South Buttress, Cutthroat Peak III+ 5.8
Washington Pass, Washington, USA
Avg time to climb route: 3-7 hours
Approach time: 1.5-3 hours
Descent time: 1.5-3 hours
Number of pitches: 12
Height of route: 1,000'
OverviewThe South Buttress is neither the least difficult nor the shortest route on Cutthroat Peak, but because of the rock quality and access, it is easily the most popular. This route is characterized by lots of low 5th class climbing interspersed with short sections of 5.7-5.8 on mostly solid rock. There are a few loose and sandy sections of rock. Take care not to knock anything down on your partner or other climbers below. The whole time you are climbing to what appears to be the summit, you are actually climbing to a sub summit, the “Two Humps” that are actually sub-summits of the true summit. This can be a small mental blow, with a few cruxier sections still to go, but the rock quality only improves and the route finding gets more straightforward.
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Route HistoryThe Northeast Ridge of Black Peak was first climbed by Robert Jackson and Michael Kennedy in September 1973. Nothing else is known about their ascent.
Route StrategyThe Northeast Ridge is not as popular as the South Ridge, but it is not uncommon to have to share the route with another party on a busy weekend. Mid-week, you are likely to have the route to yourself. Passing is easy in many places along the ridge. The ridge is fairly steep, and as long as parties give each other enough distance, the odds of party-inflicted rock fall are slim. Unlike the South Ridge which melts out quickly, the Northeast Ridge holds snow well into July, so plan to bring boots, ice axe and crampons until then. This makes the Northeast ridge feel alpine.
To begin the route, climb up a sandy ramp system (snow until early to mid- season). The route ascends mostly along the ridge crest with a couple sections going onto the eastern face not far from the crest. The climbing on the lower part of the ridge is exposed and the ridge is slender. Don’t get suckered into the ledges too far down on the left (east) side of the ridge; always fight to stay within 20-30 feet of the crest. If you find yourself traversing too casually and getting farther and farther away from the crest, find a place to regain it before you get dead-ended. About half way up the ridge, there is one fairly obvious section where you step around onto the (right) west face. Other than this, ascend the crest or east of the crest.
The rock quality is just okay near the bottom of the ridge and care must be taken to avoid pulling off loose blocks. The Northeast Ridge becomes more solid as you climb higher. Near the top, the ridge steepens and the climbing becomes slightly more sustained 4th and occasional short sections of low 5th on a spectacular ridge. You can bypass this section on the right (west) side while still staying close to the crest. This is followed by easier climbing on the crest. This leads you to a false summit with 3rd class climbing. Amazing views of the surrounding peaks, as well as the 1500 feet drop off on the West Face are sure to get your attention. Leave nothing at the base and carry all your gear up and over the route.
Retreat StormRetreating the northeast ridge is challenging. It is not steep, and there are lots of horns where your rope can get caught, and loose blocks that can be pulled down on you. Rappelling straight down the East Face is also a scary undertaking with lots of loose rock. Retreat involves a lot of down climbing. From high on the route, it might be better to climb up and over and descend the much easier South Ridge.
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