Burgundy Spire

Washington Pass, North Cascades, WA

August 23 - 24, 2003

Dave Svilar, Matt Alford


Climbing starts at 'col' where we camped.

Matt and I were both "keen" to get out, but not enough to get an alpine start.  Therefore it was well after noon before the Nissan crested Washington Pass, which left little time to run up and do one of the Liberty Bell crags.  Recalling a previous climb of Silver Star Mt we decided to just spend the day hiking up to a col, which we thought would provide excellent camping and a stellar sunset.  Both our packs were fully stocked with tools in which to enjoy a good evening in the mountains.  A less important side note was the fact that this col sat directly at the base of the route we wished to climb the next day.

A car full of curious onlookers spots a red-head in his underwear.

As we slowly organized gear at the trailhead on Highway 20 I couldn't help but notice an unusual number of cars that passed by who honked and whistled.  Particularly those carrying females.  I thought to myself, 'We are two good looking guys.  However, I'm bald and Matt's a red-head.  I wonder what makes them so excited?'  Looking over at Matt provided the answer - he had inexplicably stripped down to his underwear.

"Matt why are you only wearing underwear?"  Matt could not understand the question.  Why not wear just underwear?  What is the point of shorts and t-shirts?  They just get sweaty and stinky.  I couldn't disagree, although I chose to wear my shorts.

The hike up to the col was long, steep and generally unpleasant.  Upon reaching the col where we planned to bivy we met two gentlemen who were eager to give route beta.  I wasn't that interested and chose instead to hunt for the best spot to bivy and the best spot to pee.  Looking back towards Matt and the other two gentlemen I saw one of the lasting images of this outing.  Matt was standing tall and proud with one arm on his hips and the other gesticulating wildly in the air as he spoke to the two gentlemen wearing only his underwear and a clunky pair of boots.  If ever there was a fashion sin it must have been Matt in only his undies and boots.  It's hard to say what the two gentlemen, who wore expensive North Face fleece and fancy climber pants, must have thought of the nearly naked red-head they attempted to converse with.

Matt rests with his back up against Burgundy Spire at the bivy.  The look on Matt's face is the one I get when he wants me to bring out the cookies.

As we organized camp clouds threatened to ruin our climb for the next day.  They might ruin our climb, but they wouldn't ruin our bivy.  As it grew increasingly cold we succumbed to sunset enhancers followed by a Mountain House dinner that tasted better than usual.  Finally, I brought out my mom's cookies - probably 15 in all - and set them in between Matt and I.  Not a word was spoken for nearly 15 minutes as we both stared straight ahead not wanting to be the first to show weakness by reaching for a cookie.  I snuck a quick glimpse of Matt out of the corner of my eye.  He was drooling like the poor dog of one of those owners who makes their pet balance dog treats on its nose.  I finally caved.  And so it went, whenever I grabbed a cookie Matt would immediately grab one also, and vice versa.  Not a word was spoken, but one thing was silently understood - neither of us would get cheated out of our fair share of the cookies.

With nothing else to do we both drifted off to sleep.  By all accounts I should have been out for the count, but a force greater than I, perhaps the hand of God himself woke me with a startle.  I raised my head to see one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life.  Was this for real?  Or is it the enhancers?  I looked to Matt for reassurance, but he was sleeping with his right eye partially open.  His eyeball was fluttering madly.  Whatever he was dreaming about must have been good, so I let him sleep.  Returning my focus to the sunset, I still couldn't believe the magnitude of beauty.  I jumped out of my sleeping bag (yes, in my underwear) and scrambled up to a rocky ledge with my camera.  I hoped my camera would see the same thing I did. Speaking later with northwest climbing veteran Mac Bates, he claimed it was one of the best sunsets he's ever witnessed in the mountains.  Even my low-lander father claimed it was one of the best he's ever seen.

Colors turning on the northwest face of Burgundy Spire.  Glacier Peak glows in the far right of the picture.


We awoke the next morning to clear, cold skies.  Neither of us wanted to get out of our bags, much less stick our hands in a cold, north facing crack.  We were also in a serious need for water.  There were no streams, but there was one of the hardest, dirtiest chunks of snow I'd ever seen.  We used our nut tools to chip ice chunks, which were then melted into dirty water.  We appreciated the water, but not the added texture.

We finally started climbing what the guide book suggested would be eight pitches of challenging fun.  When Fred Beckey first climbed Burgundy Spire in the early 1950's it was supposedly one of the finest technical alpine rock climbing efforts the Cascades had ever seen and remained so for several years.  Burgundy Spire still stands as one of the techinically hardest summits in the Cascades to reach by those in the know.

Our experience on the first three pitches didn't support this thought, as we didn't even feel the need for a rope over the 4th and low 5th class climbing.  We passed through a sandy area and then came up against a wall that forced us to pull out the rope.  I examined the wall hemming and hawing about the best route.  My indecisiveness was broken by Matt, "I just want to go up.  Give me the rack."  The pitch turned into a full 60 meter delight of solid 5.8 granite.

Matt on one of the many liebacks.

The next pitch continued up slightly and then traversed to the right on a sandy ledge through a chockstone tunnel.  Once again we stared up at a face that seemed to have several options.  A line was picked to the left that led to a ledge with rappel/belay bolts, so we figured to be on route.  The final pitch ascended a shallow corner and then finished with the crux of the climb - face moves that transitioned into a super-fun 5.8 layback that put us on top of the spire.  For fans of the lieback as a climbing move, this route had them in abundance.

Dave on the summit with neighboring Chianti Spire's spectacularly sharp summit superimposed against larger Silver Star Mt in the background.

The descent via the climbing route went quickly and soon we were bombing down the steep, unpleasant trail.  I say 'bombing' because that was what we were doing.  We had places to be.  Matt and I had added another dimension to our friendship besides mountains and taverns.  We were dating girls that lived at the same address.  This obviously added a pleasant respite from the confines of our parent's basements, so we happily met up that night for a post-climbing dip in their hot tub to soak our sore, bloody limbs.  Yes, life was good for the bald guy and red-head in the late summer of 2003.

-written September 2003

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