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Sunday, May 04, 2003

Somewhere Near Vantage, Washington

One of the great things about living in Seattle is that if you don’t like the weather you can get in your car and change it. Drive up for winter and drive east into the desert for summer. It was overcast and dreary when we left Seattle yesterday morning at about 8 o’clock. I was looking forward to seeing the sun. A grande drip coffee from Starbucks lasted until we had driven over Snoqualmie Pass on I-90. Before we had made it to Cle Elum I was looking through my pockets for my sunglasses.

We were headed for a climbing area known as Frenchman Coulee near Vantage, Washington. This entire area is inside the North Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, a huge expanse of canyons. If you didn’t know you were in Washington you would guess you were at the Grand Canyon or somewhere in Mexico. It is all sagebrush desert, spires and rim walls of basalt, and a lot of sky.

I was too distracted by the scenery to pay much attention to how long it takes to get out here. I’d guess it’s about two and a half hours to the small town of Vantage on the banks of the Columbia River. When you pass Vantage and cross over the river take exit 143 to Silicia Road. Go north for about a half mile and turn left on Vantage Road. You will almost immediately see a series of basalt pillars on the left, a popular climbing area known as The Feathers. There is parking and camping on both sides of these columns.

Since it was a weekend it was fairly crowded with maybe ten pairs of climbers and at least as many dogs running around. We warmed up on the sunny side of the Feathers on a route called Don Coyote (5.8) then cut through the gap for a couple of more challenging routes in the shade.

In Seattle—even in the summer—it’s rare that the sun feels really warm. Out here in the desert, in early May, I had to lather on SFP 36 sunscreen. I also had to roll up the sleeves of my t-shirt and pant legs. WE sat out in the sun by the car and had a bite to eat and I actually felt hot—a strange sensation for a Seattleite.

We went a bit south and did a climb after lunch. It was in the shade and the wind had picked up a couple of knots. I had to put a sweater on for this route. It wasn’t very difficult but it was fun and it was the highest climb of the day. We also had this wall to ourselves. I didn’t lead any climbs but I felt pretty good about my performance.

We hiked around and checked out a few other climbing areas. I want to go back and camp over on a weekday when the place is empty. All of the climbing routes are fun and the scenery is downright spectacular. We also got to listen to the Mariners kick the crap out of the White Socks on the drive home.

Things I left behind and shouldn’t have: Baseball and glove for in-between climbs.

New thing I brought that was cool: My new collapsible camp chair from R.E.I. to sit on while changing shoes.

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