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[TR] Mt Washington - SE Buttress - III 5.7


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Trip: Mt Washington - SE Buttress


Date: 7/20/2009


Trip Report:

It's been a few years since anyone has posted a TR on this route, so I thought I'd post up about my recent jaunt up the Outer Space of the Southern Olympics.


My friend Doug and I had plans to take him out on his first alpine climb, but work intruded and shortened our time frame to just one day round trip from Olympia. Having fond memories of climbing a route on the SE Buttress of Mt Washington 21 years ago during the summer I got married, I'd long been interested in repeating that ascent. The latest Olympics guide included a description for a route that was rather different than the line I recalled, and I was curious to see what all went on up there.


Doug and I headed out from Oly early Monday morning, with stops for food and gas. We started hiking up the familiar approach to route 2 a little after 9am. The lower part is in every way superior to route 1, a lovely steep winding ascent through open old growth forest, with some steep rocky scrambling up high leading right into a gully, and some more rocky ledge hiking leading to the landmark notch which leads right into the lush alpine basin where the approach to the SE Buttress diverges from route 2.



lush basin


The lower shield wall, roughly 7 pitches tall, appears here. We headed up the mild brushy steep scramble to the left margin, as per the guide description.




Now, I'd climbed this face long ago, and didn't recall the pitches and rappels from the guidebook. In fact, I remembered having an eager goat follow us up the first three 4th class pitches. Looking at the wall, I can only think we took a classic line of least resistance from the bottom of the wall, it looked vaguely familiar to my aged brain. This time around we followed the guide's lead to the line of most resistance, the left hand arete of the wall, presenting the cleanest looking rock.


The first pitch was readily apparent from the end of the scrambling, the peculiar sight of a bolt 30' up providing a goal. An additional bolt lured me on, though the guide promised "two bolt belay" proved elusive, and tiptoeing from one scant protection point to the next distant one finally led me to slung horn belay at a full 60 meters. This horn had a perlon cord and a dyneema sling with wire gate biner around it. It still has a perlon cord.


Doug led up the next bit, heading straight up past some difficult bits and then rightish to meet the ridge crest, ending at a belay at an obvious flat notch on the ridge. He did great dealing with the loose rock and devious protection. The rock was generally solid, with some surface looseness, but good placements were widely spaced, typically offering maybe three points per pitch.






We continued up, following the natural line, sometimes traversing right, sometimes heading up. The 5th pitch offered a full pitch traverse to the only dodgy belay. Several placements offered possible security, but the lack of a secure stance guaranteed that any swinging fall would bear gut wrenchingly onto the belay.

Fortunately, the mid 5th climbing did not engender any separation between climber and climbing surface, and Doug led up to within a half pitch of the parapet at the top of the shield wall.




This shot at the top of the 3rd pitch shows a typically inventive slinging of a small horn behind my happy mug.


We continued to the top of the parapet at the top of the shield wall, roughly 7 pitches. Only the first would want a 60 meter rope, and the last was no more than 30 meters. A long web-o-lette wrapped around the base of large horn features offered the most secure belays on most of these pitches on the most continuous portion of the route.


Scrambling across the parapet zone led to the first rappel. We added a sling to this rappel, and it looked pretty decent. Somehow, when I had climbed this route several decades before, we didn't make a rappel but downclimbed somewhere or other. This time around I was happy to latch onto the rap rope.


The upper half of the route offered complex route finding, and the exposure coupled with occasional 5th class steps did not inspire us to completely dispense with the rope. The guide promised 2nd class after the first rappel didn't really materialize, and we kept the rope on with a token piece or two per pitch.



Complex terrain a little ways past the first rappel. 2nd class? I didn't really think so.


The second rappel, which I also didn't recall from my earlier ascent, was not super encouraging. Multiple strands of faded perlon and partially torn webbing encircled two loose blocks and the base of a small very dead tree. A back up old hex was tied to the amalgam with another faded partially cut piece of webbing. We added a sling to the rap extension and backed up the nasty mess with a cam while I (the fat kid) tested the anchor. I don't really know what would be the great solution here, but the rock is crappy and the loose blocks are temporary, I could have easily kicked them off with one foot. Someone oughta make a real anchor here.


The crux of the route presents itself after the second rappel. From a belay in the notch, head round the right side of the next pinnacle. Doug chose the steep crack on the left with a face climbing style option. Protection was the best on the route for this fine bulge.


From the top of this gendarme, a casual walk leads down to the next notch. A solid but only modestly protected pitch of mid fifth leads over the top of the next gendarme, where one coils the rope and scrambles to the regular route 1.



All over but the hiking


We dropped gear and scrambled to the summit for full completion of Doug's first alpine route. Woot!




The slog down the summertime version of route 1 was more than a little tedious.



This stuff is a lot more fun when it's still covered in snow


The middle headwall was especially odious. If the now dry upper portion of route 2 hadn't looked so ugly and sketchy I'd have opted for that line just to avoid this crappy steep scramble.




Still, small bits of beauty presented themselves, such as this lily in the flat avalanche basin before the final drop to the road.




I'd definitely recommend this outing. The fairly compact rock and sparse protection makes it relatively serious, but things are overall pretty solid and the length is roughly 14 pitches if you include the exposed 3rd & 4th class. It's at least as significant as the Serpentine Arete, and since it's only a little over an hour from my house, I won't be too surprised to find myself back here again next year.


As far as grading, I'd take the guidebook grades as indicative of what you ought to be climbing with no risk of falling. The bit of 5.7 after the second rappel is the only hardish climbing, but the overall route is fairly serious.


For those who want more specific beta, here's a big version of the shield wall with a route line drawn on it: link


And here's a huge picture with annotated side view of the upper ridge: link









Gear Notes:

We brought a mid size alpine rack and used it all. 1 set Camalots .4 to 3, 3 smallest wired hexes, 1 set wired stoppers. We got some minimal use out of a set of rp's and pink & red tri cams.


Approach Notes:

Park at the outside curve after the road crossing of Big Creek, be sure to find the boot track up the open forest. Tennies is fine, hiking poles rule for old guys.

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Actually I had a great time, but I was definitely tired for a couple of days. Also, thanks for not mentioning the header i took off the only flat part of the trail down. I don't know how it got involved, but my little toe has been purple and black for a week.

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Nice job Off, and thanks for the annotated photos. It sounded like for the most part you were in agreement with the guidebook description. As I recall the 2nd class portion after the first rappel required you to poke around just a bit to the left (west) and find an easy ramp.


I think this is one of the best alpine routes in the range. A touch of the loose stuff here and there, but hey, its the Olympics.


I'd be interested in any other comments for future GB revisions.


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