Trip Report    

Intermediate Alpine Climb - South Early Winter Spire/West Face & Southwest Rib

Fun climb of the Southwest Rib with a 5.9 variation at the start. Saw over 6 to 7 parties on route so recommend an early start.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • The climbing route was in good condition but had several snow patches, one in the sandy gully  after pitch 8 and on the summit.   There is still a significant amount of snow in the area around SEWS and on the Blue Lake Trail, staying consistent soon after where the climbers trail forks off from the Blue Lake Trail. 

The Approach

Alex and I arrived at the Blue Lake Trailhead a little later than planned around 8:30 AM, but quickly got out on the trail.  The trail had patchy snow with some longer dry sections off and on until the turn for the climbers trail.  Soon after there was nearly consistent snow all the way to SEWS.  The sun exposed snow was soft and we found ourselves post-holing unexpectedly from time to time, especially where water was undercutting the snow.  Once we reached the shade the snow firmed up.

20240608_100845 vertical.jpeg
Snowy approach to the base of SEWS

We reached the base of the route around 10:25 AM and were greeted by 5 parties with the first just finishing up the first pitch.  A party of 6 also crossed our path heading towards the South Arete route, the second group for the day.

The Climb

With the number of parties in mind and the speed at which the first team was traveling, we decided to take a variation of the first few pitches of the Southwest Rib, climbing the ridge line between the traditional route and the Southwest Couloir.  We stashed our gear and Alex took off on the first pitch with a nice 5.8(?) bulge around 10:40 AM.  

20240608_103849.jpgStart of Variation to Southwest Rib

We swapped leads, following up a 5.9 variation, and eventually made it up to the base of the bear hug pitch in good time.  We caught up to the first party and they generously let us pass them and we headed up the bear hug pitch and continued to swap leads.  We decided to rappel into the gully which still was full of snow, making for some cold, snowy kick steps.  We quickly gained the summit around 2:30 PM, mostly being able to avoid the snow that remained on top.

Snow in Sandy Gully

View from the summit

The Descent

We took some photos, ate a quick bite, and then proceeded to downclimb the South Arete route.  We did have to walk through several patches of snow on the way down, but for the most part it was avoidable.  As we descended we saw a huge line of at least 6 to 7 parties on the Southwest Rib which is not surprising for it being a nice Saturday.  After 3 rappels we reached the base of the South Arete route, just catching up with the party we saw heading towards that route earlier in the day.  There was a significant amount of snow still at the base so we slowly plunge stepped in our climbing shoes back to our stashed gear.  We reached our backpacks around 4 PM.

South Arete Route from Above

After switching back to mountaineering boots we headed back down the snow towards the climbers trail.  The snow was getting very sloppy at this point and there were times where we post holed nearly to our hips.  The snow was also thinning around the rocks and where water was running under the snowpack which required us to lightly step to try and avoid a twisted ankle or other injury.  We reached the car around 5:40 PM. 

Alex near the summit of SEWS

Tim on the summit