March trip of the month: For climbers looking for sun, Vantage a good option

March 28, 2019

For climbers itching to get outside, early April can be a maddening time.

The weather is just warm enough to turn thoughts from rocketing down snow-covered slopes to dreams of wrestling gravity.

And yet in the Spokane area, the weather is still hit-and-miss, with rain and cold frequently shutting down outdoor climbing ambitions.

That’s why Spokane-area climbers head west to Vantage, Washington, to climb at Frenchman Coulee.

The arid, drier climate of the Scablands makes it an ideal place to climb while Spokane recovers from winter.

Climbers first started playing in the Vantage area in the early 1960s, said Bob Loomis, a longtime Spokane-area climber.

One of the first at Vantage was Fred Stanley, a Northwest climbing legend with many routes in the Cascades and elsewhere bearing his name.

In the early 1980s, about a decade after Stanley was active in the area, Dane Burns started making regular trips.

Burns said he would intentionally head to Vantage during the hottest times of the year to train for climbing in Yosemite, the climbing world’s capital known for its sweltering summers.

“When we were out there, there was nobody climbing there,” he said. “There was literally no one there other than who I took out and introduced to the area.”

Until then, all the climbing at Vantage had been done using traditional climbing gear. Climbers placed cammed devices and static pieces of metal into rock cracks to protect their upward progress.

Burns climbed in Vantage regularly for five or so years. During that time, he told only a handful of people about the spot. By the late ’80s, word had spread.

As more climbers headed there, some began drilling bolts into the basalt columns.

With new climbing gyms in Seattle and Spokane, more people flocked to outdoor climbing opportunities.

John Emminger (now an owner of 49 Degrees North) was an early route developer in Vantage, Loomis said.

Now, it’s a desert destination spot. Halfway between Seattle and Spokane, with more sun than either, means weekends can be crowded with hordes of West Side climbers and a strong contingent of Spokane climbers, all flocking to the sunshine.

Free camping on the Bureau of Land Management site helps too.

With increased use has come trash and other human waste. Please pack it in and pack it out. The two outhouses near the camping area may have long lines, but they are there for a reason. Please use them.

There are more than 400 named climbs, ranging from easy sport climbs (bolts in the wall) to more adventurous traditional crack climbing (placing your gear in horizontal or vertical cracks).