Words and photos by Marc Dilley

Mark Shaffer and I recently tried out a new climbing sport wall in Tumwater Canyon. The Chameleon Wall is a vertical section of the west side of the popular February Buttress, the first major rock formation west of Leavenworth. The wall is strikingly obvious from the highway driving east as a brilliant yellow-streaked cliff. All of the six routes have been established within the last five years and it was apparent to us that the crag has still seen very little traffic — probably because the routes are hard (most are  5.11) and the approach is unpleasant.

We parked at the February Buttress/Hobo Gulch pullout and walked west, just past the Every Inch is Hard formation. Then we trudged up an ugly road cut of sand, weeds, and loose boulders that had us taking care not to trundle back down onto the highway. Above was a non-trail of dry weeds and a series of sloping, moss-covered, stair-stepping ramps. This got us to a point above the belay anchor for Yellow Fever, 5.12a. The guidebook suggests rappelling to the belay anchors for the routes we were interested in, but Mark found a way down on 3rd-class moss. Very pleasant …

We arrived at a small, dirt-covered ledge with one Mock Orange bush that I used to lean my pack against. At this point we suited up and Mark led out on a short pitch of dirty 5th class rock to reach anchor bolts and bring me up. Now we had a bit of problem – the guidebook was back with our packs on the Mock Orange ledge. Not being able to adequately indentify the routes, Mark led out on a line of bolts that looked reasonable. Six clips later, he arrived at the anchors and lowered off. I’m still not clear what route he actually did; it was either Eyesore, 5.11a, or Chameleon, 5.11c.

I followed and found the pitch to be fun with a bit of gritty funk. The finish was an awesome little roof on solid jugs. I also TR’ed a pitch on the far left which was totally lichenated on the lower half. Climbing next to the bolts, crustose lichen scaled off in flakes; it would have been a scary lead. After a few more TR’s, the sun was about to round to the wall and heat things up (12:30 p.m.). We rapped down to our packs and trudged back to the highway.

A tremendous amount of effort goes into crafting these climbing routes and, even though it may be awhile before I revisit  Chameleon Wall, my thanks go out to the individuals who take the time and expense to develop new climbs in the area.

This post was originally published on 8/22/10.


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