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McLaughlin Canyon (Tonasket)

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Far South Canyon, The 
Little West Canyon 
Main Canyon 
Main Canyon - SE Buttress 
Northern Crag - North Central  
Northern Crag - SE Face 
Northern Crag - SW Buttress 
Parking Lot Rock 
South by SE Face 
South Canyon 
West Wall 

McLaughlin Canyon (Tonasket) 

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Elevation: 1,450'
Location: 48.6499, -119.4402 View Map  Incorrect?
Page Views: 5,685
Administrators: Peter Franzen, Jon Nelson, Kristine Hoffman
Submitted By: applewood on Jun 18, 2013
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BETA PHOTO: McLaughlin Canyon - The Big Picture


McLaughlin Canyon is the jewel of the Okanogan - it doesn't have the best quality rock in the region, but the combination of variety of routes, beautiful scenery (still stunning even after the devastating fire of 2007), and history (site of the 1858 Caribou Trail ambush and skirmish) make for a great all round experience.

It has wonderful opportunities for hiking and climbing, and although much of it is private land with the boundaries on the ground mostly unmarked, it is an easy place to explore and do some great climbing. (Consult the drawn map in the photo gallery here, and also it is recommended to look at the aerial photo of property boundaries on the Okanogan County Assessors map, especially when heading for the Northern Crag.)

The canyon cliffs are gneiss, and over 400' tall in areas. Most of the rock on the north and east sides of the county road is private, although there are small sections of cliff around the trailhead, as well as an extensive section of cliffs to the north which are public. There are also several good bouldering sites on both public and private lands.

All the rock south of the road is public (BLM), and there are many cracks and corners that can be led with gear (and if local legends are to be believed, most have been). Currently there are no fixed top anchors, or bolts on the big Main Canyon walls, and so the climbing is strictly old school trad and without publicly shared beta a true adventure of discovery on them. Even so, it is best to preinspect and clean routes on rappel as the rock tends to be dirty and brittle with plenty of loose debris laying around, and even if the line has been climbed it may have been 30 years ago....

So be careful, especially if you plan to climb ground-up, bring a full rack of cams and nuts, some long slings, a scrub brush, helmet, and trusted partner! Also, be aware that the few remaining snags along the valley floor sometimes fall over, and no matter where you hike or climb here be alert for rattle snakes (especially from early April to late October).

  • Note to all climbers, this is both a rural neighborhood (lots of locals drive through the canyon daily), and a popular public hiking destination, so please do your best to minimize your impact and presence; pack it in-pack it out, and leave no trace. Potential route developers, please respect local etiquette and make any permanent anchors (bolts or top anchors) camouflaged, and of course, don't place permanent anchors on private property. Any comments and input on existing or new routes is much appreciated.

The various areas covered here include (from north to south);

Northern Crag - SE Face - The northernmost SE facing cliff, which is quite impressive. About a two mile (40 minute) hike in from the county road, this area is best approached from the west via the dirt track across private property along the open western flats.

Northern Crag - North Central Slab - This is a smaller low angled cliff in the middle of the Northern Crag area.

Northern Crag - SW Buttress - The west end of the northern crag.

Parking Lot Rock - The small south facing cliff to the north of the main BLM parking lot on the north side of the county road. The left and right ends of the cliff are on private lands.

West Wall - The small west facing cliff on the east side of the county road directly across from the south parking area. Only the first couple of faces and corners of this cliff are on BLM land.

Main Canyon - The deep east facing canyon south of the county road. Includes three subsections; Near Wall (first series of walls on the right as you enter the Main Canyon south of the small parking turnout to the huge Dihedral corner), Main Wall (the huge wall on the right beginning at the Dihedral and continuing to the first large gully), and Far Wall (the large face at the south end of the Main Canyon to the SE Buttress).

Little West Canyon - The very small canyon on the slope west of the Main Canyon, has some short climbable east and west facing rock.

Main Canyon - SE Buttress - The huge S and SE facing wall where the Main Canyon opens up.

South Canyon - The long east facing cliff at the south, shorter and more open, end of the Main Canyon provides some excellent climbing. Not as intimidatingly high as the Main Canyon, and more removed from the county road, includes several subsections as well; Upper West Side, The Mid West, and Lower West Side.

South by SE Face - This is the long south facing cliff that begins at the SE end of the South Canyon and runs east for half a mile or more.

The Far South - A north/south running canyon with a steep east face at the extreme south end of the greater McLaughlin area. Probably about a 2 mile hike in from the Main Canyon parking turn out.

Getting There 

From "The Junction" in Tonasket travel south on Hwy 97 for 4 miles and turn left just before the Janus Bridge. Follow Janus Rd for 0.3 miles, and turn left up McLaughlin Canyon Rd. Park on the right after 1.6 miles (elevation 1450'), and enjoy the gentle mile long trail down the main South Canyon, which was devastated by fire in 2007, but still makes for a beautiful hike.

