Edited to include more tasty goodness from Washington Pass, see bottom.
I'm breaking this up into multiply parts so they're not quite so overwhelming. See the previous part here Part I
I had spent the last month or so in the heart of the Cascades, doing lots of hiking and mellow scrambling, but now it was time to do some real climbing. I was heading back from Holden to Portland, but before I even got there a buddy in Seattle convinced me to stop and make a trip up to Washington Pass. The preeminent roadside alpine climbing in Washington, the Pass has a dozen beautiful spires with routes on all sides, from grade II 5.6, to grade V 5.13. Unfortunately I don't seem to have taken any pictures and blocks of text just aren't the same, so I'll try to be brief. The first day we set off to do the Southwest Arete of South Early Winter Spire (SEWS), one of my all time favorite climbs. Pretty mellow, it's seven or eight pitches up to 5.8, every pitch is beautiful, not hard, but challenging enough to be interesting. I highly recommend it. Plus the downclimb has a classic au cheval section which makes for an awesome picture which I of course don't have. We also linked in Liberty Bell on the way in since I hadn't done it and it's only a couple of short easy pitches.
The base of Liberty Bell with my partner Luke on the left with no shirt being eyed by the goats.
The next day rained a little so we went cragging in town, then back up to the Pass the next day to do the East Ridge of SEWS. At grade IV, 5.11-, it's a much more committing route and I got to lead the 5.10+ slab pitch which is oddly described as the crux despite the next pitch being 5.11-. The joys of ratings. The slab was originally aided, so there's plenty of bolts, the only problem being that most of them are from the first ascent. Thankfully someone's gone back and rebolted every third or fourth but it's always fun trusting old rusty buttonheads with your life or at least a good long fall. Finally the last day we did Prime Rib of Goat, a bolted multipitch route downvalley a little from the pass. Long but not that hard, the guidebook even says that it's very liberally bolted and that stronger climbers should feel free to "skip as many bolts as their sense of propriety and adventure demand." A nice cruiser route.
Luke's a buddy from grad school, a guy who has actually managed to stick it out, is almost done with his dissertation by now. This despite taking frequent trips to Thailand to go climb for months on end. His trick is that he somehow manages to focus and get work done even when surrounded by distractions, something I never quite mastered. Why he's still there and I'm not I guess. The unfortunate corollary of this was that soon enough he needed to get back to work while I still had lots of time to climb and didn't have another partner lined up until September.
Enter cascadeclimbers.com. The local message board, I've scored plenty of partners and beta off CC. Easily enough I found another guy on a roadtrip, got in touch, we decided to go do something small before committing to a longer trip together. Vesper peak had been on my list for a while, with a nice short route up the north face we thought we'd go check it out. I didn't realize I had forgotten the book with the topo until we got to the trailhead, and we didn't have a good map for the area, but I was pretty sure I remembered the beta. It was a beautiful foggy cascade morning, so we never got a good view of the peak on the way up, but with only a modicum of thrashing we managed to find the base and start up.
The start of Vesper, that thing's at least ten feet away from the wall and the only bridge we could find was hardly confidence inspiring but it held so up we go.
Dave looking back down, trying to figure out where we go from here.
Once we got across the moat most of the climbing was in fact quite mellow and the only real excitement was when an avalanche came down about fifty feet away from me. I heard it coming, couldn't tell where it was, just crouched under a roof and prayed for a second. After that there was some discussion whether it was a good idea to keep going, but we thought we saw the snowfield where the avalanche had come from and could avoid it, so up it was. The rest of the climb got better and better so I was glad we did keep going. It turned out that getting up was the easy part. The descent info was just a vague 'walk off to the east' and with all the fog and snow, it was somewhat unclear where exactly we should go. Most of the possibilities seemed ruled out by cliffs, so we started wandering down a drainage eastward, continually looking for a break in the ridge that would let us turn north back to the trail. Unfortunately it turns out you were supposed to cross the ridge way high and the whole rest of it is rocky, gnarly nonsense. We kept climbing up to it and peering over only to see cliffs dropping away into the mist. We thought about rapping down blindly, but that seemed like a bad idea, so we kept going farther and farther down the drainage, painfully sidehilling through wet, slick, steep bushes. We knew that if we went far enough down this valley it would eventually merge with the drainage we wanted to be in, so we just pressed on rater than try to climb back up. Eventually it got dark, we ended up on a ledge that was at least flat-ish and dry-ish, so we gave up and bivied. Not my most pleasant night ever. In the morning the fog burned off a little bit and we could see, not that it helped that much, there was still plenty of bushwhacking before we stumbled back onto the trail, but we made it. For some reason I always seem to epic with new partners. The three biggest epics I've had have all been with people I don't normally climb with, two of them on the first climb we did together. Nevertheless, we decided to stick together and, after we rested for a day or two, made some bigger plans.
