East Wilmans Spire (Beckey-Staley Route)

June 19, 2007 / Grade III, 45° snow, 5.4

On June 14, after waiting a couple days in Darrington for the rain to stop, we're eager to get on something and drive to Harlow Pass. It rained on and off the night before and is still raining in the morning when we leave the bus. Not really looking too good, but we decide to have faith in the forecast (which calls for partly cloudy skies later in the day). We drive (slowly) to the trailhead. It takes us two hours to make the 1.5 hr drive. When we get there, it is still raining and the clouds are very low. We drive around a bit, then wait in the Jeep for two hours (sleeping) in case the weather improves… but it doesn't much. You can tell it is getting better slowly, but it won't be good enough soon enough. Disappointed, we drive back to Darrington, checking the road for campsites along the way.

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East Wilmans is a striking spire high above the ghost town of Monte Cristo.
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The approach to Monte Cristo is best done on a mountain bike.
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Views from the approach.
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Crossing the river.
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Arriving in Monte Cristo.

We're back five days later. This time, the weather looks good. Mostly clear skies, with just a bit of a high altitude haze. We leave the bus just after 6AM for the 1.5 hour drive to Harlow pass. It is quite cold. We get the bikes ready then head out. We leave the jeep around 8AM. One other hiker on the Monte Cristo road. As expected, the road is washed out at 1 mile. We carry the bikes over downed trees and across the mud slope (not bad at all) to rejoin the road bed on the other side (turns out - found out on the way back - that there is also a way around up the hill, where a 4WD somehow made it through). A few hundred yards further, the river has rerouted itself around the bridge. Fortunately, there are good size trees jammed (and now secured with steel cables) on which we can cross relatively easily, carrying the bikes. Back on the road again. The rest of the way is relatively easy riding, with just three or four short sections where tributaries have washed across and eroded the road. Otherwise good biking to Monte Cristo, though most of the elevation gain is in the last mile or two, so it gets a bit tiring (in addition to a couple of steep short hills before that).

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Taking a break in the small gost town; there isn't much left except for...
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...a bunch of signs and...
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...a couple of old cabins.
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A sign marks the trail to Glacier basin.
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Hiking up Glacier Basin.

Once at the Monte Cristo townsite, we cross a first bridge into "town" (not much left), find the trail to Glacier Basin across another footbridge (well marked), then hide (and lock) the bikes in the woods next to some private cabins. Now on foot, we easily find the Glacier Basin trail (again well marked). Easy hiking to the falls, then it gets quite steep for some time with a bit of slippery slabby rock as well. Above the falls, we find the first continuous snow patches. The entire Glacier Basin is still under snow. Good snow conditions (4 inches of sloppy stuff on top of a solid base). We continue to a rock outcrop just below and to the right of the steeper snow. We change into harnesses (just in case) and helmets, and get some food and drink, before heading up the slopes to the obvious couloir. Another couloir heads to the left just above and looks dangerous (cornice and hanging snow slabs). As we are getting ready, a good size snow slab cuts loose and comes crashing down with rocks and all… wow! Fortunately, we can stay near the right side of the snow slopes and probably out of harm's way. Straightforward snow climbing up the steepening (quite exposed) slope (probably 35 to 45 degrees) leads to the entrance of the final couloir. This couloir is a bit steeper and more exposed yet. There are no visible tracks so we have to kick hard to make steps. We do not use the rope on the way up, and only use our aluminum crampons in the last 3rd of the couloir, which gets quite steep and serious (no falls allowed). We're mentally a bit rusty on exposed snow, so we both feel a bit stressed. It's a relief when we reach the col. Snow conditions are excellent though. We never even considered pulling out that second tool that we hauled up.

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Glacier Basin views.
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First good views of the spire.
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Going up snow slopes just below the spire.
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East Wilmans Spire from closer.
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In the steep snow gully leading to the lower col.

Past the col, one can follow a mix of snow and talus around the south face to the upper col. The talus is indeed very loose, as indicated in the Nelson's book. From the upper col, the beckey-Staley route climbs the spire in 2 pitches. The first pitch has a couple of 4th class moves and good pro, to a fixed rap anchor on the ramp.

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Arriving at the col between the South and East Spires.
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Taking a break at the base of the rock climbing.
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The Beckey-Staley route climbs to the summit in two pitches.
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The first makes a leftward traverse across the south face...first up
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...then left and down.

From there, a few more feet up the ramp leads to the fixed piton which marks the base of the second and final pitch to the top. This pitch is easy as well (5.4 is fair) but has really scary rock, particularly on the first half (lots of loose and partially loose blocks). The final 3rd is on much better rock (edges) but no pro. Good anchor at the summit on 3 good pitons.

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Eric - about to downclimb toward the next ledge system.
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Clipping into the fixed anchor near the end of the first pitch.
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Looking back toward Lucie on the belay ledge atop pitch 1.
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The 2nd pitch climbs a crack system to the pointy summit.
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Finishing pitch 2.

The summit is small but larger than the table described in the book. The last pitch has a couple of ropes hanging from it… we though they were fixed, but find out once at the top that they are raps ropes. Someone has gotten them stuck (two 60m by 8.5mm Mammuts). Whoever left them there have cut off the ends and used them for a rap anchor off the ramp… they must have had a third rope? We rap off the summit on the abandoned ropes (from this season it looks like) - 1/2 pitch to a fixed sling anchor. We reinforced that anchor, pull the "fixed" ropes and toss them onto the ramp. We rap on a single 50m (ours) from there to the ramp. We then use the longest of the two cut ropes to rap off the ramp back to the col. The other option is to retrace your steps back down. Once at the col, we pack up the gear and scramble back to the lower col. We decided to belay the upper couloir; a fall here would be pretty serious.

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Eric on the top of the spire.
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Summit shot.
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Summit views.
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Mt Rainier playing peekaboo.
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Using the fixed rope we found on the climb to rap down the first pitch.

We make 4 belays using anchors on rock and in the moat before the slope angle mellows and the exposure lessens. Plunge-step the rest of the way down. The hike down from the basin is uneventful. There is one guy camped by himself just below the basin. We make it back to the bikes in late afternoon… better hurry so we don't end up biking in the dark.

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Going down the steep gully...
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...and the gentle snow slopes back to Glacier basin.
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Back in the basin with the Wilmans Spires in the background.
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Getting back on the bikes for a fast downhill ride to the car.
 

The bikes are definitely worth it on the way out… the ride out is fast! Back across the log jam, then around the washed out section of road and onto the flat last mile and to the jeep. It is about 8:30PM. Long day (nearly 13 hours), and a tough reintroduction to the alpine. The weather has been gorgeous all day. It's a long drive back to the bus - we're starving and we forgot the chips! We arrive after 10PM and quickly cook some pasta for dinner (all restaurants were closed along the way). Wasted and satisfied.