Photo: Mark Shipman starting up the third pitch of Prime Rib.
Although Prime Rib, an 11-pitch rock climbing route on Goat Wall near Mazama is outside our normal territory (it’s a little over 2 hours away), we include it because its unusual qualities make it a must-do route for Central Washington rock climbers.
Just what are its unusual qualities? Length for starters – it’s 9 to 11 pitches long depending on how you sling together the pitches. While there are many long rock climbs around the state, there are few this long established for sport climbers (you only need quickdraws for protection) that are so generously bolted (the route is super safe), that are of such an easy grade (the official guidebook rates this 5.9 but several of us locals who have climbed it, rate it 5.8 at hardest).
For rock climbers who are solid 5.8 climbers, this will be a true pleasure climb – the route is so well protected there is almost no risk of a long fall. For advanced beginning and intermediate rock climbers who are trying to push their grade and abilities, this is also an excellent route—you can try a harder route than you might normally attempt because the protection is so good. You can get the pleasure of moving along a long route, and work on your rope management skills. And while you do all this, you can enjoy beautiful views across the high peaks of the Cascades and down on the clear, meandering waters of the Lost River.
Access. Drive about 14 miles west of Winthrop to the hamlet of Mazama, located just off Highway 20. Drive to the Mazama Store. From the store, drive 3 miles northwest on Lost River Road (you’ll be driving upstream) and park in a good-sized pullout on the left side of the road. You’ll have a good view of Goat Wall from the pullout. The big streaks in the middle of the wall (wet in early season and white after mid summer) is Restless Natives, another long bolted route. Sisyphus, yet another long bolted route, is slightly to the right of Restless Natives and Prime Rib is quite a long ways to the left (how the route runs is actually difficult to discern from this vantage point.
Approach. Walk about 100 yards northwest (upstream) along the paved road and take the old double-track road that splits off on the right. Walk this old road (a mining road) for a little over 100 yards and then follow an obvious, well-used path that splits off on the right side. After a few minutes the trail comes into an old mine site with some mining relics. At the far end of the mining site, take the small but obvious trail that climbs steeply uphill. Follow this until the trail hits another old, steep mining road that angles right. Follow this old road until it ends in a big talus field. Follow the talus straight uphill until you hit the lowest buttress extending down from Goat Wall. Now head left along the base of the wall, still climbing quite steeply uphill. After several minutes more the trail looks down on a stream and then switchbacks to the right toward a big gully system. The route starts at the base of this gully on the rock rib forming the right side of the gully.
The Route. As you approach the start of the route, you can see the general line you’ll be following as the crest of the rock rib confining the right side of the gully system before you. The route stair-steps up and right. Once you find the start of the route, you can follow it quite easily just by keeping a sharp eye peeled for the bolts (a topo or photo of the route isn’t all that necessary). When you need to walk from the top of one pitch to the bottom of the next, there’s usually a trail that’s easy to follow. Here’s a quick verbal description of each pitch.
- Starting by a small fir tree to the right of the mouth of the gully, climb the rock rib confining the gulley system on its right side. Climb past several bolts and follow the low-angle rib to a tree near the base of the second pitch. When you descend this pitch, you’ll rappel into gully a little higher up than where you started the climb (5.3, 140 feet).
- The rock steepens above the tree. Climb past about 12 bolts to the next anchor. You’ll be on or slightly left of the crest. About half way up, there is a two-bolt anchor that you’ll use on the descent because the pitch is too long for a one-rope rappel. (5.7, 140 feet). Following this pitch you’ll need to walk a rope length (Class 2) to the start of the next pitch.
- Starting near another tree, this pitch makes multiple little stair steps up and right. The moves and route are well bolted but the complete scope of the pitch isn’t completely obvious from the bottom. About 80 feet up there’s a two-bolt anchor used on the descent. (5.6+, 160 feet).
- Climb about 50 feet through non-continuous cracks and corners, then 60 feet straight up past many bolts to a distinct notch or saddle. Anchors have been established on both sides of the saddle (5.7 or 5.8, 110 feet).
- Follow bolts straight up from the notch (5.6, 95 feet). Walk from the top of this pitch to the start of the next one.
- Climb up and slightly right past about 10 bolts (5.7). About 80 feet up, you can belay or you can combine this with Pitch 7 into one long pitch. If you combine the pitches, skip a few clips and use longer runners to reduce rope drag.
- After a boulder-move start (5.8), climb past 5 or 6 bolts to the next anchor (5.7, 75 feet). From the top of this pitch, scramble and walk upward for a few hundred feet.
- Starting from a particularly large fir tree, climb past 13 or 14 bolts to the next anchor (5.7+, 130 feet).
- Climb past one bolt then traverse right past 4 or 5 bolts before stepping up to the next anchor (5.6). This can be done as a short 65-foot pitch or combined with the Pitch 10. If you combine it, skip a few of the bolts on the traverse and use long runners to reduce rope drag.
- You could scramble easily up to the base of the last pitch by climbing straight up from the anchor, or you can move left and climb bolted, low-angle rock for about 60 feet (5.5).
- Climb past the anchor following bolts into an airy slot. Move up and left from the slot, round a little rib, and them move up and right to the anchor (5.8, 70 feet).
The technical climbing ends here. The views are distinctly pretty even if the location is distinctly non-distinct. You can scramble upward toward Goat Creek Road (FS Road 5225) in search of a better place to lounge. This is, however, where the rappels start.
The Descent. It is possible to shuttle a car or bikes up Goat Creek Road (Forest Road 5225) and then walk up to the road from the top of the climb. This is a bit cumbersome (it’s about 10 miles back to the pullout where most people park), so most climbers rappel the route. In a few places, the rappel takes a steeper, more direct line down than the ascent route. After the first rappel, for example, scrambled downhill a little from the top of the 10th pitch and then make two rappels that descend steeper ground and are located on climber’s left of the ascent route. As of June 2009, all of the rappel anchors have metal chains or additional metal links that properly equalized the rope between two bolts. Allow a few hours for the descent.
Rock. The rock on this route is solid and well cleaned. It’s very similar in form and texture to the rock found around Little Mt. Si and Exit 38.
Gear. Bring 12 to 14 quickdraws in a variety of lengths, 3 or 4 single-length runners with carabiners, and one or and two double-length runners with carabiners.
Rope. The route was established to be climbed and descended with one 60-meter rope.
Clothing. The route has a western exposure that stays shaded until early afternoon. Once you’re up high, winds also hit the wall, so temperatures may be cooler than expected. Even when it’s warm in the valley, it’s wise to carry a windshell.
Permits. None needed.
Dates and Updates: Originally posted 6/2009
Info. More information about this and other new routes around Mazama can be found in Mazama Rock by Bryan Burdo ($22). See this link for information about camping while climbing around Mazama and for climbing topos to Fun Rock and Rhino Zone.
Leave It Better Than You Found It: This should be every outdoor user’s goal. Pick up trash left by others, pull some noxious weeds along your route, throw branches over unwanted spur trails, don’t ride or walk wet trails when you’re leaving ruts/footprints deeper than ¼ inch…
Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or not know all the issues affecting a route. You are responsible for yourself, your actions, and your safety. If you won’t accept that responsibility, you are prohibited from using our information.