Nothing highlights the popularity of a climbing route like polished holds. Most crags feature a few favorite routes or classic climbs, but often the most frequently climbed routes, where many of the holds have been rubbed as smooth as glassy river rock by hundreds or thousands of climbers’ chalky hands, doesn’t mean the route is the best one.
There are a number of Spokane-area climbs with super polished holds, and the reasons for their exceptional traffic fall into three main categories. For example, consider The Roach (5.11a) at Deep Creek. It’s the essential warm up route that nearly everyone climbs at the Main Wall because it’s the easiest route on the entire cliff. Shawn Talley originally bolted The Roach; however, Bill Centenari nabbed the first ascent back in 1995.
The Roach acts like a gatekeeper to the crag. If a climber can lead that route, then they’re most likely skilled enough to climb many of the coveted 5.12 and 5.13 technical routes nearby. The Roach isn’t exceptionally long, but it’s overhanging the entire way, and there are two minor cruxes to unlock for anyone seeking to onsight the route. Nobody would say it’s the best route at that crag, but it’s a favorite for warming up, which means chalky hands polish every single hold every time they visit.
The same can be said about Chicken Spread at Dishman Hills. Dane Burns established this route in 1980, and it is another common warm up route on a cliff with many difficult lines. Chicken Spread is rated at 5.9, but it’s fairly tough down low and easy to drift away from the best holds. Near the start, the same polished holds for your hands become slick holds for your feet a few moves later.
At Minnehaha, there are a dozen examples of routes with hyper-polished holds. However, two standouts would have to be The Diagonal and Smokey Overhang Traverse. Each boasts slick holds, but for completely different reasons.
According to the illustrated Loomis guide, Bob Loomis completed the first free ascent of The Diagonal in 1978. The popularity of this route hinges on its prime location – smack in the center of the highest wall at Minnehaha, barely sixty paces from the parking lot. Climbers have retraced this route for decades because it’s tough but not-too-tough. At 5.8, it’s a modest trad lead; however, it’s pretty slick down low and placing cams or Stoppers challenges many beginners. Honestly, if the route was further away from the crowds or half the height, it wouldn’t see much traffic. Then again, the vast majority of climbers tackle The Diagonal on top rope.
Meanwhile, Smokey Overhang Traverse has polished holds because it’s the best bouldering hangout in the park. Plain and simple, all of the holds can be reached and touched from the ground. However, the challenge is to climb the entire granite seam without a rope and without rest – about five feet off the ground the whole way. Whenever the weather turns rainy or windy, boulderers can retreat to the Smokey Overhang to get out of the elements. The wall is so steep that it’s never wet from the rain, and the greasy chalk residue is never washed away.
In a nutshell, these high-traffic routes share polished holds in common, but they are completely different and have seen so many climbers for completely different reasons.
7 Spokane Crag Favorites
Minnehaha: The Dihedral (5.9) Trad
This is the main line on the main wall. It’s the longest route in the park, and many climbers believe it should be rated 5.10. Beware, the crux is near the top.
Minnehaha: Open Book (5.6) Trad
Although it’s a short route, it’s still fun. There are plenty of options for protection, and many beginning climbers get their first taste of rope drag and rope management here.
Dishman: Free Installation (5.11a) Sport
The start is fairly tough, but the middle section is fun with lots of big holds. The upper wall is still challenging, but you can rest along the way.
Deep Creek: Pit Lizard (5.11a) Sport
Pit Lizard is long and requires some patience and endurance. It’s also slightly overhanging, so there are very few rests. Nevertheless, there’s always a jug whenever you need to clip.
Mirabeau: Viva La Revolution (5.11a) Sport
Located right in the middle of an obscure wall near the Mirabeau waterfall, this sport route features tough holds with great moves. No single move is difficult, but the whole route is rather pumpy.
Rocks of Sharon: Perfect Storm (5.10a) Sport
Some find the hike to the climb to be the hardest part. This route is normally done in two pitches, and the second pitch is the reward: stunning views overlooking the Palouse and a finish at the top of a gigantic granite spire. //