Our mission was simple. Climb 18 pitches in one day. (Because that's what normal people do.) If you stretched it a little, you could say we climbed halfway up Half Dome in Yosemite for comparison. 2,000 feet and nine hours of climbing later, my friends and I topped out on "Flyboys," an 18 pitch, ~5.9 rated, sport route and arguably the tallest (sport route) in the entire United States.
The trip started late Friday afternoon as we caravanned our way north through Chelan to Winthrop, finally stopping in Mazama for the night. The air smelled lovely of pine trees as we wound our way through the forest road up Goat Dome. Our plan was to camp out at the top for the night. In the morning, we'd shuttle everyone down in one of the cars to the base, leaving the other at the top. Once we topped out, it would only be a short hike back to our car instead of having to rappel down the 18 pitches. We'd avoid adding another three hours to the day this way.
By morning, things were going smoothly. We chowed on oatmeal and Steve's Famous Breakfast Burritos. We squeezed all six of us into my tiny Jeep and shuttled to the base. We lucked out with a full day of sunshine and perfect sending temps, which provided the boost in my mental energy. The Methow Valley glowed as we hiked up the scree to the base and began the first pitch. (At the base, pictured above.) We were on the Goat Wall, a popular rhinestone crag with the well known "Prime Rib" route next door. We had split into three groups of two. I climbed with my friend David, who made for an excellent partner with his rope skill and confidence. Each team would trade leading each pitch, and set up anchor systems using the rope itself. This sped up the transition from pitch to pitch. A few days before the climb, David had analyzed the route description for all 18 pitches to form a point system. He calculated, based on style of each route, that the second climber leading pitches 2, 4, 6, etc., would face harder routes in general. And he gladly wanted that challenge. So with Rodrigo and Ben already at the top of pitch 1, I roped up and was on my way up. (Left photo: David on pitch #4 & valley views.)
The entire "Flyboys" route is rated as a 5.9. But we realized that the developers exaggerated that a bit, possibly to get the most activity (and publicity) on it. More than several of the pitches hosted heady moves, frustrating finger pockets, steep overhangs, and bouldery finishes. By the top, we'd agreed that both the odd and even pitches included a good number of difficult technical moments, and I'd love to go back one day and lead all the even pitches. The most memorable pitch was the fourteenth through a chimney. It starts on an exposed belay, throwing you a bouldery move over a bulge, to a slab with no holds. You then make your way up an overhanging flake and squeeze through a small chimney. David had no idea what he was getting himself into but lead it like a champ. That route was definitely not a 5.9! (Right photo: Snack break at the halfway point.)
David and I continued up the dome, pitch after pitch, stopping for snacks and photos and to take in the views. It was a glorious day with the sharp snow-topped peaks in the background. The whole area had an essence of Leavenworth, but with a slight country twang and too many photogenic small farms to count. By the early afternoon, we were nearing the top and I'd realized that in that moment, there was no other place I'd rather be. I was so comfortable dangling by my harness on a ledge in the sun. I was surrounded by my good friends in a wild place with jaw dropping views directly behind me. I had nothing weighing down my mind and was able to soak it all in. I thought to myself, this must be how a bear feels all the time. I was feeling like a pretty fly bear and decided to rename the route "Flybears." (Left photo: A stoked Rodrigo at the top.)
We'd started at 8:30am and finished at 5pm, topping out on a large open ledge. Rodrigo and Ben had been waiting at the top for nearly 45 minutes before David and I showed up. It would be another 45 minutes before Steve and Sarah made it to the top. (Right photo: Sarah and I at the summit!) The evening sun glimmered on the dome and made the spring colors in the valley pop. Hats of to the guys for planning the trip so efficiently. I half expected our second car to not be there as we dragged our haggard selves up a trail to where we left it. We celebrated the send with luke-warm IPA's and leftover burritos. We shuttled back down the mountain to my Jeep and Sarah and I traded the wheel on the four hour trek back to the Tri-Cities.
I can imagine how busy that route will be every weekend as we head into summer because it's such a fantastic and accessible climb for many. It feels real good to cross "Flybears" off the list. I'm not sure what goals are next on my list. I still need to summit Mt. Hood this summer and might bring my skis along with me.