There are moments where I wonder why I am still in Washington when I have opportunity to travel. Then I immediately think of all the times where I wished I had the freedom to sample amazing climbs in Washington, and to enjoy the beautiful summer days, on less the crowded days of the week.
Last week, I spent about 7 or so days in Washington Pass, some with Ben Kunz, and some with Jean Spencer. Ben and I started the week off with The Passenger, then Jean and I went up Southern Man and the Liberty Bell Traverse. The Passenger is stacked with high-quality 5.10 and 5.11 climbing, where as Southern Man holds fewer quality pitches, but the two that may be the best I have done in Washington Pass. Read on and go do both!
Ben and I had both been been waiting to get on this one for a while. It was well worth the wait. I feel like I got on it at the right moment in my climbing career and current fitness level, where I could really enjoy the entire route. As descriptions in Blake’s new guide and MP note, the climbing is hard, safe, and fun.
- doubles tips to #2, 1x#3,
- single set of DMM offset nuts (lose the large one, but supplement with 1 or two small nuts),
- 6 slings and 5 draws (or something similar), and a double length for P4
- a 60M single + 6mm tagline to haul the pack.
- Almost 2L of water up the route (a little more than usual, given that no one was climbing with the pack on)
The small cams were nice for the first 11c pitch, and as usual, DMM offset nuts proved their weight and usefulness. This rack worked out perfectly. No changes here.
As noted above, we brought a tagline to haul my pack up all 6 pitches. It might have been slight overkill, and the route isn’t necessarily steep enough to lend itself to clean hauling, but this allowed us to enjoy each pitch as a follower. We both agreed it was worth the effort.
Approach: We approached from the hairpin side, passing the standalone wall beneath the south face of SEWS, using the fix line to reach the base of the climb (~1:130). I didn’t yard to much on the fix line on the way up without knowing its condition. Having checked on it during the descent, it is in great shape.
P1: Ben and I decided to swap leads all the way up, and he started us off with P1. It heads up a shallow corner, left across a slab as you undercling the roof, then straight up for a few more feet. Rated 10d, it was quite the warm up.
P2: This pitch continues heads up the face (5.9), until you end up under a small square roof with a bolt on the face). The bolt gave me confidence for what I felt to be the crux of the route, but not enough to get it first try. Moving from left to right just above the square roof (finger locks down and left, then a pocket and an undercling up and right), required some tricky body tension, until you pull into a small corner (small cams and nuts here), where the climbing begins to back off after another few moves.
P3: Awesome finger locks take you up to a small roof/chimney feature. I squeezed through this as the follower rather than jamming it face in (easier to do without a pack). There is a bomber #2 placement right at the height of roof on the right.
P4: Wow, what a pitch. I led this one, and couldn’t have done so without such an awesome belayer. Blake’s description in Cascade Rock suggests leaving all the large cams at the belay; directions I happily followed. The 11- slab traverse seemed very desperate. Stay high until you clip the second(?) bolt, then drop down a few feet via a step across to a small divot in the slab where the angle eases a bit. I continued traversing across to the left side of the small arrete, which provided easy terrain up to a stance beneath the bolt at the crux. Like P2, this bolt provides a lot of security for the following move; so did Ben yelling “COME ON CHRIS, just boulder it! COME ON”. I on-sighted the crux and was super stoked. [Beta spoiler alert: grab the small down-ward facing crimp rail next to the bolt in a lieback position and move you feet up, instead of trying to use it as an undercling.] Be sure to put a sling on this bolt, and a double length sling on the next piece of pro you get in above before heading back right towards the anchor.
P5: Ben led through an easy slab out right into the crack on the face, then up through the chimney into the amazing left face corner. Maybe the easiest pitch on the route but also amazing, moderate climbing.
P6: This pitch is pumpy and fairly sustained for 40m or so. I skipped the leftward traverse for the 5.7 finish and built a belay eight feet below the bolt on the direct finish.
P8: Ben led it. The 5.10 grade is owed as much to the lichen on the rock as it is the moves themselves.
Descent: Scrambled down the fixed line, and through the talus back to the car.
If you haven’t done it, Hitchhiker is slightly easier and a great route to break into 5.11 climbing at the pass. Then get on this one!
