Tag Archives: Multi-pitch rock climbing

Taking a line up The Beacon!

Taking a line up The Beacon!

Saturday, 26-September-2015

So when I first moved to Oregon and started talking to climbers, I heard about The Beacon. I believe the actual phrase was “the best climbing in Northern Oregon is the Beacon. Which is in Washington.”

So I’ve wanted to climb it for a while – I did the first pitch of it with Dave and Sarah a few weekends ago, and the climbing was fun! It was pretty clean, made up of solid granite that’d been broken up by time and weather. From what I read at the entrance signpost, the spire is actually the core of an ancient volcano; the rest of the mountain was worn down by the floods that carved out the Columbia River Gorge itself.

So when Sarah and I found ourselves in possession of a free Saturday, we racked up the gear, reviewed topos, and got ourselves on the rock!

South East Corner – 5.7 Trad, 5 pitches official. Grades with “?” are estimated, based on my opinion. Which is clearly important, since this is my blog.

Pitch 1 – 5.6ish? – This is the one that we’d done before, so it went cleanly and easily. The anchor was huge, and the belay was comfortable. Good, clean climbing.

Pitch 2 – 5.2ish, if that. – A traverse… basically just walking along a ramp, with a few spicy moves with a bit of air. Not a lot of protection, but you don’t really miss it as you walk along a 2ft wide ledge.

Pitch 3 – 5.7 – Now this. This was the climbing. This pitch is generally classed as the best on the route, and I have to agree with it. Basically, we worked our way around two huge roofs; 5+ ft big, give or take. This was where I started seeing old Pitons, which is always a really fun thing.

Pitch 4 – 5.6? – The first section of a fun ramp. Not the traverse like Pitch 2, but a good technical section of fun climbing.

Pitch 5 – 5.4? – the remainder of the Pitch 4 ramp. Split into two due to the wind causing communication issues between Sarah and myself, and rope drag starting to become an issue.

Pitch 6 – 5.6? – This one was pretty fun for the first few moves, then evened out a lot. An interesting chimney turned into a standard-issue ramp… basically, I started to feel like I was just hiking a series of really steep switchbacks.

Pitch 7 – 5.2? – So the topo calls this a “4th class to summit trail” section. Which is totally believable if you’ve done it repeatedly, and/or have a death wish. Large, slightly-loose blocks on a steep arete, with huge falls on both sides.

Pitch 8 – 5.2? – The finish of the “4th class” section that Pitch 7 started. Then, we topped out onto the summit trail!

Descent – We descended The Beacon via the summit trail, a beautifully designed and built “trail”, that consists of concrete embankments, wooden bridges, and amazing civil engineering. To quote the builder…

“My purpose in acquiring the property was simply and wholly that I might build a trail to the summit.”

– Henry Biddle

Please note that this trail descends what is, basically, a vertical wall. In a fashion that a wheelchair could get up. Dude was awesome.

Acadia 2012 – Climbing on the South Bubble


“I am not climbing at Otter cliffs again.”

“Ohh, I hear you man. I agree 100%”

“Seriously. I will push babies off that cliff and then dive in myself if someone ropes me into teaching people at those cliffs again”

“So… what do you want to do instead?”

“How about South Bubble?”


Twenty minutes later:

“Ok everyone! The official ‘learn to climb’ trip is going to South Bubble this year!”



And that’s how my day started.

At every Acadia I’ve been to, and that’s four years so far, I’ve ended up either leading or helping to run the group climbing trip to Otter cliffs. I’ve enjoyed it, definitely, but this year I had decided that I wanted to do my own thing and actually get to see the rest of the climbing that Acadia had to offer. You know… without a huge group of beginners clamoring for me to teach them how to belay and/or place gear. And since rain would make the slabs of The Precipice (the second-most famous wall) unclimbable, we picked a place called The South Bubble.

The Bubble is a combination wall – not purely slab routes, but not purely crack systems either. According to the book it was a few slabs about 50ft tall cut apart by the nice crack systems that are such a major component to a trad wall such as this. Ed Note: One very nice thing, in my mind, about Acadia is that it’s almost exclusively Trad climbing. Bolting is quite rare, and is barely even used to build anchors at the most popular spots. The Bubble has literally no permanent gear in it. After those initial slabs, the cliff transformed into mostly vertical cracks with a massive roof at the top sandwitched between chimneys on the sides and a few large blocky sections in the middle… my favorite type of easy and relaxed climbing. And even better, the book mentioned that the cliff was only about 10min from the road! You can understand my confusion when, 30min into the approach, I still couldn’t see the wall.

Instead, we found a path leading upwards. “Maybe the guide is wrong”, we thought, and continued upwards. Then we hit the summit of the mountain. It wasn’t the guide that was wrong.

