Gato Negro, Whine Spire IV+ 5.10d
Avg time to climb route: 5-10 hours
Approach time: 3.5-5 hours
Descent time: 3.5-5 hours
Number of pitches: 12
Height of route: 1,300'
OverviewGato Negro is a newer route that is quickly gaining popularity. It is a big route with fairly sustained 5.10a/b climbing, many challenging pitches, and some tricky route finding. It is a full day ordeal for most parties. While the cruxes mostly well protected, there are a few slightly runout sections on loose, 5.8 kitty litter granite. Those unaccustomed to offwidth climbing might find the chimney and 5.9+ offwidth more of a challenge than the short power crux of the double, overhanging corners higher on the same pitch. Like many longer routes in the Washington Pass area, and especially the newer ones, this route has some loose rock itís surprisingly clean.
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Route HistoryDuring the Spring of 2001, Larry Goldie was guiding on Silver Star and noticed some beautiful splitter cracks heading up the lower slabs of the enormous west face. He talked Scott Johnston into going up there with him to check it out on the Summer Solstice. Goldie and Johnston took a full rack, a hammer, a few pins and one rope.
The first few pitches were nice, clean climbing. Next, there was one unsavory pitch to the amazing double corner pitch. Goldie started up the chimney, slung a chockstone and then began walking Elvis, his number four Camalot, up the offwidth section until it got too big. Goldie left Elvis there and gunned it for the twin cracks above. After about 190 feet of climbing through the double corners, he was relieved to find a tree belay on a small ledge.
It wasnít until the pair was on top that they realized this was a separate spire, and not part of Silver Star proper. They descended the alpine gully, which still had a fair bit of snow, in their rock shoes with a couple raps and lots of down climbing. By the time Goldie and Johnston got back to the base they had named the peak the Whine Spire after all of the complaining they did about their feet. They raced back down the trail, arriving back at the dark forest and the Basin Camp just as full night fell. Since it was the longest day of the year, they neglected to bring head lamps.
Several years later, Johnston went back up to the route with Chris ďFlashĒ Clark and bolted a variation to the original Pitches 2 and 3 to avoid some of the unsavory rock low on the climb.
The name Gato Negro continues the wine-inspired theme. It is Spanish for black cat and is a popular and inexpensive wine produced in Chile and available throughout South America.
StrategyGato Negro generally has few crowds. This is a huge, complex route with a loose and demanding descent that is especially unsavory in the dark. Start early.
There are some short 5.8 runouts on loose face, as well as in the relatively secure but harder to protect chimney. All the 5.10 climbing is well protected and has relatively clean falls, but you canít pull through every 5.10 move on gear. You can pull through the 5.10d double, overhanging corners crux, and it has a very clean fall. Because this route is long and sustained, you should be a solid 5.10 climber.
The climb starts to the right of a big yellow scar. There is a clean, blocky chimney to the right of the route that looks good but donít take it; itís not nearly as good as it looks. There is often a short firm patch of snow that must be negotiated. A good technique can be to belay a climber wearing approach shoes across the snow, chopping steps with a rock. Then the climber walks across the snow with their rock shoes on in the footsteps they just made with the rock and ascends the route.
Pitch 1 ascends clean granite up a 5.8 splitter crack before laybacking up the left side of a big, obvious flake before ending climbers to push themselves at the grade. The key to the crux section is not to put your gear where you need to put your fingers and to punch it through the pumpy crux. You can get a few mini-stemming at the top of the more difficult section and you can wedge yourself chimney style up higher on the pitch as better hand jams and finger locks appear.
Many parties get lost on the next two pitches, so study the topo and use your best judgment. On Pitch 5, donít get suckered up and right. On Pitch 6, donít get suckered through the hole up and left, rather go around the corner, battling a few trees and up a finger crack. On the ledge at the top of Pitch 6, the route finding becomes more straightforward again. Climb up the dihedral system, make an interesting walk- across and then following a 5.7 hand crack that ends below an alcove.
on a ledge. Move the belay just uphill below a line of bolts. The original route climbed the rotten corner to the left, but Johnstonís and Clarkís bolted variation is now standard. Ascend sustained 5.9 and 5.10a face climbing past ten bolts. This pitch is excellent, with fun features including dishes, flakes and huecos. The crux comes near the top of the pitch and is a 5.10a mantel before a two-bolt belay in a little alcove. Traverse left and up to another ledge below the obvious chimney and set a belay.
The fourth and crux pitch is also excellent. It starts off with a sustained 5.8+ and 5.9 Yosemite-style squeeze chimney. You can sling a couple of chockstones for protection, but the best option is sliding a 4-5Ē cam with you as you climb. You exit the chimney on some interesting yellow flakes before launching into the crux of the route, the double overhanging corners. It sounds worse than it is; the crux is short, well-protected and a great place for 5.10 Many parties donít climb the last, lichen- covered pitch to the top of the Whine Spire. It is worthwhile if you have the time.
You donít want to be descending the gully with another team above you. There is tons of loose rock, and it is impossible not to knock any down. There are many points where the gully funnels down and rock fall from above could be extremely dangerous. Many parties choose to leave their packs, trekking poles and other unnecessary gear at the base of the route as it requires only a minor detour on the way back to camp. You do, however, need your approach shoes. The descent is too loose and too long to attempt in rock shoes, no matter how comfortable they are.
Pitch 8 is the second hardest on the route. It starts up a killer 5.10b finger crack layback before the route traverses under a big greenish, ominous looking roof. It has only a handful of harder moves, including a powerful high step, but the climbing is a little devious. Both these cruxes are well- protected and you could pull through the hardest sections on gear.
Once out past the roof, the climbing gets easier but is poorly protected face climbing on kitty litter granite. There is only one solid flake in which to build your belay. Climb the corner with a 2Ē crack above you that unfortunately looks better than it is. It is actually a flaring crack in a corner that takes okay gear, but the rock is very grainy and your hands get cut up from this rock and the flaring jams.
Near the top the climbing gets a little harder, but the crack becomes more parallel sided to a belay. Pitch 10 continues up the same corner system, pulling past a block on the right followed by a face traverse to the ridge crest. Climb the ridge crest to the final summit tower. The final summit tower pitch is one of the best of the route with a series of laser cut cracks and cool features to climb as you make your way up the face.
Retreat StormThere are trees to rappel from on the lower portion of the route. Once past Pitch 5, you would need to leave gear, having two ropes means leaving less gear. Retreating from high on the route would be difficult and dangerous, as there is abundant loose rock and rope eating flakes.
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