Alpine climbing NCCS rating
Grade V
Elevation Gain
2,410.00 ft (734.57 m)
5.00 mi (8.05 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

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.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass

Not Required


Incredible views. Quality rock. Easy approach.


Can be crowded on a weekend.

Pets allowed

Not Allowed

Trailhead Elevation

5,390.00 ft (1,642.87 m)


Rock climbing
Big vistas



I had an amazing weekend climbing in Washington Pass. It was only my second multi-pitch climb, but the diversity of the pitches made it a good route for newer climbers pending you have an intermediate trad lead climber as your climbing partner. The approach was a 2-2.5 hour hike, the climb itself took us just over four hours and about 1.5 hour decent, then 2 hours out to the parking lot.
This is a great route for the intermediate trad leader. The bearhug pitch is awesome! Easy descent via the SW Arete.
Have updates, photos, alerts, or just want to leave a comment?
Sign In and share them.