of the climb changes quite a bit. The rest of the way follows a pillar up. You can see Sue stemming between two rock faces and using the sides of the pillar for her hands.

Steve is quite a bit taller than Sue and had a somewhat easier time moving up the pillar. Height helps at times, and hurts at other times. But notice the common technique of stemming.

Sue's almost made it. Again, notice the stemmed legs: Sue could easily take her hands off the rock and just balance where she is. This helps quite a bit when you're trying to clip bolts, and also on longer routes. By stemming, you can avoid burning strength in your arms, strength that you'll need on a longer route.

Chuck stemmed when he wanted to, but took, overall, a different approach. Instead of stemming, Chuck lived inside the crack. You can see that he has stuffed most of the left side of his body into the crack. By wedging himself in, he can more easily move his feet around and search for holds without needing to hold on. This is a really secure mode of climbing and one that I like to do when I can.

Sue made it! As did everyone else.

And me? Well, I was hungry so after Chuck came down I just rappelled down to the base of the climb. After all, it was already 4:30 and light was getting scarce. Plus, back at the camp ground we had a feast waiting for us: Two kinds of fried turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, Dutch oven sweet potatoes, clams, corn cakes, pickled green beans, three salads, a raft of hors d'oeuvres, three pumpkin pies, two apple pies, Cool Whip, Reddi Whip, and a partridge in a pear tree. Oh, and I can a six pack of Steel Reserve waiting. This was no time to dally on a rock face.


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 Kotik Memorial Wall, walk past the parking lot, and pass Agathla Tower (big, obvious rock tower) on your right, 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. Sunshine Wall is to your right.

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.