It is sunset. Steep columns of golden rock rise before you like soldiers prepared for combat. Some of them are broken, crippled. Others stand tall and slender. You look carefully, and notice that in between their folds are little creatures, clambering up the columns, attempting to reach the top. When they crest the top of the cliff, they lower themselves down gracefully on thin cords, just to repeat the ridiculous ritual. It’s a mesmerizing sight. At nightfall they retreat into small nylon shelters nearby, and when a new day dawns they arrive back again, full of energy. Welcome to climbing at Vantage.
Vantage is only about 4.5 hours from Vancouver, or so they say – somehow it took us nine hours. First there was a one hour delay at the border due to the lineup and then the lineup inside, when one of us to get their passport stamped. From there it was a blur of a ride, with an extended stop in Bellingham to fuel up on Mexican food and to stock up at Trader Joe’s, where Pawel bought about 20 packages of roasted wasabi seaweed which we munched on the whole weekend.
Then there was that unnecessary half hour drag of a stop at Walmart to get the State Park Pass, never mind that I normally refuse to set foot in that abomination of capitalism. I kept myself awake by singing Hebrew songs out loud, which didn’t seem to deter my passengers from sleeping most of the way. Just before we arrived we took a wrong turn, finally arriving to the parking lot (we didn’t realize the new camping area was around the corner) where we set out our sleeping bags under the stars and finally went to bed at 3am.
The next day we reluctantly emerged from our cocoons to a warm and sunny day – the reason Vantage is popular during shoulder season, when much of the Pacific Northwest is cloudy and wet. The Mirski brothers were in their usual positive moods, a delight to be around. We headed to Sunshine Wall, drawn by the beautiful columns and longer routes. The climbing at Vantage is steep, aesthetic, varied, and many of the lines have a surprisingly exposed feeling, given the short length of the climbs. The amount of chalk on the routes is often misleading – what looks like a bomber jug from below is too often a lousy sloper.
My favourite climb was a classic chimney, reminiscent of the famous Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. I ended up climbing this one a second time just after dark to retrieve our anchor, a magical experience and a first time climbing at night for me. Another notable climb was Air Guitar, where Göran Kropp, that Swede famous for cycling from Sweden to Mt. Everest, climbing it solo and cycling back, died some years ago.
That night we managed to get to bed much earlier than 3am, to my relief. We returned to Sunshine Wall, where we baked in the sun and heat, although I was secretly glad to soak what I expected to be the last hot weather for the season. It didn’t help that a pigeon pooped on Anne’s shoulder. When we were sufficiently dehydrated and on the verge of heat stroke, we finally had the good sense to take a short hike to the shady Middle Eastern Wall where we had our lunch below the delightfully green rock. We didn’t really feel like climbing anymore, and anyway the routes there were all way too hard for us, or so we assumed, since our guidebook didn’t even cover that area.
With the Columbia River just a short drive away, we figured a swim was in order, but our attempt was foiled by a crack in a dam, after which the river level was lowered causing the banks to be dangerously unstable – we were sent back by a police officer, of course idling his car to enjoy the air conditioning while guarding the river, it’s the US after all. We set off for the long drive back home, making a long stop at REI in Seattle which consisted mostly of us trying to get back on the highway but failing. Then we arrived to Bellingham a few minutes after 9pm and a circled the town just to find that the four food trucks I know were all closed (it was Sunday). We settled for Tadeo’s, a cute little Mexican restaurant in downtown Bellingham (yes, it exists). Pawel had his usual double (or triple?) dinner and we had an uneventful rest of the trip back home. I’ll return to Vantage, some day…