Southwest Rib, South Early Winters Spire III 5.8
Washington Pass, Washington, USA
Avg time to climb route: 2-6 hours
Approach time: 1.5-3 hours
Descent time: 1.5-3 hours
Number of pitches: 10
Height of route: 900'
OverviewThe Southwest Rib is also known as the Southwest Buttress of South Early Winters Spire (SEWS) and is possibly the best 5.8 rock route in the state. It offers varied climbing on some of the best rock at Washington Pass. The route starts with a few well-protected but burly 5.8+ pitches followed by slightly easier, consistently fun climbing all the way to the top. Great exposure and the interesting nature of the rib itself add to the allure of this climb. Among the highlights of the climb are the fun Wavy Hand Crack, the Nervous Nelly Pitch and the infamous Bear Hug Pitch, which is one of the mental cruxes as you bear hug and stem in between two different 4-6Ē cracks. As you shuffle upward, think of the first ascentionist leading that pitch long before cams or rock shoes were around.
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Route HistoryFirst climbed in 1964 by Donald N. Anderson and Larry Scott. For their first ascent, they started by traversing higher up onto the rib, bypassing the crux Pitch 1 by scrambling around the massive bus-sized chockstone that blocks the entrance to the SEWS gully. They then ascended another 150 feet up the gully before some scrambling and a short rappel led them to the base of the Wavy Crack, which starts at the top of Pitch 1. Today, the classic start is from the toe of the buttress.
StrategyThis is a fairly popular route; donít be surprised to see a least two to four other parties on a busy weekend and one to three other parties mid-week. Passing parties down low on the route is difficult; however it is relatively easy to pass after Pitch 6 all the way to the top. There are a few more difficult variations that can allow you to get around people if you are up to the grade. Large belay ledges allow comfortable wait times or easy passing if the party in front of you is willing.
Start early and donít underestimate the grade or the length of this route. The short but stout, old school 5.8+ crux comes right out the gate on Pitch 1. Itís followed by the second hardest pitch, the Wavy Hand Crack, a super fun but physical and sustained widening hands to fists to chimney 5.8 Pitch 2.
While itís nice to get the technical cruxes out of the way, the route remains consistently challenging with eight more pitches that require a full spectrum of climbing techniques. The delicate slab on Pitch 5, The Nervous Nelly pitch, is slightly runout and for those unaccustomed to slabs might be the crux of the route. The key to the Nervous Nelly is at the most difficult section; step down and right to better holds before going for the jug. The following pitch, the famously thuggish Bear Hug pitch, is climbed by squeezing and stemming two parallel 4-6Ē cracks and is another one of the highlights of the route. Most climbers donít bring a double set of larger cams because you can easily slide a cam with you as you climb, leaving it when the crack gets too big. For climbers not comfortable running the upper section, who will want to protect the whole pitch, bringing one 4,5 and 6Ē piece is ideal. If you are comfortable with the grade you can put a single 4Ē piece at the bottom of the twin splitters on the Bear Hug and run it out, looking at a ledge fall near the top of the pitch or, bring gear only to 3Ē and risk a ledge fall for nearly the whole pitch.
Above the Bear Hug, the climbing eases considerably, is still on excellent rock, and every pitch is super fun. Toward the top, rappel into the gully or climb all the way around the outside to the left (north). The rappel is the traditional way to do it and adds an even more varied climbing experience. The outside traverse might be a touch faster, depending on party strengths, and is fun and exposed. This traverse can be wet earlier in the season and can be spicy. The final 5.4 offwidth to the top is fantastic. Both 5.8 crux pitches protect wonderfully and are a great place for climbers looking to push themselves at the grade. The Nervous Nelly pitch, while only 5.6, is a touch runout and the climbing slightly devious. All in all, this is a solid day out.
Many climbers leave their approach shoes at the base of the Southwest Rib and deal with down climbing the South ArÍte and the five minute hike back around in their rock shoes to save the weight of their shoes on their back.
Retreat StormThis route has no fixed anchors, but it does have a few trees with fixed slings on the first three pitches. Down low on the route, you could retreat with two ropes rappelling mostly off trees. However, once you traverse to beneath the slab on Pitch 4, retreat would prove much more difficult and would require you to leave a lot of gear.
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