Cutthroat Peak (South Buttress)

September 21, 2022


North Cascades Highway, WA

Cutthroat Peak is a rugged tower in the immediate vicinity of Rainy and Washington Passes that offers no “easy” route to the summit. The most commonly used route, south buttress goes at 5.8 whereas the north ridge offers a 5.7 option to the summit. The standard descent, the west ridge can also be climbed but multi-pitch climbing to 5.5 is still required. The south buttress is extremely iconic when viewing from the highway. Since multi-pitch rock climbing would be involved no matter what, Elise and I decided to tackle the harder and more classic south buttress for aesthetic purposes. Elise had been progressing into 5.8 range recently so it’ll be a decent challenge for us.

Elise and I made the spontaneous decision literally one day ahead of the trip as Elise’s other plans fell through. I had to take the day off work at the last minute but for this objective I would push it. I drove down south to meet up with Elise in the vicinity of Sedro-Woolley on Tuesday evening and we carpooled out to Rainy Pass in Elise’s Subaru. We simply slept in her Subaru at Rainy Pass trail-head, and drove out to the small pull-out on Wednesday morning. The morning was cold so we didn’t bother to wake up until 7 am. For gears we opted to bring my 60m twin rope and a single rack of cams and nuts, and that proved to be sufficient.

Cutthroat Peak via South Buttress. GPX DL

I had downloaded a few sets of GPS tracks so locating the climber’s trail wasn’t problematic. We had to lose about 50 m elevation to cross the creek and this elevation must be regained at the end of the trip. The trail on the opposite side of the creek was still easy to follow and we gained elevation in no time. In about an hour we were nearing the base of the buttress. To our surprise there was running water so we really didn’t have to bring much water up there after all. We took a break at the scenic location and ditched some unnecessary weight. We then ascended steeply into the “leftmost gully” that would provide access onto the south buttress. The gully was straightforward until the very end where we free soloed a pitch of 5th class rock. The exposure and the down-sloping nature made a few committing moves. I opted to drop a rope down to Elise as the climbing had been in the shades and our bodies hadn’t fully warmed up yet.

We started the day in the cold and shade
Whistler Mountain is that rugged tower above
Elise hiking into the warm sunshine
The south buttress of Cutthroat Peak displaced in front dramatically
Elise taking a break under the south buttress
Hiking up in the vast fall colours
It was a steep grunt into the access gully
Elise halfway up in the gully
Looking upwards from the gully. The terrain was easy until the end.
Started to encounter frequent scrambling steps
This was just before the final 5th class pitch onto the ridge

We took a break above this step to gather some mental strength. The terrain ahead appeared mostly class 3-4 so we stored the rope and restarted soloing. There were intermittent 5th class steps here and there but nothing was sustained until a while later. We started to encounter longer sections of 5th class terrain but were able to solo through all the way to the base of the 5.8 crux. This pitch appeared rather daunting so we instantly took the rope out. I also switched footwear from approach shoes to the rock shoes. The approach shoes had been doing fantastically up to this point, but I did not think I could climb 5.8 in them. The route-finding wasn’t obvious nor did we do extensive digging on the internet, so Elise led in front picking whatever line that worked for her. It’s possible that the terrain farther to the right was simpler, but we chose to climb relatively straight up the pitch. The crux move was well protected by a size 3 cam but took Elise a few tries to lead clean. Then it’s my turn. After taking two falls I called it as I didn’t want to waste too much time here. I opted to use the rope to swing right to reach a ledge and aided it through. The rest of this pitch was still committing but I had no problem following. A few meters away from Elise we found an official rappel station, but our rope couldn’t reach that point so Elise had to build an intermediate station to belay me up.

Me starting the actual south buttress
Elise started soloing again back onto easy terrain
We found the one and only yellow larch here…
Elise pulling up a vege step. Whistler Mtn. behind
There were lots of short 5th class steps
Elise pulling up the boulder just before the crux pitch
The terrain around the crux was near vertical.
Elise leading the 5.8 crux pitch
Elise much higher up on this pitch and she took a more direct variation
Unfortunately this nut was donated to the route…

The terrain above the crux pitch appeared easier so we stored the rope again. Of course the climbing wasn’t as straightforward as it seemed. Out towards climber’s left we soon encountered a few vertical steps that required at least a few “mid 5th class” moves but we chose to solo it through. And then there came the second crux, the sandy gully. Following the flow I led us into the gully and paused after halfway as the terrain started to feel sketchy. I was not sure whether or not we were on route, so made a frustrating down-climb to check things out on the sides. Meanwhile Elise pulled out the beta. After reaching it out twice I determined that the gully must be the correct way, but I needed a belay for the upper parts. Elise then took the lead. This time I had no problem following clean, but a few moves were extremely awkward that I did not like if I were on the sharp end. Above the sandy gully the terrain petered out drastically but the challenges weren’t over yet.

