Cascade Bouldering: Five-star rock, amongst five-star wilderness

Cascade Bouldering: Five-star rock, amongst five-star wilderness

People often lament that the beautiful and diverse wilderness of the Pacific Northwest comes at a massive price. Its drizzly and wet cloudy seasons feel sometimes like they are a never ending battle. Donning that quintessential rain jacket for the extensive mild-damp periods can be overwhelming. However, with the great amounts of precipitation comes the extensive beauty and lushness that fills our nearby wildernesses. Within these picturesque mountains and forestlands, there are glacial blue rivers and streams, calming lakes and little ponds. Most importantly for the bouldering community, however, is the amazing quality of endless granite rock. For a few months out the year, when the weather allows, these boulders come into play and it’s game on!

For local climbers, the summertime brings high temperatures to much of the eastern climbing regions of the state. With popular destinations like Leavenworth and other hotspots becoming out of season, it was only natural for bouldering and outdoor adventurer’s to look to the western parts and Cascade regions for cooler alternatives. In recent years, these climbing explorers landed on areas within the Skykomish Valley in what was told to be home to some of the highest-quality granite in the region. Locals would come to discover these new areas, notably and quite often, struggling to navigate the density of the undisturbed forests, which may not have seen human traffic since the loggers of the 20th Century and in more remote areas perhaps not since the early native fur-traders of the early 1800s. Local developers had a field day, witnessing new bouldering opportunities in what would later develop into many four and five star lines.

Most climbers who hear the words Skykomish Valley quickly refer to the famous climbing town of Index, and are quick to tell you about its “world-class granite”. They are referring to the famous trad-lines that hover over the town of Index and are known around the country, and are known amongst the professional climbing community as being top-notch. Beneath these great walls, the rock quality and textures does not diminish. From the forested boulders and those found in the surrounding foothill mountains, to those amazingly placed along the Skykomish river, the rock quality is the highest in the region. You may wonder why did it took so long to discover and why have these areas not become more popular earlier. Weather could be the biggest hindrance, along with the fact that unlike many crag and boulder zones in popular Leavenworth, which are roadside, areas in the Skykomish Valley require a decent approach, a river crossing, route finding and some elevation gain.

If you do happen to make the less than one-hour drive to the Skykomish Valley from Seattle to climb or even explore the boundless natural beauty that awaits, you will pass by quaint towns that seem to all be rooted heavily in logging history. Forests that seem to be untouched and simply not much more than the cairns that await you on the trail. A moving experience awaits when you finally come across your destination. Boulders that seem all to perfectly placed, at home, in this majestic wilderness.


Climber, photographer based in Seattle