Cutthroat Peak – South Buttress (III+ 5.8)

John and I climbed the South Buttress of Cutthroat Peak in 15 hours car to car on June 17th.  We’ve been staring at this amazing-looking peak from nearby summits for years, so it was time that we came to experience it up close.  This was a classic adventurous day in the Cascades!

Cutthroat Peak (right) from the car.  The peak to the left was very impressive, but I haven’t had time to research it yet.

John and I left the car at a very reasonable 6am.  Experience from other climbs in this area has taught me that pre-dawn starts are not worth the trouble.  This reasoning stems from the fact that finding appropriate stream crossings is much more difficult in the dark – and falling in a stream is a bad way to start the day. Once we left the highway and dropped into the forest, we had to search to find a decent log to cross the creek on.  Eventually, we found a crossing upstream of where we found the creek.

Exciting stream crossing!
It’s pretty hard to get lost on this approach.  Cutthroat is obvious.  Photo: John

Once we broke out of the trees, we followed a well-defined trail until we gained the lower flanks of the mountain, avoiding most of the snow.  With some stout 4th class scrambling, we joined  the “left-hand gully,” which is the traditional approach to the ridge crest.   We joined the gully fairly high, where the snow had already melted out for the summer, so we cached our crampons, ice axes and some other gear before continuing the scramble up to the notch.

John starting our long simulcimbing pitch on the South Buttress.

John lead out from the first belay.  We simulcimbed 4 pitches to the point where the entire wall started to steepen.  Several pitches of 5.7 and 5.8 with clean cracks and great protection lead us upward in the morning sun.  I bypassed an obvious, clean offwidth, opting to move rightward onto what I thought would be easier terrain.  I gratefully clipped a fixed nut before launching into some committing 5.8 crack climbing that finished with an overhanging lieback boulder problem – sporty! The climbing was high quality but unfortunately this pitch was off route – we had to do a spicy traverse with some A0 shenanigans that got us back to where we needed to be.

Leading off into never-never land… Photo: John
John just above the 5.7+ slab that precedes the 5.8 offwidth on the last pitch. Black Peak is especially prominent in the center of the photo.
John enjoying the final offwidth boulder problem.  A #4 cam protects this really well.
Topping out the offwidth. Photo: John

After another 6 pitches, we pulled onto the summit.  Incredible views of a seemingly endless sea of mountains surrounded us.  After a few minutes of relaxation, we went to work on the descent. We had to build our first rappel anchor as we descended the South Butress back to our gear cache.  We made 12+ rappels and did some easy downclimbing to recover our gear.  With our feet happily back in boots rather than rock climbing shoes, we descended the left gully, which had some nearly-vertical snow to contend with – blah. Another hour of steep downhill hiking brought us to the creek crossing and finally – the car!

Enjoying summit views! Go team blue!
Rappelling for hours… Photo: John Guy
Great views of Mt. Goode (left) and Black Peak (right).
A straightforward but punishing hike to the car.  Liberty Bell looks pretty sweet though. Photo: John

Gear Notes:

We used: ice axe, crampons, singles .3-4, doubles .4-2, nuts, and a 70m 9.2mm rope.  You could easily do this route with a lighter rack, but the #4 protects that last offwidth really well.

Strategy Notes:


Have a big, homecooked meal made by a friend to jumpstart the recovery process. Thanks Sam!



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