I had a chance to lead a new route by Leland Windham called "Freeway Gunshow", and the local shooters didn't let us down, putting on a show of rapid fire shots (just in case those deer get uppity, don't you know!) that only didn't cause concern since we knew they were coming from across I-90. The route goes 130' (with 17 bolts!), and has a rap station about a third of the way down (that's not counted in the 17 bolts - better take 18 draws if you want to clip everything, and then two more for the top chains) - a 60 meter rope will not let you rap from the top chains. It's a fun friction romp on some great rock - the only thing I've seen that's stickier is the west ridge of North Twin Sister. I was told Leland thought it went at 5.10a, but I thought is was maybe an 8 - maybe I'm just getting better at friction! There's an intersting looking 10c (very short) just around the corner.
After pulling the rope, we headed up the newly built trail to a blocky area (The Eastern Bloc?) with many new bolted routes - they come in a variety of difficulties from 5.7/8 to 5.11 - something for just about everyone. We followed the path around the east side of this little crag and scrambled up a few more rocks to an area called Squishy Bells. We quickly climbed the middle of three routes (5.8?), starting at about 10 after 9:00. My turn to head up came at almost 9:30, and it was challenging to see where I was putting my feet - still a fun, but short (4 bolts, maybe 30 feet) route. After pulling the rope, we headed across the crag to the south, then up and over onto some very nice tread that eventually rejoins the Gritscone trail, and then out. It's 5-10 minutes from the Gristscone junction to Squishy Bells, and the other crags come fairly quickly after that.
I've been told that Bryan's new North Bend/Exit 38/I-90 guide is "almost done", so keep an eye out at your favorite local climbing store - once you get it, you'll see how many new routes are available now over at the Far Side, along with a host of other new routes at the trestle area, on Mt Washington and up at Little Si!
After that, we followed the loop trail down to the area I think is being called the Eastern Bloc. We climb the first two routes you come to on the north side - long and fun! The left line feels distinctly alpine, and runs at about 5.4 for the first 4 bolts. From there, there are two more bolts in about 5 feet protecting the crux, which we thought felt maybe 5.9ish, but steep. It turns easier from there up to the chains. The first bolt is a ways off the ground - you may want to bring a small to medium cam, or some stoppers if being a little off the ground without a bolt clipped worries you. Then again, if you're trying to lead a 5.9, you'll probably be comfortable with the low 5th class terrain getting to the first bolt. My buddy led the route that goes more straight up the pile of blocks - what a hoot! He was so pleased with it that we pulled the rope and I lead it as well - steep, but huge jugs and flakes everywhere! Maybe 5.8? Both routes are nicely longer than the routes at Squishy Bells - we used most of a 50 meter rope both times for lowering and rapping.
We then bundled everything up, and skipping over another dozen or so routes on the Eastern Bloc, we followed the trail down, down, down to the Freeway Slab. Yes, it has way too many bolts, and there's a hold near the fault below the first chains that looks like it has been comfortized, but this route is still a lot of fun! 130' - bring a 60 meter rope. With a 50 meter, there was just barely enough rope for my buddy to lead, then be lowered to the midway anchor chains - it took 49.5 meters of rope - tie a knot in the end before you belay someone up there with a 50m cord! I TRed and cleaned, then we went around the corner to try what I had been told was a "beta" 10c. Well, I guess we both need some beta, because it felt much harder than that to us - very short (20 feet?), but sustained and thin, but with great feet, maybe that's the clue? I dunno - we thought it was closer to an 11a, but I'll get the beta and try it again!
On the way out we followed the new trail west from the big log you have to scoot under to get down to the Freeway Slab, and it dumped us out on the loop trail a little above the Gritscone. Made for a very pleasant half day of cragging, but there's a lot more new routes I'd like to do on the Eastern Bloc before the guidebook gets out - I'll be back!