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Better home for a climber: SF Bay or Seattle?
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Jun 26, 2012
I have the opportunity to start my next job in either the SF Bay area or in Seattle, and I'm curious what folks think will be the better location for a climber. I've loved having options for great sport, trad, and ice in NH the last year or two, and I would like to continue to grow as a well-rounded climber, with an emphasis on alpine.

What are everyone's thoughts on these two options as far as climbing goes? While I've done some reading myself, I haven't done any climbing in the Sierras or the Cascades, so any and all comments are welcome!

I'm cross-posting this in both the Northern CA and PNW forums for balanced feedback.

- Kevin
Kevin D.
From Palo Alto, CA
Joined Jun 1, 2012
85 points
Jun 26, 2012
If your emphasis is alpine, as in snow/ice/mixed type routes, Seattle, no question. For pure rock, Bay area.

Both are fun towns with lots of culture and a laid back vibe. Both have horrendous traffic. Seattle is more affordable for housing.

Take a gander at John Scurlock's photos of the cascades taken from his plane.

It really is the American Alps.
Will S
From Joshua Tree
Joined Nov 15, 2006
1,013 points
Jun 26, 2012
Seattle has some pretty high quality climbing within 30 minutes and and hour and a half away, notably Little Si and Index which house both gear and sport cragging routes.

Slightly further away, Hwy 20 gives access to the north cascades for which there is easily a lifetime of climbing to be done by an enthused alpinist. It's about 3.5 hours to reach Washington Pass which has excellent alpine rock climbing.

Also at about 3 hours away is Leavenworth and the Enchantments that offer pretty much any variety of climbing you could want in a beautiful environment.

Not having climbed around SF Bay I can't say anything for that, but an active climber will hardly be at loss for climbing mediums in Seattle.

Now, if your options were Boulder or Seattle that'd be pretty obvious.
Joined May 5, 2009
460 points
Jun 26, 2012
SF Bay: Local rock is mostly choss and not worth going to more than once. If you can handle 3-4 hour drives on the weekends it's great. caughtinside
From Oakland CA
Joined Nov 21, 2006
1,415 points
Jun 27, 2012
If alpine is your priority then the choice should be Seattle hands down. If rock is your priority then SF.

Washington has arguably the best alpine climbing in the lower 48. Your ice season in Washington will not be as good as New Hampshires but better than California's. Plus you can always drive to Canada.

I'm from Seattle and live in Boston now, I think Washington has more good climbing days per year than New England. Provided you are willing to drive to the east side of the mountains in the spring and fall. Summers the weather is great, no humidity, you can climb amazing alpine rock routes every weekend withing 2-3 hours from the city.

In winter it snows and rains a lot but there are usually a couple of good weekends per year were you can climb real iced/mixed alpine routes that have a big range feel, in the lower 48 I think this is a unique experience.
From Maynard, MA
Joined Nov 2, 2007
200 points
Jul 13, 2012
caughtinside had a good point. I've lived and climbed in both places. In the SF area there's nothing of substance closer than Yosemite, whereas in Seattle you've got great cragging within a short drive in numerous directions. The problem in Seattle is that you'll likely only be cragging for a relatively short, if comfortable, summer season. Wet winters limit rock climbing, and those winters are long and dreary. Laingdon Schmitt
From Port Townsend, WA
Joined Apr 22, 2011
0 points
Jul 13, 2012
Seattle! Huge indoor gyms all over, Vantage, North Bend, Gold Bar, Index, Leavenworth, Smith, Squamish, Cascades, the list goes on. I lived there for 2 years and absolutely loved it. I'll be back someday.

I've been to SF, not really for climbing but I looked around. I'd be happier in the PNW.
Gary N
From Durango, CO
Joined Jul 26, 2010
510 points
Jul 13, 2012
I went through a similar debate last year, and ended up choosing Seattle. I only spent a few days in SF, but I liked the feel of Seattle better.

There is definitely a ton of great climbing within 3 hours or less for a lot of the year, and the stuff close by is cool enough, but a short season. It's an easy weekend drive to Squamish which is hard to beat.

