By Jan Hersey
Punctuating the western horizon across the Skagit Flats, a rocky dome stands sentinel above Fidalgo Island. For locals, it’s a coming-home beacon; for travelers, a sign they’re nearing Anacortes; for others, the mountain itself is the destination.
“Climbing clubs come here from all over—Canada, Montana, California.” Don Caulfield is talking about the rocky bald face of 1,273-foot Mt. Erie that looms above quaint Lake Erie Grocery on South Fidalgo Island that Caulfield and his wife Gerry have run for 40 years.
Mt. Erie draws local climbers as well, who know it simply as “The Rock,” a year-round playground for Spidermen and women.
Few places offer Erie’s variety of easily accessible, year-round climbing routes and crags (the sport has its own vocabulary), embraced by panoramic, east-to-west postcard views across patchwork fields and island-dotted waters, from Mt. Baker, the Cascade Range, and Mt. Rainier to the Olympic Peninsula.
Some eight, south-facing wall groups distribute climbers across Erie’s face and offer myriad climbing options. Most are considered “easier” grades (depends on your perspective, of course), number-rated up to 5.13a.
“I didn’t start climbing until my family moved to Anacortes, some 20 years ago,” says Jim Thompson, an Anacortes High School videography teacher and co-author of the second edition of a comprehensive book on climbing Mt. Erie. “My family learned to climb on Mt. Erie and really enjoyed those times together. Climbing’s really a great family sport that teaches you about trust, goals, trouble-shooting, focus, and commitment.”
Mt. Erie’s sport, trad (“traditional”), mixed, and top rope climbs bear names like Smashing Pumpkins, False Impressions, Rigor Mortis, and Frogs in Space (discovering and naming new routes appear as entertaining as the sport itself). Additional short cliffs and crags—as well as an extensive network of hiking trails—are tucked amidst the mountain’s madrone, hemlock, and Douglas-fir forest. It’s all part of the 2,800-acre Anacortes Community Forest Lands, managed by the Anacortes Parks Department.
The bald’s primarily diorite rock is highly textured and featured, excellent to climb on, but with few continuous cracks and cliffs of any significant size. Though solid in most places, it can be crumbly in spots. Mountain regulars advise face climbing as your best bet, as cracks tend to be shallow . . . and often end at inopportune times. Note also that parts of the wall may be off limits from early spring into late July if peregrines are found to be nesting.
Contrary to what others might think, Thompson points out that climbers generally aren’t reckless thrill-seekers. Rather, he says, they’re attracted by “the physical, mental, social, and environmental aspects of the sport.”
Access is via the winding, 1.6-mile road from Ray Auld Drive to the top of Mt. Erie; hike to the rock wall from a small parking area across and just up the road from Lake Erie Store. Both are off Anacortes’ Heart Lake Road. Forest lands are open sunrise/first light until dusk or 10 pm, whichever occurs first.
Charting the Rock
There’s no telling how long climbers have scrambled their way up Mt. Erie’s dramatic face. Little is known about those before the 1960s. In 1966, local sixth grade teacher and revered local outdoorsman and mentor, Dallas Kloke, began publishing a series of guides documenting a growing number of routes up the mountain in his backyard.
Deciding to develop Erie’s route potential, in 2005, after five years of field work and writing, Kloke published his exhaustive records on Mt. Erie climbs, Rockin’ on the Rock, a Guide to Mt. Erie Climbing.
“Mt. Erie was Dallas Kloke’s sanctuary . . . He knew every trail, shortcut, and climber’s path. He studied every boulder and cliff . . . For more than 40 years, Dallas volunteered hundreds, if not thousands, of days as Mt. Erie’s most fervent advocate.”
~ Chris Weidner, climber and author
Rockin’ on the Rock, a Guide to Mt. Erie Climbing, Foreword, 2nd edition
In 2013, following Kloke’s untimely death—and with permission of his wife Carolyn and family—Jim Thompson and Aaron Bryant documented subsequent routes mapped by Kloke and others since the 2005 book’s publication. Their comprehensive and readable updated second edition features over 400 routes, color topos, contour maps, and abundant photographs. It’s also available in digital format. Doubtless few small mountains have been shown so much love.
The book is available at Lake Erie Grocery (360-293-2772), a great spot also to pick up some beef jerky, soda, or beer after your day on The Rock.
Cap the day with a cruise into Anacortes to explore the city’s own abundance of eateries, lodging, music, and coastal magic . . . and write your own stories about challenging yourself on The Rock.
For further information:
The American Alpine Institute offers beginning rock climbing classes on Mt. Erie from June to September. Contact: email@example.com