The scene: A nicely situated crag of gneiss just outside the town of New Halem, WA. Despite a somewhat problematic history, this crag has turned out to be quite a gem: mostly superb, long routes, some 35 meters or more, generally characterized by distinct cruxes and (in general) good or great rock.
This weekend was the venue for probably one of the more inspiring scenes in Washington rock climbing that I've witnessed for some time: numerous climbers tying in to 80m ropes to attempt one or more of the trifecta of 40m routes up the central part of the wall; multiple flash and onsight ascents of said routes; exciting sports action as climbers took numerous sizable falls on some attempts, only to go back up later and succeed. Everyone seemed focused entirely on enjoyment: there were no tantrums thrown, no attempts to better the efforts of others. Discussions of grading were entirely speculative and friendly, as were observations about over-bolting and the unfortunate but very real chipping of holds that occurred in the past. In short, everything positive about climbing with little or none of the braggadocio and assorted invective that so often plagues our quaint little 'sport'.
As for the routes themselves, much praise is to be given, followed by a dash of opprobrium. First the good: the three long, steep pitches of The Hurt Locker, Meridian and Callisto, the ends of each guarded by potent cruxes, stand as monuments to some of the best sport climbing Washington has to offer. As climbers soared high on the wall on these routes, the bright blue and purple ropes made a poignant contrast to the angular, monochromatic rock, accented here and there with neon patches of lichen that smeared yellow on forearms. Peripheral to these gems are more long, lower angled climbs such as Hull Yeah and Lockjaw, where technical ability and stamina are the keys to success. Shorter routes abound as well, with perhaps the best being Paradigm Shift, a potently technical exercise on vertical to lightly overhung rock. Further up the hill lurks Van Halem, another excellent hard, long route with cruxes in the middle and at the very top.
As for the less good: outdated tactics employed by some previous route developers, despite their otherwise commendable efforts.
Enough said. A topo is available on cascadeclimbers.com for anyone so inclined. Enjoy the climbing.