"Spirited Away" First Ascent of the South Ridge of Spectre Peak 2000' 5.8
Updated: Jul 27, 2022
The Profile of the Upper Ridge From the East
In early July 2022, Lani and I climbed Mongo Ridge deep in the northern pickets. From this ridge, we were able to see a few really cool looking ridges and neighboring walls and were curious about the history of the climbing in the zone. After we got home we dove into all the usual sources of info (AAJ, Cascade Climbers, Beckey Bible) to try and identify which features had been climbed and which ones hadn't. Our research turned up a handful of projects and a new tick list. This tick list of course is guarded by a sadistic 2 day approach regardless of entry point. Fast forward a week and the extended forecast was trending toward SPLITTER. I had a few days off, but Lani was scheduled to work so I started reaching out to everyone I knew in the state to see who was stoked. Joe answered the call, and despite school and a semi normal person job, he was able to take 5 days off randomly to go for a new route. I tossed out all the ideas that I had come up with and the line we could most agree on was the South Ridge of Spectre. The line is an obvious serrated ridge of hoodoos and spirits rising gently out of Pickle Pass. Joe had recently done a new route in the challenger sky line, so it was super rad to have a partner who was familiar with the approach.
Total Hiking Mileage: 46 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 17,500 ft
Total Pitches: 12
Total Climbing Distance: 1800 ft of pitched climbing with 600 ft of simuling for a total of 1500ft of elevation gain
French Alpine Rating: D+
Recommended Rack: Singles .1-2, Doubles .3-1, Optional 3, a light rack of nuts and 50 ft of cord/webbing. Single 60M Rope
Hannegan Pass Trailhead to a bivy on the far side of Easy Peak (10 hrs)
Easy Ridge to the bivy below the South Ridge of Phantom Peak (8 hrs)
Climb the ridge and bump camp over to the bivy sites on the south side of the challenger ridge (15 hrs)
Descend all the way to the trailhead (16 hrs)
Conclusions and Recommendations
Joe and I had an excellent and enjoyable time climbing the ridge. That being said, I would have a really hard time recommending the route for repeats. There are a number of really cool sections of knife edge climbing and some super fun movement. Heck there is even a 20 ft long splitter hands and fist crack! But there is a fairly substantial choss factor. I would put this around the medium-low end of the spectrum of rock quality by Cascades standards. If you enjoy climbing remote moderate ridge climbs in the pickets you will probably enjoy the experience as a whole, but most climbers unfamiliar with shattered gneiss would turn their nose to the route. The majority of the climbing is moderate low to mid fifth with decent stretches of 5.7 terrain. There were short isolated sections of 5.8 and a couple moves of chossy runout 5.9. With a little route finding revisions its likely possible to get around the 5.9 sections. My personal highlights were the gymnastic and exposed knife-edge sections. The bulbous and contorted hoodoos near the top inspired the route name as it felt like we were amongst the ghosts at the bath house.
I met Joe at his place in Mt. Vernon Early Sat morning to finish packing. After we decided on rack and packed up food we headed over to the Glacier Ranger Station. We were surprised to find that there wasn't too bad of a line showing up at after opening on a sat morning. Starting this season, the park has started to charge money for wilderness permits. They are charging a flat rate of $26 per party per trip. We got to the Hannegan Pass Trailhead around 9:30AM. The line of cars was already a half mile from the wash out. I cant imagine the traffic problems that had to of occurred later in the day as the road functionally became a one lane road. The trail up and over Hannegan was uneventful, there were a few blow downs, but trail crews were active and cutting the route clear. When we got to the turn off we were surprised to see that some sneaky trail crew member cut trees at the turn off to better indicate the trail for the Easy Ridge turnoff. The hike of to Easy Ridge was HOT and DRY. Luckily there was still flowing water relatively early on the ridge. I can imagine this is brutal later in the season and in dry years would be miserable.
