Lucie was just back from a two-week trip to France, to attend her sister's wedding. During that time, I had stayed at the 29 Pines Campground, that terrific (and free) camp we had found near Cle Elum when we climbed Mount Stuart back in July. I had put the short break to good use, working on several overdue maintenance issues with the bus. The weather had been absolutely gorgeous during that period, but of course turned for the worse the very day Lucie made it back. We figured this signaled the end of the summer season in the Cascades, and decided to head into the deserts of Central and Eastern Washington for a better chance of good weather.
Frenchman Coulee is one of the better known climbing areas in Washington. It is located on the left (east) bank of the Columbia River, between the small towns of Vantage and George. The area is known for its long crack climbs, between the very regular but uniquely wavy basalt columns that compose large portions of the rimrock. It is also reputed for its loose rock, which limits the climbing to very small fractions of the available rock. Even in the heavily used areas of good climbable rock, the potential for rock fall is considerable. In a few days at the crags, we witnessed two close calls at Sunshine wall: one apparently spontaneous slide from the top of the cliffs, and the other caused by a climber attempting to set up a top rope from above. Don't be discouraged though, as the area offers a great selection of classic crack climbs of moderate ratings, as well as several bolted face and arete climbs (which we found much less interesting). Just wear your brain bucket and keep an eye on any activity at the top of the cliff.
Frenchman Coulee is a zoo on weekends, but during the week you can almost have the place to yourself. Camping is allowed on and around the main parking lot. There are two portables (graciously donated by the Access Fund) but there is no water, so make sure you bring plenty!
We spent six days at the Coulee, enjoying the desert views and climbing almost every day. Before leaving Los Alamos, we never thought we would miss the desert... but after spending all summer in the Cascades, it felt like being home again! We particularly enjoyed the "Sunshine Wall", a sunny, south facing cliff with a high concentration of long (up to 25m) cracks and stems up beautiful orange columns. We climbed three days at "Sunshine", completing a good portion of the best climbs on the wall. Some of the very best routes are Party in your Pants, a gorgeous 5.8 twin crack and stem, Stems and Seeds, a sustained 5.11c stemming problem (which we top roped), Sinsemilla, its easier (5.10c) neighbor, Air Guitar, THE classic 5.10b widening crack, George and Martha, a tricky and somewhat awkward 5.10a crack, and Red M&Ms, the amazing 5.11b stemming corner just right of it (also top roped).
We also spent a day climbing on the "Middle East Wall", a long, shady wall that rises directly above the road. There are fewer climbs there than at the "Sunshine Wall" but we found them to be of exceptional quality. This wall is also much less popular, making it a good option on warm weekends, when the other crags are overwhelmed with climbers. We climbed several lines, but Sex Party, 5.10b, stands out as the best crack climb we've found at the Coulee.
We spent our last day climbing at the "Feathers", the most obvious and most popular crag at the Coulee. The climbing here is markedly different from the rest of the area: short bolted face and arete climbs on a series of blocks and spires. The rock is also very different. With few vertical cracks, but a lot of horizontal fracturing, it almost looks like a stack of plates with countless jug holds. We did not particularly enjoy this crag; it feels more like an outdoor gym than anything else. The climbs are more physical than technical, and the rock is defaced by countless graffiti. At least we were the only ones there. The crowds at the "Feathers" on the weekend were simply mind boggling.
The next morning, we woke up to cold, rainy weather. We had come close to the end of the real classics at the area anyway, so we continued east toward Spokane and Missoula.
Frenchman Coulee, Vantage, WA
|The "Wild Horse Monument" where we spent the night on our way to Frenchman Coulee, WA.|
|Camping on the climbers' parking lot at Frenchman Coulee.|
|Views from camp. Almost feels like we're home again!|
|In the "chimney", on the short approach to Sunshine Wall.|
|The cliff in the foreground (right) is the east end of Sunshine Wall.|
|Eric leading the classic crack, "Air Guitar", 5.10b, Sunshine Wall.|
|Nearing the end of "Air Guitar".|
|Lucie leading "Crossing the Threshold", 5.8, Sunshine Wall.|
|Views from Sunshine Wall, toward the Columbia River.|
|Eric leading the deceptively tricky "George and Martha", 5.10a, Sunshine Wall.|
|Basalt Columns of the "Stems and Seeds" area, Sunshine Wall. The obvious wide crack is "Steel Grill" (5.9).|
|Lucie on "Stems and Seeds", 5.11c, Sunshine Wall.|
|Tying into the sharp end.|
|Lucie leading "Party in your Pants", 5.8, Sunshine Wall.|
|The shady "Middle East Wall".|
|Leading a fun 5.9'ish crack between the Minaret (detached column at left) and "Sex Party".|
|On "Sex Party", 5.10b, Middle East Wall; one of the very best cracks at the Coulee.|
|"Savage Heart", 5.10a, Middle East Wall.|