Yellowjacket Tower – Alpine Rock [Trip Report – 5/12/2012]

As my first climb with the Seattle Mountaineers (a culmination of the Basic Climbing course with the Seattle branch) and my first alpine rock climb ever, this was a great day all around. The weather didn’t hurt either, not a cloud in the sky and pleasant temperatures in the high 70s. Originally scheduled to climb Whitehorse, the trip leaders made an emergency re-route just a couple days before due to an unpleasant avalanche forecast. They settled on Yellowjacket Tower, a little tower of rock south of the Icicle Creek Road outside Leavenworth.

I carpooled up the night before with John and Heather, originally in the hopes of getting a couple extra hours sleep in the morning. With a larger than average group, though, it was decided in the end that we would get up early to have a head start on the route in order to scout it and streamline the climb for the rest of the party coming up a couple hours behind us. Beautiful night under the stars, clear but not too cold. I didn’t even need to pitch my tent. We got up in the dark and were ready and leaving the trailhead at around 5:15.

The only navigational issue we had on the way up was finding the start of the climbers trail. After crossing the bridge from the parking area we headed left on the gravel road and missed bearing right onto a smaller dirt road. Some directions had said bear right at the prayer flags…turns out these were all hooked on the other side of the tree they were on and we didn’t see them at all until on our way out. Anyway, save yourself some grief and make sure you’re on the correct ‘road’ before looking for the climbers trail. We ended up finding a different boot track, wandering through some odd looking campsites, and eventually making our way around the south side of the large boulder in the meadow, heading west, and finally hooking up with the main track.

The approach is really steep, like Mailbox Peak steep, but with worse footing. Loose rock and kitty litter. The views were fantastic though, watching the sun rise on the valley. We reached the ‘chockstone’ mentioned in route descriptions without realizing we’d arrived. I’d call it just a big boulder forming a little cliff in the gully. We moved out the the gully to the right and Heather and I scrambled up some rock on the the far left while John found a much more practical and less exposed route following a fist-sized (or so) crack further right.

From there we got back into the gully and moved up to the ‘Chicken head’ wall. There was a very small patch of snow left in the shade that was easy enough to navigate around. This next landmark was much easier to see than the chockstone, and from there we moved into the ‘hidden gully’. The scrambling was a little tricky but the rock was dry and we were soon at the beginning of the first pitch. There are some nice shiny new bolts there as well as quite a bit of webbing in okay shape, and some rappel rings in good shape. Heather led the first pitch and I followed with John coming up last. From there we moved quickly up to the second pitch where I again followed Heather. John, having been up there before, didn’t feel a need to tag the summit.

We finished just as the other group was beginning to start up the hidden gully. I rappelled to the base of the first pitch to help out as I could just about the time Eileen, the trips leader, was coming up to set up a hand line for the rest of the group to prusik on. The rest of the day went pretty smoothly with everyone making the summit.

On the way down we rappelled from the bolts at the bottom of the first pitch, and then had a second rappel from a large tree a little further downslope just on the outside of the hidden gully to get back into the main gully. We scrambled down the crack to make our way past the chockstone obstruction, and while waiting for everyone to make it down and regroup had a nice visit and photo-session from a friendly and unconcerned mountain goat who was probably interested in handouts. A large rock knocked down the trail caused a bit of excitement but otherwise the descent was uneventful.

Dinner in Leavenworth at South (sweet potato enchilada, mmm) was excellent before heading back to Seattle.

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