It sometimes feels funny to write a trip report for an area for which a ton of beta already exists in the form of guidebooks and blog posts. That being said, I think I am often motivated to share a special experience with others such that they might repeat it. My recent trip into the Wine Spires is one such example. I was quite blown away by what in my humble opinion is one of the more beautiful little alpine paradises of Washington, complete with amazing, clean rock, a (very) gentle glacier, shaped by an ever occurring rock fall and seasonal precip and melt-out. I doubt this trip report adds to anything that cannot already be found easily online, but hopefully it convinces some to make a(nother) trip up there.
A few weeks ago Mark Allen and I made a day trip up Gato Negro on Silver Star, which was my first trip up to Bench Camp. That route trends up Whine Spire (which I am not actually sure is part of the Wine Spires?) The visit made me curious about what was on the other side of the Burgundy col, and the back side of Silver Star. Thus, with a free long weekend, and an interest in enjoying Washington summer days, Lindsey Kunz and I ventured up with big packs and food for a few nights. We stood on top of Silver Star Mountain via the glacier walk up, climbed Chianti via Rebel Yell, explored Burdundy Spire via the NW Face, and I scrambled Valsiki tower (the small spire at the Burgundy col). We hiked in Friday and spent the next two evenings enjoying sunsets with a stellar few, then departed midday Sunday.
Approach, camp, and logistics.
- Chosen approach: We chose to approach the Burgundy col from the Silver Star pullout rather than hiking up Silver Star Creek. This because 1) it was just a little closer to Seattle 2) I knew the approach to Bench camp, which would reduce some unknown.
- Trail: Its about 3500 ft of gain to the col from the road pullout and I am guessing it took us something like 3 hours with our big packs at a very moderate pace. When you park, the trail begins at the far most western tree at the pullout (cloest to Liberty Bell group). The trail is easy to follow from the road, to Bench camp, and then to the col. At Bench camp, just stay on the trail as you pass the boulder that holds a bolt for hanging food, and the campsites on the right hand side. We made sure to follow cairns on the last bit of the train from Bench camp, as otherwise the loose scree and kitty litter is a pain in the ass. The trail dogs to climbers right several times, so its good to pay attention.
- Camping: We camped at the col where there are three bivvy sites. We landed the largest and flattest bivvy. This and one of the other sites accommodate a two-person tent, while the last is somewhat slanted and probably two small. As could be expected, the wind is a bit more pronounced at the col than elsewhere, but even with less then bluebird weather, Lindsey and I both agreed it was quite manageable and well-worth the nightly views. During each day, we stashed our bags containing sweaty clothes and food up in the rocks above camp to avoid entanglements with the roaming mountain goats.
- Water: We found snow on the back side of the col, as I understand is the case for the most of the year. To find running water, I had to walk down to the snowfield beneath Chianti (near the start of Rebel Yell). This probably varies by year, but plan to walk for water or to bring enough gas to melt water from snow at the col.
Silver Star Peak via Upper Silver Star Glacier
After arriving at camp on Friday, Lindsey and I packed up and headed for Rebel Yell on the East Face of Chianti Spire. Unfortunately we walked right passed Chianti spire and spent an hour or so trying to find the route on granite accessed from the Upper Silver Star Glacier. After burning a bunch of time (by this point it was 430pm), we decided that even though we could walk the other way back to where we realized the route was, we didn’t want to end up on the route with headlamps – its been a while since I have “epiced” in any shape or form and I like keeping it that way). Instead, we took our double rack, including two #4s, a 60m rope and tagline, for a walk to the top of Silver Star peak. On a direct path from camp, my guess is that the top can be reached in 1 to 1.5 hours from the col but with our circuitous path it took us a lot longer. Either way, one summit down, the afternoon of arriving and I was already totally spell bound by the Wine Spires.
Chianti Spire via Rebel Yell
Saturday. We woke up with a plan to go climb Clean Break on Juno Tower. Again not sure here if Juno Tower is actually one of the Wine Spires. We left camp around 7pm with some sort of double rack, at the direction of the approach notes in Cascade Rock “Descend Northward to skiers left” or something like that. We quickly found a dead-end above slabs to the left and a steep snow slope to the right. I have done my fair share of steep snow climbing in approach shoes with just a rock in my hand, but this one seemed a bit to slick and fast to risk it. Instead of trying to find another way down, and with some looming weather (the forecast said slight chance of thunderstorms), we decided to just grab a few extra cams and a tagline from our camp at the col and go have a second crack at Rebel Yell instead. Yup, call us lazy!