The first plan was to avoid the rain in the near future. I had looked into a place called the Cathedral Range a few years back that's east of the crest and hence drier, but ironically got rained out. The weather this time looked better out there, so we headed east. The Cathedrals actually sit right on the Canadian border and while there's a trail in from the states, it's long and dry, while the trail from Canada is much shorter and nicer. We were thinking about doing some other things up in the Canuckistan anyway, so we took the north road. A short hike lead us up to a basin where we'd camp for a few days with enough time left in th afternoon to do the Monarch-Macabre-Grimface (MMG) traverse.
View of Grimface from our first camp. The north face, the grim one, is on the other side, and the MMG traverse comes in from the right.
The start of the traverse.
Apparently the first ascent party did a shoulder stand here and since no one else has figured how to actually climb in they put in a ladder instead.
Summit of Grimface at sunset, luckily ther's a nice quick scree ski descent back to camp.
The next day we did the north face of Grimface, grade IV 5.10. It starts at the lowest tongue of rock on the left, goes up the skyline past the obvious notch.
Here I am pulling around the crux roof. Just past here it started raining, but luckily I found a nice cave belay, brought my partner up right quick and we ate lunch while waiting for it to stop.
Eventually it did stop and with the hardest behind us, we decided to keep going.
Next we wanted to go climb Cathedral peak itself, which is a couple of valleys over. We puzzled over the map a bit trying to figure out the best way to get there. There was a direct route over a peak, but it would require climbing third or fourth class rock with heavy packs, so we opted for a ridge crossing lower down that added some distance but I think worked out better.
Beautiful parkland on the way up to the ridge.
On the ridge itself, Cathedral is on the left, Amphitheater is the long ridge on the right. We camped at Cathedral Lake which is hiding behind the ridge just in front of Amphitheater.
It had rained that morning, but cleared up by the afternoon so we had a pleasant crossing. Still took several hours, so combined with the several it took to get to the first camp I'm not sure if it's any faster than hiking up the trail from the states side if all you wanted to do was Cathedral. The Southeast ridge of Cathedral, grade III 5.9 is the classic of the area, up next on our ticklist.
The Southeast ridge of goes up the middle past the obvious chimney then left. The Monk on the right.
Looking down from the second belay at the top of the chimney.
So good, you'd swear it was the Sierra.
Here I am leading off into a 5.10 variation just for the hell of it. I always look for the most interesting line, not necessarily the easiest, something that gets me into trouble sometimes.
Summit shot with Grimface poking out over my left shoulder and the ridge we crossed over my right.
Leap of faith on the downclimb.
The next day was two-fer. First the Monk, a short sub-peak just to the right of Cathedral, then something on Amphitheater right above camp. Pete Doorish apparently went on a rampage out here, putting up most of the first ascents out here and turned the Monk into a virtual alpine crag with over a dozen climbs all 3-5 pitches. We aimed for one called Ondine somewhere in the middle but with that many routes all over the place, it's hard to say if we stayed on it the whole way. The route we did on Amphitheater was one of my favorites, kind of like SW arete of SEWS, easy but not too easy with fantastic rock and just great climbing the whole way.
Heading into the belly of the beast. I had to leave my pack at the bottom of the chimney. My partner was not amused.
This was our campsite with Amphitheater literally right out the tent flap. Coming back from the Monk, we're headed for Pilgrimage to Mecca which follows the sun/shade line on the left.
Super clean rock on PtM with our tent just barely visible in the trees below.
Since this was our last climb of this trip, we decided to take some time to wander around on the summit ridge and enjoy the views.
Gratuitous summit sunset porn.
Crossing back across the international border. Yes they cut a twenty foot wide swath all the way along the border for hundreds of miles, kind of odd to come across when you're bushwhacking through the middle of nowhere, but I suppose it will come in handy the next time we go to war with Canada.
Stopping for lunch on the beautiful open ridge.
Relaxing back at the car, already planning the next trip. Hint: that ain't water in Dave's cup.
Where would the adventure lead next? To find out, continue to Part III
EDIT: New Pictures from Luke for Washington Pass.
Luke on the summit of SEWS looking east. Plenty more climbing to be done back there.
Looking north at NEWS from SEWS again with plenty of other peaks behind.
Taking off for the East Buttress of SEWS in the cold, cold morning.
And yes, finally, the promised au cheval picture. Luke showing how it's done on the descent.