Direct East Buttress, South Early Winters Spire IV 5.11a or 5.10a C0
Avg time to climb route: 4-7 hours
Approach time: 1.5-2.5 hours
Descent time: 1.5-2.5 hours
Number of pitches: 10
Height of route: 1,100'
OverviewThe Direct East Buttress (DEB) is a must- do route at Washington Pass. Park at the hairpin and look up at this amazing feature that begs to be climbed. John Conner was once quuted in Climbing Magazine, “This route is a crest surfing array of Alpine granite, with steep face, slab, finger, hand, and wide cracks.”
Instead of tackling a specific crack system like most routes in the area, the first ascensionists chose to follow the striking, slender East Buttress itself, giving the route a very exposed feel. Even the last, 3rd class pitch to the summit walks across a knife edged ridge with over 1,000 feet of exposure on either side. Absolutely incredible! The bolt ladders and diverse and extremely exposed nature of the climbing make this route a unique experience. Fred Beckey included the route in his book, Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite North American Climbs.
AKA: The Beckey-Leen
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Route HistoryIt was first climbed in July 1968 by Beckey and Doug Leen. The pair scoped the route the year before, hiking to the toe of the buttress after climbing the first ascent of the Serpentine Crack on Liberty Bell. The first ascent required 26 bolts and 68 pitons. While now typically climbed in one day, at the time the route’s three-day first ascent push was very impressive. They started in June of 1968 when Beckey and Leen climbed several pitches up the buttress and placed the first of what proved to be many bolts. They left one rope hanging over the hardest and longest pitch (what is now Pitch 3).
A month later, they returned. While the pair was ascending their fixed rope, Leen discovered to his horror that some creature had chewed part way through the rope. He had been using jumars to ascend the rope as quickly as he could until he saw the half chewed section above him, at which point, he slowed to a crawl hoping the frayed section wouldn’t break. Despite this small setback, by the end of the first day they were back at their old high point just above the ledge they dubbed, “Fat Man’s Fright.” They passed the first night trying not to think about what the critters might do to their equipment. They spent the next day on difficult aid climbing with several sections originally rated A4. Eventually the pair got through this challenging section to the ledge that is now the top of Pitch 6. From there, Beckey spent the rest of the day light drilling a bolt ladder before finally being lowered from a half-drilled bolt to the ledge for the night.
When you belay here, imagine the first ascent team sleeping on this small, exposed space. The next day, Leen took over and added two more bolts before moving onto spicy hooks and pitons. He then freed the rest of the pitch using a mantle, which is still, for most, the crux of the route on Pitch 7. Beckey led the last two pitches, including one which he recalls as being, “a long risky runout” to the summit ridge.
StrategyExpect to share the route with at least one to three other parties on a busy weekend. Mid-week, you have a 50-50 chance of having the route to yourself. Passing is possible on the first two pitches that are lower 5th class. Up higher, passing becomes more difficult, but a few nice, big ledges make it somewhat convenient if the parties in front of you are willing to let you scoot by.
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