With its massive rock domes (Liberty Bell, Lexington Tower, Early Winter Spires, Kangaroo Temple) and its sharp granite needles (The Wine Spires, Kangaroo Ridge, Vasiliki Ridge), Washington Pass is the closest thing our state has to the Bugaboos and to Chamonix. Having climbed in both of those internationally famed destination, I can attest that the comparison is a stretch — the Bugaboos and Chamonix are much bigger; much more heavily glaciated; and throw much more snow, ice,and general mountaineering into the mix. Still, it’s no exaggeration to say that for long, high-quality rock climbs that are easily accessed yet have an exciting alpine flavor, there’s no place better in Washington to test your skills and mettle. The peaks, towers, and domes around the pass offer excellent granite climbing in a spectacular mountain setting. In short: The place rocks.
Mountain Project states the following about the area, “Washington Pass includes some spectacular and more easily accessible alpine climbs, ranging in difficulty from the South Arête of South Early Winter (5.4) to the ultra-classic Liberty Crack on Liberty Bell (free at 5.13a, otherwise 5.10b A3). The area is comprised (north to
south) of Liberty Bell Mountain (7720′), Concord Tower (7560′), Lexington Tower (7560′), North Early Winter Spire (7760′), and South Early Winter Spire (7807′). The quality of the rock is in general great and the summit views excellent.”
For the purposes of this post, I’ve also included climbs and links about Cutthroat Peak a few miles west of the pass, the Burgundy / Chianti / Pernod / Chablis spires (the Wine Spires) a few miles east of the pass, and Kangaroo Temple also a few miles east of the pass.
Details, Details: Climbing at Washington Pass
Access: From Winthrop, follow Highway 20 west past Mazama and toward Washington Pass. About 26 miles
from Winthrop, you’ll pass the road on the right leading to the Cutthroat Lake Trailhead. About 0.7 miles past the Cutthroat Lake Road is the pullout (on your left) that is used to access the climber’s trail leading up to Burgundy Col and the Wine Spires. Another 2.8 miles from that pullout, is the ‘Hairpin Turn’ in the highway—a hike to the pass southeast of the hairpin accesses Kangaroo Temple. Some of the east-facing routes on the Early Winter Spires are also accessed from the hairpin. Another 0.9 miles of driving from the hairpin delivers you to Washington Pass and the road (on your right) leading to the Washington Pass Overlook. An ascending trail starting across the highway from the Overlook road leads to the east-facing routes on Liberty Bell and Lexington Tower. The west faces of these towers are more easily approached by driving yet another mile west along Highway 20 and parking at the Blue Lake Trailhead (NW Forest Pass is required at this trailhead). The climber’s trail for the west side routes leaves from the main Blue Lake Trail about 1.3 miles along the way where the main trail bends right and starts making a long traverse toward Blue Lake.
Season. The best weather for climbing here is latish June through latish September. Snow and ice can be expected in early season.
Topographic Maps: Map 1 (Washington Pass and Wine Spires area), Map 2 (Washington Pass and Cutthroat Peak).
Guidebooks. Several printed guidebooks cover the Washington Pass environs. Of greatest fame and the most wide-ranging in its coverage, is Volume 3 of the Beckey Bible (Cascade Alpine Guide: Rainy Pass to Fraser River). Selected Climbs in the Cascades by Nelson and Potterfield covers routes on South Early Winter Spire, North Early Winter Spire, Lexington Tower, Liberty Bell, Burgundy Spire, Chianti Spire, and Silver Star in Volume 1 while Volume 2 features a few additional routes on South Early Winter Spire and two routes on Cutthroat Peak. Finally Washington Pass Climbing by Ian Nicholson is the newest guidebook and gives you all the beta and climbing topos needed for about 60 of the best routes in the area. About a third of these are newer routes you won’t find covered in other guidebooks.
If you climb Washington Pass often, you’ll want some of these printed guidebooks, but this post will connect you with online resources that have all the details, ma;ps, pictures, and equipment recommendations needed to climb about 30 of the classic routes found here. This page at the Mountain Project will direct you to guidebook information for over 25 of the classic climbs at Washington Pass that range from 5.4 to 5.12a in difficulty. Meanwhile, Steph Abegg’s website is a rich source of information about climbing around Washington Pass and has superb photos showing routes and excellent pitch-by-pitch summaries of many routes.
Juno Tower. Clean Break (IV, 5.10b/c). Some call this their favorite long route of this grade in the state. A trip report with everything you need to climb this route. A helpful map for accessing and exiting the tower (by Steph Abegg)
Wine Spires. Links to more guidebooks info for climbing the other Wine Spires.
Silver Star Mountain. Silver Star Glacier (I, 3rd Class). See our Ski-Backcountry guidebook for springtime ascents of Silver Star via Silver Star Creek and the Silver Star Glacier. In summer, accessing the peak by Burgundy Col is more direct and avoids unpleasant brush. Here’s a good trip report with all the details needed for this non-technical glacier route. Minimum recommended gear: crampons, ice axe, helmet.
South Early Winter Spire. Direct East Buttress, (IV 5.9 A1) –guidebook info from Winthrop Mountain Sports and from Mountain Project. Southwest Rib (III, 5.8). Excellent photo with route overlay, and a good trip report from Summit Post.
Cutthroat Peak. South Buttress (III 5.8). Good info from Summit Post for climbing this fun route.
Leave It Better than You Found It. This should be every user’s goal. Do no damage and pick up trash left by others.
Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or not know all the issues affecting a route. You are responsible for yourself, your actions, and your safety. If you won’t accept that responsibility, you are prohibited from using our information.
This post was originally published on 5/24/15.