Cauthorn-Wilson, Cutthroat Peak III WI4


Washington Pass, Washington, USA

  • Currently 5.0/5
Avg time to climb route: 3-5 hours
Approach time: 2.5-4 hours
Descent time: 2.5-4 hours
Number of pitches: 7
Height of route: 800'
The Cauthorn-Wilson route is a classic northwest alpine ice route. It consistently comes into shape year after year and is often climbable the first few weeks that Highway 20 is open. Originally the route was called the Northeast Couloir because of the geographical feature the route ascends, but it is now almost universally referred to as the Cauthorn-Wilson after its two first ascentionists. Depending on how fat the ice is on the crux pitch, the routeís difficulty can range from easy WI4 to WI4+ with a little mixed climbing thrown in. Unfortunately, the route is rarely climbed to the summit and most climbers rap once they gain the ridge crest.
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Route History
First climbed by Dan Cauthorn and Tim Wilson in April of 1984. During the 1980s, as winter ascents and ice and mixed routes were gaining popularity, Cauthorn along with other local climbers Kit Lewis and Jim Nelson searched the Cascades for alpine ice and mixed climbs like the ones found above Chamonix in the Alps. Unlike the Alps, which have incredible access and where itís possible to view the conditions from a tram, the Cascades have closed forest service roads and long, snow-covered approaches. Cauthorn said, ďI was looking for the type of climbing that Walter Bonatti did in the Alps, one boot front pointing on ice, the other edging on rock, one arm swinging an ice tool, the other hand jammed in a crack. I always felt like the Washington Pass area had potential for these kind of ice and mixed climbs, and once the highway opened it offered easier access.Ē

In April of 1984, Wilson and Cauthorn drove up to Washington Pass, hoping to climb a new route on the east face of Cutthroat. The pair walked right past the East Face Couloir, figuring it was just an easy snow climb, and attempted a route further to the right, below the North summit of Cutthroat. Wilson led Pitch 1, which proved to be incredibly difficult, and the rest of the route looked even harder. This difficult pitch was climbed in the summer by Steve Risse at 5.10.

They decided to rap. As they were descending, they looked up into the East Face Couloir and saw a long stretch of ice plastered on the right- hand side of a deep corner. Just what they had come looking for. It was getting late so they left their climbing gear at the base of the couloir and skied out to the car.

They returned the next day and were delighted by what they had found. Stemming from rock and ice, slotting in nuts and placing shallow ice screws, it provided exactly the type of climbing they had been searching out. The pair climbed up to the ridge and finished up the ridge to the summit of Cutthroat Peak.

The Cauthorn-Wilson is pretty consistent every spring (April and May are best) and in most years the route is in climbable condition for the first two to three weeks after the highway opens. A good melt freeze cycle helps fatten things up, so watch the freezing levels. But regardless, the morning sunshine ensures at least some ice will form during this time frame.

Itís likely youíll have the route to yourself, but itís not out of the question to have to share this route on a busy weekend, especially once word gets out on local climbing forums that the routes in fat. The route typically has around 400 feet of 35-50 degree snow or Neve that leads to the base of the crux ice pitch. There are occasional but much rarer water ice steps in this lower section. There are however, often some short, lower angle ice steps to get to the base of the actual crux corner. The crux pitch is an ice flow on the right side of a corner. The flow is typically steeper and fatter (with luck) on the lower portion of the pitch and goes around WI4-WI4+ depending on conditions. After about 100 feet, it eases off but tends to remain thin and technical (WI3+or 4) for another 40-60 feet. You can break this into two pitches to save screws.

Above this you typically do four medium length pitches or three long pitches to gain easier ground and the ridge. The upper pitches tend to be easier on mostly steep snow or Neve but often have shorter water ice steps (WI2) interspersed.
If there has been any recent snowfall and there is wind, climbers are often hit with small but scary spindrift avalanches. Be aware of avalanche danger both on the approach and while on route. Warming trends can also be dangerous as there is a lot of snow and ice that could fall down the couloir. You canít see the couloir from the road, and unfortunately the only way to determine if the route is in shape is to hike up to the base and check it out.

Retreat Storm
Many climbers choose to rappel the route to return to their skis or snow shoes using V-threads and occasional rock anchors that tend to be in place where necessary. Bring extra cord to replace old slings left from previous yearsí climbs.
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Source: SuperTopo Guidebook Staff
Cutthroat Peak - Cauthorn-Wilson III WI4 - Washington Pass, Washington, USA. Click to Enlarge
The East face of Cutthroat peak with the obvious Cauthorn-Wilson in the center of the face.
Photo: Steph Abegg
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