As you drive into Leavenworth, it becomes quickly apparent that you are no longer in a PNW, but rather an 18th century Bavarian village somewhere in the Alps. It may seem that Leavenworth is less of a destination for rock climbers as it is for boaters, anglers, and retirees looking for a quirky vacation with a Swiss theme. After the railroad rerouted outside of the town in the early 1900s, the town struggled to maintain. Then in the 1960s, town leaders decided to exploit their Alps-like location by creating a themed town to attract visitors, complete with its own seasonal festivals.
For climbers, perhaps we are indifferent, put-off, or psyched about the town’s interesting choice of theme. All said, you cannot deny the rich availability of rock climbing to be had! Located on a huge granite batholith, Leavenworth’s rock is similar to that found in Washington Pass but on smaller cliffs. That said, it’s not hard to find enormous, spectacular, alpine granite here as well.
I recommend Tumwater Canyon for stellar crags near town
The Enchantments are not to be missed. They offer some of the most concentrated and stellar climbing in any alpine terrain around the world. These rocks, however, are a story for another time! Located near town are stellar crags, ranging from 50 feet tall to 400 feet that are located in two drainages, Tumwater Canyon and Icicle Creek. Let’s look at Tumwater to start. Tumwater Canyon is the main drainage following US HWY 2 as it flows east from Stevens Pass towards Leavenworth.
You won’t want to miss February Buttress multi-pitch routes
I recommend a few main points of interest. You’ll want to head to the roadside multi-pitch areas of February Buttress with Ground Hog Day (5.6) at the mouth of the canyon on the north side of the road and the spectacular Castle Rock with routes like Midway (5.6) and Canary (5.8). Ground Hog Day on February Buttress is a mellow, three-pitch 5.6 that faces south, as does all of the climbing in the Tumwater, and rises about 280 feet from the roadside. Park just across the road from the crag just before entering, or after leaving, town around the curve. This ledgy route is best done in three pitches and rappelled. Although I suggest being careful, as the ledgy nature of the route lends itself to stuck ropes.
My advice for Washington’s first multi-pitch route
A little further upstream is the amazing Castle Rock. At 400 feet tall, Castle Rock faces south, high on the hillside, beckoning climbers with its flat face covered in cracks and corner systems. Here you can find Washington’s first multi-pitch route, Midway (5.6) with three-pitches. The prolific first ascensionist Fred Beckey first put up on the route. If you haven’t noticed, his name comes up a lot in Washington rock climbing, and mountaineering. Check out the movie, Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey, if you haven’t already.
Castle Rock also has a stellar crack route known as Canary. Leaving from Logger’s Ledge, which breaks up the formation into a lower and upper section, you take a stellar comer up to a “beached whale” maneuver on to Saber Ledge. From there, one makes a glorious step-across sequence onto a wildly exposed arete. Have the camera ready. Follow it up an increasingly nebulous exposure to the top of the formation where you can walk off.
Now for some single-pitch routes at Icicle Creek
Located up the other drainage, leading south out of town towards The Enchantments, Icicle Creek begs for climbers to find and climb its hidden granite crags. Typically climbed in the summer, due to its deeper nature, single-pitch areas dominate the style here. The exception is the beautiful Snow Creek Wall, an 800-foot granite escarpment with one of the longest routes in the area, Outer Space (5.9). This amazing crack route climbs seven pitches of splitter granite cracks. The stellar final pitches are an amazingly exposed, hand crack. A walk off allows for a reasonably easy descent back to the base. You’ll reach this classic by parking in the Snow Creek Wall parking lot.
A great single-pitch area for Icicle Creek is the Eight Mile Buttress. The area bears the route’s name and is near Eight Mile Campground. Hidden on the south side of the road, down an embankment, you actually park on top of the crag on the side of the road and hike down. In the shady trees, this small crag stays shaded even when it’s getting warm elsewhere.
Leavenworth’s quick leads and main cracks
Here are the three main cracks: Twin Cracks and Classic Crack both 5.8, with Deception Crack at 5.9. Only 50 feet tall, these are quick leads for a morning or afternoon session of moderate crack climbing. The Purina and Careno crags are other great single-pitch areas that should be for good routes in the sun. Another area to visit is the small, Little Bridge Creek Rock where two nice crack lines can be found. Crystal Time (5.7) is a great route that starts trad and switches to bolt-protected face climbing to a chain anchor. Don’t forget about Arms Control, a steal 5.10 corner climb!
Make the most of your trip to the Alps of the PNW
After your climbing, you will likely be wanting to grab a bite and perhaps some brews. Well, Leavenworth has quite the assortment to choose from. I recommend Stein Leavenworth for your dinner. For an amazing sandwich and your grocery needs, visit Dan’s Food Market and ask for the “Danwhich.” Looking for gear? Der Sportsmann downtown is a good place. If you would like to hire a guide for some serious business in the Enchantments or to push your limits locally, head over to Northwest Mountain School! Leavenworth hosts a flurry of festivals, year-round and can be found on the Leavenworth website. For climbers, the Leavenworth Rock Fest is held in early May and is not to be missed!