A fun September climb (plus a sunset, moonrise, moonset, and sunrise)
Photo overlay of North Face/Ridge route
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Approach from HWY 20
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Wine Spires as seen from Liberty Bell
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• Standard rack to #4 cam (nice to have the #4 for the final offwidth)
• One or two 60 m ropes (many TRs suggest making double-rope rappels, so we brought 2 ropes, but another party on the route with us descended with just one 60m rope, and avoided all the rope hangups inherent to double-rope rappels...)
Burgundy Spire is easily seem from Highway 20 about 4 miles east of Washington pass. The deep notch north of the peak is Burgundy Col, starting point for the North Face/North Ridge route. Park your vehicle in the big pullout on the highway (about 4,250ft). Note the location of the timbered rib to the left (north) of Burgundy Creek which drains from the basin below the Wine Spires, as the climber's trail leads up this rib. To get to this trail from the pullout, look for a path down the talus and into the forest to cross Early Winters Creek on a log. Then, follow the steep path up, up, and up. There is a nice camping area in the basin at 6,500ft (2 hrs) or at Burgundy Col at 7,720ft (3 hrs). In the later season, there is no water at the basin camp and at the col there is only rock hard snow down a bit on east side. Burgundy Spire can be climbed in a long day from the car, although many parties might want to consider a bivy, especially if the plan is to climb to the N Face via Paisano Pinnacle first, a common linkup.
To cap off a great summer of climbing (and a great one the summer of 2009 was!), my friend David and I headed up to climb Burgundy Spire, which is one of the Wine Spires that can be seen just east of Highway 20 near the Liberty Bell group. Beckey calls Burgundy Spire the hardest principal summit in the Cascades to be reached via any route. Of course he means from a technical aspect rather than overall grade (now in the days of rubber climbing shoes and cams - coupled with road closures, oreos, and video games - it's often the approach rather than the climbing that is the route crux!).
(Note: We had planned on linking the West Face (8 pitches, 5.9) of Paisano Pinnacle with the North Face of Burgundy Spire, but we embarrassingly started up the Ramp-Page route, which is a 5.9 to 10d dihedral. After two pitches that were a bit more difficult than our cold fingers had planned on, we decided to rappel (a nest of new rappel slings suggested others had recently done the same) and just attack our main objective. Paisano Pinnacle will have to wait for a warmer and longer day.)
I always relish the opportunity to spend a night in the mountains doing some night photography, so David and I hiked up to Burgundy col the day before, slogging up 6L of water each (that's 26.4 lb of water!) due to the late season dryness. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset, moonrise, moonset, Big Dipper, and sunrise before setting off on the climb up the North Face of Burgundy Spire.
The following page gives several photos from our climb and camp.
Photos from the Climb
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TIMES: HWY 20 to 6400ft bench - 1 h 35 min Bench to Col - 45 min Col to summit via N Face - 3 h 20 min Descent (got rope stuck twice) - 1 h 30 min Col to car - 2 hr
ELEVATIONS: HWY 20 Parking Pullout - 4250 ft Basin camp - 6500 ft Burgundy Col - 7720 ft Burgundy Spire, summit - 8400 ft (Paisano Pinnacle, summit - 7900 ft)
4th, approx 200ft. From Burgundy Col, we climbed about 200ft of mostly 4th class rock to sandy ledges just left of the top of Paisano Pinnacle.
Photo: Looking up first pitch of Burgundy Spire from our camp at the col. (Photo by David)
5.8, cracks/flakes. From the sandy ledges left of the top of Paisano Pinnacle, we climbed up cracks and flakes to the obvious ledge 2 pitches up. There are several possible crack and flake options and it seems every party has their own variation here. We started up on the left side, and then I saw a great spot to leave the heavy #4 cam to the right, so I traversed over to the crack system here (my strategy was to leave the #4 at the beginning of the pitch so David carried it 90% of the climb.....). The pitch up to the ledges ("Pitch 3") was probably the best pitch of the route.
Photo 1: Photo overlay of our route on Pitches 2-3. Photo 2: David leading up the fun cracks and flakes of Pitch 3.
2nd-3rd, approx 150ft. There are a couple of options here. You can traverse right (west) on ledges about 150ft below the summit to the top of the Corkscrew route on the west face, or you can make a direct ascent up the exposed ridge crest. Either option is about 5.8. Most parties choose to traverse the ledges, which is what we did.
Photo: David traversing under a giant block on the ledge.
