West Face, North Early Winters Spire III 5.11a or 5.10a C1
Washington Pass, Washington, USA
Avg time to climb route: 1-3 hours
Approach time: 1.5-3 hours
Descent time: 1.5-3 hours
Number of pitches: 6
Height of route: 300'
OverviewOne of the best climbs at Washington Pass, the West Face of North Early Winters Spire is worth doing for the pure of quality of movement on clean, solid granite. This is a great route for climbers attempting to break into the 5.11a grade or for 5.10a climbers to practice basic aid skills in a wild alpine setting. The first two pitches, which are on slightly grainy granite, are shared with the Northwest Corner. However, above Pitch 2 the rock quality is superb.
The West Face and the Northwest Corner are two of the more popular routes in the area and because they share the first couple pitches you can run into traffic problems on busy weekend. Despite the Northwest Cornerís and the West Faceís close proximity, each route has a distinctly different character Ė The Northwest Corner is a thuggish fight, while the West Face is a technical dance that favors balance over brawn.
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Route HistoryThe West Face was first climbed by Fred Beckey and Dave Beckstaed in June of 1965. Highway 20 was in early construction, and the pair was forced to hike 16 miles up the Early Winters Creek trail. Beckey eyed the line and enlisted Becksead to help him. Once on the West Face, they found the climbing sustained and difficult, and resorted to aid on most of the middle and upper sections. When Beckey and Beckstaed first climbed the West Face, the route was very dirty and they had to vigorously clean out cracks for gear and hand holds. Itís hard to believe how dirty the route could have once been with how clean the West Face is now, pearly white granite buffed from thousands of ascents. During the first ascent Fred Becky and Dave Beckstead put in what is now a protection bolt on Pitch 4 for a short pendulum. After the first ascent, West Face saw few repeats. It wasnít until the early 1980s that the route began to see more traffic. With greater use, the route cleaned up, and Washington hard men Steve Risse and Dave Tower made the first frees ascent in July of 1985.
StrategyNearly as popular as the Northwest Corner, the West Face is one of the most climbed 5.11a routes in Washington State.
There are three different ways to climb the West Faceóas a mostly fun and well- protected 5.9-5.10a climb with just one C1 pitch, as a mid-5.10 route with just 10 feet of AO climbing, or as an all free 5.11a route with a short crux, a clean fall and great gear. The first two pitches are slightly gravely, but above the big ledge, the route becomes one of the cleanest and most solid at Washington Pass.
You can link the first two pitches if you mind your rope drag. Pitch 3 is short and looks more awkward and difficult than it is. Pitch 4, mostly sustained 5.9 climbing, also looks harder than it is, but almost magically, there is always a good hand hold or solid jam right when you need it. You can link Pitches 3 and 4 if you have a 60m rope and mind the rope drag.
Pitch 5, the most difficult pitch, has a short crux, a clean fall, and an abundance of solid protection. This is a great place to push yourself at the grade. You can easily pull on gear through the crux section and this pitch sees its fair share of hang dogging. The key to the 5.11a crux is conserving your energy by not using too much gear. The crux involves straightforward, powerful finger locks. Place gear at waist level to avoid taking all the best finger locks for your hands. Pitch 6 offers excellent 5.10 climbing that quickly eases as the angle lessens.
Passing other parties is difficult, can only be done at belay stations, and even then belay stations are small. The rappel gully is near the base, so leave approach shoes and extra gear at the bottom. Other than Pitch 1, the route dries out early in the season and quickly after a storm. If you plan to full-on aid the crux pitch, consider bringing bring two to three sets of finger-sized cams and two sets of small to medium sized nuts
Retreat StormRappel the first two pitches via trees with one 60m rope. The top of Pitch 3 occasionally has fixed slings. Because of the traversing on Pitch 4, retreat becomes more difficult, but you could still rappel from there. Two 60m ropes would prove quite useful. Above Pitch 4 there are no fixed anchors and you must leave gear. You leave less gear with two ropes.
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