American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Washington, The Washington Pass Traverse

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2006

The Washington Pass Traverse. At the end of day two, August 25, Mark Allen and I had just completed three-fourths of a traverse that we’d talked about for three years, and we were about to bail and go home. Mark said he had to guide in Mazama the next day, and, regardless, we were out of water. The trip was a series of heartbreaking near-failures anyhow.

The traverse was supposed to be a complete circuit of over 20 high points of the famous Silver Star massif of Washington Pass: the spine-backed ridge of Silver Star, the monoliths of the Wine Spires, and the final continuation of the long, towered Vasiliki Ridge. Although each part of the traverse is on a different mountain, the entire ridge is a continuous four-mile-long knife-edge.

The trip almost ended the first night, when I set my sleeping bag on fire during our below-freezing bivouac. Later that night we ran out of fuel, forcing us to load our camelbacks full of snow to melt against our backs. It almost ended again the next morning, when our morale plummeted after staring down the long rappel off Silver Star that led to the start of the Wine Spires traverse: 1,500 concentrated feet of climbing on four separate towers, with summits only 50-100' apart.

But after beating the odds and getting through what we thought was the worst of two days of solid climbing, carrying minimal packs that looked loaded for a day of cragging rather than a grade VI traverse, we had to go home.

“Yeah, I gotta work Saturday morning, tomorrow. Bummer,” Mark said. “Mark, today is Thursday, not Friday,” I exclaimed.

Instantly gaining a day, we could yet make the traverse happen. We were still out of water, though, and a tiny trickle draining from the glacier below wouldn’t accommodate our bottles. But the whiskey bottle we polished off the night before fit perfectly!

The final day of climbing looked like it would go fairly quickly, but it was just as challenging as the first two days. Constant ridge climbing, tricky routefinding, and a bit of gardening on the Vasiliki Ridge led us to the final summit and the end of a long traverse: 26 summits, 28 rappels, 4 miles and 34 hours of climbing, up to 5.9+. We stuck to the ridgeline the whole way, in the process establishing new lines on several of the peaks, including the Direct East Ridge of Silver Star and new routes on Pernod, Chianti, Burgundy, and the Vasiliki Spires.

We called it the Washington Pass Traverse because the ridge is one of the most prominent lines you see in the Washington Pass area as you come up over the crest of the North Cascade Highway. This long and uninviting ridge screamed at us to climb it every time we descended to the Methow Valley. Now we can look up and rest, knowing that we finally did it. Vote for Pedro.

Note: the original trip report with photos can be found at

Mike Layton, AAC

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