Lexington Tower, East Face

July 14, 2007 / 5.9+, 10 pitches, trad.

Today, we're going for the East Face of Lexington Tower (5.9+, 10p). We get up at 6AM, leave the bus at 7:15AM and drive to the dirt pullout just beyond the pass. The weather looks OK, but a few thin clouds are already there… fingers crossed. We drop off the road on the climbers' trail by the pond, and follow it the best we can for a while… before we loose it, and find it again, and loose it again… it doesn't really matter, all we need to do is go up until we get on the talus slopes above the forest.

As soon as we're there, we take a straight diagonal to the top of the scree below the base of the climb (we have decided to take the right-hand line, as described in Nelson as a P1 variation and as recommended by Radek in his Summitpost page - in fact, we are following his route description, which is also why we are carrying 60m ropes today… not necessary as it turns out). The talus ends maybe 100m below the rock. A moderately steep snow slope separates us from it. The snow is still quite firm, so we make our way up carefully, in our soft approach shoes, carrying sharp rocks in hope they could help arrest a slip… The suncups help a lot.

Once at the base of the face, we are looking at a pretty wide moat (later in the season, the right hand start might be snow free). Fortunately, a portion of it has collapsed into itself, producing a good ledge to get ready and a bridge to the rock. We gear up but keep our approach shoes on (we don't want to get our climbing shoes wet). I start up the slabs. There is pro! 50 feet higher, a small scoop at the base of the low angle corner offers a chance to change into climbing shoes, which I do (the next few moves are slabby and look kind of thin). From there, I continue up the corner then traverses sharp left to a comfy (and bushy) ledge with good anchors. Lucie follows quickly, opting to keep her approach shoes all the way. On the ledge, we finish getting ready for the steeper climbing above.

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The East face of Lexington.
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Approaching the moat at the base of the climb.
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Eric starting pitch 1 in his approach shoes.
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Higher on pitch1.
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Views from the belay atop pitch 1.

The second pitch is reputedly very runout and 5.7-ish. After moving the belay another 40ft to the left (near the end of the ledges), I start climbing toward a set of steep flakes, just right of the minor "arete". The climbing is slabby and a bit runout indeed, but what pro is available (at reasonable intervals) is actually really bomber (mostly small Aliens and nuts). The second half of the pitch is on the other side (left) of the rounded arete, and is substantially easier, with still occasional yet solid protection. I belay about 150 feet out, on a good ledge.

The next pitch (#3) is straightforward and easy, and leads to the base of the obvious dihedral.

Pitch 4 starts on a flake and a beautiful finger crack right above the ledge and a few feet left of the corner (which is quite decomposed for the fist 30 feet or so), before joining the corner above. The climbing is sustained (5.8) on excellent rock. Here, Radek's description suggest running a long (200'+) pitch past the first roof… by the time Lucie is calling 45' of rope left, I am still a good distance below the roof, and at a good belay stance. I decide to belay here. Lucie follows quickly.

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The second pitch is 5-7ish and somewhat runout, but solid pro can be found.
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An easy 3rd pitch leads to the base of a dihedral with a good looking finger crack.
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Looking at the WA Pass road toward Winthrop.
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Eric starting the fun finger crack (pitch 4, 5.8).
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Another fun pitch...

We run another, fairly short pitch (but clearly longer than 45') past the roof, to an uncomfortable sling belay below the upper roof and chimney (piton and fixed nut with rap anchor + great placement for ¾" gear).

The next pith is the beginning of the business: up the corner, to the entrance of the dark chimney, before traversing sharp right on an exposed horizontal offset crack.

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...which traverses...
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...under the roof leads to the base of the chimney.
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Don't worry, you're not climbing the dark chimney - you're traversing right!
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Eric starting pitch 6 (5.9+).
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Making a couple of moves in the chimney...

The start of the traverse is easy as one can use the roof of the chimney for balance. After that, it is a very exposed foot shuffle, with pro at your ankles (hard to place). No holds whatsoever on the face. Pretty easy really, just a bit scary. After about 20', this leads to a hanging flake. The first move up the flake is quite stiff and awkward (crux). Goes pretty well if you lie-back rather than trying to offwidth it. Above this is a pretty hard off-finger crack (5.9), followed by a good hand crack. From the top of the crack, a couple of moves left lead to a good stance below the notorious offwidth crack and the piece of 2x4 stuck in it as creative pro. This last pitch would be really difficult to protect with a single rope; it's a breeze with doubles (no drag whatsoever), and if you plan it well, you second gets to do the foot traverse on a toprope!

