The Southwest Couloir on South Early Winter Spire is a unique climb for an area best known for its alpine rock climbing. Only in shape for a few weeks to months just after the highway opens, this is not only a great snow climb but the quickest route to the summit of the South Spire.
While it does offer some steep snow, the bulk of the climb is fairly moderate. With snow and occasionally ice up to 50 degrees, the route is steep enough to keep your attention but short enough to keep the climb reasonable. When approached on skis, this climb offers the bonus of a quick and fun descent back to the car at the end of the day. The route can easily be done in crampon compatible ski boots.
Depending on conditions, we will start the either the Blue Lake trailhead or the hairpin turn off of Highway 20. The approach is often best done on skis, though snowshoes or sometimes bare boots can work just fine.
After caching skis at the base of the couloir, we will don harnesses, helmets, and crampons and begin the climb. We will typically use a mix of moving together and pitching out leads to reach the top of the spire. There are generally good rock anchors on the sides of the couloir, and good stances to break up the climb. Once on top of the tallest spire in the Liberty Bell group, views range from Silver Star to the East, to Mt Baker to the North, to Dome peak to the West and the Sawtooth range to the south.
From the top, we will downclimb the route right back to the base and our cached gear. After clicking back into our skis, we can either swoosh back down to the car or take a second ski run in Liberty Bowl.
- Previous experience climbing with crampons and ice axe
- Good physical fitness
There are so many great alpine rock climbs in this region. A couple of the not to be missed classics are Beckey Route on Liberty Bell and the South Arete, also on South Early Winter Spire. These tend to be moderate rock climbing routes all summer but can be super fun alpine climbs in the early season.
- Recommended Reading: Selected Climbs in the Cascades, volume 1