Burgundy Spire

October 9, 2022


North Cascades Highway, WA

“Burgundy Spire” is one of the 4 major towers in the group of peaks called the “Wine Spires”. These spires aren’t forming a stand-alone massif but are rather attached to the much-bigger Silver Star Mountain. The prominences of these spires are all well under 100 m but all of them require extensive amount of technical climbing. In fact, the “Wine Spires” are considerably harder than the more fabled Liberty Bell Group speaking of their respective easiest routes. “Burgundy Spire” isn’t the tallest in this group but is definitely the most popular as the route is well documented on the internet. This peak is also included in Dallas Kloke’s “Washington Difficult Ten” and is the only one in that list that does not have a heinous approach. The difficulty of this peak comes purely from the rock climbing challenges.

The easiest route on Burgundy Spire goes up from “Burgundy Col” bypassing a smaller tower called the “Paisano Pinnacle” but still involves 6-8 pitches up to 5.8. The more aesthetic and the more commonly used route is the link-up of the west ridge of Paisano Pinnacle to the north face of Burgundy Spire. The climb of Paisano Pinnacle adds another 8 pitches up to 5.8+/5.9- while bypassing the first two (easier) pitches on Burgundy Spire. The harder pitches on Burgundy Spire still have to be climbed making a total of 12+ pitches of climbing at a sustained grade of 5.7-5.8. The physical crux of the whole route is the 4th pitch “twin cracks” on Paisano Pinnacle whereas the mental crux is generally considered to be the run-out slab on the 8th pitch of Paisano Pinnacle. The upper route on Burgundy Spire however has a much greater deal of mountaineering nature with complicated route-finding and loose rocks making this a full-on commitment. Winnie and I decided to climb this Pasiano-Burgundy link-up taking advantage of the abnormally sunny and warm weather in this fall season but I have to say I was quite nervous about it. I had never climbed 12 pitches of such grade in one day (not even at the crags) so this trip would push me beyond my comfort zone into the unknowns. I didn’t know if my upper body’s endurance would be up for such a challenge. This would also be at the tailing end of an intense week of alpine climbing. On the first trip I did a 21-hour single push into Buckner group including making a first ascent of the west face of Lick of Flame, and on the second trip I did a 2-day ascent of Johannesburg Mtn. I was both mentally and physically drained at this point but this was supposed to be a week of challenge so I must press on.

Winnie and I left White Rock on Saturday afternoon and made our leisure way down across the familiar North Cascades Highway into Washington Pass area. We parked at the trail-head at 9 pm and set the alarm at 2:40 am. The plan was to do this entire climb car-to-car in a single push as there’s no water source at this time of a year. In terms of the gears we decided to bring one 60m single rope and a double rack of cams up to size 4. We would also haul 4.5 L of water each which proved to be a slight overkill and we anticipated an 18+ hour day. This climb eventually turned out easier than expected but still took us 17 hours, although we weren’t really rushing for most of the day.

Burgundy Spire GPX. Only the approach and descent.

I had previously done this approach in June 2017 for Silver Star Mtn. and we also downloaded multiple sets of GPS tracks so the navigation in the dark wouldn’t be a problem. After the initial confusing descent to cross Early Winters Creek we picked up the climber’s trail. There were more blowdowns than expected that we briefly lost the trail a few times. Thankfully with the GPS technology we quickly regained the route and had no further problem making to the “larch bench”. The grade of this approach wasn’t very steep and the trail quality was mostly fine. The “larch bench” is one flat area where most parties would choose to spend the night at, but as expected there’s no source of water whatsoever. We then ascended the upper parts of this trail into the treeline zone and started to encounter some unpleasant scree and compact type of choss. We ditched a bunch of unnecessary gears including some extra water and headlamps batteries at 2250 m and made a difficult traverse southwards onto the West Ridge of Paisano Pinnacle. It was still mostly in a pitch dark so we really took our time to make sure we wouldn’t be doing the climb still with head-lamps on. I did not think we picked the best route to cover this tedious section of horizontal traverse as we encountered endless micro-terrain with lots of compact type of choss. We lost time here without even noticing.

Lots of dead-falls on the lower parts of the trail.
At treeline zone and this was the full noon above the smoke layer
The west ridge of Paisano Pinnacle in long exposure shot
The moon set while we traversing towards the route
The typical shitty terrain to traverse across. We were still in the dark now

The start of the route was easily found thank to our extensive pre-trip research. We actually scrambled up a section of 4th class to the actual start of 5th class climbing before making the transition to gear up. The first pitch was supposed to be 5.8 but didn’t look to be that hard, so I offered to lead. I wanted to lead as many “easier pitches” as I humanly could as I definitely needed to count on Winnie to lead the crux pitches. Of course the climbing turned out harder than appeared but I made it up with no mishap after grabbing some vege belays. We then coiled the rope and scrambled the “low 5th class” pitch 2 to the base of the 3rd pitch. I could have led this pitch as well but Winnie was ready to tackle the splitter 5.7 cracks. I followed up and found this to be a very enjoyable and stress-free pitch. Winnie then led up the crux Pitch 4 that started off with a vertical set of twin cracks, transitioning into an awkward dihedral and finished with an exposed leftwards/downwards traverse to a treed ledge. This pitch (rated 5.8+) felt very pumpy that I actually ended up grabbing the placed cams to make a few moves. This was the only spot on this entire route that I opted to aid through, but mostly because I didn’t want to waste too much time here. That downwards traverse was also quite “interesting” but Winnie had placed a few pieces of pros along the way so I was not that exposed.

