Tooth and Claw, Lexington Tower IV 5.12a


Washington Pass, Washington, USA

  • Currently 4.0/5
Avg time to climb route: 5-9 hours
Approach time: 1.5-2.5 hours
Descent time: 1.5-2.5 hours
Number of pitches: 8
Height of route: 800'
If the Passenger is the Astroman of Washington, then Tooth and Claw is the Bachar-Yerian. While Tooth and Claw doesn’t have quite the 80-foot runouts found on the Bachar-Yerian, it is still a bold and difficult route that is not for the faint of heart. Be, at minimum, solid at 5.11+. While the cryptic 5.12a crux is well-protected, as well as most of the most cruxes, there is a fair amount of 5.11- climbing 5 to 10 feet above aging bolts and marginal gear. There are even longer runouts on the 5.10 and easier terrain.
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Route History
This continuously thin and extremely technical route was proudly first climbed from the ground up in 1989 by Washington Pass pioneers Dave Tower and Steve Risse. The first ascent involved several days, multiple attempts, bolting on lead and many long falls. The pair climbed through technical and difficult ground in hopes of finding a stance big enough to place a bolt from. Risse and Tower to climbed large distances between placements to place bolts from micro stances and super thin holds. At one point, Tower asked Risse about a questionable flake that he had just tucked a cam into. Risse pulled on the cam but to his surprise, the flake popped and knocked a tooth out. This, and having to “bite down” and “claw” their way up, led them to the name Tooth and Claw. The following year Bryan Burdo completed the second ascent and the first free ascent of Pitch 4. Sadly, Risse perished along with his friends, Mark Bebie and Tom Waasdorp, while hit by an avalanche caused by falling ice on March 20, 1993, while attempting Slipstream on Snow Dome in the Canadian Rockies.

Risse and Tower basically put up a bad ass route – bring your A game. The bolts are small and old as of this writing but they may be replaced by the time you climb the route.

You can’t pull on gear for many of the cruxes except Pitch 6, but most of the hardest moves are well-protected. There are heaps of easier 5.10 climbing where you’re 5-15ff above aging bolts and gear. While the 5.12a crux isn’t very long and is fairly well-protected, it is a cryptic, featureless, near vertical, extremely technical slab, and a proud red-point or onsite for almost anyone.

Climbers debate which has the harder crux, the Passenger or Tooth and Claw. They might be rated the same but the Passenger’s 5.12 crux actually has holds and is really just a short V5ish boulder problem and Tooth and Claw’s crux slab is freaking hard. In reality, unless you’re an expert slab climber who doesn’t like steep climbing on small holds, Tooth and Claw will feel much harder. Tooth and Claw is also way spicier with lots of mentally challenging climbing and far more devious cruxes.

After the relativity easy Pitch 1, the route gets burly in a hurry. Pitch 2 is one of the most hair-raising pitches of the route with a fair bit of 5.11a climbing ten or more feet above bolts. Pitch 3 has even bigger run-outs on 5.10 terrain. Pitch 4 is fantastic and isn’t too scary. The crux on Pitch 6 is well-protected, but difficult to figure out – pure ultra technical slab climbing. One cool thing about this route is while the anchors are mostly old 1⁄4” bolts, most belays have relatively good stances. Many climbers choose to rappel after Pitch 6 where the climbing eases considerably. While most parties don’t top out on the summit of Lexington from this side, you should at least top out the wall.

While it is sad to not top out on a mountain, this route is the exception. The summit is less than 100 feet away, but the rock is horrible. If you really want to top out, you can hike around but most will call it good and descend. Expect to carry all you gear up and over the route. Try to go as light as possible to avoid having to chimney with too much gear. The grade and the reputation keep the crowds away, and there are only a handful of ascents every year.

Retreat Storm
Rap the route at anytime using two ropes on fixed anchors. The route tends to dry out quickly after a storm, dries early in the season and is climbable until late in the fall.
Everything You Need to Know About Washington Pass
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Source: SuperTopo Guidebook Staff Last update: September 15, 2012
Lexington Tower - Tooth and Claw IV 5.12a - Washington Pass, Washington, USA. Click to Enlarge
Lexington Tower when viewed from the East
Photo: Ian Nicholson
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