So we went back down, and started looking. What should have been a quick 10min approach quickly ‘turned into two hours of hiking through Acadia’s trails… not a bad thing, in any situation, but it got quite frustrating for Daniel and I since we were rather pumped up to do some multi-pitch routes.

After quite a long amount of exploring, and Daniel accidentally summitting the mountain again, we did actually arrive at the climb… and it was just as perfect as I had hoped it would be. You see, Otter Cliffs is purely single-pitch climbing. It’s fun and challenging, but it’s only 75feet at its highest. The Bubble, however, soared above us into the distance, easily reaching at least 300 feet.

Granted, 300ft is small-fry in comparison to our adventures on Whitehorse, which tops out at nearly 1200ft of climbing (a mere 800ft vertical). However, for folks who haven’t gotten to do “real” climbing in as long as us, The Bubble was a godsend. Staring up at it was almost enough to distract me from the dozen or so people clamoring around at the bottom of the cliff, screaming up at the climbers trapped in a web of rope.

Ok, so that might be an exaggeration… but not much. NUHOC had arrived at the cliffs, and there were seven or eight people hanging out and climbing at the bottom of the first pitch of the route. And, just as I had feared when I first heard that announcement in the morning, Daniel and I were roped in the moment we arrived:

“Ohh hey, you’re here! I’m going to start the multi-pitch route, can you watch everyone and teach them how to belay while I’m gone? Awesome, I’m out of here”

“Wait, but…”

And with that, he was up the cliff and we were left to teach.

It wasn’t so bad, to be honest… but it wasn’t climbing. And we’d been looking forward to climbing since we’d first gotten in the car back in Boston, when I stretched out in the back seat and opened the big book of New England climbs to the “Acadia National Park” section. But part of being a club leader is knowing when to sit down and wait for reinforcements, so that’s exactly what we did.

While waiting, we took the chance to relax a bit from our long search for the cliffs. Daniel, Brian and I had worked up a rather intense sweat while hiking up, so we quickly used our powers of leadership to institute “shirtless o’clock” rules (since we knew the one girl there quite well, and knew she could take the joke) before we got started on organizing teams and helping people belay. It was relaxing, getting to stretch out and sunbath – though made a bit less relaxing since we had to keep an eye out to make sure people didn’t drop each other off cliffs.

Reinforcements arrived about an hour later, in the form of Liz and Rachel, who were going to relieve us and give us the chance to head up the climb. Which we did almost immediately – Daniel took the lead on the first pitch, followed by Brian, and the I finally got to head up myself. The route was amazing – short-ish pitches, followed by very nice belay stations, all covered by the perfectly warm ocean breeze. It was literally the best weather I’ve ever encountered on Acadia, and we got to enjoy it from a cliff face, which made it even more perfect.

The climb itself was fairly easy, with a few trouble spots added on thanks to the rain. Nothing major, just enough to remind you that you’re clinging to a cliff face with a 175ft drop below you. I loved it.

  • The route we took was a combination of the Lower Slabs (est 5.4), and “Unknown” (5.4) all at South Bubble in Acadia National Park
  • Pitch 1 – Simple and easy. Since Daniel lead it and Brian cleaned it I don’t really know too much about placements, but it looked nicely solid leading to a huge belay ledge.
  • Pitch 2 – We traversed (read: walked) across the belay ledge to the second pitch. I led this one, and it was a simple block-climb, with a few interesting layback moves thrown in for fun. Very reminiscent of the sea-stack climbs of Otter Cliff, but made up of beautiful granite, undamaged by the years of sea-exposure that Otter’s put up with.
    Gear was simple and almost all Cams, though I could easily have thrown in some stoppers had I felt like it. I used Black Diamond cams ranging from a 00 C3 to a #4 C4.
  • The belay ledge after Pitch 2 was nice and simple, I actually anchored off a few iron bars from what looked like an old Via Ferrata route.
  • Pitch 3 – We debated between climbing a hand-crack, or moving through a dihedral / chimney system. In the end we went with the chimney, since we were getting a bit pressed on time, which was definitely a fun route. It was made a bit hairier because of the water seeping through it and coating the entrance (if you’ve climbed dihedral chimneys, you know that getting into it is the real challenge).
    Gear was primarily cams, all placed way back into the crack at the back of the chimney. I think I used from a #0.5 C4 through a #3 C4
  • The final belay was a bit nicer than the one above pitch 2, simply because I could build the anchor much higher up and belay while sitting on the ledge. Perfect weather combined with the cliff shading me from the direct sunlight, and combined with the perfect view of the ocean meant that this little seat was heaven.
  • The walk off was a bit sketchy. We ended up running a belay for it, just to be safe, since it was pretty heady 4th-class scrambling… normally not that bad, but when combined with a 300ft fall if you slipped… yeah. Safety first boys and girls.


    Huh, cool!  I can put Alt-Text in!  BANANAPHONE!

    Our path from the car (upper right) to the cliffs (big red dot)