ApproachThe easiest approach to the base of this route is from the west. Follow the directions on the NEWS main page starting at the Blue Lake trailhead off of WA highway 20. Some additional pointers: follow the Blue Lake trail for approx. 2 miles (from TH) until a second prominent clearing beneath the west face of Liberty Bell. From here you should see a very clear climbers' trail heading uphill toward the Liberty Bell Spire. The climbers' trail starts off by heading directly for Liberty Bell before turning right (south) traversing steep slopes (and slabs...it's easy to lose the trail on the slab sections) below the Concord and Lexington Spires. Note that there's a split in the climbers' trail, with the left fork heading up toward the Liberty Bell- Concord notch. To reach the west face of NEWS (or west and south faces of SEWS) you want to keep right at this fork (keep traversing below the spires). The trail eventually leaves the sparse Larch growth and enters an open alpine meadow. Keep traversing below the west face of NEWS until you're near the SW corner where you should pick up another off-shoot trail heading uphill towards the NEWS-SEWS gully (with giant chock stone). Traverse at base of NEWS (past a giant boulder) until you're at the mouth of the chossy gully on left (north) side of NEWS. Northwest Corner route starts literally at the northwest corner of the formation.
Note that "N&P" refers to the Nelson and Potterfield guidebook (Volume 1) description.
Route DescriptionThe route reaches the summit of North Early Winter Spire in about 6 pitches of fun! The first pitch (or first two pitches per N&P description) is a bit chossy and not that enjoyable but the rest of the route is pure joy on perfect rock. Grade III rating is on the conservative side IMHO (from N&P) - climbing goes quite fast as there's no route finding issues to be had.
Pitch 1: 5.7 - 5.7+, 200+ feet. This pitch can be broken up into two short pitches but the second of these is mostly a class 4 bushwhack. Move up the face near base of NW corner of the formation reaching a mossy groove at 20 feet. Follow groove up through a small tree to the base of a mid-5th class chimney. Climb chimney to a forested (small trees but plenty of them) ledge system. Either belay here (per N&P description) or continue. Move left thorough the trees (going straight will put you on West Face, III 5.11-), surmount a 12 foot "headwall" (~5.7) and belay when out of rope. You should be in a left facing dihedral (not the dihedral quite yet) with a large pine tree above. Belay on gear.
Pitch 2: 5.8, 140-160 feet (depending on how far you stretched pitch 1). Now the fun begins! Move up the dihedral aiming for roofs 80 feet above you (roofs or flakes with wide cracks in them). Either surmount the first roof head on (?) or traverse left 8 feet out of the dihedral and climb the face. Just above this first roof, move back right. Jam and undercling your way up (big gear, #4.5 Camalot was good here) heading for the second flake directly above you (#3 - #3.5 Camalots under the flake). Undercling and jam your way up and left and then up again past the difficulties. Belay on a 1-foot wide ledge next to a small pillar (with rap slings) resting at the base of the prominent left facing dihedral (the diehdral). Gear belay. Note: I have received feedback from others that this likely is the crux pitch of the route and the suggested rating is 5.9. I'd tend to agree. My ratings were taken from Nelson & Potterfield.
Pitch 3: 5.9, 100 feet. This is the money pitch. From belay, move up 10 feet and enter the dihedral with a wide crack. Hand jam, fist, and arm bar your way up the crack. Face features appear on left slab about 20 feet up and the going eases. This initial part is the crux. Continue moving up the dihedral (progressively easier) past a narrow "ledge" or stance at about 70 feet. Move right into an alcove beneath a prominent roof. Belay on gear (rock here is a bit chunky). Take your time setting anchor as the next pitch begins with a 20 foot runout.
Pitch 4: 5.9, 120 feet. Move up the face (~5.7) towards the roof above. This section has no pro so if you fall, your anchor will feel it. Traverse left under the roof to its edge. Move up the left facing dihedral above (finger crack). This is the second 5.9 section according to N&P but it'll feel easier than the OW below I think. Belay on low angle terrain above when rope drag stops you.
Pitch 5: low 5th class, 150 feet. Continue moving up the low angle slabs and steps following the line of least resistance (up and right and up again generally speaking). You should see a small tree with slings in a narrow slot at some point. This marks the start of your rappells. Belay above on or just below summit.
Descent: The descent is same as one given on South Face route page. However, this time we did all single rope raps which works out well. From the slung tree (small) ~60 feet below summit, rappel with one 60 meter rope down a gully/chimney. Two more single raps down this chimney bring you to the notch between NEWS and SEWS. Walk down the class 2-3 loose gully (heading east - direction of the approach trail you took earlier) until you reach the top of the huge chockstone. Do another single rope rap off of new bolts atop the chockstone (free hanging). Walk down another grassy gully to about 50 feet above ground. Either downclimb this last low 5-th class section of do another short rappel to base of the spire.
Route Overview Photos
Web Links(1) Northwest Corner TR from Eric & Lucie.
More coming when I find them...