Life on the road. The phrase sums up visions of free wheeling fun, adventure and freedom. Our friends Ed and Jonathan road tripped around Washington this summer, climbing some of the best rock in the state.
This week we join them in the heart of flavor country, the North Cascades National Park. The rock is perfect, the skies are sunny and the only thing to worry about is keeping the beer cold and snafflehounds out of the food stash.
The Cascade loop is perhaps the finest drive in Washington. Every turn of the road nearly causes whiplash, the sights are surely a national treasure. Ed and Jon navigated the ever winding Hwy 20, stopping for a cold swim in Ross Lake. Forgetting the towels (hey, it’s a climbing trip, not a swimming trip!) the guys drip-dried all the way to Washington Pass. The final turn caused jaws to drop at the total awesome-ness of the Liberty Bell group’s massive granite walls towering right above the highway. Drive up alpine rock climbing, a rarity anywhere, especially in Washington’s uber-rugged Cascades
This area was far from a drive up back in the1940’s when the iconic PNW climber Fred Beckey and crew walked from road’s end near Mazama to first climb the area’s first ascents. It must have been a long walk staring at the unclimbed golden walls. Fred Beckey’s name is attached to thousands of routes on mountains around the country and he’s going strong, climbing regularly into his 90’s. Ed and Jon would have to choose a Beckey route worthy of the pioneering spirit of the area. The Direct East Buttress of South Early Winters Spire fit the bill. The DEB is a classic natural line up a huge wall cracks, corners and two bolted 5.11/ A1 faces lead to the summit. Not the hardest grade these days, but certainly hard enough to tax most climbers forearms and toes.
Ed and Jon found themselves alone on the face that hot day, the rising heat giving a speedy ascent all the reinforcement needed. The first couple easier rope lengths went smoothly enough; stitching together solid moves on beautiful stone, the pair took a short break below the first 5.11 crux pitch.
Would the moves go free without resorting to hanging on the protection bolts? Ed took the sharp end of the rope and found the climbing to be exciting, yet within reason, every move solid 5.10 hard. Happily reaching a belay, Jonathan followed suit The spell broken, Jon led the next pitch, another 5.10 crack and corner, bringing the team to the next 5.11/ A1 pitch. Ed tiptoed out across serious moves, making the final 5.9 mantle high above his last protection. Scary indeed. From here the climbing is nearly over, but not quite. Hundreds of feet of exposure demanded that every move be made correctly.
The summit finally reached, our team celebrated, talking, eating and admiring the seemingly endless views. Washington Pass delevered the goods! The decent went quickly and soon packs were shed and shoes traded for flip flops and an early dinner and frosty cold beverages were fished from the frozen waters. The tense moments in the vertical forgotten,talk shifted to the next big thing, a mysterious line on the shores of a turquoise blue lake… Life on the road indeed.