We had just come back from Boston Basin. Our next alpine project was the Northeast Buttress of Slesse (southern BC), at least as soon as the infamous pocket glacier that threatens the approach would be melted out. In the meantime, we felt like a few days of car-to-car cragging. Darrington is not far from Marblemount, and is known as THE place in Washington for high quality slab climbing. I've always found slab climbing fascinating. So much of it happens in your head.

D-town as it is commonly called by climbers, is a small place. A few stores, gas stations, and a library mark the center of this logging town. We couldn't find any out-of-the-way spot to park the bus, so we ended up right in the middle of town, by a small park, across from the IGA grocery store and the library. Used to heavily policed states such as Colorado, we were fully expecting to be kicked out within hours. That was not to happen. We ended up camped there for 8 days! Convenient location too. Walk across the street to buy food, or through the park to go check e-mail and the conditions on Slesse at the small library.

We spent the next day unpacking our gear from Boston basin, exploring the overgrown approach road to the climbs, and just getting oriented.

The next morning, we climbed "Silent Running", a 7-pitch 5.10b pure-friction line on Three O'Clock Rock. Most of that route (the first 6 pitches) does not exceed 5.9. The 7th pitch is the crux, and could be avoided since you rap the route to descend.

We started late and drove to the trailhead we had identified the day before. The approach is short (~30 minutes) but steep. It follows a good trail among huge trees and lots of vegetation. "Silent Running" is very popular and deservedly so. Beautiful and fun slab climbing on every pitch with only minor runouts on easier sections. For those familiar with Red Rocks, we thought it was the "Crimson Chrysalis" of slab climbing!

Our guidebook only showed 6 pitches, but once at the 6th belay, we could clearly see a line of good bolts continuing up. What the hell, it's been so good to this point, might as well check it out. The line went up past several overlaps and roofs. Looked like it could be a bit trickier than the first 6 pitches but the rock looked great and the bolts numerous enough. Turned out to be the crux of the climb, which we later learned is rated 5.10b. Several raps later, we were back at our packs. A highly recommended climb!

After a rest day, we went back to Three O'Clock Rock on Sunday, to climb "Total Soul" an 8-pitch, 5.10 route left of "Silent Running". The route follows an obvious white dike and finger crack up the left half of the wall. We started hiking up at 7:15AM. When we got to the base, a party of three was getting ready to climb "Silent Running". They had spent the night right at the base of the climb! A few minutes later, another group arrived and got in line behind them. Looked like it was going to be a busy weekend on that route... Fortunately, Total Soul is much less popular, so we took our time eating breakfast and racking.

It was 9AM when we finally started up. The first two rope lengths follows slabs with flakes then climb the obvious white dike. This dike continues for 2 great pitches of delicate climbing with a mix of bolts and gear in a fun finger crack. There are two variations above this: the "Superfly" pitch goes up right then back left on somewhat runout steep slab (5.10+ traverse at the end of the pitch). We chose the "Antifly" variation, which diagonals left to sustained 5.10 slab above. The middle of the pitch has a section of interesting friction slab with side pulls on an arete to the left. The next pitch (pitch 6) also involves difficult slab climbing. Pitch 7 is more mellow but with a lot of lichen covering the rock. The last pitch (5.10) is short and well bolted. It involves steep climbing with back and forth traverses on a very clean slab.

We reached the summit of the buttress at 1:15AM. Once there, you won't have much difficulty locating the rappel anchor on a tree to the right... a big sign points right to it! We couldn't believe our eyes! Never seen the like of this anywhere. Two raps from trees (with huge steel rap rings) bring you back to the top of pitch 6. From there, just rap the route (every pitch is equipped with beefy bolted anchors with chains). As we were rapping, we could watch the incredible traffic up and down the neighboring "Silent Running". There must have been 5 or 6 parties on it! Told you it's a good one!

