Photo: Charlie Hickenbottom on the opening moves of “Tubbing at Der Ritterhof” on the Sport Wall at Rattlesnake Rock in the Tumwater Canyon.

Written by Charlie Hickenbottom

 When it warms up again and you are looking for shady climbing, consider a trip up to Rattlesnake Rock in the Tumwater Canyon. The rock is clean and steep with a multitude of small edge holds that offer classic face climbing. I’ve never seen a rattlesnake there, but I assume someone did way back when the crag was named.

Regardless of rattlers, be forewarned that this crag in general has a PG rating. Route and approach details are in Kramer’s current Leavenworth Rock, pages 54-55. The climbs known for shade on the “Sport Wall” are rated 5.10-5.12.   The approach trail is steep and loose. Common with many approach trails in the Icicle is the characteristic that the trail was “constructed” too steep for the soil type. The sandy soil does not hold in place very well. The switchbacks are numerous and tight. It would be very possible to send rockfall onto others when ascending or descending the approach trail, so use some caution. There are a lot of other climbing crags that would make more sense if you are with a large group of climbers. Consider using adjustable trekking poles for the approach/descent. Kramer describes the approach as  “unpleasant” and his estimate of 15 minutes to access the wall is optimistic. Hurrying up or down this trail only invites more rockfall and tread damage.

Once climbing, a stick clip is an option to lower the “fear factor” in reaching the first clip on some of the routes that involve difficult climbing right off the ground.

It’s interesting to note how some of the route ratings have evolved over the years as has the character of the crag. I first made it up to the Rattlesnake/Piton Tower complex in 1978. Protection then was transitioning quickly to chocks and stoppers, with many climbers making the transition from pitons to hammerless protection. If anchor bolts happened to be found, they were a quarter-inch diameter and certainly not of the length considered standard today. Of course, no battery-powered drills were used  then and sport climbing was not a term yet coined.

Back then Viper Crack was rated 5.6 (now 5.8) and Shakey Pine was rated 5.7 (now also 5.8). The twin cracks (now known as the “East Face”) on Piton Tower was rated 5.8+. The rating for this climb has been adjusted upward numerous times since then (1989: 5.9; 1991: 5.10a; now 5.10-, corresponding to about 5.10a/b).

My next trip to Rattlesnake Rock wasn’t until 1996. By this time, the “Sport Wall” had been developed, with most of the sport routes on this section of the crag put up in the late 1980s. While there are some quality cracks up here, the bolted “Sport Wall” is considered the primary attraction today.

For the area shown on Kramer’s topo as the “Sport Wall”, the shady time to visit is in the morning. As the sun cuts across the sky around midday, it will shine in somewhat sideways on the wall, making it difficult to focus easily on the climbing above you. During cooler weather, consider coming up in the afternoon/early evening and you will have the sun behind you to light up the wall in a favorable way.

As you approach the base of the Rattlesnake Rock, note that there are two distinct, but separate belay areas. To the right and up loose class 2 terrain is a belay ledge for “Zweibles” 5.12b, “Rock n. Rattle” 11c, and “Tubbing at Der Ritterhof” 11a. If you study the guidebook topo carefully, you will note that the drawing incorrectly places the location of the start of “Tubbing…” on the wrong ledge. The drawing also makes it appear that both belay ledges are at the same level, with is also misleading. The access to the  higher ledge on the left side of the wall involves steep class 3 terrain up to an exposed ledge that has a few belay bolts. This is the ledge for access to “Flying Circus” (10d), “Early Archeologist” (10a), “Forearm Confusion” (10d), and “Drillmeister” (11b).

If most of this sounds too hard for your skill set, you can at least sample the wall by leading  “Early Archeologist” and then use the same anchors to top rope “Forearm Confusion.” Consider stopping on a small ledge below the class 3 part and use this as a “base”. From here you could take rope and draws up the exposed part while wearing harness and rock shoes.

I havenʼt tried this with a 60-meter rope, but with a 70-meter rope it is possible to rappel from the top of the routes on the left side of the wall to the “base” below the class 3 approach. Another option available with a 70-meter rope is to do routes on the left side of the wall, then use the “Drillmeister” anchors to rappel down to the base of the right side of the wall.

Up and left from the “Sport Wall” is at least one additional bolted line that is not in the current guide (rating unknown). Visible on Piton Tower from the “Sport Wall” is a mixed route “Fine by Me” (5.10+).

If youʼre up at Rattlesnake Rock on a warm morning and want to do “Fine by Me,” be aware that this route on Piton Tower comes into the sun well before the shade is compromised on the “Sport Wall” on Rattlesnake Rock.

Photo: Charlie Hickenbottom climbing “Fine by Me” on Piton Tower.

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.

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