"Center Stage", Roan Wall, Darrinton Area, WA

August 23-25, 2007 / 5.11a, 10p, mixed.

A couple of recent postings on Cascade Climbers had described a relatively new route on the Roan Wall, near Darrington. We decided to go check it out. Didn't know much about the route, except for what we gathered from the postings: that it was primarily a slab route, and about 10 pitches long. The few who had climbed the route and were writing about it did not completely agree on the ratings of the pitches, but from what we could tell there would be several 5.10 pitches with probably a 5.11a crux.

Since the approach is supposed to be rather long and inobvious, we plan the trip as an overnighter.

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"Center Stage" follows a bolted line pretty much in the center of the clean slab on the left. It veers right near the top.
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Getting ready at the trailhead.
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Somewhere early in the approach.
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Glimpse of Salish Peak from the approach.
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There must be some good routes on Squire Creek Wall.

August 23rd: We leave the bus in Darrington and drive to the trailhead. The hike to the Roan Wall is nice enough, on a good trail most of the way. It stays in the rainforest though, so the views are limited. The climbers trail to the head of the valley is very well flagged and most of the brush and branches have been cut off. Nice! No bush-whacking to be found. The crux is the stream crossing, which we do on a tree (a bit scary - it's much better to wade the stream another 30m upstream from the flagged tree).

Approaching the head of the valley, we are not too optimistic about finding a place for our tent: dense bush everywhere (we're travelling up a dry wash by now), and no water. We keep going up, to the alpine zone, almost to the base of the cliffs (which one should stay away from: lots of water coming down and occasional rocks... snow melting above). There is one obvious, gigantic boulder all the way up there. The downhill side is overhanging and looks like it might make a good bivy. And indeed. A few, nearly flat yet small, engineered gravel patches among the boulders, protected by the huge rock (easily 30m high), complete with a bolt in the overhang to hang your food, a toilet throne some distance below, and a note from "the caretakers". There are even two bolted climbing routes up the boulder!

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Following the well flagged climbers trail through the rainforest.
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Now that's a BIG mushroom!
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Looking back down the valley.
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Our camp underneath the huge boulder.
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Finding the "caretakers' note".

We settle here, on a gravel patch barely large enough for our tent (and not quite flat, so we didn't sleep that comfortably). Impressive valley. Beautiful place. Huge snow caverns just above us, where water coming down the headwalls has melted through the heavy snow banks at their base. Easily as large as subway tunnels! Also, there is enough flow here for the water to stay at the surface for a few hundred meters before disappearing underground. So we have water within 100 yards of camp!

The climb is obvious enough from here and does not look too threatening. We have dinner, get our gear ready, and hit the sack.

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Views of the Roan Wall from camp.
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Getting ready to hit the sack.
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Hiking up the gully to the base of the route.
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Looking up from the approach gully.
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Lucie leading the first pitch (5.8).

Friday, August 24, 2007: Climbed most of Center Stagel (bailed in the last pitch). Very sustained, hard route. The ratings seemed fair until past the 5.11a pitch. We were too hot the whole day and wasted ourselves silly on the crux, so our impression of the rest of the route may not be accurate...

The approach is well cairned, heading into the bush from the dry drainage some distance below camp. A short bit of heavy-duty bush whacking in slide alders lead to 20 minutes of boulder-hopping up a gully to a good flat spot at the base of the route.

P1 is 30m up to 5.8 on slabby bulges, which Lucie led (this pitch can be avoided by scrambling up left).

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The dirty 2nd pitch (5.4R) leads to the base of the gorgeous wall.
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Starting pitch 3 (10b). Nice small edges on patina with lots of bolts.
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Higher on pitch 3.
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Views.
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Pitch 4, another good pitch, easier than P3 (5.9'ish).

Above this, 50m of loose class II scrambling lead to the base of a very mossy steeper wall with flared, mossy cracks. This is about 5.4R (not X, as suggested in some of the postings). Some pro can be found if you clean the moss and dirt out of the cracks. No fun at all though. More loose scrambling (about 30m) lead to the base of the gorgeous steep wall.

P3 is all small edges on patina; fair at 5.10b, extremely sustained and very good. It is also extremely well bolted compared to the rest of the climb...

