South Arete, South Early Winters Spire II 5.6
Washington Pass, Washington, USA
Avg time to climb route: 1-3.5 hours
Approach time: 1.5-3 hours
Descent time: 1.5-3 hours
Number of pitches: 10
Height of route: 600'
OverviewThe South Aręte on South Early Winters Spire is deservedly one of the most popular routes at Washington Pass. It is many climbers first alpine rock climb or sometimes rock climb of any kind. Fun and moderate climbing, solid protection and excellent views of Dome Peak, Bonanza, Goodie, Black Peak and much of the central cascades, make the South Aręte a great option for those looking to gain some experience or for a scenic and moderate day. The climb is characterized by two moderate, well-protected mid-5th class pitches followed by some of low 5th climbing mixed with lots of 3rd and 4th class. It is truly an enjoyable route, with abundant large belay ledges for transitioning, or just hanging out and relaxing.
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Route HistoryIt was first climbed in 1942 by brothers Fred and Helmy Beckey, and was one of the first technical routes in the area. The only other climbers to have been successful in the Liberty Bell group where a group from California: Kenneth Adam, Raffi Bedayn and W. Kenneth Davis. Late in the summer of 1937, when this trio first hiked in the 16 miles, all the summits were still virgin. This group was part of the California Sierra Club and had considerable experience, including some longer climbs in Yosemite. Due to the loosely spaced lettering of the words “Liberty Bell” on their forest service map, the climbers didn’t know exactly which of the spires was Liberty Bell and thus picked the tallest, southern-most peak in the range. This decision was made partially because all the other spires looked extremely difficult on all sides, so they opted to climb the nontechnical Southwest Couloir. The trio also made the first ascent of Cutthroat Peak via its West Ridge on the same trip. These ascents upset many local climbers who had been hoping to bag the first ascents themselves. Many of them put down their “Yosemite training” pointing out they had climbed the only non-technical route in the group. Five years later Fred and Helmy Beckey made the same long hike in, and while the steep peak on the right later became Liberty Bell, it was still the highest peak in the group that was attracting climbers. Fred and Helmey, who were already making names for themselves in the climbing world with their ascent of Forbidden Peak and the amazing second ascent of Mt. Waddington, climbed what became the South Aręte without much problem. The brothers quickly dispatched the route in an afternoon, making the first ascent of this now classic climb. At that time word was already starting to spread about the northern-most peak in the group with its massive east face that had more of a resemblance to a bell.
StrategyThis is one of the easiest routes in the Liberty Bell group and deservedly one of the most popular. It is not uncommon to have four to seven parties on the route on a mid-summer weekend. Even mid-week, expect to share the route with two to five other groups. Passing is most difficult on the first two pitches but is still possible. Once past Pitch 3 there are numerous variations and walking sections that allow easy passing. The South Aręte is also the descent route for all of South Early Winters Spire, so be aware of descending climbers.
The crux comes just 40 feet off the ground and may have a single move just a little harder than the 5.6 rating suggests, but it is well-protected. While your last piece of gear is at your knees and ankles moving through the awkward mantle crux, it is difficult to pull through the hardest move on gear. Pitch 2 starts off mellow enough but finishes at a chimney that is the second most difficult technical section of the climb. The chimney isn’t too bad, just climb it right side in, using face holds for your feet until you reach large holds that allow you to climb out the small roof at the top of the chimney. From the top of the chimney there are many variations but almost none as difficult as the first two pitches. Most of the climbing is 2nd-4th class with a few 5.0 sections. After a few more pitches, easy ledge climbing leads to the exposed White Camel pitch. The White Camel is where the broad ridge pinches down to a slender fin of rock. You can bypass this fin on the right (south) but this is a little loose and not recommended. There is a bolt on the left (north) side about half way across the Camel to help protect the leader and followers. Most climbers straddle, sit and scootch their way across the 25-foot fin. Some climbers hand-rail it on the right (south) side, while a few opt for the X-rated death fall potential and walk across directly on the crest.
Once past the White Camel, the ridge becomes much more moderate again. A hundred feet above the White Camel you can drop into the southwest gully for speed, but it is more pleasant and fun to stay on the aręte. Near the top of the final ridge where the route breaks left (north) above the gully, the traverse near the skyline,with its 1,000 feet drop to the east face below you, is spectacular. The final summit boulder problem is fun, and a spot more than a belay could possibly save someone’s ankles.
Retreat StormRappel and down climb from any point on the route. The South Aręte dries out very quickly after a storm and is one of the first routes to be climbable in early in the season.
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