Yellowjacket Tower
June 4, 2000

I learned about Yellowjacket Tower by seeing it listed as one of the Mountaineer's basic rock climbs. It looked pretty easy and straightforward, and when a friend of mine, Andrew, mentioned that he'd like to try an alpine climb, it seemed just the right objective. Two more friends, Janet and Annette, joined us, and we all drove over to Leavenworth on a nice Sunday morning. The tower itself is easily visible from the Snow Creek parking area - it's on the next major ridge upstream, and it sticks up pretty prominently. We parked just a little more than 6 miles from the start of the Icicle River road, and walked down to a private road and crossed the river on the bridge there. There are "No Trespassing" signs posted on all the property along this road, so if we want to be able to continue accessing this climb, it's important to move quickly and quietly through this area, and leave no trace. Turning left after crossing the bridge and walking a few hundred yards, you'll come to a well worn and deep trail heading uphill. Follow this a short ways, then head for the obvious large boulder, which I believe is the Rat Creek Boulder. Circle around the boulder and you'll come across a fairly well worn climber's trail that starts heading up. And up. And up! This puppy is steep, and a lot of it is in loose, sandy soil, or across granite slabs covered with round gravel - watch your steps!
Yellowjacket Tower from Icicle River Road
Yellowjacket Tower from Icicle River Road. The bridge is barely visible in the lower left.
Nearing the base of Yellowjacket Tower
Nearing the base of Yellowjacket Tower
The way continues up, never relenting in its steepness, passing a natural bonsai tree, and giving you ever opening views behind you to the climbing domes on the opposite side of Icicle Creek and the braided creek itself. The gully at the base of Yellowjacket Tower itself is blocked just 50 or 60 feet up by a huge chockstone. We headed up and to the right here, finding some easy ramps, and one steep section to scramble before we were back in the main gully. We walked up the obvious trail in the gully for a ways until we came to an area where there were slings wrapped around trees, signaling to us that perhaps the start of the climbing route was nearby. Wandering over towards the rock itself, we were able to easily spot the 3rd class gully that was the first pitch of the climb. We stopped here to grab a quick bite of lunch and pull out the climbing gear, and to attach our packs to slings we could secure to branches of the trees. This proved prudent, because before we had finished lunch a mountain goat wandered on down the sandy slopes towards us, looking quite curious about the contents, and the taste, of our packs! We hoped that we had hung our things high enough, and Annette and Andrew started scrambling up the first pitch gully. Janet and I opted for a belay, and Janet led up behind Annette and Andrew, bring me up to the belay station as Annette was leading the next pitch. The gully was actually quite easy, with only a move or two that made me happy for a rope. The pitch ends at a convenient tree, just a few feet away from the start of the right facing dihedral that makes up the second pitch.
The climb description talks about the gully being class 2-3 with maybe a move or two of 4th class, but doesn't mention the difficulty of the dihedral at all. Assuming this meant it was very easy 5th class, I hadn't bothered bringing climbing shoes, but now as I looked at the start of the pitch I wished I had. As Andrew started following Annette's lead, I asked him to clean the rope but leave the pro in place for me to clip through. I was thinking I'd be working hard enough on the moves to be happy to skip making placements, and I knew I could trust Annette's pro placing skills. The pitch was indeed a bit more than "easy 5th class", feeling more like 5.5 or 5.6 climbing for the first 15 or 20 feet. After that the difficulties eased, and soon I was working my way around and above the tree at the top of the dihedral, and climbing over a large cap stone to our next belay. Annette was already belaying Andrew up the final pitch, and he called back that he thought we'd find two of the moves "interesting"! Still, it didn't take him long to top out to top out on the peak of the tower and wave back at us! Annette followed as I brought Janet up, and again we had Annette and Andrew leave the pro for us to clip through. The final tower does indeed have two "interesting" moves, and I was again thinking I'd rather do them in climbing shoes than alpine boots. No matter, though, it didn't take long before Annette and Andrew had rapped down and Janet and I were on top. Annette snapped a summit photo of me from down below, and Janet and I set up our raps and headed back down.
Andrew on the summit of Yellowjacket Tower
Andrew on the summit of Yellowjacket Tower

On reaching the base of the dihedral, we found that our goat friend had wandered up the gully we had climbed and had installed himself in a comfy alcove to watch our activities! We rigged for another rap, and as we were sliding down the rope, he nonchalantly walked along beside us in the gully, very sure footed and oblivious to the consequences of a fall, which I'm certain he considered impossible to happen to him. We picked up our packs, still safely un-gnawed and hanging in their various trees, and decided to rap one more time, since the gully was steep and sandy, and the soil didn't provide for the best of footings. Mr. Goat followed along with us, with a look of almost disbelief on his face that we were bothering with ropes on this terrain. I rapped first, and while I was waiting for the others to join me the goat was calmly grazing along one side of the gully. Finishing the clump of vegetation that had caught his fancy he headed out towards the middle of the gully, right where our rope laid. I wasn't too keen on having a goat checking for salt on our ropes and maybe deciding on a taste or two, so as he got close I flicked the rope to startle him. It did startle him a bit, but since it didn't move him away from the rope, I flicked it a second time, this time trying to get the rope 5 or 6 feet off the ground. This succeeded in startling the goat, and he jumped back a bit lifting his front legs as he did so. The rope then came down from above him and slapped him on his rump, frightening him enough to make him kick his hind legs. Without trying, I pulled the rope taut, and it slipped right under his hind feet, which were now in the air, and came up on the back sides of his front feet. He did another little buck up in the air with his front hooves, and I pulled the rope completely away from him - we had had a mountain goat jump rope with our climbing ropes! He didn't seem very impressed however, and quickly scurried back over to the side of the gully where he wouldn't have to deal with us and our ropes!

After plunge stepping down the loose soil of the gully for a bit we came back to the huge chockstone that marked the base of the main gully. Here we decided on one last rappel rather than downclimb our approach route, and after that it was smooth sailing all the way down. We still had to be a bit careful when crossing the granite slabs, as there was plenty of sand and grit on them, and more than one of us slipped a bit here and there. Still, shortly we were back at Rat Creek Boulder, and then across the bridge and back to the cars ready to sort gear. I laid our a rope bag to put gear on and went over to get my rope back from Annette. She dropped her pack, looked puzzled, then worried, and said she must have dropped the rope! "Yeah, right," I said, assuming she was just teasing. I didn't really believe her until she started jogging back towards the bridge and crossing it - she really had dropped the rope along the way! Fortunately, she returned about 10 minutes later - she had readjusted her pack near the Rat Creek Boulder, and the rope had somehow slipped off at that point, although we were quite surprised she didn't notice the sudden lightening of her load! After returning with the wayward rope, we finished swapping gear and changing into clean clothes, then headed to Gustav's for a welcome dinner.

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