I ran back up the col, grabbed the extra rock gear, rope, and trekking poles and we headed toward Rebel Yell once again. This time we knew where the route was (we had seen it the other day on the way back from the Silver Star summit) so we were there within 15 minutes.
We first noted the huge rock fall that had occurred beneath the route. There was also a large amount of snow/ice that had melted off from the rock slabs above and come sliding down. Funny enough, these are the things that have led me to be so interested in the Wine Spires! Its like a mini-Bugaboos, with rock fall, burgshrunds, and small little crevasses and its only two hours to get up there!
P1: to begin the route we took the 5.10 start. To get to the base of the flared chimney on the Cascades Rock guide, it is one Mega pitch of 5.9 and 5.10 climbing. The rock is absolutely immaculate and the fingers thin crack at the top felt like a proper challenge.
P2: I climbed the flare chimney up and through the hand-rail into the large corner where this variation joins the normal route. The flare was a little difficult with approach shoes, two light jackets, a tagline, and a double rack all on my harness. One #4 is useful for this pitch. I put a medium nut into a solid flake up near the arrete directly above the hand rail, then continued right into the corner and up another 20ft. Protecting it this way protects the follower very well.
P3: Lindsey led the 5.7 pitch up to a tree/block anchor with slings on the right side as the corner system breaks up a bit. We debated exactly where to go but she nailed it.
P4: I led up through hand cracks, found two small cam placements just before the “blind step left”, and moved around the corner. This would be TOTALLY wild for a 5.8 climber! This pitch ends at a nice belay below the 5.10 hands pitch and could be linked with the last one.
P5: I led up the 5.10 hands that turns into a wide crack above. I was midway up the off-width finish to this pitch when I started hooting and hollering about just how cool it was to be off-width climbing way up here. Totally remarkable.
P6. We blasted up the 5.8 wide pitch to finish the route.
- As the route requires two ropes to get to down, we brought Petzl’s new RAD line to pair with the 60m lead line we were climbing on. I cannot believe how light the RAD line is, you cannot even tell you are climbing with it. Because we had a tag-line, we took a few moments to haul our small pack up P1, P2, and P5. This might not be the “fast-and-light” way to do it, but I know that Lindsey had a lot more fun without a pack on.
- We brought a small set of nuts, a double rack from blue Metolius to #4, with a single red X4. In the future, I would leave behind one of the blue Metolius cams and the Red X4, and maybe another small finger piece. There just aren’t a ton of mall cracks on the route.
Back at camp on Saturday, I wanted to get a bit more climbing in, so I took a quick solo lap on Vasiliki Tower. This is the small spire just opposite of Burgundy at the col. Any number of routes could be chosen, but I scrambled around to the W side of the tower, clockwise from camp, and found a route that would probably get 5.6 or so. I brought my rock shoes for a few moves to provide some security for this rope-less adventure, but then put on approach shoes to walk off the NW ridge, which is more like class 3. About an hour camp-to-camp. If nothing else, this quick jaunt provided some cool views of the col and the snowfield below the East face of Burgundy.\
NW Face of Burgundy Spire
On Sunday, Lindsey and I woke up and climbed the NW Face of Burgundy Spire, which literally starts 100ft from the bivvy sites.
We climbed the route in four pitches:
- 1 simul pitch to the base of the NW face through the”4th class” terrain (110m?).
- 1 simul pitch to the ledge from which you traverse hard right (80m?). From here we move the belay the 60m to the right.
- 1 pitch up to and through 5.8 finger and hand crack (35m)
- 1 pitch to summit (10m)
A note on route finding (see photo below as well), from the midway ledge where the last two pitches of the route begin, there are a few options.
- Left: 5.10 chimney (obvious)
- Center: 5.7 slab to 5.8 finger -> hand crack (not as obvious)
- Right (5.8 double cracks?) (not as obvious)
I started up what felt like 5.10 slab climbing in the middle (maybe I was having a bad day), and backed off. Then I moved a bit right, climb through an easy 5.7 move without protection for a few feet, and then trended left for 10m to reach the 5.8 finger-to-hand crack. This feels like the best way to go for someone leading at the 5.8-5.9 grade. The slab in the very middle of the face seems very difficult to warrant just “5.7 runout rating”, as mentioned in Cascade Rock.
Overall, you shouldn’t stay at the col without doing this route, it is very fun, goes really fast (we did it in 4 hours camp-to-camp, with 45 minutes spent eating and testing out the hard slab moves), and the rock on the last two pitches is great.
Descent: The rappels are all in place for a quick descent with a 60m rope, though in a few places you walk between stations, namely along the ledge mentioned above, and while descending the “4th class” terrain used to approach the face.