My body feels wrecked.
On Tuesday, I got off work at 8 pm. I picked up a few things I had forgotten at my apartment and, after a convenient falafel on Lake City Way, drove to the Colchuck and Stewart Lakes trailhead outside of Leavenworth, Washington. I got in around 11 and slept in my truck ’till a nice, alpine start at 4 am–my friend, Marcus, was already camped up at Colchuck lake and would be waiting for me when I arrived. We needed lots of daylight ahead of us if we were going to climb any of the peaks we had talked about in the weeks prior.
I nudged Marcus awake when I found him at the South end of Colchuck lake, camped in a small patch of dirt within a field of car-sized boulders. After I set up my tent, we prepared to climb. We had talked about climbing a few different routes, but decided on the West Face of Colchuck Balanced Rock (or CBR)–a beautiful series of cracks that splits a peak hanging over the East side of the lake.
It being June–somewhat early for alpine rock climbing–much of the approach to CBR was on snow. Over the course of a few hours, we kicked our way up to the base and proceeded to cache some gear that we would grab on the way down.
The rock climbing on this route was excellent, but it crushed us. Easier, fun climbing brought us to an immaculate, 90-degree, 100-foot corner that stands below a giant roof. Unfortunately, the top 15 feet of the crack proved to be drenched by runoff, tossing aside our goal of climbing the route free (as opposed to aid climbing, in which protection placed in the cracks is weighted and pulled on to move up). After aiding another wet pitch that traversed under the roof, we were exhausted and running out of time to finish the route with enough daylight to easily descend back to camp. We decided to pull on gear through the next section too, nominally the crux if free climbed but easy when you pull on protection, and then blasted our way up through a series of helmet-crunching chimneys–the last of the difficult climbing. Another couple hundred feet of easy climbing led us to the balanced rock of Colchuck Balanced Rock and the summit.
We knew the descent would be heinous and long if we let the sun go down, so we rappelled East off the summit to a scree-field and a snow field and finally to the cache of gear we left at the base of the route. Re-tracing our path from the beginning of the day, we plunge-stepped the remaining snow fields and made it back to camp without major incident (disregarding me plunging up to my chest into a hole in the snow). We finished the night with a congratulatory hug and a massive franken-meal of rice with zuchinni, onions, green onions, eggs, and avocado plus chili flakes and sesame seeds sprinkled on top. Then, we proceeded to sleep.
We woke up Thursday morning to a light drizzle and packed our heavy packs for the slog down to the trailhead. Marcus had been climbing, skiing, and camping at Colchuck Lake for days beforehand and I had just pulled a 19 hour day of foot-travel and climbing; we were worked. The truck was a beautiful sight as we shuffled toward it; I was grateful neither of us broke an ankle with our big packs. After a quick meal and the day’s first cup of coffee (at 3 pm) at Good Mood Food in Leavenworth, we zipped back to Seattle, where I dropped Marcus off at his grandparents and we agreed to do this again as soon as we could.
This was one of the bigger adventures I’ve ever had; snow travel added to hard climbing on a long day really adds up, and I haven’t felt so tired or sore in a long time. I hope to go back later in the summer, when the rock has dried, and climb the route free.
More of the last 9 months to come soon!