Last Ascent

Some Excess Wandering on SEWS

With only a few weeks left in the season I’ve been trying to cram in more alpine adventures. Having yet to make it out to Washington Pass, I was stoked to find good weather coincided with my day off. Plans were laid for a Concorde Tower/Liberty Bell double feature.

At the trailhead, I found my packing job wanting. Spending the last few weekends cragging at sea level had me complacent, and I forgot my puffy, toque, and gloves. With nightime lows in the twenties, my plan to cowboy camp and enjoy a starscape free of light pollution was abandoned for a chilly night in the car.

We woke to frosted glass and cold hands and mutually decided that a route with morning sun sounded more appealing than stashing hand warmers in our chalk bags. South Early Winter Spire’s South ArĂȘte (III, 5.6) seemed ideal; if we moved quickly it would only take a few hours and allow us plenty of time to attempt a shorter climb of its northern sister.

Predictably, we summited neither NEWS nor SEWS.

Having dawdled at the trailhead, we didn’t reach the spires ‘til half noon. There were two parties of three roping up at the base, and so – once again – we changed our plans: we’d attempt the classic Southwest Rib (III, 5.8).

Not expecting to tackle the SW Face, I’d paid little attention to it on the approach, but it seemed straightforward enough from the SuperTopo description. Traverse a bit, pull a roof, and follow the obvious line of weakness up past the bear hug. Where could we go wrong?

Evidently, straight from P1; we veered right rather than following the ledge system towards the Wavy Crack. This took us up a nifty 5.9 hand/fist crack over a small bulge onto another large shelf and a belay atop a low-angle ~4" crack. From there, our only option was to go left, where we rejoined the SW Rib route just at the base of the Bear Hug, now P2 rather than P6.

Unaware we were on route and past the bulk of the technical climbing we searched fruitlessly for an interesting line, eventually relenting and downleading. Definitely preferred the offwidth going down to heading up! Descending back to the car, the alternate 5.8 handcrack start described in Harrington’s topo was obvious, as was the ledge route leading to the SuperTopo P1.

May give the route another go if there’s a weather window in November; if not, it’ll make for a great early season warm up.