An ‘ecstatic’ climb
Many parts of the Frenchman Coulee area are not accessible by four-wheeler or side by side and have only a few select spots where medical air transport can land.
REBECCA PETTINGILL/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD
Frenchman Coulee is a popular spot for rock climbers and hikers throughout the summer.
MJ Kim navigates the rough basalt pillar of The Feathers on June 4.
Cheyenne Sokkappa smiles down at her friends as she climbs The Feathers on June 4.
The purpose of the annual Frenchman Coulee orientation hike is to familiarize first responders with the area in case they are called there for an emergency. It allows the responders to learn what common areas are called and the best points to be able to access certain areas.
Frenchman Coulee has very rugged terrain, narrow trails, cliffs, and shale, which makes it an area difficult for first responders to navigate when needed.
Staff Writer | June 9, 2022 1:20 AM
QUINCY — Just off the Old Vantage Highway, between the Columbia River and Interstate-90 is Frenchman Coulee. It is a spot popular for rock climbers and hikers throughout the summer months but can be a tricky place to navigate when an injury occurs.
“Frenchman Coulee is a unique area especially to rock climbing in Washington state and attracts a lot of people to the area for camping, hiking and rock climbing which results in a more technical type of rescue calls,” said Grant County Fire District 3 Chief Tony Leibelt.
Because of the rugged terrain, narrow trails, cliffs, and shale, it is an area that makes it difficult for first responders to navigate when needed. Many parts of the area are not accessible by four-wheelers or other ATVs and have only a few select spots where medical air transport can land. Leibelt said there are two designated landing zones plus two nearby parking lots if needed for air transport.
“(The area is) very inaccessible to rescue operations,” Leibelt said.
Two of the most popular climbing spots at Frenchman Coulee are The Feathers and Sunshine Wall. While The Feathers are backed by a parking lot on both sides of the basalt pillars, Sunshine Wall is quite the hike to get to and not as accessible if something goes wrong.
Nearly every year Grant County Fire District 3 hosts an orientation hike through the area to familiarize new or returning first responders from their own and mutual aid departments in case they are called to the area for an emergency. The hike orients the responders on what common areas are called and the best ways to access certain areas.
This year’s hike was held on April 26 and was attended by career firefighters, recruited volunteers of GCFD3 and Royal Slope Fire Rescue. This hike has been held for at least 15 years, Leibelt said.
The first weekend in June, on a day that started gray and rainy, saw dozens of climbers in the Frenchman Coulee area.
Jacob Lira and a group of his friends were among those tackling The Feathers on June 4. He recently relocated to Seattle from San Diego and connected with the group because of their love for the outdoors and staying active, he said.
This was Lira’s first time climbing outdoors this year after spending the winter climbing at indoor walls and snowboarding. He said they came out to The Feathers because it was where one of his friends, who had been to the area before, wanted to go.
“I’m so ecstatic to just climb outdoors for the first time,” said Lira. “It’s totally different from climbing indoors. It's like, you have that kind of safety atmosphere (indoors) but outdoors is like anything could happen.”
While he admits part of that excitement is adrenaline, he recommends people climbing outdoors double think everything. He explained how the safety of a gym puts people at ease, so they tend to take more risks, but without that safety of padding, people climbing outdoors should be extra cautious. He noted that he would recommend people climb indoors first and take the courses before immediately attempting to climb outdoors.
Lira said he felt more comfortable knowing that where they were climbing was so close to the road and parking area if anything were to happen.
With safety steps taken and no accidents during his first foray at The Feathers, Lira said he enjoyed climbing outdoors for the first time and liked the area.
“I’m definitely going to come back here,” said Lira.
Rebecca Pettingill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.