33 Total Routes

['4 Stars',0],['3 Stars',10],['2 Stars',17],['1 Star',6],['Bomb',0]

Featured Route For McLaughlin Canyon (Tonasket)
One Shot Deal

One Shot Deal 5.10a 6a 18 VI+ E1 5a  WA : Okanogan : ... : The Mid West - North End
One Shot Deal 5.10a *** 90' F(11b)Begin at the two bolt belay on the big ledge above Hot Rats and climb diagonally left at first and then directly up the vertical upper face to the 2 ring anchors below the upper overhangs. This is an excellent route which begins with some rotten rock at the belay ledge but quickly becomes sustained, moderate (8-ish) climbing on mostly solid, positive holds, to the committing crux finish....[more]   Browse More Classics in WA

Photos of McLaughlin Canyon (Tonasket) Slideshow Add Photo
Northern Crag (SW Buttress in the center, SE Face to the right).
Northern Crag (SW Buttress in the center, SE Face ...
McLaughlin Ice - January 2013
McLaughlin Ice - January 2013
McLaughlin Ice in mid January 2013.
McLaughlin Ice in mid January 2013.
View of the South Canyon from the north (Okanokan River in the distance)
View of the South Canyon from the north (Okanokan ...
Roadside sign about Canyon's history (with the East Face of Main Canyon behind).
Roadside sign about Canyon's history (with the Eas...
South Canyon East Face in mid January 2014.
BETA PHOTO: South Canyon East Face in mid January 2014.
McLaughlin Canyon. View north from the Main Canyon (BLM parking just north of the road, private lands beyond that)
McLaughlin Canyon. View north from the Main Canyon...
View of the south end of the SE Buttress from the top of Upper West Side.
View of the south end of the SE Buttress from the ...
View to the SW from the canyon rim.
View to the SW from the canyon rim.
The gorgeous cliffs to the north - currently private and unclimbable, but they would make a great purchase by a coalition of climbers....
The gorgeous cliffs to the north - currently priva...
County road with a vehicle at the south parking pullout, and the cliffs to the North.
BETA PHOTO: County road with a vehicle at the south parking pu...
Parking Lot Rock (north of the road, but on BLM land
Parking Lot Rock (north of the road, but on BLM la...
"The Dihedral", THE classic 5.8 corner crack.
BETA PHOTO: "The Dihedral", THE classic 5.8 corner crack.
Parking Lot Rock
Parking Lot Rock
McLaughlin Canyon Main/South Canyon map.
BETA PHOTO: McLaughlin Canyon Main/South Canyon map.
Comments on McLaughlin Canyon (Tonasket) Add Comment
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By Phil Gleason
4 days ago

I’m afraid that James Moore has done a disservice to the climbing community by posting the above information about McLaughlin Canyon on this web site.

First and foremost Mr. Moore has demonstrated disrespect for an almost 40 year history of “leave no trace” climbing tradition and practice; in other words showing no “respect of local etiquette.” His recording that there is “33 total routes” reflects an ignorance or disregard of over 465 established routes, the majority of which were ground-up routes climbed with stoppers and hexes. And furthermore, Mr. Moore’s action reflects a disinterest in or unawareness of the BLM climbing management of this area (an area of both historical and wildlife importance) which again is “climbing is permitted as long as the climber leaves no trace.”

Further disservice is done by the advice (posted on a different web site) that “camping is possible at all these crags as they are on public lands.” Camping on BLM land in McLaughlin canyon is strongly discouraged. First, once again, the canyon is an important wildlife corridor and human occupation would quickly become a disruption to the animals that use this habitat. Second, only the greenest of the green horns would fail to consider the dangers of camping beneath the hundreds of dead, burnt snags, or the severe wildfire dangers presented by the tall, dry grass. Third, there is no water or sanitation facility and any campers should be prepared to pack their bowel movements home with them (good training for Big Walls, or climbing in the Tetons!). And finally the BLM doesn’t want to be forced to manage camping, and the cluster of problems that can accompany this human behavior, in McLaughlin canyon.

I have heard of the climbing in McLaughlin canyon as having an aura of “secrete” crag, a place that the locals wanted to keep for themselves. The truth of the matter is that the climbing in the canyon has always been open for anyone who was skilled enough and willing to undertake the risks and adventures of climbing on “unknown,” potentially loose and dirty rock in an unpopulated setting. It was the belief of the pioneering climbers and the generation that followed them that more valuable than another developed/published sport climbing venue (where one has to queue-up for routes) was to preserve the peace and quiet, the wildness, and the habitat for a host of mammals, birds and reptiles. There are many places to boulder, numerous small crags to top rope climb, and hundreds of trad routes that were climbed years ago with just natural gear. The only request from the locals is leave no trace, respect the wildlife (from rattlesnake at your feet to eagle nest on the cliff) and enjoy and preserve the feeling that you are going where few humans have gone before.
-Phil Gleason

By Keith Leaman
11 hours ago

I agree, Phil. It seems disingenuous to talk about "leave no trace" and then proceed to blast in 11 bolts on a 90' scrubbed section of rock in a carefully nurtured area that has a 40 year history of no bolts and 465 trad routes. I'm puzzled by James' comment "...if local legends are to be believed...". Does he doubt the voracity of local climbers' accomplishments?

