Monday, March 10, 2008
Rock Climbing in Upper Yakima Canyon
It's been a while since I've done any real rock climbing, and though the little 700' scramble I did yesterday in the upper Yakima Canyon probably doesn't really qualify as real rock climbing, it's close enough for me and makes for a better headline.
Between Cle Elum and Ellensburg, along the beautiful Yakima River, runs highway 970, a lonely but well-kempt stretch of roadway where in the space of 25 miles the landscape goes from alpine forest to arid plain, with a knockout, but compact, bit of river canyon thrown in for good measure. Along this mini-canyon, which stretches in its truest form for no more than 10 miles, you'll see bald and gold eagles, hawks, turkey vultures and all sorts of land creatures from elk to marmots, who love living in the sunny, south-facing broken rocks just north of the highway.
To the south runs the Burlington Northern train tracks, the river, and over the southern ridge, just out of sight, the busy I-90 freeway. But in the canyon, all is quiet, excepting the wind which generally blows west to easy, bending the pines in distinctive arches and blasting the ridge tops free of virtually all vegetation.
Most of the land to the north is undeveloped, private ranchland, into which it's probably not recommended to venture too deep. But the land adjacent to the highway is pretty much a free-for-all, with the best rock mounds and the best views from the steep, rocky ridges, intersected with plenty of interesting ravines and gulches.
I found a likely looking spot on a lonely bit of highway, where the ridge summitted in an interesting point of large boulders, and where adjacently laid a narrow ravine where the going might be a little bit easier getting down. I visualized a path to the top and worked my way up through loose, rotten rocks, the way never getting dangerously steep, but steep enough and tricky enough to be challenging, even a little frightening. A mis-step might not have meant catastrophe, but easily could have resulted in a nasty fall. Handholds and footholds could not be trusted, and as so often is the case, after getting about three-quarters the way up, I realized there was absolutely going to have to be another route down.
Amongst the sun-flooded, wind-blasted rocks, bits of dirt showed some Spring Beauty flowers emerging, but otherwise all was still sterile on this late winter afternoon. After a little more than an hour, I made it to the top where the wind nearly blew me down. I sat on the precipice of the rock-stack for a few minutes, just to catch my breath and then headed west along the ridge to the ravine, where I founded a spring issuing forth a healthy bit of clear, cool water, which shortly thereafter was swallowed up by the dry earth.
I worked my way down the gulley, fighting through all manner of bushes and short trees, until I reached the base of the cliffs and the short walk back to the car.