I had wanted to do the East Face of Lexington Tower since I first moved to Seattle in '93
and I poured over Jeff Smoot's Washington Rock looking for moderate climbs with offwidths.
It's a cool climb in a great location at a reasonable grade and has lots of offwidth.
Upper half of the climb.
At 5.9+, it's right about the upper level of what I can comfortably lead when in shape, and that has something to do with why I didn't get it over the years.
A person (i.e. me) isn't always in shape.
Mark and I finally decided to do it in September '09. Mark is a significantly stronger climber than I am, but I've had a lot more experience on with wide stuff than him, so we figured it would be a good team effort. He would lead the crux lieback and the jamming pitches, and I would do the upper offwidth pitch(es). We had a Sept 19 attempt rained out and decided to try again Friday the 24. Leaving Thursday afternoon after work, I had a very strange and unprecedented sense of dread. I'm almost always nervous before a hard climb and wonder if I'm up for it. I figure most climbers do the same, but this was somehow different. Anyway, I tried to put a lid on it, but wasn't in the best head space as we headed north from Seattle.
We stayed at a beautiful near empty campground with blazing stars and headed straight to bed by about 10:30 PM. My emotional state had calmed down over the course of the evening, but I brought the many trip reports into the tent for bedtime reading. One described of the second pitch as "spicy 5.7 moves out of sight of your protection below". My years of doing 5.7 out of sight of pro are behind me, but the fact that description didn't worry me into sleeplessness made me think my afternoon's emotional plummet was more to do with work or something else than actual worry about the climb. That was actually a little reassuring.
In the morning we drove up to the pond and were hiking by 8:30 AM
and were tied-in and climbing by 9:30.
There was an icy tongue of snow blocking the actual gully start of the climb,
so we started on the right hand side of the face.
Usually I like taking the first pitch of a climb if the pitch is easy,
but today Mark took it.
It looked easy, first up a little 4th class gully and then left up a dihedral
to the brushy ledge, but it had some unexpected real climbing on it (5.6-7).
Ironically I got the lead on the "spicy out of sight pro" 5.7 lead described
in my bedtime reading.
route marked out above
I found the pitch really fun. It was face and small crack climbing on relatively low angle rock. There was pro where it was difficult for me, and it was easy enough elsewhere that it was just fun and spicy (good description http://www.summitpost.org/route/166312/East-Face.html). After finally running out the 60' meter rope, I was a little worried about how long it seemed to take me, but looking down I was way the heck above Mark. We planned to give Mark the hands and me the off-width, so Mark took the next three pitches. A 5.5 pitch led up to the base of the first small dihedral, and that's where the climbing became more serious.
A long sustained pitch with mostly equal parts hands, wide hands and lie backing led up a L.F. dihedral. Following, I remember getting 2/3 of the way up and getting a little worried about how pumped I was getting. I felt it on my right side and back from the L.F dihedral, but luckily the angle kicked back there and face holds sprouted.
The belay stance was just under the big roof you see from the ground and in all the photos.
The next lead is intimidating as all getup. It's 5.9 or 5.10 to get
around the double roofs and the technical crux to boot.
Mark led it great; hand traversing all of traverse then swinging into the wild lie back then
jamming the flake crack.
I hand traversed the initial section, then tippy-toed across the remaining little ledge. The balance on that was touch and go for me and I remember wishing that the thin camera in my pocket didn't push me out so much. I was trying to hurry a little and blew it on the crux. My foot slipped, and I think I weighted the rope, and Mark kindly says not. He's probably wrong. The slip onto my hand jam did do the most damage to my hand all day. In any case I immediately threw into the lieback and then the jams and got to the belay.
It was now my lead and I admit the offwidth bulge
was intimidating to have looming above the belay.
It was also unclear from the route descriptions how long the pitch was going to be
and where I would be belaying from, and one can't see past the bulge 20' up.
As soon as I started chimneying in the flare, my worries from the day before started draining away. The move around the bulge was tough, though. It narrows down so that I had to pull my inside knee out and up, while the outside footholds and chimney had gone away. There was a move or two without very good arm bar, but, I then I got a pretty good chicken wing. Then when I moved up to get the first good hell-toe above that, I felt like I was 20 years old again and the worries were history. OK, I was panting like a cho-cho. Now it was time to get to work. A little more of that short section of offwidth brought me to the 5.7 chimney. I stopped and panted some some more there, and then faced the chimney dilemma of going awkward and deep or easier and out side. I dangled my shoes and emergency gear, went deep and pushed the green #5 Camalot up with me. The exit was interesting and hard but not too hard, and it was protectable with small gear. Then came some more offwidth and a fist jam or two and finally an actual horizontal crack that served as a HAND HOLD, followed by a finger lock or two and another hand hold/mantel. That was it for the real holds on the pitch. I started up another offwidth 10' to the right, then wondered if I should belay and I even went back and looked around to make sure the line didn't head off to the left. I thought it would be nice to get the offwidth over with on the one pitch, so once again it was time to get to work. I made my way up the wide crack in now coarser rock and finally got to place and leave behind the 4.5 and 5 Camalots. The line eased off but then steepened and got wider again! There was one more real move as another chimney blocked off, but then angle kicked back above that. A 5.4 chimney got me to what I figured I was close to the end of the 60 meter rope, but it took two tries to find an anchor.
Pulling up the few feet of slack was painful.
It took me a long time to lead that pitch, and it took Mark a while to follow,
especially the fist half.
We both blew it by thinking we could stop paying attention about keeping our gear out of the way for the upper chimneys and offwidths. But the sucker really was long.
It turns out I just missed the route's exit out to the left.
We moved the belay around a corner to the climbers left (photo right in above photo),
and Mark headed up another full 60M of climbing with real moves (5.7ish)
interspersed with 4th class.
This got us to a nice platform with views.
I was pretty thrashed at this point (4PM),
and noticed myself give a staggering lurch when I got to the horizontal platform.
We had a rest and pre-summit celebration there,
and some views of surrounding peaks follow.
There was one little easy but improbable, unprotected and exposed rock pitch left (4th class) that I managed to hold together to "lead". The obligatory Washington Pass loose gully descent (but no rappels) and wonderfully moderate Blue Lake trail brought us down to the cutoff to Highway 20. On the way down we had a good view of the spectacular Madsen/Beckey route the Dolphin. This photo makes the giant chimney look more like a roof. It's only rated 10A, I think, but I've never spoken to anyone who has done it.
Clean your keyboards boys and girls.
Mark walked all the way back to the car, but I besmirched the purity of the trip by accepting a ride (gratefully) for the last 200 yards. We atoned for my failing with a bottle of my new local favorite, Whidbey Island Diamond Knot Brown Ale and headed happily back on the long drive to Seattle.