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About Us > Adventures > S. Early Winter Spire

S. Early Winter Spire - SW Arete, 6/22/03

Having failed to reach our objective (summit of Cutthroat) the day before due to snow flurries, whiteout conditions, and inclement weather, we decided to play it ultra-safe and go for the “surest thing.” At 6 a.m. on June 22, with more flurries threatening, six of us (Doug Schurman, Courtenay Schurman, Ted Dodd, Monica Dodd, Jeremy Dodsworth and Kevin Dornfeld) opted to climb South Early Winter Spire (SEWS) with its southern exposure rather than take a chance on the perhaps wetter northern exposure of Kangaroo Temple (KT). Our friends scheduled to climb Liberty Bell cancelled their outing, but we decided that we’d at least try the approach from the hairpin turn and take our chances on the weather. Monica and Ted were especially eager to have the climb go, having driven from Seattle starting at 2 a.m. Kevin had arrived at 11 the night before. Doug, Jeremy and I had spent a restful afternoon in sunny Winthrop with a good night’s sleep and were eager to get in some more climbing.

We headed up from the hairpin turn at 6:30 a.m. on continuous snow pretty much from the road all the way up to the notch except for a melted-out slabby scramble step area about 100’ long. We each used an ice axe; steps were solid, though if we’d had crampons we probably would have worn them for the approach. Once we topped out at the notch (in 1:40), we scrambled along the ridge, where there is a fairly wide boot (or goat?) trail, though it’s probably easier and faster to descend west onto snow and traverse to the base of the SW Arete climb. At one point the scramble route takes a dip to the right to a fairly exposed area where loose rock can make footing a little tricky – fortunately we made it through without incident. Once we reached the base of the climb, we got out harnesses, ropes and helmets, had some food and drink, and paired up in teams: Doug and Jeremy, Ted and Monica, and Court and Kevin.

SEWS has 3 good pitches of low 5th class climbing and 4th class scrambling, with the crux of the climb coming about 20 feet off the deck on the first pitch. A #2 cam is useful for protecting the step across; the key is getting the right foot solidly on the bulge in the crack and left foot on the ledge that looks much larger from below! The rest of the first pitch is easy if you follow the “beaten path;” if you get slightly off track you can add climbing difficulty fairly easily! The second pitch heads up from a belay tree through a scramble gully and a nice chimney, where the crux of pitch 2 is the stem up and out from under a large block (use the runner hanging from the chock). The third pitch is short, and the rest of the climb can be done in running belays. There is one spot in the middle of the scrambling where the route can either go right, up an open book; right and up a steep block, or left up some steeper, more difficult terrain – leader’s choice. I opted for the open book going up, but the steeper more exposed crack going down. Once you reach the whaleback you can wrap a cordelette or triple runner around the large boulder and belay your partner across the fingertip traverse (use the bolt or not, it was not there the first time we climbed this route in 1999). Once at the top we celebrated Monica’s success at completing her graduation climb, but then remembered we were only half way done…

We found radios to be especially useful, as our three teams got a little spread out due to varying climbing abilities and speeds. Snow threatened all day long, but we never had more than flurries, and even when we reached the summit at 12:15, the winds were nonexistent, and as we descended from the whaleback one other party of three was on their way up. We downclimbed to the first rap station and did a double-rope rappel using 60m ropes, and from the base of it, a single-rope rappel using a 50m rope got us down to the base of the climb. In all, we were on the route for 6 hours with an hour at the summit for the first team. What was the sweetest part of the climb? The very quick descent to the cars – glissading nearly all the way down to the cars took under an hour. Suggestions: on the scramble traverse along the ridge from the base of the climb to the notch, use the snow OR be confident in your climbing party’s ability on scramble terrain. We had one slip heading out that could have been more severe than a simple stumble. If you opt to glissade to the hairpin (in early season), watch for rock fragments high up (plunge step down until there are no rock trails). Try to stay right as you descend, or you’ll end up traversing slabs and downclimbing some mossy rock to get on the correct snow finger. One out of two on a weekend when most climbs were cancelled: not bad!

Following is a listing of pictures in order taken. All photographs taken by Courtenay Schurman except where noted.

View of hairpin turn from far above the road.

Valley covered in clouds. View to east.

Where's the Spire? Doug, Ted and Jeremy check out the clouds.

There it is!

Scrambling along the ridge from the notch.

Doug leads the first pitch.

Jeremy and Monica look on; is Doug inspiring confidence or fear?

THIS is the second day of summer??

Doug relaxes after completing the crux on the first pitch.

Monica and Ted discuss Mon's gloves as Jeremy follows Doug on first pitch.

Find the foothold!

Almost there, Jeremy!

Ted leads the first pitch by stepping onto the face and then into the crack.

Ted and Doug at summit of S. Early Winter Spire

Jeremy, Kevin and Monica relish their summit bid as snow flurries continue to fall

Court in coils at summit, white-out behind her.

Doug starts down from the summit on a running belay.


Looking up one of the scramble chimney pitches #2

Jeremy at first rappel station

Oops, wrong turn -- stay right when descending the snow fingers to avoid crossing these slabs

Doug and Ted look back as climbers make their way over mossy slabs.


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