Blue’s Buttress, Poster Peak III+ 5.7
Avg time to climb route: 3-6 hours
Approach time: 1.5-2.5 hours
Descent time: 1.5-2.5 hours
Number of pitches: 11
Height of route: 800'
OverviewThis is a less known, long, and moderate climb that is becoming a classic. It’s a good alternative on a busy weekend if other moderates like the South Aręte are crowded.
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Route HistoryLarry Goldie and Blue Bradley made the first ascent in the summer of 2003. Both are long-time local climbers and Goldie is part owner of the North Cascades Mountain Guides. In the winter, the peak has a striking buttress that drops right down from the summit and divides the face into shadow and light. Even though Methow Valley locals had been skiing and climbing past this peak for years, it took Goldie’s famous poster photo for everyone to realize what striking peak and climb it was.
On the first ascent, Goldie and Bradley found fun, moderate climbing with only a bit of looseness here and there. After their ascent, Goldie mentioned it to a few friends and found out that Steve House had soloed the route just a few days later, thinking he had made the first ascent. It turns out the pair had accidently scooped their friend.
Scott Johnston proposed the name Blue’s Buttress to commemorate Blue’s first new route and the name stuck. Later that same summer, House soloed the right-hand and northern of the two buttresses and gave it a rating of 5.9. While the crux is reportedly short, the climbing is apparently much looser than on Blue’s Buttress.
StrategyAlthough increasing in popularity, crowds are unlikely and even on a busy weekend, you should have the whole route to yourself. This makes Blue’s Buttress a good alternative to other moderate routes in the area like the South Aręte or the Beckey Route. While the climbing is pretty straightforward and quite moderate, don’t underestimate the size of Blue’s Buttress. It will take most parties around 50 percent longer to climb Blue’s Buttress than it will take them to climb the South Aręte. The route is usually climbed in 11 or 12 pitches, but it is not uncommon for parties to break that into 14 to 17 pitches to reduce rope drag.
The lower half has large portions of 3rd and 4th class interspersed with short sections of low 5th class, and the route can go quickly for those experienced in that type of terrain. Because Blue’s Buttress is a newer route, there is also a fair bit of loose rock. Most rocks you knocked down would fall to the sides of the ridge, but there are sections were loose rock that might fall down the broader portions of the ridge, so be careful of people in your group and parties around you. Most of the loose rock comes from scree-covered ledges rather than “kitty litter granite,” and the rock throughout this route is of average Washington Pass quality for a relatively new route. It will likely continue to clean up as Blue’s Buttress is climbed more. On pitches 8-10, the rock quality is a little poorer and extra care must be taken.
Early season (often through mid-June) there is still a lot of snow on the route, and many climbers attempt the whole route in their mountaineering boots. All the cruxes are short. Pitch 6 might sport the most difficult moves on the route, but they are short and well-protected. While you can pull through the hardest moves on gear, there are a few smaller runouts in the 5.6 and easier range, especially on Pitches 8, 9 and 10. This is especially true for Pitch 9, which has the longest mandatory runouts on slightly sub-par rock. In early season, depending on snow conditions, an ice axe and crampons could be considered for the steep section entering Poster Peak bowl down the gully. The descent is long enough and steep enough to warrant everyone bringing their boots or approach shoes up and over the route.
Retreat StormThere are no fixed anchors on this route. There is an abundance of trees and horns from which to rappel and many climbers could down climb huge portions of this route. Rappelling the route from up high would be a bit of an undertaking, as the buttress isn’t very steep and there is a bunch of loose rock on many of the ledges.
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