Snow Creek Wall - Orbit

May 11, 2002

The trip was conceived at 7:12 am Friday morning when Chris called me seeing if I wanted to climb this weekend. "Huh... sure... but let me call you back later!" Darn residents working all hours of the morning!!

Saturday we left Seattle at 6:30, determined to fill a full day of leavenworth cragging. I was in "suburb auto pilot" and thus drove right past the exit for 405, and headed near the depths of Redmond/Kirkland. "Yikes, get us out of here. Now!" we both thought...

Once in leavenworth, we decided to head up and climb Orbit on the Snow Creek Wall. I had heard only good things about the route, and after Chris and I's fun time on Outer Space, I was excited to return to the wall.

Chris crosses the "correct" log across Snow Creek.
A little balance test to start out the day??

We met a real nice guy in the snow creek parking lot who had a decidedly bold outfit on. (See boldnes in picture below!) Considering that we were in the height of tick season, wearing short running shorts was downright scary. His name was Bob and he and his partner were headed up RPM. Chris and I tucked our pants into our socks and headed out.

In no time it seemed that we were at the turnoff to head up the hill. We walked across the long and found the trail leading up to the wall. At the noticeable branch point in the trail we unknowingly took the left hand fork. The trail soon thinned out into bushwacking and we were wondering if there had been some sort of big avalanche activity that obliterated the trail... Turns out the real way to get to the base of Orbit heads up to the base of Outer Space, then takes a *trail* around to the base. But we, intrepid route finders we were, blazed on with our own approach! Following foot paths along, we could see the "S-shaped tree" that we knew the route started under. Working up to that contained some scary exposed 4th class climbing, but we eventually made it to a ledge with a tree, about a half pitch below the "S-Tree". The way ahead looked like a particularly challenging "trail," so we roped up and ditched the packs.

I lead the short 5.5ish pitch which finished at the tree with a fun overhang-pullup on a huge jug. Chris came up and started off on the next pitch which included a "one 5.8 move chimney." What the heck is that? Well, I soon found out, and what a pain it was to drag the boots on my harness through!

Chris about to tangle with the flake-chimney.

Chris lead out the full 60 meter rope length and made it all the way across the "ramp" to the base of the 5.9 crack pitch. I joined him at the semi-hanging belay and we swapped gear while I stood on a small, painful foothold. I suppose we could have belayed at the ledge before it though. The thin crack ahead looked hard with only a few pockets for fingers. This all made sense as I continued up and another thin crack on a flake opened up to me left. Sweet finger locks and some lyebacking lead up to a ledge with a bush-tree. This section protects best with small nuts.

Hmm.. Where to go from here? Out with the description... Ok, head right up the slab. With a tricky move around the roof I gained the slab. Fun and well protected face climbing lead to a double bolt belay station. I didn't realize it at the time, but the ziplock with the description had somehow freed its self from my pocket and floated down through space right onto Chris's belay!

Chris gains the slab on our third pitch.

I stopped and used the mini Cobra radio that we were carrying to see how much rope was left. "Half rope, Dave!" Well crud, looks like I need to keep going. I climbed up to the base of an imposing roof and was able to place a #3 stopper just before traversing right around the corner. I was now standing on a steep wall with little foot holds with a thin crack shooting up above. The rope drag was pretty bad so I set up a hanging belay on small gear. The anchor was 3 solid pieces, but due to the earliness of the season, I was a bit apprehensive about hanging on it!

Chris leads steeply off the belay.

The next pitch leads off on a small finger crack, and then into a fist-to-hand crack. This was the only place on the route where I could see a 3" cam being useful, but it was also protectable by a #2 camalot. Chris lead the pitch in high alpine style by not clipping the old manky bolts and enduring some slightly runout 5.8 stemming. This pitch can be pretty well protected by many small cams and mini nuts (3 & 4). This pitch enters into a dihedral that contains great stemming and exciting climbing! Just after an all-friction stem, Chris setup the belay on a nice but small ledge.

Our 4th pitch entered the dihedral. Chris can just be seen above.

This climb was starting to feel very alpine. I was quite happy to get out of my hanging stance and climb up. This pitch has cracks, good face climbing and great stemming! We reracked on a comfy ledge, of which I was reluctant to part with. Eventually I continued up the nice dihedral crack for 20 feet, then exited right around the arret onto fun chicken heads. These lead to a small roof, and I had no idea where to go. "Did the description say to take a ramp left of a roof, or to traverse a roof on the right, or ... ???" I went right and went left, thinking, "I don't remember any mention of scaling a roof.. it looks tricky!" There was no where to go but up, so I searched around for holds on the roof. Finding the key holds, I easily pulled through two overhanging moves to reach more chickenheads (well protected ones too!). This lead to a roomy ledge under a large roof at 30 meters.

A happy Dave on the ledge at the base of the last pitch. Photo by Chris.

We knew we were close to the top, and that the infamous wild chicken heads of the upper wall were close at hand. Chris lead off and slung a particularly fat chicken before launching out into orbit. Though runout, this pitch is easy and completely fun! You can take just about any line you want for the 60 meters to the top.

On top we ran into Bob again. They had just finished up a melange of routes including Psychopath (.11a) which he said was funky and dirty. His partner had also taken a "controlled fall" and had scraped and bruised himself up. Bob offered to show us the best way down, and seeing as Chris and I had rappelled twice the last time on the descent, we took him up on his offer. Chris and I enjoyed the comfort of our boots as we watched them hike down in rock shoes. We followed the path down a rib past the gully with a rap station, and then followed the route down to near the base of orbit. Here we downclimbed a groove in a corner and then traversed over to the normal start of Orbit.

After packing up and heading down, we found Bob trying to cajole his partner into letting him carry ALL their gear. He said, "It's the least a true mountaineer could do for his partner... right Dave? right Chris???" Reluctantly he let Bob load up a monstrous pack and we all headed out. The hike out through the burn was beautiful, replete with setting sun and spring colors. This is why I love climbing in leavenworth!

Icicle Canyon.

Back at the parking lot, Chris joking said to Bob, "Alright, get down and give me 10!"
No problem!

Bob heaving the 50+ lb pack while Chris hopes that he's not next!

We said good-bye to super-Bob, and headed over to Sam Hill for a long awaited confrontation with Ski Track Cracks. I had wanted to do this route for a while, but had never gotten my act together to fit it in at the end of the day. But, nothing better to top of a long day of climbing than a 5.9 crack, right?

We hiked the quick 10 minutes up to Sam Hill, very worrisome about the tick-potential of the terrain. After losing the trail a few times and crashing through some brush, we found ourselves at the base. I setup and lead off on a steep finger lye-back. This lead to more finger cracks and awesome stemming! Above the crack widens into thin, then perfect hands for the final traverse. As a final stinger, there is a short finger lock crack that leads to the top. What an sweet pitch!

Let the acrobatics begin! Dave leads Ski Track Cracks in the fading light.
Photo by Chris.

To me, Orbit seemed to have much more sustained climbing than Outer Space with its sections of 5.8 on most pitches (with fewer ledges too). Also, the lack of detailed topos (though Nelsons is great in retrospect) and gear only belays lends a sense of alpine adventure to it.

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