Season: Nearly year round. As with most alpine route routes in the Cascades, snow levels are the biggest variables outside of weather. The opening and closing of Highway 20 (usually opens in April and closes in November) play a big part in the time required for climbing at the Pass.
Time required: 1 day, not counting drive time.
Route Description: From the Blue Lake trailhead, the typical summer approach is about 2.5 miles and you gain about 2000 feet of elevation on the approach. The South Arete is a fairly broad and broken ridge that follows a crest between the SW couloir and the steep and dramatic East Face of South Early Winter Spire. The route is primarily a 4th and low-5th class scramble with a few short steps of harder moves. It is rated 5.3 and the exposure along the route is just about perfect for first time alpine rock climbers.
Notes: AAI leads climbs on the South Arete as part of their Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership series and also as part of their Classic Guided Ascents in the Pacific Northwest private programs. This route make a fantastic first alpine rock climb for beginning level climbers, and is also well-suited for a climber's first "lead" in the mountains. The Beckey Route on Liberty Bell, just a short distance away, is a great follow-up to the South Arete for a weekend of Alpine Rock climbing at Washington Pass.
At the top of the gully there is a chockstone which is passed on the left that includes a few 5.3 moves. Above the chockstone the scrambling and traversing continues until the ridge-crest narrows leading to a fun traverse on a sharp spine of smooth granite.
After the completing the spine the views become increasing better. The last few hundred feet of blocky traversing leads directly to an airy ridge crest.
Early Winter Spire after his 85th ascent of the South Arete.
From the summit it's possible to see nearly all of the North Cascades from Mount Baker to the north down to Glacier Peak to the south. The summit offers a rare glimpse of the Northeast Face of Mount Goode, a rarely seen Cascade giant. And across the valley the rocky ridges and pinacles of Silverstar Mountain and the Wine Spires jut into the sky.
If you're looking for a scenic cruise on perfect granite, you simply can't miss with a trip to Washington Pass!