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Trip Report    

Intermediate Alpine Climb - Poster Peak/Blue Buttress

Are you a burgeoning trad leader looking to gloss over trip reports and beta while at the same time, looking to make the jump from 3ish pitches up SEWS or the Tooth into double digit leads with little preparation?! Do you like loose rock, choss, and dirty gullies?! Then have I got the climb for you!

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*Cracks knuckles* Okay.

Ever since reading a few months ago that there existed a moderate, 10+ pitch climb at Washington Pass, that’s rarely climbed, and only had its first ascent in 2003, I've been enamored with this climb. The beta we had gave us the impression of: 1) make it to the buttress and 2) go up mostly 3-4th class with a move here or there of maybe 5.6ish. Easy peasy.

Oh you poor, sweet, summer child.

From the hairpin turn parking lot, we were about 80 minutes to the base of the buttress. We played leapfrog with a duo also climbing it who got off route a few times. Based on the beta we had from the Washington Pass book, we found the route pretty direct, but clearly the other group did not, so terms and conditions may apply. In general, stay right.

Once on rock, things went great right off the bat. The first team definitely did not get off route and turn what should have been a 3rd class ramp into 5.5-5.6ish and immediately tangle with the existential quandary "what IS '3rd class' anyway", and shame on you for thinking that. As a note to future teams, the face up and slightly left is tempting but you'll kick yourself once you get to the belay stance and look right only to see a luxurious ramp. Stay right. No, your other right. YOUR OTHER RIGHT. Keep going. There.

On the 3rd pitch, one rope team stayed on route while the second took...an interpretative variation of the 3rd pitch. The first rope team thought this was a great idea as they took maybe a half hour nap on top of pitch 4 or 5, but the rope team that got off route was persistent in their insistence that it wasn't as much fun. To each their own. 

Pitches 4-5 were easy and invite simul-climbing/scrambling with mostly 3rd class and maybe a 4th class or 5.0 move.

Pitch 6 contains the technical crux. There's an awkward lie-back option on your right (5.6) or a deceiving crack to the left (5.6+). One team led this taking the left crack after a certain ambitious trip report writer gave it a once over and said, "...yeah, looks good, I don't know what that team ahead of us was fussing about." If you take the left crack, it's actually two cracks - a #4 cam works well in the crack on your left and a #3 fits nicely on the crack to your right. Feel free to grunt and shout like you’re Adam Ondra as you discover the meticulous and refined art of ‘curplaid’ [curse/plead/aid] as you make your way up.

Pitch 7 contains some nasty loose stuff up a gully. There’s an optional belay at the bottom of the gully to the right, outside the firing range or you can run it out and belay from the top of the gully – either way, keep the gully free. Or don’t. You do you. If you don’t though, at least be considerate to your next of kin and update your will before setting out.

Pitch 8 has the distinction of both having crappy rock while also being runout. If it was a person, the kindest thing you could say about it is that I’m sure it has a great personality. Runout 5.5-5.6 climbing on subpar rock with mediocre placement. This pitch probably contains the “pucker crux”.

Pitch 9 has a fun and airy step across that is exposed and a little difficult to protect. One team led this and then threw down rope to the second team and belayed them across. The first team slung two blocks that genuinely looked like gravestones which was wildly appropriate when it was determined that one of the gravestones was about to snap off at the bottom if you sneezed on it. The other looked fine, as gravestones go.

Pitch 10 consists of horrendously loose 3rd class and a few moves of 5.5-5.6. I grabbed a block that looked super solid only for it to immediately crumble into 3 different pieces. When stuff falls from here, most of it falls off route to the right of the buttress. But stay alert here. Just kidding about pitch 8. THIS pitch contains the pucker crux.

Pitch 11 is fine.

Summit is nice, but we couldn’t find the register. We made it though. I swear.

To descend: Follow the tallest blocks leading off the summit. A fall here is probably fatal. The hike down the ridge might be nice when the route still has snow, but otherwise is an atrocious screefest. Look out for the folks below you because you’ll be knocking a lot downhill. Enjoy.

Final thoughts: I went into this expecting a direct route with mostly 3-4th class and some 5.6 on occasionally subpar rock. But what does subpar rock really mean at Washington Pass? A lot. I was an idiot. That said, I would love to climb this again with tempered expectations and maybe a little snow. Overall, it was an awesome intro to a bigger climb while giving the option to easily bail at any point probably below pitch 7 or 8. It was also really cool to climb something at Washington Pass that was lesser known. It would be interesting to go back in 5 or 10 years and see how the route develops and how it gets cleaned up as more folks start to climb. We encountered probably 5 parties the entire day – keeping in mind we were at Washington Pass on a Sunday in July with no clouds and temperatures in the high 60s, on a moderate-ish route, that was pretty great. Absolutely recommend it with the correct expectation.

Author’s note: There are no tat or bolts or really any discernable anchor positions on route, so unless you bring a tape measure, all the above “Pitches” are rough approximations based on the guidebook. One group had a 70m rope and probably did it in 9-10 pitches. The other had a 60m rope and did it in 11ish. MountainProject says everything from 7 to 14 pitches. Your mileage may vary.

Authors other note: I don't see any other Mountaineers trip reports, so this is basically a first ascent, right?

 

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