5.8, cracks/flakes. From the ledge, there are again a couple of 2-pitch options to get to the summit. All of them end with moderate offwidths that fit the #4 cam. We chose to climb the right-hand crack system beside a steep slab, and then up a short offwidth to the summitblock. (The other popular option is to climb across the lichen-covered slabs to the bolt anchor under the summitblock and climb the offwidth here to the summit.)
Photo 1: Photo overlay of our route on Pitches 5-6 to the summit, showing the possible offwidth finishes. Photo 2: Looking left at the option of traversing the lichen-covered slabs to the bolt anchor under the summitblock and climb the offwidth here to the summit. (We chose to go right instead.) Photo 3: Steph leading up the right-hand option crack systems. (Photo by David) Photo 4: Sun at last! The north face route is pretty shady, which would be nice on a hot summer day. (Photo by David) Photo 5: The crack system on the right thins towards the top to a fun finger crack (with optional face holds on the left). (Photo by David) Photo 6: The short offwidth on the right-hand option to the summit. It was actually pretty easy and fun. It was nice to have the #4 to protect the bottom move, but we later agreed we would probably not bring it next time unless we climbed a different offwidth finish.
ON THE SUMMIT:
We enjoyed a leisurely lunch on the summit seeing how many peaks we could identify. The summit of Burgundy Spire has a great view of the North Cascades.
Photo 1: David and another party on the summitblock. Photo 2: The shrinking Silver Star glacier on the east side of the spires. Photo 3: Labeled summit panorama. (Click to enlarge) Photo 4: Labeled summit panorama, 2x vertical strech. They look pretty steep now! (Click to enlarge)
The descent pretty much rappels the route. It can be done with a single 60m rope, although several route descriptions recommend bringing 2 ropes (we brought 2 ropes and ended up hastling with ropes getting stuck a couple of times; a party descending with us only had one 60m rope and had no problems except for 10 ft of downclimbing after the first rappel).
Specifics: Rappel from the summitblock down to the only bolted anchor on the rap route (this is the only place where a 60m rope falls a bit short, as it leaves you about 10 ft above the bolts; so you can either (a) carefully downclimb easy 5th to the anchor, (b) bring a 70m, or (c) bring 2 ropes). From the bolts, a couple of rappels bring you to the ledge. Traverse the ledge and make a few more rappels to the sandy terraces, and then a couple more rappels bring you to the col.
Photo 1: David rappelling from the summit block to the bolted anchor. Photo 2: The only bolted anchor on the rap route is the one just below the summit rappel. Photo 3: Rappelling to the sandy terraces. We rappelled down into the notch in right-center of the photo, which brings you to the ground about 50ft below the col. Photo 4: Now for some classic North Cascades oatmeal scree and steep climbers trail back to the car.
Photos from Camp
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We camped at Burgundy Col, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset, moonrise, moonset, Big Dipper, and sunrise before we even began climbing. Spending a night high in the mountains is well worth schlepping the extra weight of tent and water. I was awake much of the night taking photos. Here are some of my photos from camp.
We brought 6L of water each. That's almost 30lbs of water!
Enjoying a beautiful evening at camp at the col.
My shadow can climb 5.12.
Sunset photo. David and I had a fun discussion on how the construction of the aperture of the camera affects the shape of the lens flare. His camera gave pentagonal lens flares due to the 5-lobed costruction of his aperture. I get more complicated flare due to the multiple elements of my lens....
Another sunset photo. I find you can avoid lens flare by adjusting the angle of your shot.
Stars and moonlight on Valsiki Tower above the bivy of another party that arrived at the col (30 sec exposure).
Star trails above a moonlit Valsiki Tower (23 min exposure).
Star trails around North Star above Valsiki Tower after the moon set (48 min exposure).
Lights of cars on Highway 20 at night (13 min exposure).
Star trails above some moonlit rocks (20 min exposure).
Another cool "Alpine Start Long Exposure" of making breakfast in the tent before beginning the climb. It stays dark out until 7am in late Sept. (11 min exposure)
September sun on Liberty Bell group.
Lots of mountains to the west of Burgundy Spire.
Burgundy Col, east side view. The Silver Star glacier is around the corner to the right, getting smaller every year. In late season, the only water on the approach is at these snow fields below the east side of the col. We packed up our own water to avoid the hassle of finding, chopping, and melting hard snow.
More on my website
This trip report is copied from my website, which has several other climbing trip reports and photographs from the North Cascades and elsewhere: http://www.stephabegg.com.
"After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, which is the most horrible thing in the world."
--Oscar Wilde on Absinthe