Elise back to soloing above the crux pitch.
Me tackling the typical steps above the crux
Pulling up another strenuous step
Me leading us linking up the two cruxes
The brief easier ground between the first and the second crux sections
Elise taking another committing lead into the sandy gully

Again due to the lack of research we were surprised by how much technical terrain we still had to cover even though the terrain appeared rather innocent. After plodding across a plateau we came to a deep chasm. The only option seemed to down-climb into the chasm and climb out of it, but that was not easy. Getting into the chasm was only low 5th class, but the exposure was real. To climb out of the chasm felt like another crux with a few committing bouldary moves at the start. To get into those sequences of moves we had to step onto a “cheating cairn” and that definitely wobbled. It took me a few minutes to commit and Elise then did it without a problem. I did climb the sequence without the pack so Elise had to raise the pack up and that was a tad bit awkward. Beyond the chasm we had a few more vertical steps, a blank slab aided by another pile of cheating rocks, and finally the summit off-width challenge. That off-width didn’t appear dauntingly difficult, but the exposure to the right would be deadly. Elise again offered the lead placing one size 3 cam that barely worked. A size 4 would be much more preferable. Beyond the off-width we finally were able to stand on the summit and I have to say this climb was harder than my expectation with lots of micro challenges that eventually added up to make it a much more committing climb than say, Liberty Bell Mtn. or Prusik Peak.

Me inside the chasm
Me trying to figure out the balancing moves
To descend into the chasm was very exposed
Elise making the step-across move
Elise then tackling the bouldery move out of the chasm
Elise above the chasm challenge
The summit block off-width was very visible from here.
We then had to down-climb into a second, shallower notch
Stiff climbing to get out of this second notch
Me on another challenge step right under the slab step
Elise about to commit to the slab step soloing
Elise leading the summit block off-width placing one size 3 cam
Elise happy to have reached the summit of Cutthroat Peak
Me on the summit of Cutthroat Peak
Summit Panorama from Cutthroat Peak. Click to view large size.
Liberty Bell Mountain and Early Winters Spires in the foreground
Black Peak is that obvious pyramid in the foreground
Silver Star Mountain, the “Wine Spires” with Hinkhouse Peak in front
Whistler Mountain in the foreground with Bonanza Peak in the far distance
Porcupine Peak is the broad summit in the foreground
Mesahchie Peak on Ragged Ridge, with Mt. Baker behind in the background
Mt. Hardy with the bulk mass of Jack Mountain behind
Golden Horn is very aptly named
Tower Mountain catches our attention from every vantage point nearby
Another photo of Elise on the summit
Elise found some cell reception and kept texting for about half an hour lol..
Elise and I on the summit of Cutthroat Peak

We easily down-climbed the west side of the summit and found a bolted rappel station. Two rappels got us down the steep upper parts of the west ridge onto a long and horizontal section. The second rappel was on the north side of the ridge and it wasn’t that obvious to find the anchor. We then stored the rope and did a long, fun but exposed traverse down the middle zone of the west ridge. The scrambling was mostly class 3-4 with a few harder steps. Elise then located the next bolted station and we did three more rappels down the south face side of the west ridge. The hardest was to locate the next station as they weren’t that obvious viewing from above. The final rappel got us down to easier ground and a 60m rope was just long enough for some of those rappels.

Elise dropping into the first rappel
The terrain on the uppermost west ridge was also near vertical
Me on the second rappel
Elise finishing the second rappel
The exposed scrambling section on the west ridge ahead
The upper west ridge of Cutthroat Peak.
Me posing on the knife edge section
Elise tackling the fun knife-edge
We really enjoyed this part of the route
At this point we were desperately searching for the 3rd rappel station
I somehow down-climbed past the rappel station….
Three rappels like this brought us down to easier ground

The descent immediately below the rappels was rather shitty with lots of compact type of choss and scree. Wearing approach shoes didn’t help so we really had to take our time there. We ended up descending mostly in a gully feature with loose blocks but less compact choss. Lower down we picked up the trail and easily descended to the creek crossing. For the final 50m elevation regain I somehow picked up a different path that was bushier and led to a different spot on the road. Our round trip time was under 8.5 hours. The driving back home was long but uneventful and I even managed to catch the last hour of evening work and got some money in the bag as well.

Another photo of Whistler Mountain
The terrain immediately under the technical terrain was rather shitty
Looking sideways towards Liberty Bell Group
Lots of scrambling steps on loose rocks
Lots of compact type of dirt that was the worst
Steep grass that was slippery
Liberty Bell Mountain and Early Winters Spires again
The area around Washington pass is very pretty though
A group of larches waiting to turn yellow
A fat marmot chilling in the setting
Elise hiking down with south buttress of Cutthroat Peak behind
Hiking out with Liberty Bell Group as backdrop