Pitchoff Chimney Cliff

August 31 and September 4, 2008 / Pete's Farewell (5.7, 3p) and The El (5.8, 3p), trad.

Good climbing very close to the road can be found at Pitchoff Chimney Cliff. This small cliff has two good moderates: "Pete's Farewell" (5.7) and "The El" (5.8). Both are 3 pitches long.

Pete's Farewell (5.7, 3p):

"Pete's Farewell" is the first climb we get on in the Dacks. It is by far the most popular line at Pitchoff. Arrive early or wait in line... The route's popularity is due primarily to the short approach (5 minutes), and the moderate grade. The route is very traversy, and has only short sections of interesting climbing. We start with a 5.6 (sandbag!) direct start (straight up through some roofs, then up a flared crack) to the base of the diagonal crack that leads into the corner. Eric leads this first pitch, which is very insecure, and a bit dirty. Sure didn't feel like 5.6!

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Two good and popular moderates can be found at Pitchoff Chimney Cliff.
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Parked for the night at a pull-out near the cliff.
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"Pete's Farewell" is the most popular line on the cliff. A party on pitch 2.
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Eric on the direct start. The standard start is shared with "The El".
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Lucie leading pitch 2.

I lead the rest of the route. First a diagonal traverse up and left, along convenient double cracks (one for the feet, the other for hands and pro) which lead into the obvious corner. Up that corner at 5.7 (clean and good but very short), to a ledge with a tree. From here, an 8' traverse left on the ledge leads to a splitter wide crack. Starting the move off the ledge is the crux. A bit tricky and balancy until one can transition from a straight jam into a low angle lieback. Careful of the ledge below... Easy sailing after this. Again, good but short.

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Higher on pitch 2.
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Views from the belay atop pitch 2.
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Lucie starting pitch 3, the best pitch on the route.
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Higher on pitch 3.
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On our way back to the bus, we watch other parties queueing up on the route.

We aren't exactly sure where to go to descend except left around the cliff. We end up traversing exposed 3rd class to the left, then up into the woods. We bushwhack down and left best we can until a trail of sorts materializes near a small waterfall. When we reach the road, there are 9 people behind us, including two waiting at the base! An OK climb but not great… we're hoping that this is not as good as it gets…

The El (5.8, 3p):

"The El" is the best route on the cliff, a classic 5.8 route that traverses horizontally for one pitch, then shoots straight nice cracks for the next. This time, we change and rack up quickly at the car, then hike up to the route with just the gear and ropes. That way, we won't have to return to the base at the end of the day.

Eric carries our approach shoes clipped to his harness. We take the standard start up the left wall of the chimney. Not bad, actually. A bouldery wet start brings you to a ledge, where you can put some pro. From there, a short scramble deposits you at the base of the huge corner. There is a good crack on the left wall. The crack is easy - I would call it 5.5. I follow the crack to the ledge, then step out left toward the arete where I set up an anchor. Eric joins me in no time.

Soon enough, I start the dreaded traverse. The start of the traverse is basically just a walk as it follows a good ledge. Things get a lot more interesting once you reach the corner crack of "Pete's Farewell". By then, you're already about 40 feet away for your belayer.

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"The El" features a long horizontal traverse to a clean crack.
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The first pitch (~5.5) is a bit dirty and the least enjoyable.
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Views from the belay atop pitch 1.
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The second pitch traverses horizontally to reach a beautiful crack around the corner.
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Starting the business.

I put two pieces in before committing to the step across the corner. There are good small edges for the feet and small holds for your hands; still the move feels terribly exposed and a bit awkward. And it's not over. Another 40 feet to go before reaching the base of the second pitch's crack system and the belay stand. I put in way too much pro and start to whine a bit. This certainly feels harder than 5.7! Transitioning onto the ledge at the end of the traverse is the crux and involves an insecure face move. I'm relieved once my feet are on the big ledge and battle with a bush a bit before walking the catwalk leading to the base of the crack. I'm pretty much out of pro but manage to build an anchor with what I have left. I should have belayed 10 feet higher but I did not feel like it. It starts raining a few drops as Eric starts the traverse but I barely notice. Eric does not think the pitch is a breeze either and tells me he had to crouch awkwardly under the roof as he is much taller.

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Crouching under the small roof.
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Turning the arete is intimidating but...
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...getting my feet on the ledge around the corner was the crux for me. Looking back at Eric following the pitch.
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Lucie starting pitch 3.
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Just below the crux bulge.

I almost give up the next lead to Eric, but the crack looks too good to pass. This (third) pitch is rated 5.8 but feels easier than the traverse as it is more straightforward. Two crux sections, in my opinion: getting into the offwidth just above the belay, and turning the bulge higher up. The book calls for gear up to 3" but I sure am glad to have a #4 Camalot with me to protect the offwidth. You can easily stem to place pro in the corner below the bulge, but turning the bulge proper requires a hard crank move or two. Good jams and pro though (yellow and blue Camalot). Above that, the angle relents and the difficulties are pretty much over. I belay in a little niche (same belay I used for Pete's Farewell) and bring Eric up. He leads the last pitch to the woods (low 5th class). The weather is still holding and we chat happily as we change into our approaches shoes and reorganize the gear. Nothing like a good route to lift your spirits! A bit of a bushwhack and we're back at the car.

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Higher on pitch 3.
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Bushwhacking on the short descent back to the car.
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Back at the road.