Ascent of Spire Mountain on 2017-09-23

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:James Barlow -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Adam Walker -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Andy Dewey
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, September 23, 2017
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Spire Mountain
    Elevation:6080 ft / 1853 m

Ascent Trip Report

We turned back less then 200 vertical feet from the summit by several inches of unseasonably early snow on the exposed summit ridge that made the exposure extremely scary. An earlier start and more daylight hours would have helped us, too, but dry rock was the main thing we lacked.

The north approach worked well for us. For the lower, northern part of our route, the eastern GPS line (our return route) is preferred. When you arrive at the forested talus fields, it is best to stay just left of them, in the forest, as you ascend. This will avoid the thorny vine maple patches between the rock patches.

The crux of the approach is a minor cliff band, where the GPS tracks diverge. Our downward route is to the west here, climbing up a steep dirt/vegetated slope. The eastern route climbs a cliff and we were only forced into it trying to avoid an active hornet's nest. (We encountered several of them on our trip and most of us got stung quite a bit).

The long talus traverse up high would be easier in spring with good snow cover, OK in summer by rock-hopping, but it was tough for us, with one to six inches of new snow covering the irregular boulders. We managed to avoid stepping into hidden holes in the talus but had to be extra careful.

Beckey's Cascade Alpine Guide books are awesome references, but they are known for underestimating route difficulty. The description of Spire Mountain's northwest ridge (a terse "class 3") may be one of the worst offenders--the route is at best a very airy and exposed class 4, most likely low fifth class. The route is clogged up a bit by annoying small trees, too. For us, the slippery snow not only made the rock a bit more scary, but allowed us to experience the joys of trying to walk on thin snowbanks overlaid on krummholz (a first for me).

Adam bailed after the first short climb up from the col at the start of the NW ridge. James, Andy and I continued up, climbing up a 4th class ramp on the east side of the ridge to avoid the trees. I was scared of slipping on the snow-covered heather--it was a long way down. At a large 8' high block we were stymied--it was climbable, probably best by a small chimney to the left, but the flat top of the block had a good snow layer on top, and a slip when up there would be very bad. The ridge beyond was very sharp and exposed, and it was 1:20 PM. Breaking out the rope and protecting to the summit, and rappelling back down, would be lengthy exercise.

I bailed next and started carefully downclimbing back to Adam. Andy and James hemmed and hawed a bit more and soon followed me. I found the downclimbing to be pretty sketchy--I had a hard time trusting the many snowy footholds I had to use.

Back at the col we had our rest and lunches and then faced the long descent.

It was certainly a quality day in the mountains and we all got to know at least someone new in our group. The weather was very pleasant and the terrain not too bad as off-trail Cascade stuff gets, especially on our downward track. The downsides were the hornet attacks and the unexpected lingering late-summer snow. We'll be back for this one.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4920 ft / 1499 m
    Round-Trip Distance:8 mi / 12.9 km
    Route:North Slopes/NW Ridge
    Trailhead:Galena Rd  1160 ft / 353 m
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Open Country, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Cool, Calm, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Time:5 Hours 50 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:5 Hours 10 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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