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On top of north early winter spireat wa pass

Learning the Ropes on an Alpine Climbing Course

If you want to expe­ri­ence what the Cas­cades are all about no bet­ter way to do it then spend 8 or even 12 days out here climbing.

Our alpine climb­ing pro­gram is a huge suc­cess. Nor­mal­ly we start our trip by head­ing to the small town of Leav­en­worth and learn­ing the basics of rock climb­ing; how­ev­er the heat wave rip­ping through Wash­ing­ton made us reeval­u­ate that option and instead we decid­ed on the cool­er option of climb­ing at Mt. Erie sit­u­at­ed off the Pacif­ic Ocean and over­look­ing the San Juan islands. Our group of 3 climbers were up for any type of adven­ture. Don­na, David, and Gar­rett, all com­ing from dif­fer­ent spots of the U.S., quick­ly became trust­ing climb­ing part­ners after learn­ing the basic skills of belay­ing, climb­ing and rap­pelling day. After our intro­duc­tion we motored over to the east­side of the Cas­cades and stayed just out­side the tiny town called Mazama. 

Our sec­ond day, we didn’t waste any­time jump­ing straight into some alpine rock climb­ing. We trekked up to the base of South Ear­ly Win­ter Spire and climbed the south arête to the summit.

South Arête. Marc Rip­perg­er photo

We returned back up to Wash­ing­ton Pass and did the acclaimed Beck­ey Route to the top of Lib­er­ty Bell. The views from atop the spires are stun­ning. We were able to escape the after­noon thun­der­storms by get­ting back to the cars in the ear­ly after­noon. We spent the evenings at Fun Rock in Maza­ma going over anchor build­ing skills. 

Beck­ey Route. Marc Rip­perg­er photo

We test­ed our climb­ing prowess our last day and did the Chock­stone Route up North Ear­ly Win­ter Spire. The 5.7 crux of the route was excit­ing; our group of climbers were up to the chal­lenge. We cel­e­brat­ed our accom­plish­ments by a din­ner out at the Maza­ma Store where we enjoyed the crea­ture com­forts of home­made piz­za on the patio accom­pa­nied by a string quar­tet for ambiance.

Sum­mit of North Ear­ly Win­ter Spire. Marc Rip­perg­er photo

We packed up our bags that morn­ing and switched gears to start our climb up Mt. Shuk­san via the Sul­phide Glac­i­er. The fog and slight driz­zle typ­i­cal to the North Cas­cades was a wel­come change over the warm temps and we enjoyed the cool hike in. We quick­ly set­up camp and ate din­ner before the rains came that evening. In the morn­ing we woke up to con­tin­ued rain. We talked and prac­ticed a lot of dif­fer­ent infor­ma­tion in our snow school day. Learn­ing prop­er foot­work in cram­pons to build­ing snow anchors. That evening the rains relent­ed and the skies opened to reveal the sum­mit pyra­mid of Mt. Shuksan. 

Alpine lead­er­ship on Shuk­san. Marc Rip­perg­er photo

We woke up to crys­tal clear skies that morn­ing and strapped on our cram­pons and set out to see what the top of Mt. Shuk­san looked like. We enjoyed plen­ty of time in cram­pons cross­ing the Sul­fide glac­i­er. We accessed the SE ridge of Mt. Shuk­san and enjoyed sev­er­al pitch­es of mod­er­ate rock climb­ing to the sum­mit. A quick descent via 4 rap­pels down the pyra­mid brought us back to our packs and then even­tu­al­ly back to camp. 

Nin­jas on Shuk­san. Marc Rip­perg­er photo

Sum­mit of Shuk­san. Marc Rip­perg­er photo

Our final day we talked about crevasse res­cue tech­niques in the morn­ing before hik­ing out of the alpine and back to the bustling city of Seat­tle. In Seat­tle we said good­bye to Don­na and Gar­rett after a great 8 days of climb­ing and instruc­tion. David and I did not waste any time any head­ed back out to the Cas­cades and regrouped for our final 4 days. We picked out Eldo­ra­do Peak and the Dora­do Nee­dle as our alpine objec­tives to test the skills we had acquired the pre­vi­ous 8 days together. 

Clouds part­ing on Shuk­san. Marc Rip­perg­er photo

Our hike into Eldo­ra­do high camp is far from a leisure­ly back­pack in the moun­tains. The trail ascends over 5,000 ver­ti­cal feet in 4 miles tak­ing you through steep switch­backs, talus fields, alpine mead­ows and even­tu­al­ly spit­ting you onto the Eldo­ra­do Glac­i­er. We made it through the approach and nes­tled into our tent at 7,600 camp. 

Eldo­ra­do. Marc Rip­perg­er photo

The next day we climbed the sharp snow arête of Eldo­ra­do Peak. From high camp it is a quick sum­mit day and we were able to spend part of the after­noon going over more advanced crevasse res­cue tech­niques. We prepped for our climb of the SW But­tress of Dora­do Nee­dle and had din­ner before turn­ing in for the evening.

Day three was the day where David put all of the pre­vi­ous learned skills into one big day.We set out of camp at sun­rise and trav­elled across the expan­sive Inspi­ra­tion Glac­i­er it was com­plex glac­i­er trav­el nav­i­gat­ing the crevass­es of the Inspi­ra­tion and McCallester glac­i­ers. We dropped down to the Mar­ble Creek circ then ascend­ed 40 degree snow putting our pre­vi­ous­ly learned cram­pon tech­niques to use to gain the toe of the buttress. 

Climb­ing Dora­do Nee­dle. Marc Rip­perg­er photo

Ahead of us was 14 pitch­es and 1200 feet of rock climb­ing up the beau­ti­ful SW But­tress of the Dora­do Nee­dle. Our climb had it all from crack climb­ing to knife edge ridges. We sum­mit­ed the peak at noon and popped a few cliff bars before our descent off the peak and back down toward camp. We cel­e­brat­ed our accom­plish­ments and were grate­ful of the amaz­ing weath­er and ter­rain we were able to expe­ri­ence in our 12 days of climb­ing. In total, we climbed to the top of 6 dif­fer­ent sum­mits and had a ton of fun along the way.

~ MM Guide Marc Ripperger

Top of Dora­do Nee­dle with Eldo­ra­do in the back­ground. Marc Rip­perg­er photo