Quite different from the Passenger, Southern Man follows the Direct East Buttress on SEWS for several pitches, before breaking up and left into a crack system, on what is probably the most prominent face on the south side of SEWS. The 5.8/5.9 climbing on the lower DEB is good, but the 5.11+ and 5.10+ pitches on Southern Man were AMAZING. Despite the lack of consistent climbing at these grades, I would say these two pitches make the route as good as the Passenger.
Approach: Just as with the Passenger, Jean and I approached from the Blue Lake trail side. Unlike the Passenger, we contoured right at the “bench” after meandering up the stream and talus from the car. This contour should put you at the gully running down from the notch below SEWS and NEWS. The bench is more of a stagnation in the trees as the rock crops out, rather than a flat area, and is less obvious than one would hope.
The pitch descriptions are great in Cascade Rock. I would add the following notes:
P1: (less than memorable low-5th climbing up leftward facing flakes) and P2 (a steep wide crack, 5.8, that runs through a roof, 5.9) can be linked by a solid party. I led these two and Jean followed. By the time the follower reaches the more challenging terrain on P2, the leader will already be at the belay.
P3: is a short, good-looking corner which starts from a nice ledge for the belayer. You can take this to just below the rotten rock which identifies the 5.9 P4 pitch.
P4: Cascade Rock describes passing two small trees and pitons. The pitons are not reached until you are nearly at the next belay. Don’t fret if you don’t see them by midway on the route. I would say the first small tree is obvious, but the next one less so. From the start of the pitch, you can see the alcove just pass a large left-facing corner that overhangs the last two thirds of the pitch, which also happens to be where the climbing earns its grade.
P5: Money. Money. Money. The pitch starts up an overhanging shallow corner, which becomes becomes less steep as you get higher. [Beta spoiler: don’t miss the foot holds on the right face at the crux, and on the vertical rail. If facing left, you can scuff your back against the corner]. After the crux, which is about 5m of the belay, the climbing backs off to about 5.9 for 5m, before becoming near vertical again for the rest of the pitch. You might save a small cam or two for the last couple meters (purple or blue MasterCam). Be prepared for some amazing, steep 5.10+/5.11- climbing. A few nuts are fixed at the belay, but in my opinion to low to provide a comfortable rest for the leader. They are also to low to provide an opposition to an upward force should the leader fall on the next pitch. A solid belay using larger cams (> .5) and a grey DMM offset that was a lot more comfortable than the existing fixed mess. The follower will dislike having a backpack on this pitch. The gear is good from start to finish, but finding the right placement can be a bit finicky as you manage the pump.
P6: The first 30m of this thing are just as good as the pitch below, and Jean and I seemed to agree that the crux comes about 4m of the belay as you make some committing moves up and left from where the two cracks converge (one leads to a steep roof out right, don’t follow it!). Awesome airy climbing on finger size cracks and odd hand jams takes you to less pleasurable climbing on lichen (eases here) higher up.
- Doubles from tips to #2, 1#3, 1#4.
- Single 60m rope.
Hauling via a tagline, as done on the Passenger above, might have made following the upper pitches more fun, but didn’t seem worth the weight during the rest of the climb.
Descent: I was a little dismayed by the descent off the SEWS down the hairpin side. The difference between this descent and coming down from the Passenger was that, in this case, we didn’t need to return the base of the wall to retrieve any gear. Instead, we were free to head directly to the car from the bottom of the rappels off the SW arrete. Jean and I struggled finding the best route down from here. In the future, if doing Southern Man again or the DEB, I would either:
- Scramble down to the base of the the Passenger and the Hitchhiker, skiers left from the base of the SW arrete, then continue to the car from here.
- Take the Blue Lake side and hitch-hike back to the hairpin.
As many climbers can probably attest to, each new route at a slightly harder grade always stands out to me as “one of the best routes I have done (add qualifier here)”. The Passenger and Southern Man were no exception.
I would say in order of difficulty of any one pitch, the three climbers on the south face of SEWS go:
Southern Man > Passenger > Hitchhiker (easiest)
in terms of sustained difficulties of the overall routes:
Passenger > Hitchhiker > Southern Man
All are good!!
To continue the week, Jean and I did the Liberty Traverse and El Capitan route on the backside of Big Kangaroo. A little less try hard, a little more alpine. Trip report to come!