On the steep overhanging side of the Half Dome Boulder, there are a few strange veins in the granite rock that come together at a singular point. Unless someone points it out, it can be tough to see. But not unlike a piece of chaotic modern art, if you stare at it long enough, you can begin to see what Arden Pete sees. To him, the streaks in the granite look like an alien hand with extra long fingers. Others see a distorted pitchfork. If you climb up the center finger directly to the highest point of the boulder, then you’ve climbed the Middle Finger of Fury.
No one has ever suggested that this is the most difficult or most technical boulder problem at McLellan; however, it does have a reputation as being one of the boldest climbs for the grade. The Half Dome boulder is a block about the size of a Sherman tank, and it rests on a shelf apart from the other walls at one end of the tiny canyon at McLellan – not unlike that other Half Dome.
Local climber George Hughbanks is among the most active boulderers in the area, and he spends a lot of time at McLellan. “When driving someone new to the area, my voice can become hoarse describing this climbing treasure,” says Hughbanks. While McLellan is a part of Riverside State Park, this isolated gem is far from the park’s steady traffic. “The most noise you will hear is the echoes of boaters and swimmers from Long Lake. The maze of cliffs and boulders often leave new visitors lost in wonderment. For the climbers of Spokane, McLellan is a brilliant resource with mounds and mounds of boulders to wrestle.”
In the climbing world, bouldering lines that ascend a boulder or short cliff are called “problems,” and they are generally assigned a technical grade on the V-scale. Originally devised by John “Vermin” Sherman in the 1990s, the V system currently covers a range of V0 to V16. Problems are rated solely on the physical challenge involved, and do not measure reach or height or bad landings. In loose terms, V0 translates into a boulder problem with a climbing rating of 5.10. It might be three moves or ten moves, but the toughest part is no more difficult than climbing a 5.10 route. Meanwhile, a V4 is similar to a 5.12a. Consensus for the Middle Finger of Fury is V6, or roughly climbing 5.12d without a rope.
The McLellan climbing area doesn’t exist on any official maps or printed guidebooks, but you can find references with Google searches. About a decade ago, climbers christened the area McLellan, but Riverside State Parks calls the spot the Fisk Day Use Area. Most people assume the area is named after McLellan Lane or the nearby McLellan Conservation Area, but the climbing area is miles away from both places.
Arden Pete loves spending time at McLellan, and bouldering is a natural extension of his climbing and mountaineering abilities. For more than a decade, he has explored and scrambled and climbed in the area. Strangely enough, his effort to avoid attention and independently develop his skills at McLellan, are the very same reason he is one of the most prolific characters at that spot. He values the peace and solitude.
“McLellan is my first choice of local crags. It’s such a great place to be alone. I just love the pure volume of bouldering opportunities and the quality of the rock,” says Pete.
Bouldering at McLellan is a departure from other local bouldering spots. For starters, most local climbers’ initial exposure to bouldering is Minnehaha. The stone at McLellan isn’t nearly as sharp, most of the landings are much better, and you don’t have to tolerate the graffiti, broken glass or noise from the police gun range or Felts Field aircraft. McLellan is a great spot to escape and purely focus on climbing.
For the record, not every boulder problem has a name, but those ascents that really standout deserve a good title. The name might be an inside joke among the first-ascent party, or it might be related to a feature on the rock. For example, The Middle Finger of Fury isn’t a mean-spirited gesture – it’s the central line from a handprint.
Regarding the 69 Year Old Traverse, this boulder problem is a traverse roughly 100 feet from left to right, and the name centers on an incident that genuinely bothered Pete. About six years ago, he recalls passing the wall a few times and noticing how cool it would be to climb. However, a tree was blocking a portion of it. Weeks passed before Pete walked by the wall again, and he noticed someone had cut down the tree illegally for no apparent reason. This infuriated him because he felt it might threaten access to this beloved area. He was so upset that he sat down next to the stump, and he counted the rings of the ponderosa pine and discovered it was 69 years old. Later on, after a successful traverse of the wall, he named the problem the 69 Year Old Traverse.
Meanwhile, the gifted climber Bryan Franklin spent several days finishing an extremely difficult boulder problem, and then he allowed Hughbanks’ young kids to name the route. With very little deliberation or contemplation, they agreed on the name Ferocious Fred (although none of them know anyone named Fred). This route is rated V8 or nearly equivalent to 5.13b/c.
At the end of the day, any climber willing to drive a little further and walk a little more can find some awesome climbing at McLellan. The routes are not as obvious as other places, but most climbers agree this is a positive element. Just remember to bring your thickest Asana bouldering pads, and if you’re really good, you can climb the 69 Year Old, Ferocious Fred and a famous Middle Finger of Fury. //