South Early Winter’s Spire, SW Rib (5.8+)

Best 5.8 in Washington?

With a long weekend, Jacob and I drove to Washington Pass for some alpine rock climbing. On Saturday, we climbed the SW Rib of South Early Winter’s Spire. The next morning, we climbed most of Sisyphus (5.11-) on Goat Wall, before escaping the mid day heat. The SW Rib is a famous route, known for its fun features and variety of challenges. Many people claim it is the “best 5.8 alpine rock route in Washington”.

The hike in was very easy (as usual with the Liberty Bell Group) and we found ourselves at the base of the route behind one other party. We soaked in the morning views of the North Cascades.

SEWS Views
Glacier Peak and Dome Peak from the base of SEWS.

The first pitch was pretty easy expect for a short 5.8+ crux. The second pitch was this awesome wavy crack, which had pretty sustained 5.7-5.8 hand jamming. One more pitch brought us to the “Nervous Nelly” slab pitch. It gets its nickname for the exposure and runout in the pitch. It is only 5.6, but feels like the most difficult part of the entire route to some!

SW Rib Climb
Jacob very focused on the “Nervous Nelly” pitch.

Next up was the famous “Bear Hug” pitch! It is a 20 ft section of parallel off width cracks. Without a #5 cam, I plugged in a #4 at the base and then carefully crept up the exposed section. It was super fun face climbing on the edges of the cracks! Jacob followed in more style, bear hugging the twin cracks.

Twin Cracks
The famous twin cracks on the “Bear Hug” Pitch.

A few more fun pitches with a long ridge brought us to the summit of South Early Winter’s Spire. It was a busy day in the Liberty Bell Group, with climbers on all faces of the different towers. It was fun to watch from the top.

SEWS Summit
Looking out towards Big Snagtooth.
SEWS Summit
Jacob enjoying the fine rock.

For the descent, we took the South Arete. This route is itself sort of a classic route, an easy 5.5 scramble. It was a bit crowded with all the traffic of the day, but not too bad. An easy hike down led us back to the car and a relaxing afternoon.

Looking back on the SW Rib of SEWS.


  • A #4 cam sort of protects the bear hug pitch, but there still is some risk of a ledge fall near the end of the section. A #5 would be preferable.
  • Aside from the wavy crack pitch, there really is not that much 5.8, so it is definitely a reasonable route for the newer 5.8 leader.
  • If you are not solid on cracks (like me), bring double of #2 and #3s for the wavy crack.
  • The routefinding looks complicated on paper, but it is very natural once you get going.

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