A few years ago in the summer of 2007, former Washington local Justen Sjong cleaned and made free ascents of both Town Crier and the neighboring Green Drag-on at relatively modest grades (both have a pitch of .12d/.13a face climbing). Both 'free versions' have only relatively minor variations to the original aid lines. The gauntlet was thrown, so to speak, as everyone around here who was climbing at the grade were accustomed to simply ignoring low-hanging plums like these.
Years later, we're finally waking up: Climbing magazine had a feature article on Index last year that included photos of my friends Jens and Max on the free Green Drag-on, and this summer Mikey Schaefer, Kate Rutherford and Sean Leary have been active on the Upper Wall, including, I believe, free ascents of Town Crier, Green Dragon and the Waterway Route, an A3 that went free at an astonishingly low grade of 5.11! It may not be as glamorous as free climbing El Capitan, but to Washington climbers this should be yet another exciting reminder of what we have right in our 'backyard' and hopefully a bellwether of things to come.
This past Monday, Jeanna and I went up to put some time in on the Town Crier. A previous attempt had proven fruitless as I was having a 'bad attitude' day, climbing like a nervous idiot and failing on the first hard pitch (5.11!). Despite (or perhaps in light of?) the fact that the Upper Wall was engulfed in clouds and rain was all-but-guaranteed, this attempt was much better and far more enjoyable.
To my delight, the steeper climbing above the slimy first pitch looked dry! Pitch 2 is a short chimney with a 5.9 move. Pitch 3, where nervousness shut me down last week, went smoothly and without issue. It is the only real variation to the original aid line (avoiding the roof and pendulum point) and features a 5.11 move over an overlap and some climbing on a hollow flake. Not so bad.
The first of the two crux pitches is Pitch 4, the 'Triple Overhang' pitch. Funky moves in hollow rock off the belay lead to a steepening corner with some iffy rock, then a steep boulder problem. The crux is basically sport climbing past many pins. I almost got it on my first attempt but not quite. My second attempt went fine. Jeanna linked the crux boulder problem, but a clean toprope ascent proved elusive and we continued upwards.
Looking down from above the Triple Overhangs, although you can't actually see the pitch
Pitch 5 is a seam leading to a flare, with a little trickery involved in the initial climbing off the belay stance. It probably clocks in at around .10d/.11a with some fun climbing.
Looking over at the beautiful Green Drag-on. Its free variation climbs out the right side of the roof and up the obvious 5.10 crack/layback before exiting left onto crux 5.12 face climbing and then rejoining the aid bolt ladder for a harder crux (.13a) on the next pitch
Pitch 6 is the bolt ladder pitch which also comprises the crux of Town Crier at .12d. Luckily, the rain held off long enough for me to attempt the pitch and work out the moves. Cool climbing in a 5.10 groove slot leads to steep moves past pins to the crux bolt ladder. Moves around a very small flared groove on an almost vertical slab comprise the crux, with good footwork being paramount. The texture of the rock is excellent, as I learned when it tore my skin as one would peel an overripe fruit. After some airtime and a bleeding fingertip, I figured out the crux section and finished the rest of the pitch to make sure there were no further surprises. This pitch is probably more like .12c once you know all the moves. As expected, the rain came right as I lowered down and intensified as I pulled the rope for a redpoint attempt. Wet footholds on the slab thwarted me and I resorted to some exhilarating C0 action. Having given it our best, or at least some close semblance, we descended into the mists.
I really know how to capture those crucial photographic moments
Great climbing, great views: what better to revitalize my excitement after a solid month of sport climbing? The latter simply lacks the adventure quotient that makes these (small) bigger objectives that much sweeter, although the crux sections of Town Crier, to be fair, are essentially sport climbing with a view...