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Trip Report    

Basic Rock Climb - South Early Winter Spire/South Arête

We climbed the S Arete of SEWS in 14 hours car to car on May 22 2021. Group of eight; there were 22 total on the route that day and we shared resources at times. Grouse, pika, and goat sighted. We made good time on our approach, we were slow to climb and scramble when snow was present, our descent was well organized and quick.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • There is two to three feet of snow in the lot, but room for about a dozen cars on the highway shoulder.  Our entire approach was on snow, but one can hear running water underneath the snow below 6000 feet elevation.  Snow was frozen solid in the morning and crampons and axes were used on the approach.  Snow was soft enough for plunge stepping on the return but not so soft that snowshoes would be needed.  The climbing pitches are snow-free except in the chimney where there is snow at the bottom and water ice on some of the footholds so care was needed there.  The scramble sections are mostly snow-free as well but some areas do have snow and we added extra belays which added to our time cost.  The upper couloir still holds snow mixed with wet loose rock which necessitated a handline.

We started uphill at 6:22 AM and returned 14 hours later.  We saw a grouse in the forest.  We emerged in the old avalanche debris path and started uphill, first going right of the slabs then moving to the left side.  Dozens of skiers would later arrive headed for Blue Lake peak.  After 1h45m of cramponing on hard snow we arrived at the base of the route in warm sunshine.  We were short on leaders and had to be creative with our rope teams; this added to our climbing time.  Some folks slipped on the crux move near the start but everyone pulled through.  The gulley on the second pitch is a fridge and the chimney is a freezer.  Lots of snow and ice in the chimney but a few dry holds make it possible.  We also pitched out the third pitch.  Old rap anchors are largely gone now so we had to build new ones later.  On the scramble we added some short belays over snow patches.  The whale back is snow-free.  After the whale back one can scramble on good rock to the right but there is some exposure and not everyone was comfortable proceeding.  Instead we rappelled over snowy ledges into the couloir.  Another team of six from the WAC which had ascended the couloir was there with a handline.  We used their handline to continue up the final section of the couloir while they used our rap line to top-rope back up towards the whale back so they could descend the S Arete.  We topped out around 3:30 and started down as clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped.  We rapped once from the top of the couloir, then used our top-rope to ascend back towards the whale back.  After that we had another rap used by half of our group to descend some snowy sections.  Then we returned to the top of the three pitches where we shared ropes with the WAC team and another pair behind us which had climbed the SW Rib route.  Sharing resources helped keep everyone moving.  It snowed briefly around 4 pm and at 6:30 pm we had a few minutes of hail.  Everyone was at the base of the climbing route by 7:30.  Less than one hour later we were back at the lot.  Great day.