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South Early Winter Spire – South Aręte 30-08-2009 Since a very good trip on the last visit to the area in 2004, I’ve wanted to come back. Time flies, Never thought it would be so long between visits. But recently, Lynn Erickson mentioned that in the past, the Spokane Mountaineers used South Early Winter Spire-South Aręte for their basic climbing course graduation climbs. So, with a view to putting a little more pressure on the still healing knee by doing something light and easy, re-acquainting myself with this beautiful area and checking out a route as a possible venue for next years course - scheduled a late summer trip to the Liberty Bell group at the head of Washington Pass. Because the area is very popular and can get quite busy we wanted to be at the start of the climb early in the day. We decided to leave town at about 2 on Saturday afternoon. We planned to spend the night at the Lone Fir campsite, five miles to the east of our objective. It’s an easy 4 ˝ -5-hour drive from Vancouver depending on border traffic. From Blaine head south on I-5 turn left at Cook Road just before Burlington - head for Sedro Woolley –stop at the Mt Baker District Ranger Station (left side of highway -at last intersection near the end of town) pick up required day use North Cascades Recreational Area parking permit ($5). Liberty Bell Group is actually in the Okanogan National Forest for admin and “map” purposes. Head east up the Skagit River on an easy drive along uncrowded Highway 20 where you ‘re likely to see more motorcyclists than truckers. Drive through Concrete, and on to Marblemount (ranger station open till 9 on weekends and last place to buy gas for 80 miles – don’t forget you have to get back) Wind your way by the little village of Newhalem at the base of the series of Dams providing Seattle with their light and power and gain elevation rapidly as you rise to the overlook above Ross Lake from its eastern side. Head in-land gaining more elevation on the approach to Rainy Pass. A few miles further on now driving on the lee side of the North Cascades the look and feel of the countryside changes dramatically. It is a lot higher (sub alpine) and clearly a lot drier. The Blue Lake parking area off the south side of the highway just before the Washington pass summit is where we would meet the rest of our party in the morning. It’s the usual point of departure for excursions on the Western aspects of the huge Liberty Bell Granodiorite massif. The Becky Route (400 feet of sporting climb with 4 leads in the 5.4 –5.6 range) on Liberty Bell (7,720 ft) and the South Aręte (600 feet of climbing 2 leads in the 5.4 – 5.5 range) of South Early Winter Spire (7,807 ft) being by far the most popular. We drove on a bit to the Washington Pass overlook where we got a great view of the soaring 1.000-foot granite east faces of Liberty Bell and the Early Winter Spires. They dominate the scene and the diminishing highway as it snakes down the steep slopes to the forested valley below. After a few pics at the Overlook we made our way down to the Lone Fir Campsite ($12 for a site for the nite –clean toilettes running water Gary at your service) for the night. Following morning Trevor, Zoran and I got up 5 had breakfast and packed up so we could make it to the Blue Lake Parking lot in time to meet Monica and Andrew at 6 am. We got there at 5:57. Monica and Andrew were already there having overestimated the time it would take to drive from Marblemount. We sorted gear and started off. After about 30 minutes on the trail we came to the swath of a major avalanche that had come down from the area of the Liberty-Concord gulley the previous winter. The trail switched back at about that point so wasn’t affected in any major way. We continued on for another 15 minutes to reach the clearing in the forest revealing the more open country below the imposing granite spires. The tracks to each of the climbs are pretty easy to spot and follow and it didn’t take us long to get to the base of the South Aręte. As we changed and sorted gear for the climb, the trail seemed to spawn people much like the sorcerers’ apprentice spawned brooms with buckets. Before we could head off a couple dudes whizzed on “okay to pass” through. Trevor lead off followed by Monica and Zoran, I followed and Andrew drew clean up. Becky’s guide gives a detailed and accurate account of the climb and we didn’t encounter any surprises. The first 2 pitches have some mid fifth moves, (a small flake with a 5.5 stretch on a slab on the first, and then a short (5.4) chimney on the second, after that it’s mostly a scramble except for crossing the whaleback (fixed bolt). We had a great day on the route. Our party and all the others (about 15 people) had a safe and uneventful climb under pretty much ideal summer conditions. After dinner at Sedro Woolley we were pleased to whisk through the border in less than 10 minutes. Bring only a small rack, cams, chocks, slings and extra biners.
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