DATE: SEPTEMBER 28TH-29TH 2019
LOCATION: ELWHA RIVER, WA
TRAINING STAGE: SUMMER
CLIMBING TYPE: SPORT CLIMBING
This was my first official trip with NSM, and my second visit to Waka Beach and The Elwhall - two lovely, but dusty, sandstone crags out near Port Angeles, WA. While I present as male and am never offended when my identity is assumed to match, I identify as pangender and prefer they/them/their pronouns. For me, being pangender is a reflection of my feeling like a woman, a man, somewhere between, or both binary genders at the same time. While I fully acknowledge that my presentation has certainly steered me around a lot of common female experiences - positive and negative - I can honestly say that neither my presentation nor my life’s story held back the other women on this NSM trip from welcoming and supporting me!
I never felt out of place.
Our trip started out in the, in my opinion, far too-early morning - 6:00AM. Tiffany and I woke up and rushed ourselves through breakfast and out to our already packed ride. We hurried several blocks south to pick up our third person, Courtney, who also agreed we were awake at a time that shouldn’t even exist. Next, we headed over to get Claire and her can of climbing-stoke (some sort of energy drink) before making our way up to the Edmonds Ferry Terminal.
We reached the ticket booth just in time to make it into the second row of cars for our 7:55AM ferry to Kingston. Thinking there was plenty of wait-time to grab something, I walked across the queue to the tiny Terminal Caffeine coffee stand for a gigantic cookie and a delicious latte. Turns out several other people had the same idea, but I managed to sign my receipt just in time to dash back to the car and roll us onto the ferry.
On the ride across the sound, we all headed up to the first deck to pass time. I spotted a chess set on one of the tables and, knowing the rules but not being very skilled, I proceeded to teach Tiffany how to both play and apparently also beat me! With my cookie and coffee devoured, and butt handed to me as the ship docked in Kingston, the four of us made our way back to the car to continue onward to adventure.
Over the next couple hours, we made our way towards the Elwha Dam R.V. Park. This part of the trip involved a lot of napping, disconcerting weather, and a stop at New Day Eatery.
Once we got to camp, Tiffany got us all checked in with the friendly camp hosts before heading to the parking lot just outside the RV park to meet with the rest of the women on this trip. Danna, Heather, and Pam, already parked, greeted us merrily for introductions, and our seven-person group of crushers was ready to approach the riverside crag - Waka Beach.
The approach was a brief, steep, downhill walk to the Elwha River. While Tiffany immediately removed her shoes and rolled up her pant-legs to scout out the routes further up-river, the rest of us gawked over the interesting shapes in the sandstone - forms I had only previously seen while climbing in lamplight.
Then we climbed!
The day proceeded smoothly. Those with ropes, gear, and lead-skill quickly set up routes, followed by other leaders and top-ropers. The rock itself proved to be much dustier on this visit - complaint-worthy - but that didn’t stop us from running up several routes. 3-Toes Relay, Bigfoot Sprint, Donut Run, and Groan Up all went smoothly. We got to see fossils embedded in the stone, and Tiffany doing a bat-hang on actual rock.
After sweeping the first non-submerged section of Waka Beach, we cleaned our routes and all migrated up river to set up more climbs. In little time, we had ropes and climbers on Haus Frau, Scare-Master, Cut The Mustard, Petunia’s Penthouse, and Hold the Mayo. All these routes were the perfect grades to get us worked up or warmed up, and I especially enjoyed the unusual movements and variety of techniques involved in Scare-Master. While I was periodically eyeballing a 5.12a/b (Sum’bitch-Knockout), Tiffany had her sights long-set on Waka-Jawaka.
After enough people asking if I was going to stop staring at the 5.12 and actually climb it, I finally decided to give it a go. With half the draws already hanging, and permission to use them from their setter in another group, I got myself all roped and geared up, and let my belayer, Claire, know I was ready to climb. As Tiffany and Courtney began working up Waka/Jawaka, I prepared myself to climb a really pump-looking, overhung 12 - and then I was off the ground and climbing. The first couple moves went smoothly, but then I threw a bucket of sand into my own eyes at the third hold; the discomfort didn’t dissuade me though, and I continued on. A few blocky “jugs” on the overhang led into a surprisingly positive pocket, and I was feeling great, like I might not only get my first clean 12, but my first 5.12 onsight! Then my fingers went numb. I couldn’t tell if it was from the cold stone (now in the canyon shade), the nervous pressure of finally achieving one of my goals, or just having my arms over my head for too long before the crux; but they were numb, and try as I did to wake them back up, I couldn’t confidently make the long reach to the next block-hold and through the crux.
After a bit of rest and shaking while hanging on Claire’s belay, and words of encouragement from the other NSM women below, I got back on the wall and made my way through to the slabby end. While it was disappointing to miss my onsight, it was still exhilarating to have another 5.12 tick-mark, and fulfilling to know the others were excited with me.
From here, we cleaned our anchors and made the trek back to camp for dinner. In the RV park’s rec-room a large group of retired travellers were wrapping up their dinner, and offered some very tasty stew and ice cream. We all heated and chowed down on our meals - discussing the variety of camp-eats into the night
Bedtime led to some nighttime rain, and then to a dry, foggy, early-morning start. With ice cream substituted for creamer in our coffees, and a new assortment of meals in our bellies, we were all set to pack up camp and head out for our second day of climbing - onto The Elwhall!
The second day’s climbing, a gorgeously-formed sandstone crag, proved to be very unpredictable. While the moves and scenery were intriguing, we were surprised by disconcerting amounts of sand on many holds, over and under-graded routes, and a single mosquito who just couldn’t understand personal space and consent - and really knew how to dodge a slap! Fortunately, we had plenty of incredibly strong and skilled climbers to lead routes, set up top-ropes, and give holds a bit of a dusting. Between climbs, we occupied our time with migrating to sunny spots and discussions about route-beta, life, and… ice cream. I think Claire and I operate on the same frozen-dairy-shaped wavelength.
After a day of working the wild sandstone at The Elwhall, we cleaned anchors, packed up, and made our way up the hill along the old dam maintenance road. We spotted a wide variety of fungi along the path, and speculated about which ones were probably valuable on the dark web.
Back at the cars we said our thanks and goodbyes, hugged, shot photos, and then headed back towards home - well, after a critical milkshake stop at Frugals, deemed critical by Claire and me.