Sunset from our camp on Easy Ridge
We Passed the summit of Easy peak with an awkward amount of daylight left, we opted to stop where we were as there was a good, clean tarn for water, and we knew the next day would be a bit on the light side.
Day 2 was all about positioning ourselves to a good camp to try the climb from. Our original goal was to go all the way to Pickell Pass. When we got to the Phantom Peak notch we were able to see that Pickell Pass was still covered in snow. We did not have a tent with us and did not want to deal with an open air bivy on the snow unless it was necessary. We found a nice flat spot up near the South Ridge of Phantom Peak and set up camp.
Looking over at Pickell Pass and the Southern Skyline from the Phantom Notch Camp
On day three we had a relatively casual morning as we stomped across the base of the haunted wall over to our ridge. We roped up around 7AM. The first 3 pitches climbed a broad buttress to a large ledge. For the third pitch, we took an attractive looking face to the right of a wide chimney/gully. The face ended up having a couple body lengths of super loose and slightly overhung climbing. The mossy chimney likely would have provided better rock.
View of the ridge from Pickle Pass, the route takes the righthand skyline
Joe Following the First Pitch
Looking up at Pitch 3 and the Rotten Overhang
Once on top of the buttress, we un-roped and scrambled up a few hundred feet of 2nd and 3rd class to where the ridge steepened again. We built an anchor and Joe led up nice cracks that took us up to the true ridge crest. Once on the crest we were presented with a couple options. the rock on the true crest looked particularly friable, so we decided to stay on the face to the east of the crest. We climbed up a big steppy, golden slab for a pitch and a half before cutting back up to the ridge when the face suddenly dropped below.
Joe Stepping up on Pitch 4
Smiles at the top of Pitch 4
Looking Down on top of the broad buttress
Golden Slabs on Pitch 5
Joe Following Pitch 5
Second Half of Pitch 6 Re-Gaining the Ridge Crest
Once back on the ridge crest we climbed a pitch to the base of an insane looking gendarme. We hit a dike of extreme choss guarding the gendarme. After looking around for a while, we decided to do a rappel to the west, we went down into a gully and to the base of some cracks west of the crest. It took some serious creativity and a heavy hand to fabricate an anchor worth rappelling on. The rap was about 25M. The gully was pretty loose, but not the loosest I've ever rapped into. I used the rappel to belay myself up the opposite wall to a point where I was out of the hang-fire and built an anchor.
Pitch 7 Ridge Shenanigans
Looking back to the Rappel Station from my Belay Stance Across the Gully
Looking Back at the Gnarly Looking Tower and Rappel Notch
There was a sneaky ramp up and left that revealed a hand crack! I used multiple hand jams... IN A ROW! There was even a little bit of fist crack climbing! It was only 20-30 ft long, but I was super excited to find some genuinely fun climbing. The pitch after was fun, slightly overhung 5.7 face climbing with bomber gear up to the ridge crest. Once at the ridge again we dropped down to a nice, grassy and shaded ledge for a quick break. From here, we headed up an obvious grassy ramp that fed into a featured, blocky face.
Looking up from the Grassy Ledge to the Grassy Ramp
Finishing the "Grassy Ramp" Pitch
The next pitch was the climax of choss for the route. Easy climbing brought us up to the ridge for a 100' traverse on 5.0 gravel. Looking up from our belay notch it appeared to be "just a short pitch" to an obvious rappel point where we would have to drop off the gendarmes onto the face below. This would prove to be the coolest and probably spookiest section of the climb. We danced with crazy hoodoos that vibrated and sung with every tap and test of a hold. After working our way through about 4 mini gendarmes we finally located a thank god horn, something that finally felt good enough to belay and rappel off of. A 30M rappel brought us down to a long grassy 4th class ramp that we simul-climbed to the summit.