After all, doesn't James know you guys personally? I recall bouldering with him a few times. Yet he seems to distance himself from any acknowledgment regarding local ethos. Isn't it also true that Robbins, Hill, Long and other well known climbers have visited the area? This would seem incongruous to the comments alluding to efforts to keep the place "secret".

Given the archaeological sites and historical significance of "the Canyon", and the fragile nature of the place, I say we lobby the administrators to delete this entire Area from MP's website. Was it too much to ask that at least one climbing area be kept in as pristine condition as possible?

If anyone should write about this area it should be you, Phil.

I say chop the bolts.

By applewood
From: Tonasket, WA
7 hours ago

While I applaud Mr. Gleason's passion for the local climbing history, wildlife and human safety, I believe that much of his concerns are unwarranted. To begin with, yes, there has been a long history of trad climbing in the area - I did several (unrecorded) ground up ascents here more than 20 years ago, but was not overly impressed with the overall quality of the experience. There was also a history of some bolting in the area, only to have the bolts chopped. Alas, apparently the bolting ceased out of fear of reprisal from the founding trad climbers. ‬

Based on information from one of these founding climbers, the South Canyon area that I've recently been developing is not one of the areas where these old "465" trad routes were done - and its obvious the newly bolted routes had never been climbed before. Therefore, Mr. Gleason can rest assured that there are still plenty of opportunities for trad climbing to continue - although for safety sake I'd still recommend pre-inspection of the potential route on rappel due to the nature of the local rock. It would be great if he wants to share some information on the specifics of these routes, which is exactly what this site is for. An unfortunate consequence of not sharing local knowledge is that old lines will eventually be reclimbed, renamed and possibly bolted by people unaware of the history. BLM policy allows route development and permanent anchors with power tools as long as it is done carefully and with minimal visual impact. This is why using camouflaged bolts and slings is recommended, and why it's important for concerned, local climbers to get ahead of the inevitable new wave of route development, and establish standards. That is exactly what I have been attempting with these posts.

Secondly, this is public land and available to the public for a variety of recreational opportunities. I understand the value placed on wildlife in the area, but apparently, the BLM also values recreation here as well. Why else would they construct a hiking trail (following the route of the historic Caribou Trail) through the middle of the canyon? This is a popular area for both local and visiting hikers, and it's mentioned on several websites and at least one printed hiking guide. On any given day, one may also encounter gun enthusiasts sighting in their rifles and doing target practice from the parking area.

I can't agree more with Mr. Gleason when it comes to public safety regarding snags. I first became aware of them when my family and I volunteered to help the BLM with their fire restoration efforts here in the spring of 2008. This is why I cautioned about them in the original intro to the area, and would also suggested camping in the open areas at the south end of the canyon if visitors want to stay overnight. In the original post I clearly advocated a low impact, and pack it in/pack it out policy. One must also keep in mind that the hazard exists for anyone climbing and belaying underneath these snags. The bolted routes on the south end of the canyon are free from hazardous snags. In addition, unless designated otherwise, dispersed camping is allowed on BLM managed lands, but be sure to check with them ahead of time for any restrictions on use of campfires.

McLaughlin Canyon (which is not designated Wilderness) is something of a natural treasure for Okanogan County. And now its able to offer climbers of all skills and interests, both local and visiting, opportunities for wild adventurous, and safe high quality climbing.

In closing, I would like to emphasize that there is plenty of room for climbers, traditional or sport, beginner or expert, local or visiting, in the Okanogan Valley. Respecting and honoring our differences and our resources is part of what makes for a great climbing experience.

Ps. in response to Keith's comment. I actually don't believe we've ever met Keith - hi. Maybe you're getting the wrong impression about the recent developments here. I'm well aware of the trad climbing accomplishments, in fact I've asked Phil in the past to help communicate about them to the larger local climbing community, since they are a bit of a mystery. Where I've been developing isn't an area that was ever climbed in the past. As for chopping bolts on public land - well, a bolt chopping war is the worst thing we all can imagine - especially since the neighboring Burge Mtn. crag was initially developed (and often over bolted - close placements, sometimes beside good cracks...) by the same folks who are adamant about preserving McLaughlin exclusively as a trad site, and it is public domain as well... Also the current local climbing community includes people who enjoy and appreciate the bolted routes at McLaughlin. Times change; shouldn't it be the users who help determine how it's used?

It is good to remember that this is a public destination, and will be when all of us are long gone. People will come and climb and hike and are free to write about it as they want. It already has been written up as a hiking and climbing destination in several books and websites. I don't see this being reversible. In fact, recreational adventure tourism in Okanogan County is just going to increase, as it should. Thats why it's important to do it right.

Pps - 11 bolts in 90' - yeah, maybe it has an extra bolt or two, but why not go climb "One Shot Deal" and see what it's like, see if it is excessive or just safe, and as fun as I thought.... And if it is too safe for you what then? Well, you are always free to bolt a bolder line next to it.