We had a quick lunch at the base before walking to the other side of the buttress. Lucie led two variations of "Under the Bored Walk". She started with the 5.8 variation: a full pitch with a couple of thin 5.8 moves and long runouts on easy terrain. The 5.7 version, just to the right, has only one 5.7 move to reach the first bolt, then easy climbing up a slab with knobs. That made it 10 pitches today. Good enough.

Our last climb was a variation of the famed "Dreamer", a 10-pitch route on the "Green Giant" buttress. This is a bit more of a backcountry climb, as the buttress has - in Jim Nelson's words - a "remote and out-of-the-way feel". The approach is quite a bit longer than to Three O'clock Rock, taking over an hour, first following an old mining road through the forest, then climbing steeply along and sometimes into a creek bed (dry when we were there). This route is quite different in character from the slab climbs we had done on Three O'Clock rock. It is much more varied, with fun flakes and cracks in addition to the slabs, and natural protection as well as bolts

Instead of the original start to the route, we followed "Dreamer Direct", an enjoyable 2-pitch 5.7 start with low angle slab and a shallow left-facing dihedral, then "Urban Bypass", a tricky 2-pitch 5.10b slab variation just left of the normal route, which we found quite hard for the grade. These variations lead to the top of the old 4th pitch of Dreamer in a direct line. From there, the route is suprisingly varied and fun. It follows a series of cracks and flakes for 3 pitches, before finishing on somewhat runout but delightful and steep face climbing on small knobs and edges. The 7th pitch (5.9+) in particular features a wild undercling traverse under an overhang. Watch for rope drag on this one; even with double ropes, you'll have to set up the pitch carefully to avoid it. The leader of the party behind us almost ended up stuck before the anchor because of the extreme drag on their single rope. Several double rope raps get you back to the base.

Matt Perkins has a good online mini-guide to the area, including links to additional resources. A very good topo of Dreamer (by far the best we've seen) and its variations is also available on his site. Dreamer is also described in Volume I of Nelson and Potterfield's Selected Climbs in the Cascades. Volume II of the same book has a good selection of routes on Three O'Clock Rock, including "Silent Running" and "Total Soul".

 

 

Darrington (D-Town) Rock, WA

August 20-28, 2003
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Exfoliation Dome seen from Three O'Clock Rock.
 
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Camping at the city park in the center of D-Town.
 
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Old growth cedar on the approach to Three O'Clock Rock.
 
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Three O'Clock Rock, with climbers on "Silent Running".
 
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Eric on the third pitch of "Silent Running".
 
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Week-end crowds on Silent Running (taken from high on "Total soul").
 
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On the crux pitch (5.10b).
 
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Lucie finishing the same pitch.
 
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Remains of a huge tree along the approach.
 
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Colorful mushrooms.
 
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The other Three O'Clock Rock classic: "Total Soul".
 
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First pitch of "Total Soul".
 
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Eric leading the 5.9 section of the 2nd pitch.
 
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Eric, slab dancing.
 
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On "Total Soul" (third pitch).
 
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Following the white dike on pitch 4 (5.9).
 
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Lucie following the 7th pitch of "Total Soul".
 
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Hard to miss rappels.
 
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Lucie leading "Under the Bored Walk" (5.7).
 
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On the 5.8 variation of "Under the Bored Walk".
 
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Driving the narrow road to Green Giant Buttress (not as bad as reputed).
 
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Green Giant Buttress.
 
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Lucie leading the 1st pitch of "Dreamer Direct". The arching dihedral to her right is "Botany 101".
 
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Starting the 2nd pitch...
 
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...and finishing it.
 
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"Urban Bypass" (pitch 3), apologies about the quality of this and the next few photos... fingerprint on the lens).
 
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Pitch 5, I think...
 
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Starting pitch 6.
 
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The top of pitch 6 follows this really fun wide flake crack.
 
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Finishing the undercling traverse on pitch 7.
 
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Lucie starting up a fun face pitch (#8).
 
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Higher up on the same pitch.
 
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Going back to the barn.
(high res. images are about 300KB)