Friday, August 29, 2014

Washington Pass Climbing

Washington Pass Climbing

August 9 - 13, 2014
Participants: Aaron Cornes, Don Montrichard, Mike McMinn, Amber McMinn

For this years climbing trip Mike and I along with Aaron Cornes and Don Montrichard went out to Washington Pass, off Highway 20 in WA, USA to climb in the Liberty Bell Group.

We started our trip with a leisurely travel day on Saturday August 9.  We left Vancouver at 10am, crossed the border, did our shopping for the week and arrived at our campsite in Washington Pass at around 4pm.  Lone Fir Campground is closest to the climbing but was full when we arrived so we continued on to Klipchuck Campground.  Klipchuck ended up being a good place to stay as it was off the highway so it is quieter than the other camping in the area and it is only 20 min from the climbing and 10 min away from Mazama if you need supplies. I will most likely stay there instead of at Lone Fir next time I go.

We stopped at the ranger station in Marblemount on-route which had a lot of guide books, trail info, maps, etc. if you need further information about the area.  The small town of Mazama also has  a gear store, Goat's Beard Mountain Supplies. They were incredibly helpful with supplying us with updated weather forecasts, route info, guidebooks (Super Topo Washington Pass Climbing and Mazama Rock)  and any necessary gear and supplies.

North Early Winter Spire

Chockstone Route - Difficulty: II+, 5.7, 6-pitches

Our first climb of the trip was the Chockstone Route up North Early Winter Spire.  We got up at 5am and were on the trail at 6:30 am to begin the approach.  We started at the Blue Lake trail head and followed the hikers trail for about 45 min before branching off onto the climbers trail.  From there we hiked steep tails for a short section and then ascended some alpine meadows, passing a family of mountain goats on the way, to the base of the route.  The full approach took about 1.5 hours.

We scrambled up the short 5.0 first pitch and walked up the grassy 2nd class second pitch in a few minutes and geared up under the chockstone at the base of the third pitch where the real climbing begins. The third pitch had some fun climbing and a slabby traverse onto the top of the chockstone.

From there we followed some easy blocky rock to a 2-bolt anchor and then traversed over easy ledges to the right to the base of the final pitch, a 5.4 chimney.  Be sure to traverse climbers right from the bolted anchor.  If you get to another set of chains and bolts you are off route and are now climbing the much more difficult and poorly protected rap route.

The final chimney pitch is listed as having poor pro but the climbing is easy and Mike managed to find several reasonably good placements.  From the top of the chimney we did a short scramble to the summit where we enjoyed lunch surrounded by spectacular views of the area. The climb took about 3-4 hours.

The descent was fairly straight forward, there is a rap route set up with two-bolt anchors and chains all the way down. A 60m rope is a must have and even then the raps are rope-stretchers. We did 3 raps from just below the summit then a short walk to the top of the chockstone.

From there you do the infamous free hanging chockstone rappel followed by another short hike and a final rappel off some trees to reach the bottom of the route. The descent took us about 2 hours followed by another 1.5 hours of hiking to get back to the cars.

We ended our night with some celebratory beers and dinner and an early night to rest up for the next day.

Liberty Bell

Beckey Route - Difficulty: II, 5.7-, 4-pitches

On our second day of the trip we woke up to  a 4am alarm to maximize day light and climbing time in the shade as it was quite hot out the day before.  We were on the trial by 5:30 am and it took us about 2 hours to hike and scramble up to the Liberty Bell-Concord Tower Col.

 The approach starts the same as the previous day, starting at the Blue Lake trail head and following the hikers trail for 45 min before branching off onto the climbers trail, but the second half of the approach is not as straight forward. To gain the col you must ascend a loose scree-filled gully, so the going was slow as we were watching our footing and moving precisely to avoid dropping rocks on our partners below.

Our first route of the day was the classic Beckey route up Liberty Bell. We were the first parties on the route and enjoyed a fun climb to the summit.  The first pitch involved easy climbing through a tunnel with little difficulties. Some parties opt to climb alongside the tunnel instead of through it, but I thought it was a fun feature to climb through.  The second pitch seemed a bit tougher than we remembered from the first time we did the route. After some inspection we realized that last time there had been slings in place to aid past the burly start moves but the slings had been chopped. Instead we found a path around the left side of the blocks that was less strenuous, protectable and kept the climbing at the listed 5.6 grade.