The bottom of the first pitch. I instantly wanted to lead, rated 5.8
Winnie coming up to the belay station of Pitch 1
Towers on Vasiliki Ridge on alpenglow
From the top of the first pitch looking ahead onto West Ridge
Tower Mountain and Golden Horn on alpenglow
The group of peaks called The Needles. Climbed the highest a few weeks ago
“Big Kangaroo” or the high point of Kangaroo Ridge
We soloed the second pitch. Rated “easy 5th”..
Winnie starting the lead of Pitch 3, rated 5.7
Another look at Big Kangaroo which is apparently another climb in the area
Winnie preparing to lead the crux twin cracks pitch
Winnie belaying me across the exposed slabs on top of P4
Me traversing the exposed slabs to the top of P4

The 5th pitch (leftmost variation) was supposed to be the second hardest pitch so Winnie had to keep leading. It started with some power-layback series and transitioned into a vertical off-width that felt legit for the 5.8+ grade. I did not find this pitch to be as technical as the previous one. After coming up to the belay station I offered to the lead the following two pitches. The 6th pitch was rated 5.6 but involved some extreme exposure and at least one challenging spot that took me a while to figure out the sequence. The 7th pitch “second set of twin cracks” wasn’t very obvious but after searching back and forth we located the cracks on climber’s right side of the crest. I found this pitch (5.7) to be rather enjoyable than stressful that I actually accidently overshot the end of it. I ended up climbing partway up the 8th pitch and realized I was suddenly only meters below the infamous run-out slabs. Thankfully there were enough features for me to build an anchor to belay Winnie up to handle the mental crux ahead. Winnie placed a #4 cam into the widening crack and a few smaller pieces of cams before committing to the 5.8 slab moves. I honestly did not find this pitch hard at all, but I also did not lead it. We then scrambled over the top of Paisano Pinnacle and made some awkward down-climbs into Paisano/Burgundy col. This small summit of Paisano Pinnacle seems too insignificant to be claimed as a separate peak so I did not count it in my numbers. The name of “Paisano Pinnacle” is also unofficial.

Another look at the towers on Vasiliki Ridge
Winnie starting Pitch 5, rated 5.8+ to regain the ridge crest
Higher up in Pitch 5 about to start the off-width section
Winnie belaying me from top of P6 looking at the cracks on Pitch 6
Liberty Bell Mtn. and Early Winters Spires from somewhere on Pitch 6
Winnie coming up to the top of Pitch 6
We changed the belay station between Pitches 6 and 7
Me about to lead the 7th pitch, the second set of “twin cracks”
Winnie coming up Pitch 7. I opted to lead the two easier pitches here
I literally belayed Winnie from the bottom of this widening crack
Winnie then led the mental, 5.8 slab crux
Winnie belaying me from top of Paisano Pinnacle
Me coming up the 8th pitch onto top of Paisano Pinnacle
The intimidating north face of Burgundy Spire from top of Paisano Pinnacle
Another look at Tower Mountain and Golden Horn
Another look at Vasiliki Ridge, now from top of Paisano Pinnacle
Me on the summit of Paisano Pinnacle

I was warned by others that the start of Burgundy Spire from Paisano link-up would be loose and dangerous but the climbing wouldn’t be too difficult, so I instantly volunteered to lead our 1st pitch on Burgundy Spire. We again, ditched more unnecessary gears at the bottom as from this point upwards we would be descending the same route as on ascent. I actually called us to scramble half a pitch higher before starting to belay as although loose, the terrain seemed to be mostly “class 4” here. I then led through the lower section of the amphitheatre ahead, dealing with a greater deals of insecure flakes and loose rocks. The climbing never seemed to exceed 5.6 but the consequence would be high. We had agreed to climb more or less in a straight-up fashion through this amphitheatre to avoid the dangerous traversing pitch in the middle of it, but the terrain kept forcing me to ascend climber’s left. I eventually made a few moves to counter the terrain and belayed Winnie from a boulder in the middle of the supposed horizontal traverse. Winnie then led a more-or-less straight up pitch to get us out of the amphitheatre and this pitch took a while. We tried not to make any more horizontal traverses as some other climbers had gotten hurt by doing that, but climbing straight-up was more technical and involved much more route-finding on lichen covered slabs. The exit of this pitch was also vertical but the climbing was mostly 5.7-5.8. Seconding this pitch didn’t impose any problem to me but this was a stressful fair for Winnie to lead. The two pitches that we just did to climb out of the amphitheatre were also almost 60m long and the nature of the north face of Burgundy Spire felt much more “alpine” than down on the west ridge of Paisano Pinnacle.

