New Route Update: South Early Winter Spires (SEWS)

On June 5, 2022, a significant rockfall incident damaged the climbing route on South Early Winters Spire (SEWS), a popular climbing route in the North Cascades. In the weeks since, North Cascade Mountain Guides (NCMG) established a new rappel route. Learn more and join us in thanking NCMG for keeping climbers safe.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
July 18, 2022

South Early Winters Spire (SEWS) is a popular climbing route in the North Cascades. The highest summit of the Liberty Bell Group, the climb offers outstanding views of Liberty Bell and the North Cascades. Climbers flock to SEWS as a great option for their first alpine climbing experience because of the quality of granite rock and the relatively easy climbing and great scrambling.

On June 5, 2022, a significant rockfall incident damaged the existing route, and the North Cascade Mountain Guides (NCMG) have been working to clean up the climbing route and establish a new rap route. Their goal was to establish a new rappel route that would help climbers avoid the loose section while descending the route, particularly to keep climbers below safe from rockfall. The rappel section is now out of the gully feature that the route climbs up.

Shortly following the incident, NCMG guides established the new route. As described by NCMG owner Larry Goldie:

There are 3 new rappels, all are climbers right of the gully and the normal climbing route. The anchors are bolts and chains and all offer steep and fairly clean raps and good pulls with a 60m rope. 

The top anchor is on a big ledge right above a small tree that some people have previously rappelled off of. This tree was awkward to rappel off of and you had to climb down and under it to get to the slings. (Some of you will know exactly what I am talking about, while this will seem nonsensical to others) The new bolts are on the large ledge above and just climbers right of this tree. 

The second rappel is on the ledge just above the chockstone. This was also the site of a tree rappel. This tree took the brunt of the recent rockfall and puts climbers right in the line of fire for all potential rockfall from the very loose section above. 

The final rappel is fall line below the previous rap and also on the climbers right of the gully. It is slightly higher than the old rappel bolts and allows climbers not to have to cross the gully. This rap takes you down steep terrain right to the ground. 

The goal here was to have an independent descent and ascent route. This should help keep traffic flowing on the route as well as minimize the number of people on top of eachother as climbers negotiate the extremely loose section. Of note, with a little cleaning, there is a good alternative to the loose section by climbing out to the right of the second set of bolts (above the chockstone). We meant to clean this up today, but I dropped the wire brush while organizing gear on a ledge above. This bypass looks to be around 5.7 and would protect with a #3 cam. With some cleaning, this will likely become the standard way to move through this section. 

Download a high resolution image of the new route.

On July 13, 2022, Mountaineers Super Volunteer Sarah Holt led a successful trip up SEWS and was able to use the new anchors. Read more in her trip report.

Big thanks to the North Cascade Mountain Guides for keeping all of us safe!

Main Image: The new rappel route on South Early Winter Spires (SEWS) is marked by red X's. Photo courtesy of  Larry Goldie.