July 12, 2002
Emily and I pulled into the Blue lake trail head late Thursday night
to avoid the early morning wakeup that trips to Washington Pass require.
For some reason I took my shoes off before going outside to micturate.
Two steps out of the car and I plant my bare foot right in someone's melting-out
turd. Apparently when they crapped in the snow, it didn't just magically
We were up and out the car-door at 9 a.m. the next morning. The basin
there is mostly melted out, so there was no hope of taking a direct route
up to the spires. Thus we walked along the trail of nonsense that parallels
the highway for a good half mile.
Higher up in the basin, just under the gully leading to Liberty Bell,
we hopped on the snow and made quick time through the boulder fields up
to the base of the Southwest Rib.
The Southwest Rib of South Early Winter Spire.
We were planning on doing a direct "variation" start, but the
crack systems looked pretty vegetated. We decided to contour around to
the SW Couloir and take the normal route over the chockstone.
After racking up, we running belayed up to the crest of the rib, and
then downclimbed several steep steps to the base of the route proper.
The crack above forms the only weakness in a steep blank wall, and is
the crux of the route.
Dave leads off on the start of the first true pitch. Photo by Emily.
Fun climbing leads off the ledge, and then up to a tree that is intimately
entwined with the base of the 5.8 crack. I slung the tree and headed up
the crack on sweet straight in hand jams. The leaning position of the
crack is a bit awkward, and I was glad to have switched the rack onto
my left side.
I placed my no. 4 friend (#3 Camalot size), and slid it along with me
until I reached a small bulge in the crack. Sticking my hand into a hole
in the ground above, I pulled through onto a "ledge" in the
crack. The crack was so wide here that not even the #4 Camalot would fit.
Thus I had to grunt it up the edge of the chimney/crack, cowboy style.
I immediately felt sorry for Emily who was carrying the pack. One last
chimney section and I was on a comfy and shaded belay ledge.
Emily catches the nice exposure on the crux pitch.
Emily lead the next pitch which ended up being a corner crack up to another
Emily on the second pitch.
The guidebook describes the next pitch as 5.6+ on a runout, licheny slab.
Hmm, I lead off around a corner and then up the slab. There was actually
pretty good pro with medium-small cams, and I began to get smug about
it being "runout." I reached a little flake, and then headed
up higher on fun face climbing. About 15 feet above and right of my last
piece came the reachy step-across on little sloping holds. Whew! I can
see that as being called runout and awkward.
Emily soon joined me at the nice belay ledge, and commented on how enjoyable
the last pitch was. Up next on the agenda was the "bear hug"
pitch. Instead of something like "climb obvious cracks" in the
guide, Beckey actually describes the exact sequence needed to climb the
twin 6" cracks. Not only that, he tells you what piece to bring.
Dave leading the "Bear Hug" pitch. Photo by Emily.
A short lie-back leads to the base of the cracks where a #4 Camalot just
fits in the base of either crack. I pulled through the first steep move
and tried the slide the cam up a bit. Unfortunately, it had passed that
critical width threshold, and started flopping around fully extended in
the crack. I set it back down and climbed up to the top of the massive
flake. From here, easy 4th class leads to a big mantle and then up through
blocks to a ledge at the top of the "Dolphin" feature. From
here, Emily took the lead and headed up a flaring crack towards the crest
of the rib.
Emily reaches the crest on pitch 5.
Around the corner from an airy traverse, she set a belay due to bad rope
drag. Above, the climbing looked pretty moderate, so we set off towards
the Rabbit Ear towers (really justt two big flakes) with Emily leading
a running belay. We swapped gear and I traversed down into the gully below
the summit tower. At the head of the gully, a short 5" crack leads
to the summit.
About the time I reached the summit rocks, Emily had just reached the
crack. I sat down in a belay seat and brought her up. We had climbed the
route (~7 pitches) in 4.5 hours.
Emily on the Summit.
It was another beautifully clear day, and we enjoyed the views of the
After a quick break, we decided to descend the SW Couloir. It had looked
invitingly easy to descend on a previous trip, and enticed us with the
possibility of not rappelling.
Climbing down in a running belay, 25 meters apart, worked perfectly.
There was a solid rap station to clip every ropelength, and it was decently
easy going, less the loose piles of rock everywhere.
Descending the Southwest Couloir. Photo by Emily.
Just before the couloir becomes a trail, there is a steep wall. We decided
to make a single rap off of some equalized trees instead of downclimbing
the poorly protected terrain. Soon we were down to the chockstone, and
another short rap brought us back to the packs.
The Southwest Rib had been everything I was hoping it would be: a slightly
longer route (than the S. Arete) with excellent crack and face climbing
at a higher grade. Yet another gem on solid granite in the Liberty Bell