Winnie starting the descent off the east ridge of Paisano Pinnacle
Tricky 4th and low 5th class down-climbing off the pinnacle
We then scrambled half a pitch up the sandy bottom face
Paisano Pinnacle on lower right, from top of our first pitch on Burgundy Spire
Winnie halfway up the first pitch on Burgundy Spire
Winnie coming up to the belay station
Winnie then starting to lead the second pitch into the unknowns.
We did our own variation here and now Winnie merged onto the crux section
The smoke was diffusing in, now from high up on Burgundy’s north face

The top of the amphitheatre was a wide ledge which was the key on this route. We would be scrambling down across this ledge for about 60 m to the right (south) before making any upwards climbing. I thought this would be mostly “walking” but it actually involved a few 5th class down-climbs. There’s also a tunnel to walk through which was quite cool. The “far climber’s right option” on the upper route was not very obvious to locate so we again, scrambled up 4th and low 5th class terrain until belaying was needed. I decided to lead the next pitch which was supposed to be the easier of the two upper pitches. The hardest of this pitch was a short crack. The walls on the sides were covered in lichen. The beta says this pitch to be just over 30 m so I belayed Winnie using a gear anchor once the midpoint was passed. In retrospect I should have climbed another 10 m or so and belay from above. Winnie then took the next lead which involved another 5.8 face/slab corner but opted to stop just before the final off-width finish. I came to the belay station and spontaneous decided to take on the responsibility to handle that off-width. I anticipated some scary moments but the climbing actually felt straightforward (more 5.7 than 5.8) and in short time I topped out onto the summit ridge. I belayed Winnie to the summit ridge and we then took turns scrambling the true summit boulder, which involved a few more 5th class moves with exposure. We lingered on the summit for a long time as we were doing great on time.

Starting the key ledge traverse
Tricky down-climbing into the tunnel
Winnie after exiting the tunnel traverse
Looking ahead to the final 3 pitches on the upper route
Building our own belay station
Winnie following my lead up the “far climber’s right variation”
Winnie then leading the second pitch up this side
This is the 5.8 corner
Winnie belayed me from just under the final off-width
I placed a #4 at bottom of this off-width crack
The top of Chianti Spire which is right next to Burgundy Spire
Winnie traversing across the exposed summit ridge
The spire at center is Pernod Spire, highest in Wine Spires.
Summit Panorama from Burgundy Spire. Click to view large size.
Me on the secondary summit boulder on Burgundy Spire
Me on the true summit of Burgundy Spire
Winnie playing around a secondary boulder on the summit
Winnie scrambling onto the true summit with Silver Star Mountain behind
Winnie on the summit of Burgundy Spire
Winnie’s selfie shot of us on the summit

I had read that the rappel wouldn’t be straightforward with significant risks of ropes being stuck and I could see why from the first rappel. There’s one crack that we tried really hard to avoid putting the rope into, but it slid into the crack eventually upon pulling. Thankfully the rope was not stuck into the deep crack. The beta also says the first rappel would be a stretcher using one 60 m rope but we found an intermediate station and broke this rappel into two. The third rappel was the done from that bolted anchor and the 4th rappel got us down onto the key ledge. We coiled the rope and scrambled back across the ledge. Winnie then led three rappels in a series to get us down through the amphitheatre. We picked up the ditched gears, down-scrambled some chossy ledges and did two more rappels to descend into Burgundy Col. This entire descent was rather easy and fluent for us and we did 9 rappels in total to get off the mountain. We then picked up the climber’s trail and descended to our lower stash of gears and it’s here that we finally faced the sunset of this day. The rest of the descent was rather uneventful in the dark, but the smoke had finally blown in and we could smell the fires. I then pushed us back to near Marblemount until I could not drive anymore. I simply parked at a random pullout and crashed on the driver’s seat. We woke up at around 4 am and drove home afterwards.

The first rappel seemed to have high risks of getting rope stuck
One of the first few rappels to get off the upper route
Back through the cool tunnel
Winnie now leading us down the middle “amphitheatre” section
The second rappel off the amphitheatre
The last rappel down the insecure and loose flakes zone
Scrambling a section of sandy terrain to connect to the final rappels
The second-to-last rappel down into Burgundy Col
The tower immediately to the north of Burgundy Col looks also very cool
Looking back from the col. The “standard route” goes up the shallow gully
The smoke was really blown in at this point..
A lone larch just under Burgundy Col
Winnie descending the climber’s trail
The smoky sunset… At least the sunset was gorgeous
Evening alpenglow on Burgundy Spire
A very unique smoky sunset above Black Peak
This was actually one of the coolest sunsets I’ve seen, thank to the smoke
Endless fall colours in Washington state
Winnie descending the trail.
The terrain was definitely not very pleasant but whatever…
Almost back down to Early Winters Creek now, already in pitch dark.