By Paulina Varshavskaya
It turns out that great days in the mountains make for boring stories. Laurel Fan and I climbed the Early Winter Spires on Thursday, September 29, and it was a good long day. This trip report is mostly an excuse for sharing pictures.
Our motivation was to be in the sun. The day before we had lugged way too much gear to the base of Liberty Crack only to find the entire face in the shade and the start hidden inside a narrow snow moat, sporting freezing temps and promising a day of early winter misery should we proceed with our initial plan. So we bailed. OK, I bailed. I didn’t want to hang out in the ice box without a belay jacket. I wasn’t ready for ice-climbing-worthy weather. It was still September!
So the Thursday plan was to stay in the sun as much as possible by climbing the South Early Winter Spire by the South Arete (5.4 or maybe 5.6 depending who you ask) in the morning, and the North Early Winter Spire by the Northwest Corner 5.9 in the afternoon.
We were at the parking lot around 7:30am, where we saw five Mounties gathered around their class leader who was talking about a chimney. We tried our best to beat them to the base of SEWS. That didn’t happen, but the leader graciously let us go first. Freezing in the chilly breezy pass and barely feeling my feet inside the approach shoes, I spent a bit of time fiddling at the “crux” start, but finally pulled through to easier terrain, and we were off.
We simul-climbed the route, tagging the top of the summit boulder at 11:15am. On the way back down we passed a father-daughter party: the daughter leading and gently coaching her father on footwork.
The South Arete is a spectacular outing with a great mountaineering feel. This rib a pitch above the “long sandy bench” is especially cool although the picture unfortunately doesn’t do it justice.
By the time we had some snacks and headed over to the base of NEWS, it was 2:30pm. As the stronger climber, Laurel led the entire Northwest Corner route, with me concentrating on following as fast as possible so we could be back down before dark. It’s not a straightforward route, with some big loose-ish flakes on the exposed third 5.8 pitch, laybacking which spooked me, and a very strenuous 5.9 offwidth in a flaring corner for the crux.
Laurel dispatched the whole thing in perfect style, running together the two crux pitches. As for me, I A0-ed them, pulling on gear and shouting “up rope!” for every tenth of an inch of vertical progress — in the interest of time, you see, and not at all because climbing practically overhanging flaring 5.9 offwidth is such incredibly hard work.
In any case, we were at the top rap station at 6pm, and back at our packs at 7, just as the sun went down over the mountains.
And here we are. What did I tell you? Great day! Boring story.
Notes: two 4″ cams would have been helpful on p4 (crux) of the Northwest Corner on NEWS; the NEWS descent is four 30m raps down the gully with some steep walking in between.