North Face, Burgundy Spire III 5.8+


Washington Pass, Washington, USA

  • Currently 4.0/5
Avg time to climb route: 2.5-6 hours
Approach time: 2.5-5 hours
Descent time: 2.5-5 hours
Number of pitches: 4
Height of route: 800'
The route most climbers ascend on the North Face of Burgundy Spire is a hybrid of the 1953 Northeast Face and the 1958 Northwest Face. After the three day first ascent via what looked to be the shortest and easiest route, Burgundy Spire was widely considered the most technically difficult peak in the Cascades.
The North Face is a mega classic. Itís a fun climb on mostly solid rock with incredible views of the western Cascades. The climbing is very sustained with a fair amount of old school and slightly burly 5.8, making it more suitable for climbers solid at the grade. Combining the North Face of Burgundy with the West Ridge of Paisano Pinnacle makes for an incredible 13 pitch IV 5.9- outing that is highly recommended as one of the best climbs in the area.

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Route History
The Northeast Face was first climbed by Fred Becky, Michael Hane and John Parrot on August 15-17, 1953. The Spires were originally labeled One through Four, but Fred Beckey and his partners gave the spires their current names, Chablis, Pernod, Chianti, and Burgundy, which have stuck and are nearly universally accepted. They are named because of each spireís wine bottle-like appearance.

After several previous reconnaissance missions, Becky, Hane and Parrot hiked in via Cedar Creek over the pass and down the Silver Star glacier to camp on a rocky outcrop alongside the ice. They had come intending to climb Burgundy Spire, but the peak looked extremely difficult on all sides. The North Face looked a little less steep but not much easier than the other sides of the mountain.

Beckey remembers, ďHead on, any route looked like an intense experience, but the profile view suggested possibility.Ē Beckey, Hane and Parrot planned to lay siege to the peak in a multi-day effort. Where today most parties climb up from near Burgundy Col, Beckey and company climbed up a 300-foot snow couloir from the east to gain the big sandy bench, a few pitches up the North Face. They had left a cache of gear here the previous year and started up the steep headwall on loose flakes and discontinuous cracks.

Pitch 1 was difficult and the climbers used many pitons. This took the rest of the day, and the three men fixed their rope to a sliver of granite, rappelled and went back to their camp. After a powerful rainstorm during the night, they ascended back up to the bench the following day and prussiked to their high point.
Hane led the next pitch, a mix of challenging free and aid climbing. After making good progress, the rope stop paying out for several minutes as he battled between two overhangs. He finally pounded in some pitons and came back into view. The next section looked even harder. Parrot led another long and difficult pitch, mainly on aid, to gain the large ledge at two-third height on the north face.

The climbers walked back and forth on the large ledge, looking up at the steep, blank rock above them, wondering where to go next before rappelling down the face and returning for another night in camp.

On the third day, the climbing looked extremely difficult. They started off on direct aid near the eastern ridge before the rock blanked out. They then attempted to lasso a higher block, a crazy idea that it worked to get up the last few feet! They carefully ascended their lassoed block, joyous of the ground gained.

The three climbers were forced to place one bolt to protect a small overhang, and after another hour of climbing up the sharp ridge and a few problems negotiating the gendarmes in the knife edge ridge, the climbers were on top.

One final gendarme that looked difficult on all sides separated them from the top. Running out of options, Parrot attempted another lasso, and again it worked. He carefully ascended the rope. Not sure that it would stay in place, he gently prussiked up the line as the tension increased. He finally made it to safety and drilled another bolt to anchor the rope.

Climbing the final chimney, Parrot placed a bolt with his back on one side and his feet on the other before hoisting himself to the summit. On top, the three climbers couldnít believe the difficulties they had overcome. The route up the North Face of Burgundy Spire had taken six bolts, 30 pitons and three long and difficult days to climb, and it had looked to be its easiest route. For many decades to come, Burgundy Spire would be considered the most technically difficult peak in the Cascades.

Continuing History
In 1958, Donald Anderson and Jim Richardson climbed the Northwest Face starting from Burgundy Col. Their route went up and right across the upper North Face and continued on to the summit via the northwest ridge. Today, climbers typically ascend a blend of both routes, starting at Burgundy Col and ascending the 1958 route to the large sandy ledge, then following the 1953 route up the center of the wall, before traversing right on another large ledge, and finishing again on the west side of the mountain, on the 1958 route.

Along with the West Face of Paisano, the North Face of Burgundy Spire is one of the most popular routes in the Wine Spires. That said, the approach keeps the crowds at bay, and itís not uncommon to have the whole route to yourself. Because of the nature of the route and the small belay ledges, passing is difficult. The best place to pass is Burgundy Ledge.

You canít pull through all the crux moves on gear. The rock is slightly hollow in places and very sustained at 5.8. Be a solid 5.8/5.9 leader.

The route starts with several hundred feet of 4th and low 5th class climbing to gain the large sandy ledge one-third of the way up the wall. The next two pitches start near the center of the wall on sandy 3rd class ledges and are similar in character. Route finding is not overly obvious on either pitch, and itís paramount that you use your best judgment to find the best way. The route follows a series of flakes, many of them hollow sounding, with a few crux budges. These pitches are far from runout, but you canít pull through some of the hardest sections on gear. Many long slings are helpful to protect these pitches without punishing yourself with rope drag.

Atop Pitch 3 on Burgundy Ledge, Beckeyís original route finished on the left, but now nearly all parties finish on the 1958 route to the west. Traverse west, down a short step and across Burgundy Ledge under a large boulder (or over it in early season when the tunnel is covered in snow) to an easy corner system that brings you to another ledge. This is where the route finding gets more challenging. There are three finishes, a 5.10a chimney on the left, a 5.8+ slab with poor protection, or the most common way, to the right. Traverse up and to the right to an easier corner, not easily visible from the ledge. This corner is awesome and you can pull through the hardest sections on gear. Another long pitch takes you to a comfy belay on the ridge.

The final 5.8 offwidth is short and protects well with 4-5Ē cams. Most parties bring one 4Ē piece for this pitch and run it out. Above this, there is mostly easy but exposed 3rd class climbing to the summit. Most parties leave all the gear they donít need at the base of the route, because you return there when you rappel the climb.

Retreat Storm
After a snowstorm, snow lingers on this face for at least one day longer than on other peaks in the range. It stays wet longer, and it is common to see ice in cracks, even days after it has rained. Retreating the route isnít very difficult in a storm, because the rappel route more or less follows the line of ascent.
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Source: SuperTopo Guidebook Staff
Burgundy Spire - North Face III 5.8+ - Washington Pass, Washington, USA. Click to Enlarge
Burgundy Spire North Face
Photo: Ian Nicholson
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