The First Amendement, Le Petit Cheval IV 5.11a


Washington Pass, Washington, USA

  • Currently 3.0/5
Avg time to climb route: 4-8 hours
Approach time: 1.5-2 hours
Descent time: 1.5-2 hours
Number of pitches: 10
Height of route: 900'
The First Amendment is a newer route and has only seen a handful of ascents. It climbs mostly solid, well-protected cracks but the route remains a little dirty. As the route is climbed more, it will clean up further and likely become a classic in the area. The crux is short, well-protected, has a clean fall,
and is an excellent place for aspiring 5.11a climbers to push themselves at the grade. The route is still quite adventurous and a great choice for someone looking to go a little off the beaten path.

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Route History
The First Amendment was first climbing in September of 2009 when Chris McNamara was visiting the Northwest and assisting Ian Nicholson with this book. For their first climb, they went up the Southwest
Rib together in 26 minutes, and Chris McNamara claimed it was just as good as anything in Tuolumne.
McNamara was feeling adventurous and asked Nicholson, “Are there any faces you have been looking at that haven’t been climbed?” The pair was planning to attempt to link up Liberty Crack and the Thin Red Line, but Nicholson pointed out the large, obvious corner just left of center on the northeast face of Le Petit Cheval. They pulled over, stared up at the face and starting re-racking.

They took the usual approach as for the Spontaneity Arête, but near the base of the ridge they broke left looking for the base of the corner. After traversing a couple hundred yards, they could see the corner and soloed up what is now Pitch 1 to a large ledge beneath the corner.

The corner didn’t look nearly as inviting as it had from the road, but a nice and clean-looking corner to its left did. So the pair launched into the unknown, climbing every solid, continuous crack, which was somewhat dirty because of the lower elevation. At mid-height around Pitch 5, the pair ran into some route finding problems and wondered if they were going to get shut down. After several attempts to climb out to the left, they discovered a nice finger crack just barely hidden and directly above them.

What is now Pitch 6 look devious, but to McNamara’s and Nicholson’s surprise it went without problem. On the 7th and crux pitch, Nicholson led off right up McNamara’s head. The climbing was difficult with very thin protection right off the belay. Ten feet above the belay, Nicholson broke a foot hold. McNamara sat down to take in the slack, sure that Nicholson was about to land directly on him. Instead, Nicholson’s feet landed on either side of McNamara’s body and Nicholson’s butt missed McNamara’s helmet but an inch. Nicholson jumped right back on the pitch and fired it second go. Three more easier pitches led them to the summit ridge where they simul-climbed to the top.

In 2011, Ian Nicholson returned with Andy Dahlen to clean up this route, add bolts to two of the belays and add a bolt to the crux pitch to avoid someone else getting the “ass hat” that McNamara nearly experience two years prior.
Nicholson and McNamara choose the name “The First Amendment” because it tied in with the revolution-named theme in the area, and because Ian was working on a book for McNamara. The writing theme and the First Amendment (The right to freedom of the press) seemed perfect.

You’ll likely have the First Amendment to yourself even on a busy weekend. This is a newer route and has only a handful of ascents. The rock is solid and the route typically takes good protection but is still a little dirty; it is likely to clean up well with time. From just below the start of the Spontaneity Arête there is about 200 yards of bush whacking to get over to the start of the route. Look for the large corner a few hundred feet up the wall near the center of the face that is just left of the start of the route. It will help guide you to the base.

Pitch 1 is a short 5.2 chimney feature that is a little nondescript but the large ledge it leads to and the huge right-trending corner to its right are obvious, so use these features as landmarks. From the large ledge, the route finding becomes more straightforward. The chimney on Pitch 2 is a little dirty. While there have been efforts to clean out loose debris, a few loose chockstones might remain, so climb this section with caution.

Pitch 3 starts off in a corner before moving right near the top with a short section of techy face climbing. Pitch 5 traverses out right and back left on mostly low 5th class climbing. The start of the pitch is the most difficult, with a short 5.7 down climb; make sure to protect your second so they don’t swing if they blow it on this pitch.

Don’t be tempted by the terrain out left on Pitch 6. It looks good but quickly blanks out. Instead traverse to the right to a ramp where a few tricky moves gain a nice finger crack in a corner. Pitch 7 is one of the more difficult pitches on the route. This pitch takes many small cams and smaller and mid-sized nuts. The pitch is a little circuitous, so make sure to manage rope drag appropriately. There are many fun and sometimes surprisingly delicate moves as you traverse between a series of shallow corners and out a couple a small, imposing- looking roofs. The crux 8th pitch comes right off the deck, but good small nuts, small cams and a bolt protect the crux well. Make sure to put in enough protection so that you won’t land on your belayer if you blow it.

After Pitch 8 the climbing eases dramatically, but the route finding challenges aren’t over. Study the topo carefully to make sure you stay on track. There are a few loose blocks on the last two pitches, so use care to make sure you don’t knock them on climbers below.

Instead of leaving your gear at the base of the route and being forced to repeat the unpleasant 200 yard bush whack, leave all your gear at the base of the Spontaneity Arête. Most climbers bring their shoes and use them getting to the base of the route. Approach shoes can also be nice for descending the Spontaneity Arête or the adjacent gully.

Retreat Storm
There are two fixed anchors you can rappel from. There are quite a few trees lower on the face. Retreating would involve leaving some gear; having two ropes would mean leaving less gear. Because the route is relatively new, there are areas of loose rock, something to be mindful of.
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Source: SuperTopo Guidebook Staff
Le Petit Cheval - The First Amendement IV 5.11a - Washington Pass, Washington, USA. Click to Enlarge
The North face of Le Petit Cheval as seen from the road.
Photo: Ian Nicholson
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The North face of Le Petit Cheval as seen from the road.
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