It is easy to complain about a moss-covered rock speckled with old bolt hangers, shrubs, and Hadlock grime, but at least we have a local place to climb. Visible from Highway 20 behind Carl’s Building Supply, Big Rock (or Chimacum Rock) is basically a chossy pile of grey stone that protrudes from the residual forest behind a trailer park. A white heart is spray-painted on the wall’s left face, just one sign of the multiple applications that the rock provides. From painter’s canvas to drinking spot to after school smoke den, the rock has served the greater Chimacum area since, essentially, the beginning of time. For me, it is a noteworthy training ground however, and since it is the first place I truly rock climbed, it abides in a nostalgic stronghold in my heart.
This time of year, evenings are actually just afternoons. Twilight bright enough to illuminate footholds lasts until 10pm. My long day of work ends at 6:30pm, which leaves me with three solid hours of not-so-solid climbing. Mosquitoes, madrona branches, runout second pitches are normal. But disregarding all of this, the rock boasts a generous variety of climbs.
Approaching the rock, the first visible face is the most diverse. Routes range from 5.4 on the far left arête, to 5.10c(?) in the middle, and a challenging 5.9+ on the right hand corner. All the climbs are bolted and, like the rock itself, the protection is sometimes questionable but generally safe. A few old bolts are like pimples, they’re waiting to pop, though some anchors are as shiny as a new toy car. It simply depends.
Contrast and eclecticism are themes. Coming from Port Townsend, I’m already accustomed to this.
I climb three times this week. The rock is two pitches tall, and the top half is less mossy because of the constant sun that hits it. The lower half is shaded by trees, a grove for hidden bugs, sap, refuse.
I lead beyond it, am touched by sunshine while I belay my partner up the first 5.9 pitch. From this hanging belay we can see the trailer park, and beyond it: the Cascades, snow-capped peaks gleaming, forest. Harness ache is a welcome discomfort. It simultaneously signals the fragility and solidity of our stance. Two shiny 3/4” bolts hold us to the wall. There is no way we can know their history. Some of the worst problems are invisible. But we are ERNEST: Equalized, Redundant, No Extension, Solid, Timely. The only way we can fall is if both bolts rupture. I’m confidant that this won’t happen, so I lead the second, more challenging pitch.
The second belay is from a gnarly madrona trunk. The tree’s branches hang over the route, release curls of rusty bark that settle on ledges, crumble beneath flexed fingers and rubbery toes. Scotch broom smell, dense ocean air, the highway buzz, sun-warmed nylon fibers are passing over me and through me. I feel full.
Evening prevents us from climbing more full pitches, but our arms still have juice. We boulder around caves, along railings and bulges on the rock’s backside. Two bolted routes ascend unstable, severely overhanging rock. The ratings must be around 5.11 or 5.12, perfect for a top rope. It gives me something to work up to, a project to complete. This backyard crag, I think, could be a lot worse.
Nostalgia is outweighed by honest appreciation. As I smear my feet on sweet nothings and avoid the juggy holds, the movements, for the first time in a long time, feel completely natural.