|Totally Subjective Area Guide|
|Best Free Camping: about 8 miles out of town along highway 2 (Tumwater Canyon), and just past Tumwater campground is a dirt road on the left that goes to a trailhead. There are several dispersed campsites left of the dirt road. The 14 day limit is sometimes enforced. There's a pit toilet at the trailhead. For water and trash, sneak into the campground across the road.|
|Best Restaurant Food: there isn't any... tourist trap galore. A beer and a burger on the rooftop terrace at Gustav's makes a nice rest-day diversion on a sunny afternoon.|
|Best Bread: Amazing breads at the Anjou Bakery, in Cashmere. They also sell their bread at Dan's Market, the local grocery store.|
|Free Drinking Water and RV Dump: at the rest area, along Highway 2, about 8 miles further NW from the Tumwater campground (i.e. 16 miles from town)|
Leavenworth is a goofy place. To put it mildly. Sometime in the late sixties, what used to be a typical quiet western town suddenly decided to go umpah! The entire downtown gradually transfigured itself into an American fantasy of a small Austrian mountain village, complete with Biergartens, every kind of wurst you can think of, lederhosen and felt hats, and inescapable polka music at every street corner. Architecturally speaking, they actually did a pretty good job of it. If it wasn't for the overwhelming crowds of beer-drinking, souvenir-chasing tourists, the center of town would almost feel like an alpine village.
Leavenworth is also a center of climbing and mountaineering in the heart of the Washington Cascades. It provides access to the Enchantment Lakes area, a particularly scenic, high alpine plateau littered with green lakes and granite peaks. This area has become so popular with both climbers and backpackers that a strict permit system is now in effect to control and limit the impact on this fragile environment. The canyons (Tumwater and Icicle) west and north of town also contain a number of small granite outcrops that have become a major attraction for rock climbers. Not that the climbing is that great, but it is easily accessible and on relatively good rock, a rarity in the Cascades.
We found ourselves based in Leavenworth on several occasions. On our first visit, in May 2003, we sampled the rock climbing at Castle Rock, one of the better crags in the area. We then headed up to Colchuck Lake for a three-day snow camp. From there, we were hoping to climb Triple Couloir, an intimidating snow and ice route up the North Face of Dragontail Peak. Unfortunately, unseasonably warm temperatures kept us from attempting that route. Instead, we climbed the easy walk up route on Colchuck Peak. This route would actually make a good re-introduction to steep snow climbing for a long series of volcano climbs to come.
Our second visit to Leavenworth started in late June 2003. We had just finished a series of long snow climbs on a good number of the Cascade volcanoes and were starved for more technical climbing. After a short attempt at cragging in incredibly hot weather at Skaha, a sport climbing area in south-central British Columbia, we had decided to go back to Leavenworth for a mix of alpine rock routes and local cragging, and hopefully more bearable temperatures. We ended up staying more than 3 weeks! We left the bus for the entire period at a nice hidden spot on National Forest land in Tumwater canyon, about 8 miles from town.
We climbed several routes again at Castle Rock, including the outstanding Damnation Crack, an exceptional mix of crack climbing, liebacking, and chimneying, all in a single 5.9 pitch. Combined with Midway Direct Direct (5.9), it makes a great, continuous, and somewhat runout 5.9 line to the top of the buttress. Other recommended routes on Castle Rock include the South Face of Jell-O Tower (5.8), Saber (5.5), Midway Direct (5.6), Saints (5.8), Canary (5.8), Angel (5.10b), and the Crack of Doom (5.10a).
The only other crag we visited was Pearly Gates, a small but shady wall with a few decent one- and two-pitch routes. The other crags are mostly south-facing and were way too hot.
We also went up to the Snow Creek Wall, a striking granite buttress that is reputed to hold some of the best multi-pitch rock climbs in Washington. We climbed Orbit an 8-pitch 5.9 route up the left side of the wall. We did go back a few days later for the other reputed line on the wall, Outer Space (5.9+, 8 pitches) but temperatures that day were brutal and we were forced to abort the climb in blistering sun.
We also had a couple of alpine rock objectives in the area. The first, the South Face of Prusik Peak (5.9+, 6 pitches), is reputed to have the best rock of any mountain route in the Cascades. A great climb indeed! To our surprise, we did not see anybody on the climb for the 4 days we spent camped near the base! The 10 mile, 6000 ft approach must have something to do with that. The other was the very long Backbone Ridge (5.9, 15 pitches) on the North Face of Dragontail, a climb we had been eyeing with envy during our first camp at Colchuck Lake a couple months before.
Besides the climbing, we got some serious catching-up work done on our web site. We made a commitment to bring the site up to date during that period, and just about made it. We traveled to Wenatchee for a day to find a high speed line, and uploaded a major update on July 28. On the way to Wenatchee, we stopped by the Anjou bakery, near the little town of Cashmere. We had found some of their fantastic bread at the local supermarket in Leavenworth a few days earlier and were curious to check it out. The bakery is a great little place, set up in an old farm in the middle of an orchard (though unfortunately a bit too close to Highway 2). Their bread is one of the best we've ever tasted, including in Europe! Highly recommended.
We drove back to Leavenworth a third time in mid-September to escape the bad weather in Squamish. We went to Icicle Canyon for a day of cragging and climbed the classic Givler's Crack (5.8) and Bo Derek (10b) on Givler's Dome. The next day, we went back to the Snow Creek Wall to climb Outer Space, an 8-pitch 5.9+ line we had been forced to bail off of back in June. Outer Space is one of the best climbs in Washington State. The lower pitches are nothing special but the upper pitches follow an exquisite crack up the center of the Snow Creek headwall.
Music Credit: "Hey Oktoberfest Girl" by Australian Oktoberfest band (Leo Karnauchow).
|Leavenworth, the "Bavarian" village of the Cascades.|
|Gustav's, the local brewery and pub, with a pleasant roof-top terrace.|
|Tyrolean style facades downtown.|
|They even built a Tyrolean church!|
|Our camp, in a "dispersed" camping area, 8 miles northwest of town.|
|Cragging at Castle Rock. The excellent Damnation Crack (5.9).|
|Eric on the South Face of Jell-O tower (5.8).|
|Lucie on the first pitch of Saber (5.5).|
|First pitch of Saints (5.8).|
|First pitch of Midway Direct (5.6).|
|Second pitch of Midway Direct (5.6).|
|First Pitch of Canary (5.8).|
|Having some civilized time at the Anjou Bakery, in Cashmere, WA.|
|Eric on Celestial Groove (5.9+), at the Pearly Gates area.|
|The classic Givler's Crack on Givler Dome in Icicle Canyon.|
|Lucie leading the 2nd pitch of Givler's Crack.|