American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Washington, East McMillan Spire, Come Over to the Dark Side

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2009

East McMillan Spire, Come over to the Dark Side. Under fine weather Erik Johnson and I spent two days approaching East McMillan Spire, and then one tentbound in the rain. On day four the skies cleared as we traversed the remnants of the McMillan Creek glaciers to the start of the unclimbed 2,400' northeast buttress. In the evening of September 10 we reached a ledge after seven pitches of delicate work. Here I was again on this magnificent bastion of unclimbed rock wondering if this time we would make it. Several pitches above rose the dark brooding overhangs that had dogged me for 17 years.

The next day looked like another fine one as Erik led up a perfect corner to familiar-looking overhangs. At the end of a delicate traverse, a rusty pin and old faded sling on a horn greeted me. “Damn, someone has already been here, and I think it was me!” I shouted. The two pieces of gear marked Paul Sloan’s and my 1991 off-route adventure. Erik worked his way up small face holds, edged and smeared up and right across blank rock, and finally reached real cracks and a belay. After several more leads, near sunset we reached another of my vacation rentals, the bivy ledge Dana Hagin and I slept on in 2003, on the North Buttress route. We’d climbed 14 new pitches and were now on familiar territory.

“Shall we take a pack to the top?” asked Erik the next morning, clutching his mug of instant java, his eyes barely open. “Nah,” I replied. “I know the way, and we’ll be back here by early afternoon.” We summited in a few hours and, unlike the stock market, my obsession had finally paid dividends: Come over to the Dark Side (29 pitches, V 5.10-). From my first glimpse of the McMillans in 1973, and through all of the Picket climbs and every attempt on the buttress, I had realized my dream. For Erik, the teetering blocks on the airy top of East McMillan Spire vindicated many attempts on big routes without a summit. Below us the deep blue of Azure Lake scintillated in the afternoon sun, the jagged summits of West McMillan, Inspiration, Degenhart, Terror, Fury, and Luna rose to meet the sky, and a gentle breeze cooled the air.

Alan Kearney, AAC

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