Lost and Found: Lost Ledge Brings Quality Bouldering to Bellingham, WA

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Gabe Cisneros compressing his way up Snaked (V8). 

Gabe Cisneros compressing his way up Snaked (V8). 

The Bellingham area of Washington state is known as a hub for all types of outdoor recreation, including mountain biking, hiking, paddling, and winter sports. However, local climbers have long felt the area's dearth of quality rock. That changed this May, when the Access Fund, in conjuncture with the Washington Climbers Coalition (WCC) and local climbing advocates, announced the opening of Lost Ledge, a new sandstone bouldering area in Larrabee State Park.

So far, Lost Ledge has between 110-120 established problems with the potential for many more to be developed. “There are a few other climbing areas [nearby] but this is by far the most concentrated climbing Bellingham has to offer,” said Art Lim, a local climbing advocate who was one of the first to become involved in the creation of the area. The majority of the climbs are moderate, ranging from V3-V7, but more difficult test pieces can be found here as well. Among those Lim listed The Conjuring (V9), which climbs an aesthetic arête, and Kill Screen (V11), a power problem that starts on crack underclings and moves up to an overhanging jug, as two of his favorites.

These two climbs encapsulate another huge draw of Lost Ledge—the varied nature of the problems. When explaining the style, Gabe Cisneros, another developer who is also a WCC board member and a geologist, listed “crimps, slopers, pinches, pockets, and amoeba-shaped holds on overhanging caves to slabs” as common to the area. “The climbing has so much variety, from techy to thuggy, and figuring out the beta is my favorite aspect of the area,” Cisneros said. In his opinion, Aeolian (V6) best represents this. It begins with a sit start, then moves up to a sloper with tricky footwork, then onto a pinch, a pocket, a crimp, a sloping ledge, and, finally, a hold at the lip. “It feels hard at first but is not so bad once you figure out the beta,” he said.

Trip Brannen sticking the sloping ledge on Aeolian (V6). 

Trip Brannen sticking the sloping ledge on Aeolian (V6). 

The problems described by Lim and Cisneros paint a picture of incredible diversity and quality of climbing. This quality, especially since these are sandstone boulders, also sets Lost Ledge apart from other areas in Bellingham, as well as in the broader Pacific Northwest area. “Sandstone climbing in our state is rare,” said Cisneros.

Truc Allen, a professional photographer and also one of the local developers, said, “Unlike the quality found in the Southeastern part of the US, sandstone in the Northwest usually ranges from sandy, to chossy, to totally unclimbable.” Hailing from the Southeast, Allen says he has “spent most of my climbing career chasing sandstone blocks around the country.” At Lost Ledge, Allen feels he has found problems similar to the quality blocs in his home region, which he described as, “a full value sandstone bouldering experience.”

Volunteers take a break from trail work at Lost Ledge to pose for a photo. 

Volunteers take a break from trail work at Lost Ledge to pose for a photo. 

In Allen’s opinion, the quality of the climbing at Lost Ledge is not the most distinct feature of the area though. “For me the most unique part of it is the community minded approach [we took] to developing the area,” he said, “We chose to let everyone in on the initial rush of developing and have always been against the secret crag mentality.” Simultaneously though the developers made the decision to involve Larrabee State Park in ensuring that the area was developed sustainably before putting anything about it on the internet. “We did take anyone that was interested in climbing there,” Cisneros said, “but would explain our policy of keeping directions offline until we have a park-approved trail in place.”

To create this trail the developers of Lost Ledge partnered with the Access Fund (AF) and WCC. They began organizing adopt-a-crag events each summer, where volunteers would clean up litter and graffiti within park boundaries. When public meetings were held by Larrabee State Park to discuss the creation of new trails, they attended. Said Joe Sambataro, Access Fund’s Northwest regional director, “Gabe, Art, and representatives of WCC and AF participated to ensure that trail work and climbing activities were consistent with park plans and protection of natural and cultural resources.”

These years of work culminated on May 18, when the Access Fund Jeep Conservation Team West wrapped up three weeks of trail work within Larrabee State Park. During this period 35 volunteers came out to help create a sustainable access path to the Lost Ledge boulders. Carolyn Prescott is part of the team who organized this work, and was particularly excited about this project because of its proactive, as opposed to reactive, nature. “At Lost Ledge we had the unique and valuable opportunity to work closely with the developers in advance of the area being publicized,” she said, which allowed them to mitigate damage before it occurred.

Jennifer Lee working on Master Load (V4). 

Jennifer Lee working on Master Load (V4). 

The way the developers approached the project has created good relationships with land managers, which is valuable as they hope to expend access to other boulders within the park. To achieve this, care was taken to create good rapport from the get-go, which has fostered a supportive relationship between the relevant interest groups. Allen summed this up, saying, “We've all worked together in cooperation towards a common goal beyond just developing cool bouldering problems, but to exemplify the relationship between climbers and land managers."

Now that this trail is in place, the developers of Lost Ledge are excited to share the area with the larger climbing community. Although no guidebook or Mountain Project page exists yet, they have begun spreading word about the area through the AF and WCC websites. As of yet, these beautiful sandstone boulders located high in the Chuckanut Mountains and surrounded by quintessential Pacific Northwest forest aren’t frequently climbed, but, says Cisneros, “Hopefully with the opening of this trail, that will change.”