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Reaching the belay a top pitch 4.
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Leading pitch 6 (5.10a?).
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Higher on pitch 6.
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More views of the beautiful cirque.
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Eric on the very slabby crux pitch (P7, 11a).

After this come two pitches of somewhat easier climbing (5.9'ish), which I think we combined, then a 5.10a pitch.

P7 is the business, a 5.11a pure slab. Becomes pretty cruxy at the last 4 bolts. I waste myself silly trying to free this pitch, hanging three times, then finally A0'ing one move past the crux and barely making it above that to the anchors. Lucie follows and frees it, with only two hangs for a bit of rest. This thing is murder on your feet.

I felt really tired after this. We take a long break but the food and water do not help much. I am barely able to move above this pitch...

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On pitch 8, another hard pitch (10d?).
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Higher on P8, past the nice lieback flake.
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On pitch 9, above the very slabby section just above the belay.
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Belaying after the fun arching traverse atop pitch 9.
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The last pitch (P10), which we did not complete.

P8 felt really hard, with very slabby cruxes which felt much harder than the advertised 5.10c… but I was wasted so who knows?

P9 is supposed to be 5.9. Most of it is, but I though there were clearly one or two 5.10 moves right off the belay. The rest of the pitch is a fun arching lieback and undercling to another chain belay at the right edge of the wall.

Above this, things looked questionable… very steep, very slabby rock with not too many bolts. Sure looked much harder than 5.10b from the bottom. I try it, despite my wasted condition, and only make it up to the third bolt (with difficulty). I end up bailing where you have to make steep moves up a blank slab using a ½" rounded, arching edge for a hand hold, and sort of mantle onto this! All this well above the last bolt. Felt really hard... but again, I was wasted and my feet were killing me. I tried it three times before bailing out.

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Views.
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Rapping down.
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Looking back at the bivy boulder in the back of the cirque.
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Longing to be back at camp - and in the shade!
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A total of 9 raps (doubles) bring us back down.

Back to the belay and 7 raps (doubles) back to the ledges at the base of the wall. Careful down climbing to more bolted anchors and two more raps to the base of the route.

What a beating! Too hard, too sustained, too hot, too sunny, too weak - go figure. In retrospect, I think I got a mild case of heat stroke on the 5.11 pitch, trying too hard to free it. Knowing what we know now, we would definitely pick a cloudy day to climb this route. The slab faces South and warm rubber and sweaty hands do not go too well with hard slab climbing... Also, I like slabs, but they always take me a few pitches to get confident. We should have spent couple of days on 3 O'Clock wall, rather than coming straight from steep cracks at Index! Maybe next time...

The route is very good though (after the ugly first two pitches). The bolts are nice and beefy, but somewhat weirdly placed, we thought. P3 for example is the most generously bolted (sport style) pitch, yet is has some of the most straightforward, secure climbing on small but mostly positive edges. Above that, things get progressively more slabby, and the bolt density drops. P7 for example is much less densely bolted than P3 (?). Also, we felt that in many places, the bolts came right above (not at) the crux moves, including in several hard sections right off the belay. I don't think this thing was bolted on lead... or was it? Sure would explain a lot.

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In the bushwack section leading back to the approach gully.
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Strange snow cave.
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Getting up in a white-out the next morning.
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Leisurely breakfast at camp.
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Ready to go.

The next day, we get up in a white out (!). After a leisurely breakfast, we pack our stuff and start hiking down. Things clear up a bit. It's cloudy and damp, but at least it's not raining. We get back to Darrington in mid-afternoon.

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Good-looking berries.
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Hiking down the slopes below the bivy boulder.
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Roan Wall in the fog.
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Down the wash.
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Looking back at the route.

We don't recommend an overnight trip unless you intend to link "Center Stage" with the "Flight of the Falcon" on Salish Peak (of course, some people do this in a day too...). The approach to the bivy sites took us only 3.5 hours with an overnight pack. You can probably keep the approach to well under 3h with just a light pack.

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Nice looking mushrooms.
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Wading the stream.
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Too many blueberries!
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Taking a break along the trail.
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The huge rockslide that wiped out a section of the trail near the trailhead.

Gear notes: 50m double ropes + 14 draws + 1 set nuts and cams for p2 and the last three pitches.