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...before traversing right.
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Eric on the foot traverse.
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Pulling the hard move up the flake (crux).
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A 2x4 wooden block protects the start of the off-width (pitch 7, 5.9).
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Eric starting the chimney/off-width.

The next pitch moves up the offwidth, into an easier but unprotected chimney, then into steep hand cracks and another section of OW. We decide to haul the packs through this one (we're both carrying small packs). The plan is for me to lead up, clipping only one rope (blue), set the belay, pull up the slack, and let Lucie clip both packs (one below the other) a few feet above her on the other (red) rope. That way, Eric can haul the packs and belay Lucie at the same time, and she is right below the packs at all times to get them unstuck from the numerous restrictions in the OW. Works like a charm even though it makes the climbing a bit more time consuming.

The initial "OW" section really goes as a wide chimney, with protection from the 2x4 wooden block, then two brand new bolts (one right above the other?! - I won't complain about the higher bolt for added safety, but the lower one is a waste - I didn't even notice it until I was well above it). I push a #5 Camalot above me in the wider sections. Above the initial offwidth section, you reach an easier chimney, just wide enough for me to butt-knee. No pro here, but fairly secure chimneying. A hand crack follows. Here again, Radek recommends runnig a long pitch to a sandy ledge with a tree. I saw the tree from below but it's way up there! Besides, to haul the packs up, I don't want to get too far up. So I set up a belay on a small (4" wide) ledge with a difficult anchor (need two hexes; also used a #4 Camalot and a good size nut). I belay Lucie and haul the packs from here.

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Higher on pitch 7.
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Still smiiling after the chimney pitch.
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Pitch 8 is a full-on offwidth (5.8) on rounded, gritty rock. It felt like another crux.
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Higher on pitch 8.
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Views from the belay a top pitch 8.

We then run another moderately short pitch to the sandy ledge. This section is a bitch: full-on offwidth climbing on gritty, rounded rock (rated 5.8 but quite a workout). I use the #5 again in a section of this pitch. The ledge and the tree anchor at the end of this are really welcome. Lucie follows and also finds the pitch to be a bear.

The rock in this last pitch was getting pretty rotten… and in doesn't improve in the next pitch: a mostly low angle but shitty pitch to a sandy ridge.

From here, an exposed 4th class traverse along the ridge and across a slab leads to a shoulder at the base of the summit tower (which unfortunately is not climbable from this side: rotten rock and very steep). This is the end of the route.

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Eric starting pitch 9.
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The last pitch is an exposed 4th class traverse toward a small shoulder...
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...with a big cairn.
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Looking toward the descent gully we took (just right of the flat area).
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Lucie going down the ridge toward the flat area.

We unrope, change back into our approach shoes and start scoping out a descent route. The two narrow gullies that drop west from the shoulder look much too steep… we chimney a few feet down the second one (descender's left), then follow a narrow ridge to the left, to a short downclimb with a friendly tree, and another gully just before an inviting flat area (would make a great camp if there was water). This gully is much more manageable. We scramble down this one for maybe 50 meters, before walking over a shallow rib and into the next gully to the left. This leads easily to the scree and talus slopes below and to the North of North Early Winter Spire. From there, it is the usual descent down to the Blue Lake trailhead.

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Looking at NEWS. The obvious coner is the NW Corner route. There is also a party on the West Face route.
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Climbers of the West Face of NEWS, one of the best climbs in WA Pass area.
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A four-legged friend keeps us company while we refill our water bottles at the stream.
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Close-up of our furry friend.
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Eric biking back toward the pull-out at the pass where we left the jeep.

We stop at the stream to refill our water bottles (we're both feeling a bit dehydrated; it was very hot all day). A mountain goat keeps us company for a while. We watch a pair going up the Dolphin (NW face of South Early Winter Spire), a 5.11 route we hope to get on this summer. Back at the bus, Eric picks up his bike and rides it over the Pass to get the Jeep. Beer time! We eat left overs of pasta and various sauces for dinner. We'll need some rest tomorrow. The forecast calls for degrading weather and rain anyway. Next on the list: the Minuteman! . . .