A lot of the reason I chose Seattle was because I felt like it was easy to both live in the city and get away. I live in a central neighborhood where I can bike or walk everywhere, and usually only drive on the weekends to get out of town. I can park my car for free a couple blocks away and be out of the city in 15 minutes, if there is no traffic...
dylanfllr dylandylandylananddylan
Joined Feb 14, 2012
0 points
Jul 29, 2012
Thanks for all the replies.

It seems like SF has an advantage for rock, given the really long season and lack of precipitation, if I'm willing to drive 4+ hours every weekend, to Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, or further south for more alpine rock routes in the Sierras. On the other hand, alpine and water ice is somewhat limited to a couple locations for water ice cragging, and shorter ice sections on non-summer alpine routes due to the lack of precipitation.

On the other hand, Seattle has more decent quality rock climbing close by, but the rock season is shorter and sees far more rainy days, even for some of the less rainy locations on the east side of things. I was thinking that this would be made up for by a longer alpine snow/ice season... but it also sounds like conditions aren't too favorable that often.

Does this sound like an accurate summary?

What does the snow/ice alpine season look like in the PNW and those objectives within a reasonable distance to Seattle? What about approaches--I've also been told that the approaches from the car are pretty long.

[edit] Also on the topic of weather, given the various options, on the east and west sides of the cascades, as well as Squamish and Smith Rock, how often is it the case that you can't find even a single dry location to climb? i.e., do all these disparate locations tend to follow the same weather patterns, so rainy one place --> rainy everywhere, or is it more varied?

Thanks again for any thoughts!
Kevin D.
From Palo Alto, CA
Joined Jun 1, 2012
85 points
Jul 29, 2012
I'm not too into ice climbing, but my friends are. It seems like the ice in WA isn't in all too often at the places that are really accessible. There are a number of longer alpine routes though that have ice in every winter. Also you can drive a few hours north into BC to get some ice if you're really jonesin.

I lived in LA for a couple years and have been back in WA for about a year now, through one full winter. I didn't climb a whole lot in WA this winter, a day here and there. Leavenworth is pretty reliable weather wise for rock climbing once the snow melts. I think Squamish has a similar weather pattern to places like index, or the sport crags at exit 32 and 38, but there are times when it is crappy here and totally blue-bird there, and visa versa. I have a lot of friends who also make it down to Smith Rock on the weekends all throughout the winter. Vantage is also usually nice in the winter time, though cold. In summary, I feel like there are a lot of crags to choose from if you want to get out on most weekends; I can only remember 3 or 4 weekends this winter where I couldn't go out anywhere because of weather.

One of my buddies that I used to climb a lot with in LA moved to SF the same time I moved back to WA. There are a few crags here and there in SF, but they are really limited to hard grades and not too much variety. The Valley would be your local crag if you lived in SF I would imagine, which wouldn't be too shabby.
Aaron O
From Seattle, WA
Joined Apr 14, 2011
0 points
Jul 31, 2012
I have lived mostly in Seattle and breifly Oregon. As long as you are willing to drive to east of the mountains (Leavenowrth 2.5 hrs, Tietion 2.5 hrs, Vantage 2.25 hrs, Mazama 3.5 hrs) then you will have no problem finding a sunny place to climb every weekend from mid-April through the end of September.

Smith Rock in central Oregon is amazing! So many classic routes. It is about 6 hrs away from Seattle and a great place to go before the weather clears up and once it start getting bad again in Washigton. It is very exposed and open to the sun so even when it is only 65 it is very comfortable. The only problem is in July and August it can be anywhere between 90 to 100+ and walls become so hot that it is very difficult to hold onto anything.

Squamish can be hit or miss with the weather. Even in July and August when the weather is typically best. However, if you can find a clear weekend, it has some of the best bouldeing in Norrh America and lots of muiltipitch trad climbing. Squamish is about 4 hrs from Seattle depending on how long it takes to get across the border.
Jason McWalter
From Seattle, WA
Joined May 14, 2012
620 points

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