Southwest Face (Variation to Upper South Ridge)

Page Type
Washington, United States, North America
Route Type:
Mountaineering, Trad Climbing
Summer, Fall
Time Required:
Most of a day
Rock Difficulty:
5.9 (YDS)

Route Quality: 1 Votes

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Southwest Face (Variation to Upper South Ridge)
Created On: Nov 1, 2008
Last Edited On: Nov 2, 2008


A climb at a sustained moderate grade and steepness, in a spectacular alpine setting, with enough terrain between it and the road to keep the crowds away, all on high-quality rock make this route a Cascade classic.

Regardless of the approach taken climbers will encounter significant glacier travel, a minimum of bushwhacking, and 1400 vertical feet of outstanding technical rock climbing. The minimal prominence of this peak also ensures a quick departure from steep terrain back onto lower-angle glaciers and third-class rock.

This climb is most often done in three days, but makes for a manageable, although long 2-day outing.

Getting There

Refer to the main page for information on how to get to the upper Marble Creek basin. From this basin position yourself to drop down to just below 6000 feet and round the long Southwest-trending ridge coming down from the summit of Early Morning Spire. Make your way Northwest across this ridge and then across another small, open, snow and talus-filled cirque for about 3/4 of a mile to the base of a narrow glacier-spanned trough. This leads directly to the base of the objective face, which is generally lighter in color than the rock of the ridges surrounding it. The 35-degree, lightly-crevassed glacier can be climbed easily to the start of a very recognizable crack system rising straight to the summit.

Route Description

The crack system offers relatively steep mid-fifth climbing for about 70 meters from the glacier. This is followed by about 40 meters of steeper, but excellent crack climbing, another 50 meters of mid-fifth terrain, then 50 meters of short, steep, and difficult steps. Another 30 meters brings you to a large, lower-angled ledgy area. Following this nearly to the South Ridge some 70 meters to climber's right, there are several short corners to choose from to reach the ridgeline. A steep slab with an arching crack stands atop the short corners and gives exposed and reasonable access around the ridgeline to the Southeast face.

From here another 150 meters of mid-fifth-class climbing over broken, blocky terrain take one to the summit ridge, and an easy scramble to the summit.

The climb has several sections with large amounts of grass, lichen, and sand, as well as a significant amount of loose blocks on the ledgier terrain, especially closer to the summit. They can be easily mitigated with careful climbing, and tend not to interfere with the most difficult portions. According to Jim Nelson in Selected Climbs of the Cascades, the lower-angled sections tend to hold snow into early summer and make portions of the climb wet through July.

The length of this climb dictates simul-climbing when possible in order to ensure the climb and descent take place during daylight hours.


From the summit one can scramble in corkscrew fashion, following the path of least resistance generally Northeast towards the Marble Needle-Early Morning Spire Col. There are established rappel anchors about 50 meters below and directly Northeast of the summit, overlooking the "Marble" Glacier. A 20-meter rappel reaches the edge of the glacier.

From here one could climb up and across the "Marble" Glacier to a low point of the ridge between Marble Needle and the Praying Mantis, and then make another 20-meter rappel down to the McAllister Glacier.

Or, one could descend to the Marble Needle-Early Morning Spire Col and drop down to the unnamed glacier to the Southeast of the summit of Early Morning Spire. The gully from the col to the glacier will not be snow-filled after July, and established rappel anchors exist in it, providing help in reaching the glacier's edge. This glacier offers relatively easy travel back down to the basin between Eldorado Peak and Early Morning Spire.

The edges of the McAllister Glacier, the unnamed glacier Southeast of Early Morning Spire, the unnamed glacier below the Southwest Face, and the "Marble" Glacier all had significant moats in September, 2008, requiring much creativity and careful work to cross.

Essential Gear

Rock rack to 2", rope, crampons, ice axe.

Southwest Face (Variation to Upper South Ridge)

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