We broke the third pitch down into 2 pitches to reduce rope drag. We started with one pitch up the easy low angle slabs to an area where the route steepens and from there set up a second station and headed out left onto a airy traverse. In hind-sight, we should have gone right instead of left which would have allowed us to avoid both the second station and the airy traverse. The left line is actually a pitch on the route "The Girl Next Door" and is not the "Beckey Route".

From the top of the third pitch we soloed to the summit, spotting each other on the 5.7 slab move and bringing a rope to rappel to avoid down climbing, had a break slightly below the summit due to a weird and gross fly infestation on the summit and then headed down via rappels.  We found a rap station on a tree just above the 5.7 slab. We rapped down to the top of the third pitch and then hiked down some braided trails to the first bolted station on the descent route. From there it took us two 30m rappels off bolted stations to get back to the col.

We were back at the col by 11:30am so we assessed the second route of the day and made a plan. We had originally thought of climbing three spires that day - Liberty Bell, Concord Tower and Lexington Spire - but after the first route we decided that we'd keep it to two since energy levels were waning and it was getting hot out. We enjoyed a relaxed lunch break at the col and then geared up for our second route of the day, the North Face of Concord Tower.

Concord Tower

North Face - Difficulty: II, 5.7, 3-pitches

 Our second route of the day was a 3-pitch climb up the North Face of Concord Tower. The route starts at the Liberty Bell - Concord col, conveniently right across from the descent route from Liberty Bell.  We had scoped out the route while we were on Liberty Bell and were still on the fence as it had look fairly intimidating from that vantage point. However, once we got to the base of the route the obvious line up the face became apparent and looked reasonable to climb.

We slimmed down our packs and left our extra gear at the col to make the climb more enjoyable and  hopped on the first pitch at about 12:30pm. It turned out to be a casual romp up to a large ledge where we established our first gear anchor.  The second pitch was just as the guidebook described - in your face 5.7 climbing.  All the holds were there but the pitch was long, sustained and on the burly side of 5.7; the holds weren't as obvious as they typically are on most 5.7 climbs. The final pitch was a lot fun with a good variety of different techniques needed from slab climbing to finger/hand cracks to an awesome bear hug section that ends on the summit.

The views from the summit were great with a spectacular view of the Beckey route that we had just climbed. Overall, the climb was a lot of fun - easy enough to not be stressful but challenging enough to be interesting.

It took us three rappels to get back to the col, the first two were off of bolted anchors and the final one was off of a station on tree located on a giant ledge. We were back at the col by 3:30pm which got us back to the car by 5pm and just enough time to drive into town and restock the beer supply for that night's celebration.

  Cragging at Mazama Rocks, Canine Crag

On our third day in the pass we decided to take it easy and enjoy a rest day. We slept in, had a leisurely breakfast of bacon and eggs and headed out to Mazama shortly before noon. Everyone was tired from the last two days of mountain climbing so we opted for some low-key cragging for the day.  

We bought a guidebook for at the Goat's Beard gear store and went to check out the Mazama Crags. 
None of us had climbed there before so we chose which crag to explore that day by proximity to the car. We ended up at Canine Crag, which happened to have about a 30 second approach - perfect for a rest day! Canine Crag is actually quite an impressive looking climbing area with a huge roof and some 2-pitch 5.12 routes.  We opted to climb two of the 5.9s below the roof and Mike onsighted an 11a that the rest of us top-roped afterwards.

After our short but sweet climbing session we headed out to look for a swimming hole that is mentioned in the guidebook since it was over 30c and we were all cooking hot in the afternoon sun. We found the swimming hole with little difficulty and enjoyed a nice swim in a stellar setting. The water was freezing, but it felt good to cool off and the area was a great little place to hangout and relax for a while.

We spent that evening enjoying relaxing in camp with a leisurely dinner and some slack lining and preparing for a 5.9, 11-pitch sport climb "Prime Rib of Goat" on the Goat Wall the next day.

Till Next time Washington Pass

Unfortunately when we woke up in the morning the rain had started and put an end to our climbing plans. We drove into Mazama to have breakfast and use the internet to check the forecast.  The weather seemed to have turned for the rest of the week. The surrounding areas also had wet forecasts so we opted to head for home instead of camping in the rain. After breakfast we broke down camp and drove back to Vancouver. It turned out to be a good choice as we enjoyed a few days of dry weather and climbing in Squamish for the rest of the week to end our vacation. South Early Winter Spire, Lexington Tower and Prime Rib of Goat will have to wait until next time......

Click Here for Photo Album

Click Here for Photos by Don Montrichard


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