For two weeks in western Washington a high pressure system kept fog low to the ground making for low visibility and damp weather. This resulted in zero wind and stagnant air. With the remnants of our yearly autumn colds still lingering, Eric and I decided to escape the Puget Sound weather and head over to the east side of the cascades to get in some late season climbing. The weather for Leavenworth looked promising so we headed over Stevens Pass Friday afternoon in search of clearer skies, wind and rock.

Our plan was to complete a multi-pitch route that has been on our list for some time: R&D. R&D is a 5.6 trad route on Icicle Buttress about 6.7 miles down Icicle Road. We awoke Saturday at 6:30am in our tent in the climbers parking lot to a very cold morning. Eric and I love to start out our climbing adventures at first light. However, this late in the season it was impossible to take our gloves off that early in the morning. We patiently wandered down the road scouting out other climbing areas until the sun’s rays finally touched the rock of Icicle Buttress at 9:30am.

There are several ways to start the first pitch of R&D. We originally were going use the “Cocaine Crack” Variation (a nice slab with 7 bolts), but when I reached the first bolt on the pitch I found that it was spinning around very freely. Not wanting to take any chances on the old, loose bolt I down climbed. Instead Eric belayed me up the classic start to R&D which takes trad gear. The straight forward pitch with cracks for gear had good, juggy hand holds to a ledge. Note that there are no fixed anchors at the end of the pitches. You must build a gear anchor.

The second pitch was very similar to the first. It led to a large and comfortable belay ledge where we stopped for a quick lunch break and enjoyed the views of the canyon. Then the real fun began. I watched Eric lead up low angle face of the beginning third pitch and disappear into the chimney. I could not hear him call off belay over the roar of the river, but after belaying out half the rope very quickly and a series of rope tugs I knew it was my turn to climb. A radio would have come in handy. The chimney takes a minute or two to get situated  as there is bulge one must get over, plus my pack didn’t help (the follow always carries the pack on our climbs). Once out of the chimney it is an easy friction climb (my favorite) to the belay station.

The final Pitch involves using your choice of a finger or hand crack. I am not a fan of or very skilled at crack climbing, so Eric took the lead. Again a radio would have come in handy. The pitch was a full rope length so the lack of a suddenly fast belay and the weakness of the pull signals delayed my ascent. After 15 minutes of no movement or signals I took down my anchor and was relieved to find that Eric pulled in rope as a climbed upward. This proved to be another fun pitch. We chose to use the hand crack. Very classic crack climbing moves, but none that shred your hands. The final ascent after the crack was another classic friction climb.

We didn’t spend too much time at the top. It was 4:10pm and the sun had vanished over the mountains and it was getting dim and chilly. We found the infamous dirty, steep gully marked by a cairn and followed it back to Icicle Road. The hike down took about 30 minutes.

All in all, a wonderful overall climb with the final 2 pitches being the most enjoyable.

Gear: DMM Dragon cams 0-4, full set of nuts, green & yellow wildcountry hexes



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