10 @ .10
Ah 5.10, the iconic grade of so many stellar climbs. The level was once considered impossible, and is now the namesake for a brand of footwear. 5.10 is attainable to the motivated weekend climber, but attention-getting and serious enough to inspire even the most dedicated. Routes at this grade in the mountains are 'the real deal.'
With summer around the corner, it's time to fill out the alpine tick list. So in no particular order, here's my personal list of the 10 best 5.10 routes in the Cascades.
1. Chianti Spire - Rebel Yell
The best route in the Wine Spires, this line has it all. Clean cracks, an outstanding summit, excellent rock, and steep climbing on a plumb line. Rebel Yell was put up by the prolific team of Jim Nelson and Carl Diedrich in their prime (in 1986 alone these two established Rebel Yell, the W. Face of Gunsight, North Ridge of the Elephant Head, and Jim Nelson made the First Winter Ascent of Slesse's NE Buttress.) The 2-pitch left-start variation is certainly the way to begin the route. And somewhat unique among these routes, you can stash axes, boots/shoes, crampons (optional on the approach) and packs at the base of the route, then climb and rap back to your stuff directly.
2. Salish Peak - Flight of the Falcon
From the classic to the new, Flight of the Falcon climbs a face that most haven't seen, on a peak that many didn't even know existed. Credit goes to Chris Greyell, who established this line in the alpine outside of Darrington, decades after putting up the area's best route, Dreamer. With bolted belays, and well-bolted crux sections, this route is the least "serious" of the list, but the rock is fantastic, and the climbing excellent. Just go up there for a rock climb in a scenic spot, not an alpine adventure. Consider bivying at 'The Boulder' or climbing Roan Wall on the same trip.
3. Amphitheatre Mountain -Middle Finger Buttress
Hidden in the Eastern edge of the Cascades, and just south of the Canadian border, Amphitheatre Mountain's broad North Face has some of the best cracks in the Cascades. The route up Middle Finger Buttress's left side goes from chimney, to split-pillar-style corners, as one gets higher above the Upper Cathedral Lake. Darin Berdinka, who has climbed most of the best routes in the range (and put up many of his own), said the climb features "the single best pitch of mid-5.10 crack climbing I have ever done - anywhere. It is that good. "
4. Gunsight Range - Gunrunner Traverse
Two days of driving, boating, busing, hiking, schwacking, and cramponing is all that's required to find perhaps the whitest and cleanest rock in the Cascades, courtesy of the Gunsight Range. Although never sustained at the 5.10 level, a complete North-to-South traverse of the 4 major summits requires a long carry-over, glacier travel, 5.10 crack-climbing skills, and a serious taste for backcountry commitment. It also familiarizes one with the range, if plans are for an extended stay.
5. Enchantment Peak - Acid Baby
Here's another new climb, but completely deserving of multiple ascents a year. Several pitches of 5.10, good stone, and a well-protected line in an area surrounded by much harder or much easier routes. If not continuing on to Prusik or the plateau, it's possible to rappel to climber's right from the summit.
6. Castle Peak - North Face Herrington/Hirst
1400' of good stone on a peak with North Face routes established by Beckey, Kearney, and Pennings. There's got to be a a reason that Fred hauled a trio of Colorado Alpine Heroes to this peak for an attempt on the unclimbed central buttress. While their line is 5.11 and probably unrepeated, an attempt to follow their route led Peter Hirst and I to establish a parallel line to the left. Castle Peak sits about a mile south of the international border and exactly on the Whatcom/Okanogan county line (AKA the middle of nowhere). We approached from Canada, and it took only half a day, with no brush, beautiful meadows, a primo swimming lake, and one of the coolest camp spots in the range. Bring a few thin pins, cause you're gonna already need an axe/tool for the glacier approach and couloir downclimb descent. Or, you might be able to find a tool at the foot of the route. 800' up the climb, Peter dropped his tool, nearly hitting me in the head. He spiffyed up some crazy caveman-style self arrest tool for the descent, and I froze the skin off my ungloved hand repeated plunging my undropped tool. The skin turned black and pealed off, which did not earn me any points from my boss at work.
7. Gunsight Main Peak - East Face
Transport Index's Lower Town Wall to one of the most remote spots in the lower-48 and you've got a pretty apt description for the East Face of Gunsight. Some well-protected and steep 5.10+ and some delicate, less-well-protected 5.10- provide the mental and physical cruxes on the route, a line that finishes on the final pitch of the 1979 Skoog/Brill route, which no longer exists due to rockfall. The necessary carryover means you're probably climbing with boots, tools, and crampons, in addition to grins from ear-to-ear. Even the 5.9 slab at the top is immaculate.
8. Bear - Direct North Face
2,000' of 5.8, 5.9, and 5.10- climbing up one of the biggest north faces in the Cascades. Not having done the route, I can only say that it's been on my list for a while and I haven't heard any reason to take it off. Technically easier than other routes on the list, it's also longer and doesn't have quite as high of rock quality, both adding to the overall seriousness of the line.
9. Les Cornes - Springbok Arete
Navigate the cruxy maze of logging roads, and you can find this route on the B.C. side of the border. A new direct start bypasses the formerly junky opening pitches, and leads to sustained and strenuous 5.10 on awesome granite.
10. Juno Tower - Clean Break
The second Washington Pass route, and another one NOT on the Liberty Bell group. The 'Clean Break' pitch is three-stars anywhere, and the rest of the climb is enjoyable and never too easy.
Honorable mentions or shoulda-beens:
Viennese Direct North Face, or Derektissima
Slesse N. Rib (25 pitches of 5.9R = 5.10 right?)
Cathedral - SE Buttress with 5.10a finger crack (not enough 5.10 climbing to qualify, but SO good)
Prusik - Lady Godiva
Slesse - E Rib
I'd be curious to hear if it seems like I missed some deserving routes or included some junkers. Everything except Bear is granite, so maybe something like Mox or E. McMillan deserves inclusion based on the scale and commitment, if not the rock/climbing quality.