Outdoor rock climbing near Seattle

Climbers scale the basalt-pillared nature gymnasium of Frenchman Coulee.
Photograph by Taylor McKenzie Gerlach.

Outdoor climbing spots

Exit 38

To sound like an experienced rock rat, call it “the outings.” Mile marker 38 places this I-90 location just east of North Bend, an off-ramp that leads to Olallie State Park and a few popular trailheads, literally on the map. Popular boulders can be found on both sides of the highway, many accessible from rudimentary rock climbing trails. Most of the routes are single-pitch and athletic, a few with foot access to set up the top ropes, making these Disneyland boulders the newest climber.




Index City Wall

With a mix of sport and tradition, i.e. pre-bolted, all-natural rock, the Index Granite Cliff is popular among serious rock climbers keen to trek to the mountains of Snohomish County . The nearby town has shrunk since the timber boom days, but hiking the climbing routes offers stunning views of the wooded valley.

Frenchman Casting

Located just east of the Columbia River, the climbing destination known as Vantage (even though the address is in the town of Quincy) offers year-round sunshine. Columnar basalt formed by lava flows millions of years ago gives the cliffs a distinct appearance, like a cluster of giant straws made of rock, all jutting into the sky over central Washington. Given the distance from a city, camping areas can be the focus of the weekend party.




Fitz Cahall tells it all

The Dirtbag Logs founder writes climbing stories into the permanent record.

There are two types of climbing stories. One is the official account of a notable ascent, perhaps the first time someone has reached a particular peak or made a significant move. But then there’s the other kind of thread, one that Seattle podcaster Fitz Cahall is interested in: “The informal stories out there, shared around campfires,” he says. “You know, that you used to hear when you were on a long car ride with a friend.”

With this kind of outdoor storytelling in mind, Cahall started the podcast The Dirtbag Diaries in 2007. He recorded anecdotes – some his own, but mostly others – of near-death experiences on volcanoes and unclimbed routes on Washington’s peaks, of photographing El Capitan and strange pay-per-view concerts. the climbers.

Cahall’s climbing background and home in the northwest has fueled many stories, but so has skiing, rafting and backcountry hiking. Naturally, they also became more than sport – parenthood, loss, generational bonding, immigration, war. More than 300 episodes later, The Dirtbag Diaries has become a chronicle of the outdoor industry, a This American Life for adults who get up before dawn to hurt their knees.

Once a bonafide wandering climber, but now raising kids in a more comfortable Seattle home, Cahall’s definition of “dirt” has grown since his youth. “I think the Dirtbag is a state of mind and it’s about making the most of little,” he says. He notes that not everyone can — or should — be Fred Beckey, the Seattle legend who camped at the trailhead and hitchhiked with a climbing rope over his shoulder until his 80th birthday. “So for me, it’s just someone who’s kind of committed to the outdoor lifestyle,” he says.

After 15 years and a business that has grown beyond podcasts to documentary film and marketing in the outdoor industry, Cahall has nevertheless found himself inactive during the pandemic. So he called up friend and subject matter expert Alex Honnold – of Free Solo fame – and the two started the podcast. climbing gold, covering the history and major issues of sport. Together they saw their dirt hobby become an Olympic event in 2020.

When Cahall started climbing, it was a niche sport. today, its popularity has exploded into a gym scene, trendy style and a circle of celebrity athletes. Cahall is glad to see it, though he admits his generation needs to work on how to be good mentors “without being the old fuddy-duddy who just tells everyone, ‘Back in my day…. ‘”

Even still, his spoken-word storytelling was never intended to cement the exploits of the sport’s most accomplished technicians. The most fascinating episodes, Cahall found, usually came from less skilled climbers. “I’m more interested in this incredibly colorful collection of people who made up the wider climbing community,” he says. Their stories live on for campfires and car rides to come.