IntroductionIn the past couple weeks I have had the opportunity to do a number of climbs at Washington Pass. Prior to this my sole experience in the area had been a nontechnical jaunt up Mount Hardy with Josh Lewis and Gimpilator, and I was only dimly aware of the alpine rock climbing meccas of the Liberty Bell-Early Winters Spires group, Kangaroo Ridge, and the Silver Star massif. In addition to a multi-pitch sport climb on the Goat Wall outside of Mazama, Ryan Hoover and I climbed one route in each of these groups, experiencing a small portion of the fantastic climbing this region offers.
We found conditions to be not exactly dry, but dry enough. We also observed the well known phenomenon of the snowshoe exclusion principle: if you bring snowshoes, you won’t need them, whereas if you need them, you will have inevitably left them in the car. I have observed a similar pattern elsewhere with avy gear, ice axes, crampons, maps, and gasoline.
Le Petit Cheval - Spontaneity Arete (5.7)As a warmup climb we selected a feature on the north end of Kangaroo Ridge called Le Petit Cheval, we had intended to link together Spontaneity Arete, which we climbed in mountaineering boots, with Paul Revere (5.9), but deteriorating avalanche conditions inspired us to head down after completing the first climb. This decision turned out to be fortuitous, as we observed from Hwy 20 a sizable wet slide come down the slope we had descended about 30 minutes prior.
We simul-climbed most of this moderate route, and found the crux to be much lower on the ridge than we expected, in a rather dirty dihedral. Higher on route, when the average angle was steeper, the climbing itself was more fun, but also very simple.
Goat Wall - Prime Rib (5.9)Back from Spontaneity Arete by noon, we decided to head down to Mazama and see if we could find something worthwhile in the local crags. After a visit to the Goat’s Beard we headed out again, this was around 4:00, to do the supposedly 11 pitch Prime Rib route. We soloed up the first pitch and linked many others, I don’t remember the details as the whole route kind of ran together. I found the climbing to be simple, sporty, over-bolted, and a little boring. The long sections of class 2 between pitches also made the route feel very contrived, and higher up the rock quality took a serious dive. Having not brought headlamps, we bailed just before the last pitch and rappelled down.
Both Ryan and I were a little disappointed with this supposed area classic, but then neither of us are really sport climbers, and long alpine routes accustom one to a much greater degree of exposure.
North Early Winters Spire - West Face (5.11a)At Larry Goldie’s, who we had run into at the Goat’s Beard, advice, we set out the next day for the West Face of North Early Winters Spire, which despite some snow lower on the route, turned out to be an excellent climb. I led our first pitch, which included a wet, icy chimney section that I mostly bypassed using a crack on the right; above that we had to cross a substantial snow patch, which was unpleasant in rock shoes. Also unpleasant was the fact that we needed our boots for the descent, and therefore the follower was carrying about a 20ibs pack. This made 5.9 traverse on the next pitch rather strenuous, and the 5.11a tips crack nearly impossible – I pulled on gear through the crux. Trading leads again, I took our fourth pitch, a 5.6 hand-crack with a small, warm, stream running down it, to the summit. The rappel down was simple enough, although again rather unpleasant due to how much water was soaking the rope and then spraying out of my reverso like a water fountain. This would have been a much bigger problem had it not been such a warm day.
Chianti Spire - Rebel Yell (5.10a)The next week Ryan and I headed back to Washington Pass to attempt my first, and his second, Wine Spire. Although the approach was much longer than any of the hikes we had done the week before, it seemed go quickly enough and we made good time to Burgundy Col. From there the traverse to the base of the route was short, but steep, and downright hot with the sunshine radiating off the snow. Once again I took the first pitch, the most tricky part of which was completely unprotected the traverse from the ledges on which had left out gear to the actual start of the route, which was at no point more than 10 ft above the snow; we estimated this as 5.9 friction.
The offwidth above was wet to begin with, but even wetter after a ledge slid somewhere above and gave me a thorough dousing of slush. At the end of our second pitch the route may have gone to the left but Ryan thought a left facing corner looked promising, judging by the amount of debris coming off of it, if it has been climbed before it hasn’t been very many times. He seemed pleased about it but I found it awkward and unfun. The offwidth above it was much cleaner, more technically demanding, but easier in a lot of ways. From there is was just a series of short steps to the summit, where, fearing that it was going to start raining, we almost immediately began the rappel down.
This was where I began to make an escalating series of poor decisions. After accidentally rappelling down the wrong way, with Ryan already off rappel at the next station, I, instead of prusiking back up the rope, decided to let him down climb the 5.7 pitch while I pulled the rope and rappelled straight to the ground from a couple nuts I had found. This might have worked out, except that the rope stuck, forcing me to prusik up to find out what was going on. Whatever the knot had gotten stuck in, I never found out, by the time I reached it it had freed itself, which left me to rappel from, yet another, miscellaneous anchor (this one a bolt and flake equalized together). Luckily, the rope reached the ground from there and the pulled easily, and I didn’t start raining, and Ryan didn’t fall while down-climbing. I get the impression that this is just a small taste of the kind of shenanigans that can happen on alpine rock climbs. Moral of the story: prusik back up the first time you think you need to, because it will only get worse from there.