The Best Climbing in Washington: A Great New Guidebook by Blake Herrington

Washington Pass is one of the best places for alpine rock climbs in the U.S.
Washington Pass is one of the best places for alpine rock climbs in the U.S. Courtesy of Blake Herrington
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If you’ve been looking for inspiration to start training for your summer sends, it has arrived in the form of Cascades Rock, Blake Herrington’s newly released guidebook to the best climbing in Washington.

The book features photos, topos, and route descriptions for a handpicked selection of the 160 best multi-pitch rock climbs in Washington and southern British Columbia, from the tried-and-true favorites of Index’s Lower Town Wall to lines like “Free Mojo” in Washington Pass that have yet to see a second ascent (Herrington himself snagged the first).

While it’s not the first time most of these climbs have appeared in a guidebook, Cascades Rock is distinct in that its focus is not on packing in a quantity of climbs, like Fred Beckey’s three-volume Cascade Alpine Guide, but rather on the quality of them. Think of it as the ultimate must-do list for Washington climbers.

Herrington climbing in the Stuart Range, near Leavenworth.
Herrington climbing in the Stuart Range, near Leavenworth. Courtesy of Blake Herrington

Herrington, 29, hatched the idea for the book about three years ago when he returned to his home state of Washington after a stint living in Colorado and traveling to some of the best places for climbing around the world. “Right after I came back it was like, ‘Wow … we have many climbs of similar quality out here that many people don’t know about,’” Herrington told RootsRated. “I realized that at some point someone was going to write a [new] Cascades climbing book … and I wanted to see it done well.”

And as one of the best climbers in the state, with more than a dozen first ascents to his name, Herrington certainly had the credentials. But more important than his personal climbing prowess might have been his local knowledge, having grown up and lived in various parts of the state including Vancouver, Bellingham, the North Cascades National Park complex, and Leavenworth, where he currently lives with his wife, Allison.

Leavenworth is a climbing hotspot in Washington.
Leavenworth is a climbing hotspot in Washington. Laurel F

He also credits the Washington climbing community at large for its involvement and input on the book, as it features photography and feedback from a variety of sources. “I was in a fairly good position [to write the book] … because I know all of these folks,” Herrington says. “I know folks who are old timers, I know newer folks, I know folks in the Cascades who have been active for different generations.”

Cascades Rock has no shortage of gems, including climbs in areas like Darrington and The Enchantments. But Herrington’s personal favorite spot is Cascade Pass. “A lot of my first climbs were in that area,” he says. “With glaciers all around them, really in the middle of the North Cascades, it’s one of the most beautiful spots in the lower 48, I’m sure.” And, of course, “It’s really good climbing.”

For newer climbers, there’s just one snag: Nearly all of the routes in the book are 5.9 and above, grades that are especially intimidating considering most of the climbs are in the alpine. “At the end of the day the Cascades are a mountain range that doesn’t lend itself to very good easy climbs … it tends to be a little bit mossier and blockier and looser on the lower angel ridges and scrambling terrain,” Herrington explains.

The setting sun over the North Cascades.
The setting sun over the North Cascades. Courtesy of Blake Herrington

But he doesn’t think that should keep you from getting out of the gym to build up your skills outside, whenever and wherever possible. When Harrington himself was first learning to rock climb while in his late teens, he took a creative approach to the practice: going on scrambles, rappelling down trees, and perfecting the moves via resourceful top-rope setups.

“I literally remember biking like seven miles along the ocean off of Bellingham to these little sandstone slabs off the bay and top-roping off a tree,” he says. Even as it’s easier than ever to get strong by gripping onto plastic at your home gym, “Don’t discount the value of how previous generations of climbers learned, which was just getting outside.”

But there’s at least one tool you might want to add to your arsenal that previous generations of climbers didn’t have access to: a copy of Cascades Rock—for the beta and, just as importantly, the psyche.

Grab a copy of Cascades Rock online, or at the upcoming local presentations at The Mountaineers on March 22Vertical World Seattle on March 23, and Vertical World Redmond on March 24

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