Pitch 11 Gravel Traverse
"I think I could Trundle This Whole Pillar if I Tried"
Top of the Second to Last Hoodoo
A fat snow pack made the descent back to the base super chill. The good snow coverage overall made the whole trip super easy going as we graciously avoided the typical endless scree and loose talus traversing on the western slopes. Once Back at the Phantom Notch, we had plenty of daylight left so we packed up and made moves to the excellent bivy sites by the pocket glacier in the southern challenger cirque. The next morning we slept in late to rest, glad to not have an alarm set and began retracing our steps. Travel was slow as the temps raged hard. We felt like we walked into a sauna traversing the impasse next the the dark grey rock. I think we both drank near 2 gallons of water throughout the day and still ended up dehydrated. We got to the Chilliwack crossing around 8:30 and took some time to eat dinner and contemplate life. The lack of a tent made the march out to civilization appealing as the potential for bugs was high. The ultimate deciding factor was the strong desire to avoid the hike up to Hannegan in the blazing morning sun. We sweated plenty as it was with stuffy air that felt way to hot to be in the middle of the night. All in all, it was an excellent, smooth sailing trip into the northern pickets. It was great to rope up with Joe again and catch up from all the years that past. I'm already scheming my next trip into the range! The fruit often hang lowest on the furthest trees.
Easy Conditions on the Hike Down off the Summit
Final Sunset from the Camp Below Challenger
Climbing the 5.4 pitch back up to the Challenger Col
Pitch by Pitch Beta
Here are the Pitch notes I took while climbing. Maybe this will be helpful one day on the off chance that some adventurous choss wrangler ever chooses to repeat the climb. At the very least, I hope it provides some entertainment value where it would otherwise take up dead space on my phone.
Pitch 1: 5.7 200'
Start up right of the notch, 100' of 4th class to 100' of 5.7 up blocky terrain. It would be reasonable to simul to link to the next ledge.
Pitch 2: Low Fifth 100'
Climb blocky ground to a big ledge with trees, Traverse the ledge to the left side.
Pitch 3: 5.9R 200'
Climb the attractive face to the right of a major mossy gully. 10ft of overhanging choss add some excitement. It looked like the gully would provide easier or more solid rock.
Scramble (2nd/3rd class) up 400', past the top of the first tower and notch up to a good ledge where the ridge steepens again.
Pitch 4: 5.5 110'
Climb solid cracks with bad rope drag to the ridge crest
Pitch 5: 5.5 200'
Climb ledgey slabs and clean walls to the right of the crest. Belay on massive ledge
Pitch 6: 5.7 150'
Traverse the ledge until the ramp system suddenly drops away. Follow a cool Knife edge ridge up to the main ridge crest.
Pitch 7: 5.7 150'
Follow the ridge crest past a funky notch up to the base of an insane gendarme. The rock here is super sharp and shattered. I almost chopped the lead line while setting up the belay.
Find a rappel anchor around the corner on the west side of the ridge. Make a 25M rappel into a choss gully. Use the rappel to belay yourself up out of the fall line of your partner and rope.
Pitch 8: 5.8 120'
Follow an easy ramp up to the left straight to the base of a nice looking splitter crack. Climb the nice, but too short hands and fists crack to a shallow belay alcove.
Pitch 9: 5.7 70'
Climb steep and featured face climbing out of the alcove with excellent gear. Continue up to the ridge crest. Step down and belay on comfortable grassy ledge.
Pitch 10: 5.4 200'
Follow the 4th class heather ramp for 100' up and right. Continue up steep and blocky terrain to a good ledge.
Pitch 11: 5.4 200'
Climb the face up to the ridge crest. Cross the crest and traverse the face just shy of the crest for 100' on low fifth class gravel. Creative anchor at a choss notch.
Pitch 12: 5.7 80'
Climb exposing "singing" gendarmes over to a solid rappel anchor.
30M rappel takes you down to a massive grassy ledge system. We simul-climbed about 600' of mostly 3rd class with a couple low fifth class moves. The final 100 feet to the summit are glory 5.0 terrain and are an awesome icing to the cake.
Hmm, that looks oddly familiar...