South Early Winter Spire: Southwest Rib

North Cascades, Washington

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South Early Winter Spire: Southwest Rib


  • Navigating steep snow on the approach with North Early Winter Spire on the left and South Early Winter Spire at right.- South Early Winter Spire: Southwest Rib
  • The fun fourth-pitch wide crack.- South Early Winter Spire: Southwest Rib
  • Getting to the top.- South Early Winter Spire: Southwest Rib
  • Enjoying the views.- South Early Winter Spire: Southwest Rib
  • Neighboring peaks.- South Early Winter Spire: Southwest Rib
  • View north toward Golden Horn (left, 8,366') and Tower Mountain (right, 8,444') with North Early Winter Spire at far right.- South Early Winter Spire: Southwest Rib
  • The exposed and scenic descent route.- South Early Winter Spire: Southwest Rib
  • Day's last light.- South Early Winter Spire: Southwest Rib
  • - South Early Winter Spire: Southwest Rib
Overview + Weather
Incredible views. Quality rock. Easy approach.
Can be crowded on a weekend.
North Cascades, WA
Pets allowed: 
Recommended Equipment:
Harness / rope / anchors
Alpine climbing NCCS rating: 
Grade V
Net Elevation Gain: 
2,410.00 ft (734.57 m)
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Total Distance: 
5.00 mi (8.05 km)
Trailhead Elevation: 
5,390.00 ft (1,642.87 m)
Current Local Weather:
Adventure Description

Adventure Description


The Southwest Rib of South Early Winter Spire (SEWS) at Washington Pass is an excellent route for budding alpinists and mountaineers looking to break into alpine rock. It features a fairly straightforward and easy approach, quality climbing on solid rock, amazing views from a breathtaking summit, and a wildly exposed and memorable descent.

The six pitches of this route are varied, and all are enjoyable. The views are great from the very start, and they just get better the higher you get on the formation. The approach is fairly moderate and straightforward. Simply follow the Blue Lake Trail for approximately 45 minutes until you break out of the trees into an open meadow. From here, look for the wall up and to the right (west). Follow climbing trails up to the base of the southwest rib.  

Below is a brief description of the pitch layout.

  • Pitch 1: Climb the wide 5.8-crack that moves up and left from the base. Relatively easy terrain leads to a short section of difficult hands past a small roof. Stretch the pitch almost the full 60 meters, and belay off of a tree at a great ledge.
  • Pitch 2: Climb the wavy, widening hand crack straight up another 45 meters to another comfortable ledge and tree belay.
  • Pitch 3: Pick one of three ways to get to the exposed base of Pitch 5. The easiest variation is a 5.5-splitter straight up to a tree, and then a 5.0-traverse right to an anchor beneath a blank-looking slab.
  • Pitch 4: Scamper up the 5.6-runout slab to the base of the twin off-width crack. Save some medium sized cams for the belay.
  • Pitch 5: This is the "bear hug" pitch. Fight your way up the twin wide cracks, place a cam at the top as a directional for the second, and continue right to the belay in a corner.
  • Pitch 6: A bolt and easy terrain leads you right to the edge of the exposed arete. A long pitch brings you to some small towers alongside the steep headwall.
  • Pitch 7: Continue up the gully on easy cracks to the summit!

The descent is somewhat complicated and difficult to describe in detail. You basically follow the south arete route, with a good bit of Class III and IV down-climbing. Most parties will want to rope up for the fin that is shown in the last image. Once you are back to terra firma, it is easy to scramble back to the base of the route to get packs or other gear you stashed there. Retrace your footsteps back to the car.

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Nearby Camping + Lodging

(9 within a 30 mile radius)

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(21 within a 30 mile radius)

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