What do you get when you take a rural logging town in drastic decline and combine it with an outlandish economic revival plan in the form of a mass city remodel? If you’re climbing in Leavenworth, you’ve seen the answer. And we have the 1960s German-themed makeover to thank for the existence of one of the Cascade Mountains’ few thriving small towns. Leavenworth, WA sits on the dry eastern slope of the Cascades, an ideal spot for climbers and extreme sports folks of all stripes. These days the town is humming because of tourism to it’s faux-Bavarian themed streets (the accordion festival is certainly my favorite of our many, many annual events) but traveling to Leavenworth can also mean bringing your kayak, mountain bike, SUP board, and of course your climbing gear!
So what makes Leavenworth a climbing destination?
It has a little of everything and it rains a lot less than metropolitan areas 100 miles to the west.
Bouldering and alpine rock climbing are the standout attractions, and both of those have grown in popularity in the past ten years, with many excellent new alpine test pieces being free climbed, and hundreds of boulder problems established, many in the double-digit V grades. For backcountry skiers and mountaineers, the area’s Stuart Range offers classic glacier routes and alpine shredding long after the ski lifts have closed. Each winter sees a different array of water ice climbs form up in the Tumwater and Icicle Canyons, and there are accessible WI2 and WI3 slabs for a first winter foray, along with seldom-climbed multi-pitch lines requiring crossing an icy river and a couple thousand feet of snowy approaching. Traditional roped cragging is Leavenworth’s weak spot in terms of climbing disciplines, with many small walls and domes being scattered and slabby, often hosting just one or two worthwhile routes and a long walk to reach them. However, there are a half-dozen or so standout venues where you’ll find excellent trad and sport routes concentrated together, often with a short approach. Check out Castle Rock, for excellent climbs of all grades from 5.4 to 5.12, and a run up the state’s first technical rock route. If you brought a set of draws, then Rattlesnake Rock and the Drip Wall are your best bets, with sport routes from 5.10-5.13. A mix of trad and sport routes are found at two of Icicle Canyon’s best crags - The Pearly Gates (go there when it’s hot out) and Careno Crag (better when it’s chilly). But without a doubt the best and most well-known of Leavenworth’s cragging venues is the 800’ tall Snow Creek Wall. With so much climbing, it really helps to know when the calendar’s “sweet spot” is for each discipline.
- Bouldering is best in mid September through early November, and March into mid May.
- Cragging is good from late March to late October, though the hottest days of summer will probably compel you to go swimming instead of climbing.
- Alpine rock routes are usually in shape from late May through late September.
- Water ice is not consistent, but there is usually something to climb from Christmas to early February.
Find guidebooks, gear, and local conditions from the climbers who work at Leavenworth Mountain Sports, on the north side of Highway 2 downtown. For all the beta on climbing at Leavenworth, head to MountainProject.com [LINK].