North Early Winters Spire – Chockstone Route (II+ 5.7)

North Early Winters Spire climbed via the Chockstone Route (II+ 5.7) with John on September 10th 2016.

Hanging on the summit.  Photo: John Guy

John and I met at the Blue Lake trail head to bivy. Unfortunately, I neglected to pack a sleeping bag so I spent the night shivering in my car, wearing every piece of clothing I had. I was thankful when morning came, allowing me to coil our rope and sort gear while trying to warm up. The approach went by quickly with minimal bushwhacking – nice! One of these days, I’ll figure out this approach, which I’ve done differently all three times.
The start of the Chockstone Route is obvious at the base of the massive chasm separating North and South Early Winters Spires. The route starts with a short step of low fifth class climbing followed by a hike up a gully. Next comes the money pitch, which bypasses the house-size chockstone that is the namesake of the route. I took the lead up some blocky terrain to an awesome 5.7 lieback, protected by 6 ancient, rusty pitons that I supplemented with medium wires. Several of these were ultra-rusty ring pitons, which were apparently all the rage in the 1940s and possibly were placed by the first ascent party in 1950. Others were the instantly-recognizable Lost Arrow design, stamped with a Chouinard Equipment logo. These pitons are at least 27 years old but likely older; Chouinard Equipment filed for bankruptcy in 1989. This pitch finishes on a delicate slab protected only by an old-school buttonhead bolt drilled with a rusted ring piton for a hanger – an interesting relic but marginal protection at best. I belayed off of a boulder atop the chockstone and brought John up to my stance.

John on pitch 5.  Photo: Nick Sweeney

The route took an interesting turn at this point, even though the most difficult climbing was below us. John lead up some moderate terrain on golden rock and belayed off of shiny bolts – these are a part of the standard descent route. From here, I traversed rightward and established a belay off of a rock horn. John began the final pitch and ended up climbing partway up a more difficult and loose chimney just right of the correct one. After some discussion (yelling back and forth, 100 feet apart in a wind-blasted chasm), he traversed left into the correct chimney, floated up some unprotected face climbing and belayed off of a decent tree. From here, there was a short scramble and walk to the summit of North Early Winters Spire.

John on the final pitch. Look at that roof! Photo: Nick Sweeney

What an incredible summit! We lounged on the summit slab for 30 minutes and signed the summit register before beginning a frustrating descent, consisting of 5 windy rappels and some loose, steep gully walking. However, one of the highlights of the day was the free-hanging rappel off of the massive chockstone that we bypassed earlier in the day – awesome!

John on the chockstone rappel. Photo: Nick Sweeney

This route was a fun adventure on a beautiful day.  There was some pretty cool climbing on the crux pitch and the old fixed gear added to the historic feel.  Overall, this route felt more like vertical mountaineering than rock climbing – it links the most obvious weaknesses up the most difficult spire in the Liberty Bell group.

Gear Notes:

We brought a set of nuts and a single rack of cams consisting of blue, green and yellow Totem Basics and .5-3 C4s, with doubles of .5 and .75. We brought this rack hoping to climb the North Face of Lexington Tower later in the day – if you only plan on the Chockstone Route, a set of nuts and cams .5-2 is more than sufficient. Make sure to bring extra draws for the plentiful fixed gear on the chockstone bypass pitch.

Alternate Descent:

Two teams climbed the West Face (III 5.11-) while we were up there, and both of them descended via 4 rappels on new bolts on a blank section of the West Face. The party I spoke with said that they started on the standard rappel anchor and angled their rappel toward the West Face, where they found new bolts every 100 feet down to the ground (they had a single 60m rope). This descent option is VASTLY easier, faster, less frustrating and somewhat safer than the standard descent that John and I took. Apparently the rappels go down an unclimbable part of the face, so no climbing routes are affected.


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