Outdoor rock climbing near Seattle

Climbers climb the natural gymnasium in the basalt columns of the French Coulee.
Photograph by Taylor Mackenzie Gerlach.

Outdoor climbing places

exit 38

To look like an experienced rat, he called them “Exits”. Mile marker 38 places this I-90 just east of North Bend, a slope that leads to Olallie State Park and a few popular trails, literally on the map. Popular boulders lie on both sides of the highway, many of which are accessible from primitive trails for climbers. Most routes are single-court sports, and some have a walking entrance to put the top ropes in—making these Disneyland rocks the all-new climber.

Easy access: The Exits area is peppered with bolted climb routes.

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Town Wall Index

With a mix of sport and craft—meaning pre-set rock and natural—the Index’s granite cliff face is popular with serious climbers looking to trek into the mountains of Snohomish County. The neighboring town has shrunk since its timber boom days, but the hike up the climbing routes offers great views of the forested valley.

french collie

The climbing destination known as Vantage is just east of the Columbia River (although the address is in Quincy) and offers year-round sunshine. Vertical basalt formed by lava flows millions of years ago gives the cliffs a distinctive appearance, like a group of giant drinking straws made of rock, all prominent in the sky of central Washington. Given the distance from the city, camping areas can be central to partying on the weekends.


Fitz Cahal tells everyone

The Dirtbag Diary The founder writes climbing stories in the permanent record.

There are two types of climbing story. One is the official account of the remarkable ascent, perhaps the first time someone has summed up a particular peak or performed an important movement. But then there’s another kind of thread, the kind that intrigues Seattle-based podcast writer Fitz Cahal: “The casual stories out there, they’re being shared around the campfire,” he says. “You know, you would have heard when I was on a long car ride with a friend.”

With this kind of outsider tidbits in mind, Kahal launched the podcast Dirtbag Diary in 2007. He recorded tales—some of his own, but mostly from others—of NDEs on volcanoes and the steep roads of Washington’s peaks, depicting El Capitan and the strange pushcarts of climbers.

Cahal’s climbing background and sojourn in the Northwest fueled many stories, as did snowboarding, rafting, and hiking. And, of course, they became more than just a sport – parenthood, loss, intergenerational contact, immigration and war. After more than 300 episodes, Dirtbag Diary It has become the history of the outdoor industry, a This is American life For adults who get up before dawn to wreck their knees.

Once a bona fide tramp climber himself but now raising children in a more comfortable home in Seattle, Cahal’s definition of “dirtbag” has grown since his youth. “I think dirtbag is a state of mind and it comes from making the most of a little,” he says. He points out that no one could – or should – be Fred Becky, the Seattle legend who camped on roads and trailers with a climbing rope over his shoulder until his 80s. “For me, he’s just someone who is kind of committed to the outdoor lifestyle,” he says.

After 15 years and a company that has grown beyond podcasts to documentaries and marketing across the outside industry, Cahal has found himself jobless during the pandemic. So he called a friend and subject matter expert Alex Honnold – of Free Solo fame – and the two started podcasting climbing goldCovers the history and major issues in sport. Together they watched their dirt bag hobby which became an Olympic event in 2020.

When Cahal started climbing it was a niche sport. Today, it has boomed in popularity in the gym, trendy style, and a circle of famous athletes. Cahal is happy to see him, though he admits that his generation should be working on how to be a good mentor “without being the old one who says to everyone, ‘I’m back in my day…'”.

Even then, his oral account wasn’t all about solidifying the exploits of the sport’s most accomplished technologist. Cahal found that the most amazing episodes usually came from less efficient climbers. “I’m most interested in this incredibly colorful group of people who made up the broader climbing community,” he says. Their stories are still alive for campfires and car rides yet to come.

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