North Cascades - American Alpine Institute Class - July 2007

South Early Winter Spire - 7,807 ft

Trip theme: Bugs or "Hey this rock climbing is a ton of fun!"


Looking up at the Liberty Bell group from the highway. South Early Winter Spire is to the far left and Liberty Bell is to the far right Today we got up and drove to the trailhead of our objective for the day, South Early Winters Spire. This would be my first technical alpine rock climb, my first multi-pitch climb, and my first trad climb. Lots of firsts. Right out of the car the mosquitoes start hitting you and never let up. The approach hike in is about 1,800 ft of elevation gain but isn't too terribly bad as it is mostly on good trail. We had met up with another private group from AAI at Fun Rock the previous day and they were going to climb the same route as us. That route being the South ArÍte route rated at a 5.4. We got to the beginning of the route and I sized it up. Write ups on the Internet had talked about the exposure on this and the rock we were to climb tomorrow. Standing there, it didn't look bad at all. Either that or I was successfully controlling my sensitivity to exposure. I'd like to think it was the later but I think it was a little of both, maybe more of the first (especially since my trip to the Gunks after I got home where it felt like we really had exposure). Exposure is a funny thing. You can fall 10 feet and kill yourself the same as if you fell 1,000 ft. But when you're staring out into hundred's of feet of open air versus a ledge 20 ft below you, it sure feels like its more dangerous. We left our boots and trekking poles at the base of the climb, donned our rock climbing shoes and set off up the route. Oddly enough the hardest move on the whole entire route was the first move which is what the guide book says about this route. I felt really good as we moved up the first pitch. It was all pretty easy climbing with bomber holds everywhere and super grippy granite for your shoes. We got up the first belay station in short order and switched over to our second pitch. The second pitch was a little more interesting as there was a chimney move that you had to make to get up to the next belay station. It was a little wide and made more difficult by wearing a pack, but didn't prove to be that hard of an obstacle. We had lots of time to take pictures and what not as Mat seemed to be putting in an inordinate amount of protection on the route. I guess it gave us practice pulling it out and preparing the rack to give it back to him. The climbing was pretty straight forward and easy most of the way and was really a great deal of fun. Certainly more fun than I was expecting to have on the rock climbing portion of this trip. In fact if I had done the whole trip as a private trip I was considering taking the rock portion out entirely. Now that we were on the rock I was having much more fun that I anticipated. How convenient! After a few pitches we stopped belaying and simul-climbed on a short rope instead. Basically what this means is that we had no protection, but the terrain was such that if someone fell, since we were close together a fall would be quickly caught by the other two. Had I been alone I would have felt comfortable without a rope at all, albeit I may have moved a little slower. Eventually we got to what I think is the crux of the route. There is an exposed slab that you have to traverse across to the other side. The fall seems like it should only be about 20-30 ft but you could tell that many people in the area were freaked out about the move. There was a group of Outward Bound folks there and they were taking an inordinate amount of time to get across. They had gone so far as to fix a rope all the way across the traverse so there was no risk of falling. Nevertheless we had to wait while one guy in particular crawled across the traverse. Finally it was our turn and Mat clipped the rope into a carabiner halfway across. When it was my turn I found the move to be very easy. In fact I felt like the protection was just in the way. With the protection there a fall would cause you to pendulum swing against the rock instead of falling, but as soon as you got halfway and pulled it out you had no protection at all any way. I felt like when you stood there and pulled out the protection there was a greater risk of falling than if you had just kept two hands on the rock the whole time without any protection whatsoever. Mat disagreed with a snort. After the traverse it was some exposed scrambling that gained the summit. Of course we had to climb the tallest boulder to proclaim ourselves at the actual summit. We somehow spent 3 hours climbing but it seemed like it was much quicker than that. The weather held out nicely as it was cool enough to need a light layer to stay warm which then worked wonders against the mosquitoes that seemed to linger even at the summit. We spent a nice time on the summit and got a good look at our target for tomorrow, Liberty Bell. I had made many first's today and most importantly I had a clean ascent (no falls).

Going down was a breeze. I was feeling confident and strong, always a good combination for me in the mountains. We simul-climbed all the way down to the traverse. I was having some trouble getting the carabiner out of the bolt on the traverse and Mat was getting nervous about my stance. See, this is why the protection was just in the darn way Mat! Actually my stance was rock solid the whole time and Mat was fretting about nothing. A theme that I found would reoccur, it seems Mat turns into a nervous nilly sometimes. I guess when you're guiding you get all kinds of whacky people, but don't get all nervous on me unless I've given you some reason to do so. Past the traverse we zipped down to the first rappel station. This is where things started to slow down. One of the questions I had asked Mat was how we would ensure that we wouldn't rappel off the end of the rope. He assured me that this wouldn't be a problem. So wouldn't you know it as I get near the end of the first rope, the guy below me says "Watch out that you don't rap off the end of the rope". It seems we had about 5 feet of rope to spare on the ledge we were on. Good thing that guy was there to tell me about it. Now we had caught up the Outward Bound group. Holy cow, they were going down when we were going up. We sat at the rappel point for at least 30 minutes waiting for them to clear out of the way. Finally it was our turn and we finished rappelling down the rest of the route. The backs of both of my heels had been bothering me for quite some time now and I was curious to see what they looked like. Rock shoes fit very tight and this was the first time I had worn mine all day long and on this length of climbing. As I feared I had ripped the skin off of both heels. My fingers on the other hand felt pretty good. I had been having trouble with the tendons/pullies on the middle finger of my right hand. But I had taped it up prior to starting the day and it seemed to be holding up OK. My heels though were not. We would have to move to Plan B for the next day. Felt OK in the boots though on the hike back down to the trailhead.

Tonight Mat needed to make a phone call to straighten out some billing issues he had on his credit cards. So we headed down into Winthrop for dinner at the local brewpub, the originally named Winthrop Brewing Co. The beer here was OK, the fish and chips were OK (but gave me horrible gas), but the jalapeno poppers were the best I have ever had anywhere. Man they were good. We finished up the trip to town with a little ice cream and a cell phone call to straighten out Mat's financial difficulties. It only took until the end of the 4th day for Mat to get sick and tired of my constant questions and more pointedly, my questioning of his decision making. Despite my telling him earlier that my questions were all inquisitive in nature and not personal, he couldn't separate it. Guess he's not used to guiding engineers.
Looking back at Washington Pass on the approach hike
You would have thought the bugs would have cleared out around here. Not.
South Early Winter Spire. We climbed the South ArÍte route which is on the far right
The next valley to the east
The beginning of the route
It's hard to believe, but this was the toughest move of the day
The route up from our first belay station
Amazing how there is still snow this low and this late into July
Getting ready to go up into the small chimney area
Joel seems to be enjoying himself, if not looking overly stylish
Looking back down the route from above the chimney
Going through these channels greatly reduced the exposure
This move was all exposure, but frankly was quite easy. The protection was just in the way
Mark on top of South Early Winter Spire (7,807 ft) via the South ArÍte route (5.4) on 7/16/07
Joel on top of South Early Winter Spire
Mat on top of South Early Winter Spire
The other AAI group on the part of the summit
Looking back down at some of the route. Looks more impressive from up here
Way down there is the road we drove in on
Looking over at Liberty Bell. Our objective for tomorrow
Relaxing while waiting for serious rappelling delays
Looking out across the North Cascades
My hands got more than a little dirty on rappel
Hey, do you think the bugs are gone? No chance
My new tarp tent set up at our bug free site at Early Winter campground


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