After a couple of days climbing on the spires at Washington Pass, my sister Jenny and I decided to cap off our climbing trip with a route we had both been eyeing for awhile: Clean Break on Juno Tower. From the west-side highway view, Juno Tower is an indistinguishable bump on the ridge just north of the Wine Spires. But the hidden eastern walls of Juno Tower steeply rise 1500' above the Silver Star Creek Valley. Clean Break is on the steep east buttress of Juno Tower. The route is named after the clean 5.10c splitter crack on Pitch 1 and the many splitter cracks that follow. With pitch after pitch of sustained climbing on beautiful clean granite in wild surroundings, Clean Break is a must-do rock climb in the Cascades. Amazingly, this stellar route was not discovered until the mid-1980s.
Jenny and I decided to climb the route car-to-car, approaching via Silver Star Creek and descending to the highway via the west side by intersecting the standard Burgundy Col approach trail. The entire adventure (including the 3.5 mile hitchhike back to our car) took us 13 hours. What a way to spend a summer day!
Overall, we were very impressed with the quality of the climbing on the route. The first 2/3 of this route is possibly one of the best alpine rock climbs I have done in Washington State. The final third of the route is unfortunately not as stellar but it gets you to the summit. Below are some photos and stats from our climb.
We approached the route via the Silver Star Creek approach, which starts from the small pullout at Silver Star Creek just 8.5 miles east of Washington Pass. There is a good climbers trail that follows along the east side of the creek for a couple of miles before crossing the creek and then ascending talus and forest on the western edge of the valley towards the base of Juno Tower. In this photo, the headwaters of Silver Star Creek are located at the lower left corner and Juno Tower (blocked from view by the hillside) is part of the group of sunlit spires on the right.
Getting closer. Juno Tower is the highest/leftmost formation.
And closer. The splitter 5.10c crack of the first pitch of Clean Brea is just above Jenny's head in the photo.
Jenny bravely led the splitter 5.10c crack of Pitch 1. This lone crack is the route's namesake, and also the crux of the entire 15-pitch route. It is rare to find such good crack climbing on an alpine route in Washington.
Looking up Pitch 2. On this pitch, one has either the option of going straight up over the roofs (5.10a) or taking the corner crack (5.9) on the left. Jenny led a mix of both.
After the first two difficult pitches, kick back and enjoy a few mellow pitches of 5.6-5.7 flakes and blocks. This photo shows Jenny near the top of Pitch 4.
After I posted this trip report on CascadeClimbers.com, a discussion came up about potential route finding issues between Pitches 3 and 4. I have copied the discussion below:
wayne writes: "My understanding is that a lot of parties on juno get off route after the first 2-4 pitches, Maybe the supertopo has the best idea? Can you weigh in on that Steph?"
my response: "On SuperTopo's Pitch 4, we traversed right and then up some 5.6 blocks, as was noted in the SuperTopo topo. I notice that the topo in CAG notes a "left traverse" here which seems to me to be incorrect since the right traverse we took certainly kept us on route and dumped us off at the base of the 5.9 cracks and 5.10a face move above. So I think SuperTopo has it correct about needing to traverse down and right to stay on route. However, I would say that the SuperTopo topo shows the traverse as being much more of a descent than it actually is. The topo makes it seem as if to make the traverse you need to descend over half the amount of the previous pitch (Pitch 3), which would be over 40 feet. So this is what I did, but when I got down about 40' there was clearly not a feasible route. So I climbed back up and ended up spotting the 5.6ish traverse just about 5 feet down and 15 feet right of the belay at the top of Pitch 3."
There are a couple of more challenging 5.9 to 5.10 pitches (including a 5.10b crux), and then a couple more mellow pitches. In this photo, Jenny is making her "wide chimney face" as she exits the 5.0 chimney at the top of Pitch 9.
The last cruxy move of the route is about 2/3 of the way up, a 5.10a stemming section on Pitch 10.
The last third of the route (Pitches 11-15 on the SuperTopo topo) is mostly low 5th class climbing with several route options ("Where should we go?" asks Jenny as I snapped this photo; "Up," we decide). Perhaps because there are so many possible route options, much of what we climbed on the upper pitches seemed a bit untravelled and ambiguous. We found this last third of the route to be lower quality than the stellar first two-thirds.
Me (Steph) on the summit of Juno Tower. (Notice the knee brace. We had almost called this trip off after I tweaked my knee pretty badly punching through into a hidden crevasse the previous week; fortunately, as long as I moved cautiously, the knee seemed okay on the approach and climb.)
Billy had a party on the summit with a balloon we found on the approach.
From the top of Juno Tower, there are a couple of descent options. One option is to scramble down the ridge to Sunset Col and then descend back into Silver Star Creek basin and hike out to trailhead from whence you came. The other option is to make a southward descending traverse down the scree to Bench Camp below Burgundy Col and hike out to the highway via the standard Burgundy Col approach, and then hitch a ride (or bike or walk) 3.5 miles to your car. The second descent option sounded like less effort, so that's the way we went (this descent is shown in the photo on the left). From summit to Bench Camp took us an hour, and from Bench Camp to the highway took us another hour.
We ended up on the highway 3.5 miles from our car at the Silver Star Creek pullout. Our plan was to hitch a ride or just walk the downhill 3.5 miles to our car. It took all of 58 seconds from the time we popped up out of the trees onto the highway to the time a van occupied by two friendly road-tripping climbers from Colorado pulled over and offered us a ride (thanks!). Five minutes later and just under thirteen hours since we started that morning, we were back at our car at the Silver Star Creek pullout. What a fun day!
4:58 am - Start hiking up Silver Star Creek
7:40 am - Get to base of route (=2:42 for approach)
7:56 am - Start climbing
3:12 pm - Arrive on summit (=7:16 for climb)
3:42 pm - Begin descent to Bench Camp and HWY 20
4:45 pm - Get to Bench Camp
5:45 pm - Get to Highway 20 (=2:03 for descent)
5:47 pm - Hitch a ride to our car 3.5 miles down Highway 20
5:52 pm - Arrive back at car
(Total car-to-car time: 12:54)
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: www.stephabegg.com.