Exfoliation Dome - West Buttress
Who: Ambrose, Dave
Exfoliation Dome's "Blueberry Hill" side. The West Buttress
is directly below the summit.
I had found this climb in an old guide to Darrington and Index that Emily's
Grandpa had handed down to us. After checking around I found that there
was some info in Smoot's Rockclimbing Washington, as well as a
good conditions report from Matt
Perkins (who's website is also an excellent source for Darrington
Ambrose and I pulled up to the creek that begins the approach early
Saturday morning. We had visions of sustained 5.8 climbing for 10
pitches and so we wanted to have enough time. Beckey's guide also mentions
that Exfoliation Dome is the hardest 4,000 foot peak in the Cascades to
Low and behold, none other than Matt Perkins and Erik show up just after
we arrive. They were climbing a route that parallels ours today. The approach
to Blueberry Hill begins up the 2nd creek on road 2060, and very quickly
begins the "granite sidewalk". The sidewalk is basically an
apron of granite coming all the way down to the road from the buttress.
I was glad I brought some sticky tennis shoes for the 1,500 feet of class
Ambrose hikes up the natural stair-master.
It was quite foggy and often misting on us as we ascended. However, the
path was obvious up to the base of the buttress, and we soon cached our
packs at a ledge below the route.
The first 5.4 pitch is on the slab to the left.
The first pitch follows a wide crack, followed by some face/friction
to a ledge with a dead stump and trees. As Beckey's old guide describes,
there is supposed to be a 25 ft. 5.8 chimney down low. All we could see
was slightly mossy or vegetated corner climbing. Not that we were complaining
though! I lead off up a left facing corner which surmounted a tree at
its head. I spied a wide crack on the right that could be a "chimney",
but instead took a 5.9ish finger crack off to the left. Nice climbing
Ambrose comes up the thin finger crack on pitch 2.
We moved the belay through a tree, and Ambrose headed off towards an
roofy overlap on the buttress's crest. After he pulled through some steep
corner climbing and gaining the crest, he traversed right and climbed
through another roof to reach a comfy belay ledge.
Ambrose climbing pitch three.
The 5.8 move through the roof was pumpy, airy and great fun! The next
pitch was truly excellent. It begins with some crack and face climbing,
then a traverse right into a big flake with good hand jams. This took
me to a ledge where a wide and zig-zagging crack shoots up a huge slab.
Hands, fingers, fists... It was all there with good gear up to a comfy
Ambrose on the cracks of pitch 4.
The angle of the buttress eases off here and we swapped two leads up
low 5th and 3/4th class terrain to gain the large ledge high on the buttress.
Ambrose leads off on pitch 5. Photo: Matt
We coiled the rope and walked through the forest and up some ledges to
where Matt and Erik were having lunch. Lunch sounded like a pretty good
idea, so we joined them. Matt advised us that you can take many lines
up to the summit from here, and most of them are a bit runout. We chose
to climb on the "crest" of a buttress coming down NW of the
Ambrose leads off through all sorts of mungey terrain: trees, mossy flakes,
The seventh pitch had some good climbing, but was a little dirty. The
next lead started with a 25 ft. runout up some 5.6 slabs, and then trended
left (follow the pro!) up through nice corner climbing to some very clean
and white slabs. Near sixty meters I setup a somewhat marginal belay and
brought Ambrose up.
The clean slabs high on pitch 8.
The clouds we had been climbing in all day had suddenly lifted to reveal
crystal blue skies and sunshine! At the top of pitch 8 it was easy scrambling
off left to gain a notch over on the North Ridge. We coiled up the ropes
and walked over.
Ambrose scrambled up to the crest and said "Woooo!" As I made
it up, I looked over the knife edge granite crest and strait down the
Witch Doctor Wall. A very impressive and steep wall for sure. We scrambled
up through moss and trees along the North ridge until there was no more
elevation to gain.
On the summit of Exfoliation Dome.
We ate some, and then setup for a long descent down the West slabs. As
you'll find, there really is no easy way off this peak. 23rd Psalm can
be a good descent route, but it has to be checked and reestablished most
years because it is an winter-time avalanche chute. The West slabs was
a more reliable descent, and it also deposits you right back at the base
of the route. We made a 30m rapp off a pair of bolts just down from the
summit. Several brushy and dirty rappels brought us down the upper West
As the slab became clean below me on one rap, I started looking for the
bolted anchors that were supposed to lead down the long blank slabs of
the lower half of the face. I was out 50 meters or so and still couldn't
find any anchors. I checked the "trees" along the side of the
buttress, but there were no slings. Then Ambrose calls out that he sees
the slings above me, and so I get comfy on a ledge and undo my rappel.
Sure enough, after Ambrose goes down to check it out, I have to climb
back up the rope to the station. With a prusik self belay, I hand over
hand it back up the rope. Just before I'm at the ledge, I pull down on
the rope, and it suddenly gives way! I begin to slide through the bushes
I'm in and instantly grab hold for dear life. Then the rope comes taught
again. It appears it was hooked over a shrub higher up and had decided
that my tug was enough to free the ropes. Ambrose got a hefty laugh out
of that one! :)
One rap later we were at two huge, brand new bolts with chain anchors.
These ended up being the anchors to a fun looking (4 pitch?) bolted slab
route. Several clean, smooth rapps later we found our selves back at the
The West Buttress is an excellent route which feels easy for the grade
due to it's great protectability and low angled rock. Quite an experience
to not set foot off granite for a 2,500 foot climb in Washington!