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More Action in the Cascades

Playin’, Not Sprayin’ (III 5.10, 8 pitches), another fine Cascades line established by Blake Herrington, with David Trippett. Development has been more active than usual this season, despite long periods of rain and poor weather. [Photo] Blake Herrington

Editor’s Note: Only a few days before establishing this climb, Blake Herrington also put up The Tempest (read more in the September 11, 2008 NewsWire). Though neither are the hardest or most committing in the range, Herrington has a point: “It’s cool to walk up to a route and fire off eight pitches of granite splitters and cracks onsight anywhere in the US today.” Numerous buried treasures have emerged from the Cascades in the last few years; the past month has been the most active Herrington has ever seen. Stay tuned to NewsWire for more news from the area.

Washington’s North Cascades Highway was completed in the 1970s, ending the era of the 20-plus-mile approach marathons endured by Fred Beckey and company en route to the granite spires of Liberty Bell and Washington Pass. Climbers of the last few decades, including Yvon Chouinard, Andy Selters, Jim Nelson, and Colin Haley have put up a plethora of hard and striking alpine lines in this region. Benefiting from easy access, prolific development in the area has largely exhausted the potential on the most visible peaks. Luckily for climbers of today, there is plenty more good rock–it’s just harder to see.

On August 30, David Trippett of Vancouver, B.C. joined me on an approach to the east side of Silver Star Peak (8,876′), a gothic granite structure sprawling with ridges, spires and gendarmes. This aspect, solid white granite visible only after several hours of hiking, has inspired two new routes within the last few years. Our objective on this trip was a series of left-facing dihedrals on the Silver Horn, a prominent subsummit first climbed by Beckey after one of the aforementioned marathon approaches.

Rather than typical August weather, Dave and I awoke to ice on the ground and found ourselves approaching the face amid a few light snow flurries. From the base of the wall, we swapped leads on four corner pitches until we reached a broad ledge. From there, David led a sustained and physical pitch of 5.10, passing a small roof and through a long hand crack. I followed with frozen toes and fingers, delighted to be moving, and later dismayed when the resurgent blood painfully returned feeling to my digits. Two more pitches up the corner system brought us to a deep chimney that led up and under the summit. From a stance that felt fully inside the top of the peak, a wild roof move brought us out from under the chockstones and onto the top. As much as I complained about the cold, David kept reminding me that we’d be lucky to find weather this nice on our upcoming trip to Patagonia. His statement of fact inspired me to keep quiet and keep climbing, eventually providing the impetus for our route name: Playin’, not Sprayin’ (III 5.10, 8 pitches).

Cruising up the splitter granite that Herrington compared to Sierra rock. Though the skies are clear, “given the wind and temps,” he said, “it was good Patagonia training.” [Photo] Blake Herrington