American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Washington, Sawtooth Ridge, Complete Traverse

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2005

Olympic National Park

Sawtooth Ridge, complete traverse. From August 7 to 9 Wayne Wallace and I made the first full traverse of the remote and rugged Sawtooth Ridge in the Olympic Mountains. Known for its relatively good rock (for volcanic), the ridge includes of 13 named peaks (some more like pinnacles) from Mt. Alpha to Mt. Lincoln. We climbed about 20 peaks and pinnacles, doing our best to stay as close as possible to the ridge and climbing northeast ridges or faces and rappelling southwest ridges and faces. Much of the climbing is on steep pillow lava of moderate grade, with above-average run-outs. The rappels were either off 3/8" webbing slung on horns or blocks or, in a few cases, the rope looped around a pointy summit.

The most popular peak is the highest, Mt. Cruiser (6,104'), which graces the cover of the Olympic Mountains guidebook and is generally considered the only worthy objective in the area. While we believe every summit had been touched, we are quite certain nobody had made the complete traverse in a single push. We approached 10 miles past Flapjack Lakes and Gladys Divide on a wet Saturday and ended up at the base of Alpha in dense clouds with zero visibility. We bivied and hoped the skies would clear that night, as forecast. They did, so we were up early and off.

Alpha had two peaks and offered the first view of the complicated traverse. We knew we were in for a great ride with exposure, and our excitement mounted as we rapped to the base of Cruiser. We chose the purest line by keeping on the ridge, and Wayne led the first of many steep, sparsely protected pitches. Next came an unnamed summit (Blob?), more exposed ridge, and then The Needle. The first pitch of the three Castle Spires was another steep, exposed arête with a memorable overhang. We ended the day by doing The Fin and The Horn. One of the most spectacular pitches was a monster chimney up the northeast face of The Fin. The Horn is not class 4, as rated in the guidebook! Unable to find snow to melt, we were forced to drop from the ridge almost 1,000' to get water. We found a pond and slept well under brilliant stars, in spite of relentless mosquitoes.

Early the next day we ascended scree gullies back to the ridge where we had left it. The last day of climbing was slightly lower elevation, and there was considerable vegetation, mostly small pine trees, between pinnacles such as Tin Cans 1 & 2 (so named because we found old rusty cans near the summit), The Cleaver, Slab Tower, The Rectagon, Picture Pinnacle, The Trylon, and North Lincoln. We believe our routes up the northeast ridges of Slab Tower, The Rectagon, and Picture Pinnacle to be first ascents. After a complicated series of rappels off North Lincoln, we found the only (obvious!) descent gully, where we dropped our packs, made a quick scramble over to the true summit of Lincoln, returned, and finally dropped off the ridge around 2:00. The steep chute of dirt was puckering, but mellowed to scree, then talus and boulders, before we entered the forest and bushwhacked around a ridge and back to Flapjack Lakes. Slide alder and devil’s club reminded us we weren’t done yet. The 500' descent down cliffs to the lake was more of a controlled fall; we hung onto bushes and tree limbs until we almost splashed into the crystal water. A swim in the lake cooled and cleaned us for the 7.8-mile hike out to lukewarm beer and chips in the car. Fish and chips and a dozen Hood Canal oysters on the half shell fueled us for the drive home. Grade V 5.8R (old school). Gear: two ropes, medium rack to 3", several small pins, tat cord.

David Parker, Bainbridge Island, WA

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.