Kristy and Jim Cruise Orbit

by Jim Lawyer

Last weekend, Kristy and I went to Leavenworth in Washington to climb Outer Space on Snow Creek Wall. This is a very popular route, and deservedly so; it's 8 pitches and the top 300' of the climb is a straight in hand crack with knobs on the face that is simply stellar. I climbed the route in the mid 80's with Tracy and had very good memories of it. Also, for those of you with a good memory, this is the same route on which Ade and Kristy had an epic a few years ago when they ran out of time, rappelled, got the ropes stuck, etc.

Since the route is really popular, I kicked Kristy awake at 4:50 AM. We broke camp and drove to the parking lot, arriving shortly after 5:00 AM where, to our dismay, we discovered another party packing up for the hike in. Due to the competition, we skipped breakfast, quickly packed, and started hiking at a rapid pace. In short order, we distanced ourselves from the other party and enjoyed the one-hour hike in. However, arriving at the base of the route, we discovered two additional parties, one just starting up the first pitch, the other waiting. Doh! Lesson -- kick Kristy awake earlier!

Since it was cold and since I'm impatient as hell, we decided to take a look at Orbit, another 8 pitch route a few hundred feet left of Outer Space. It's rated 5.8, but has a little "gotcha" on every pitch (i.e., chimney, runout, poor pro, etc). It's also less popular than Outer Space, so we could pretty much guarantee having the route to ourselves for the day.

The route is pretty nice, although definitely not as nice as Outer Space. The crux for me was a short chimney on the second pitch that had me stumped for three tries. (The key is to layback on the outer edge, which seems improbable as hell.) Kristy followed without complaints despite climbing with a pack, difficult belays (there was only one real ledge on the route), rope management problems because I led back-to-back pitches, runout traverses, and the cold wind.

At the top of the route is a two-pitch knobby face reminiscent of gym climbing. One can pretty much wander around on giant chicken-head knobs -- about 5.4 at its hardest. After these pitches, the climb wanders around on aretes and gullies until topping out.

The descent is probably the most dangerous part of the day -- the gully is steep with sections tricky downclimbing. Kristy finally complained here, so it must have been bad. The trick is finding where to cut back left to the base of the main cliff...if you miss the turn off, you end up having to repeat the most difficult part of the approach; this, in fact, happened to Tracy and I years ago, so I was keen to avoid it.

In conclusion, if you're out in the Seattle area, shoot for Outer Space, and as a consolation prize, cruise into Orbit!!!