Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Washington Pass Alpine Cragging

Leah and I travelled to the North Cascades for an extended 4th of July climbing trip.  I had hoped to ski more, but lost the negotiations, and we ended up climbing every day except the last one.  The North Cascades were a completely new venue, so we were able to set some strict criteria:

1) Classic routes only
2) No loose/scary/dirty/confusing pitches
3) No long approaches or descents
4) Camping must be comfortable
5) No alpine starts

We stuck to our plan and had a blast.

North Early Winter spire, Northwest corner (III, 5.9)
After a late night drive, we established ourselves in the white pine campground and headed up to the pass.  Parking at snow, we wandered around a bit on the approach.  The route itself was sustained at the grade, and high quality - a perfect way to warm up for the remainder of the week.  I have lost my offwidth skills, so the crux wide crack was more of a battle than it should have been.  We made a hasty descent, returning to the car for a long drive down to Brewster for 4th of July fireworks.
On NEWS, excited to be climbing at Washington Pass!
South Early Winter spire, Direct East buttress (III, 5.10 A0)
Despite a late night of fireworks and general 4th of July celebration, we rallied respectably early for the striking Direct East Buttress of South Early Winter spire.  Snow on the approach forced us to belay a pitch or so of steep snow before simul climbing easy rock to the beginning of the harder climbing.  We swapped leads to the base of the bolt ladders, and I lead through the bolt ladders, yarding liberally on bolts.  The climbing in between the bolts was good, and the position was spectacular.  A couple of easier pitches put us on the summit ridge.  What a spectacular and enjoyable climb.  The scramble to the summit was a little more involved than anticipated, but it went ok, and we were soon enjoying early evening light on the summit.  I ran ahead on the descent and jogged the 2-mile shuttle from the Blue lake trailhead to the highway bend.  After two late nights, I fully enjoyed a relaxed evening of dinner, hanging out with rad Canadians, and heading to bed early.
Moving thought the lower pitches on South Early Winter spire.
High on South Early Winter spire.
North Early Winter spire, West face (III, 5.11a)
We repeated the now-familiar approach, and swapped leads up to the crux finger crack pitch.  I freed the crux pitch, but not without a fight.  The next 5.10 thin crack was also superb, and we found ourselves once again on the summit of NEWS.  I really enjoyed this route.  Another Fred Becky classic!  While on the summit, were pleasantly surprised to watch our new-found Canadian friends top out on the south spire.  The descent went smoothly again, and we were soon relaxing in car camping comfort.
Leah on the third pitch of the West face of NEWS.
Leah following the crux pitch.
Lexington Tower, East face (III, 5.9)
We briefly considered making the legitimately long approach to Chanti Spire, but opted instead for Lexington.  With another reasonable morning start, we were starting up through the easier opening pitches by mid-morning.  Leah lead a high quality 5.8 crack pitch before handing the lead over to me for the crux pitches.  I lead through the crux traverse and layback pitch without incident.  We caught another party at this belay, which gave Leah a chance to lead difficult upper chimney pitches.  We topped out in early evening, and enjoyed yet another deproach down to the Blue lake trailhead.  I was able to snag a ride back to the big bend to round out yet another amazing day of alpine cragging.
Wandering below Liberty Bell on the approach to Lexington tower.  
Leah approaching the roof system on Lexington Tower.
Skiing! (~5,000 v.f.)
Leah was content after four consecutive days of climbing, but was nice enough to let me sneak away for a morning of skiing.  With a limited time budget, I decided to just ski as much of terrain around the pass as possible.   I ended up jogging the shuttle from the big bend to the Blue lake trailhead, where I ran into a party of climbers we had met the day before heading to the West face route on NEWS.  After chatting for a few minutes, I headed out to link a couloir above Blue lake to an unnamed summit west of the Liberty Bell group to the long final descent of the normal Birthday tour.  The approach and ski of the Blue lake couloir went quickly, so I decided to tack on another west facing couloir above Blue lake.  All of the runs were excellent, and with fast conditions I was at the top of the final 2,000' run by late morning.  The final run was enjoyable, with snow all the way back to the car.  ~5,000 v.f. and done in just under 3h ctc.  I didn't know it at the time, but these were the last turns of the season.

Looking down the east couloir above Blue lake.
Re-climbing the west couloir above Blue lake.
About to make the last turns of the year.
The drive back home was long but uneventful.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you got in some skiing!

    Thanks for sharing the trip and photos.