First Washington Rock Climb Experience – Tieton River Rocks

I am loving Washington State. Ever since I arrived at Seattle on June 13, the experience has been very pleasant and positive. The weekend of June 14 and 15 at Discovery Park was the staff training of my summer job; it was sunny and many wild flowers were in blossom. Summer had officially made her entry to Washington. My colleagues are all passionate outdoor educators; I felt warmly welcomed from the first second I met them.

We then ran a 4-day rock climb skill training and site scouting trip at Tieton River Rocks near Yakima. Even though our schedule was quite busy, we still managed to squeeze in some personal climbing here and there. The scenic drive back to the city was also one of the highlights; we overlooked Mount Rainier from a good distance and she was resting there peacefully under the soothing snow. What a gorgeous picture. Even though all of us have been to many cool places, our breath was still taken away immediately by it and we exclaimed our appreciation with wonder.

We discovered that Royal Columns was a good top rope site for beginners: relatively easy approach with many mellow routes for selection. In order to feel the reality rather than blindly follow the description in the guidebook, as well as to assess the top rope site management for various routes, we climbed the following routes: Western Front (5.3), Rough Boys (5.5), Mush Maker (5.7), Double Trouble (5.5), and Twin Cracks (5.6). I led Rough Boys & Double Trouble and top roped the rest.

My favorite one was Twin Cracks. Basically the climbing area of this route is between two thin cracks and therefore it engages the climber to utilize different techniques. Sometimes she has to climb the face, sometimes cracks; being competent on stemming and jamming techniques is essential. Mush Maker also won much praise for its consistent fist jamming from half way up; however I remember Rough Boys better because it was my first lead after over a month of inactivity on rocks. In addition, I haven’t become intuitive on crack climbing moves yet, and the rating of this area is a bit harder; therefore Rough Boys did play rough on me. Double Trouble didn’t create much trouble, but its crux was a little tricky.

We also explored some non-driving possibilities. Since we stayed in the Windy Point Campground, we walked across the road and checked out two areas called The Oasis and Windy Point Columns. The rock quality there didn’t look too good; many routes were covered in dirt and posed potential rock fall hazard. Some routes in certain shady areas in Windy Point Columns looked mellower than the ones we climbed: a promising option for students to break into this sport. We decided to climb a seemingly easy route—possibly the first ascent. The lower 90 percent was a cruiser; a little dusty but we of course can do some cleaning if we need to. However the crux move near the top was too much for the first-timers; therefore we had to abort this option.

The last area we scouted is called Moon Rocks. Perfect trail system; super short approach. Too bad that the bridge crossing the river was bare; that means a wooden bridge on top of a rapid current without any hand railings at either side: not that great for kids. Good news is that Moon Rocks is wicked awesome for personal climbing: the rock is clean; there are many burly routes; easy access to the top to set up top rope anchors; the geology is intriguing. I love this area more than Royal Columns.

We didn’t have much time left, so we broke into two teams. One party led a 5.7 route called Internal Bliss. It was satisfying for them; that was a tunnel vision experience. While they were crawling in the chimney feature right behind the rock face, the arrangement of neighboring standalone pillars still allowed enough sunlight for them to navigate. My party set up a top rope for Straight Talk (5.10a). Oh, it was difficult; 100 feet of sustained 5.10a crack climbing. The good news is that you can always find tiny footholds on the face, since this non-smooth crack in a right facing corner did not take toe jams too well. Looking for an ideal foot position in the crack was exactly how I wasted much energy and therefore failed to send it.

The crack starts as a tiny crack which barely takes one’s fingertips and gradually widens up to hand jam and then fist jam and beyond. It then narrows down to fist jam and back to hand jam till the top. As I mentioned earlier, the crack was not smooth, taping your hands will be a wise decision.

Tieton River Rocks area doesn’t seem to get much of a crowd, even though it totally deserves it. In the guidebook, the authors encourage climbers to establish new routes over here. On our way back to the city, we did see many virgin rocks waiting for exploration. Perhaps it’s time for me to think about the art of bolting and… maybe pick up a drill?

Photo: Top-roping Straight Talk
Photo Credit: Craig McKibben

Scroll to Top