Washington Pass Freedom

I've made a couple early-season visits to Washington Pass this Spring, combining some skiing with climbs of some routes I hadn't done before. I was also able to team up with Graham Zimmerman to establish a new direct freeclimbing start to the left of the aid pitches on Mojo Rising, South Early Winter Spire.

High on 'Mojo Rising'

Perma-psyched local Shaun Johnson joined me to climb Mojo Rising (5.11 C1 Allen/Kaufman/Smith '06) the original aid line was something which we had hoped to freeclimb. Mr Mojo Risin' is a nickname and an anagram for "Jim Morrison" - the frontman of 1960s rock legends The Doors. I uspect the FA team had probably meant to name their route "Mojo Risin" (no g) in honor of Jim Morrison, as classic rock also inspired their nearby variation to the Beckey-Leen route called "Southern Man" for the Neil Young song. I don't know how the "G" got thrown in there, but just remember this bit of esoteric knowledge for later on in the story.

The first pitch is a fun sport climb, and the bolt ladder above that will almost certainly go free around .12c. The next pitch is a ~40' flare with a tiny seam in it, but this was actively flowing with water. It may go free, but only late season when dry. Above here we enjoyed some nice 5.8-5.10 climbing on up to the summit. We followed this with a 3-pitch ascent of the ubber-classic West Face of North Early Winters. If you do one pitch up the chimneys, one pitch off the big ledge and up to the stance below the crux, then you can do a ~65m pitch to the summit, which is one of the best pitches in the Cascades.

Shaun, well guarded against the glare.

As with many guidebook-ratings for WA Pass (Passenger, Southern Man, Mojo Rising) the .11a crux on the West Face is about 2 letter grades soft, relative to most areas in the region, but it's still an outstanding climb.

This week I was joined by Graham Zimmerman and we started our day on Freedom Rider (1200' 5.10d Burdo-Risse '88) which we had not done before. The first 300' was chossy and loose but we soon found ourselves beneath the crux corner. This pitch was absolutely nothing like it is described in the guidebook. There's an obvious fist crack to OW (would protect great with a #3, #4, and #5) or there is a face and corner just a few feet just left of the offwidth that was the original line. We did the original option, which has copious good small gear and positive holds. The guidebook describes needing to save small gear for a scary traverse into the offwidth, which you then step through, and move into a hand crack. This description also mentions climbing high up the corner and placing a small cam to protect the traverse.

Graham moves across the crux of
 Freedom Rider
The situation and beta we found was that when you reach an ancient fixed rigid Friend, back it up with a #2 camalot and slab/face climb right for about 8 feet. There was no small gear to be found nearby in the corner, and if there were, it would be pointless to place, as the 2" cam and fixed friend are so close. It felt about 5.10d and seemed like the obvious choice to move right at that point. There are absolutely no cracks or any spots for other gear during this section, and it is a very short traverse, which reaches the offwidth at a point where there is an easy hand and finger crack 4' right of the offwidth. I'd describe this as a pitch with excellent protection, fun stemming, and a delicate high step to the right. Nothing scary, no big gear required, no unusual amounts of small gear required.

[edited to add: I have no doubt that this used to be chossier and scarier, but these days it's a well-protected pitch without any elaborate shenanigans required. I didn't mean to attack the supertopo or CAG/Mountaineers guidebooks, but figured a better description would help folks, as I'd mentally built up this pitch into some dicey horrorshow alternative to the wide crack.]

The rest of the climb was ok, but far from great. The best climbing on Freedom Rider is actually on Liberty Crack, and the Medusa Roofs (despite having one of the coolest names of any pitch) were just a big wet chimney, not what we had imagined for the best 5.8 pitch at the pass. It's a good line and I'm sure it's better when dry, but overall the value is more in the position than the climbing.

Our start take the crack above
Graham, leading to the bottom
of the tan-colored rock
in the middle of the photo.

After Freedom Rider we went over to South Early Winter Spire for an attempt to climb new pitches to the left of Mojo Rising and make a free direct start of that route. We began halfway between the North Face (5.10 A2 Ingersoll-Selters '88) and Mojo's bolted start. The first pitch was a steep face climb with better-than expected gear, probably 5.10+. I belayed on a small pillar stance to the right of a tree below double cracks. Graham began the next pitch but found difficult climbing and a bit of moss in the way of his freeclimbing. He resorted to aiding and cleaning, but got 'er done and found a perfect ledge to belay. He slowly brought me up as I cleaned moss, lichen, and wet vegetation from the feature. I ticked a few holds and worked on some sequences, knowing that we had to try and make this go free. I took off a layer, swigged the last of our water, and then took a TR burn to try and make the wet locks feel more doable.

We descended and I racked up for a go, fighting too hard when I should have been trusting my feet on the textured granite low down. The crux came at the very top, with a harder version of Slow Children's finale as the fingers thinned. In this case the tips locks were also still seeping and I started to teeter backwards out of the crack before letting out a yell, gastoning to pull myself in tight, and deadpointing to the final hold. I mantled up with a whoop and brought up Graham who also hung on to send, giving himself a stern yet inspiring lecture in the third-person just before the crux "OK GZ, just make it happen, one move at a time..."

From here, a short 5.10 flare section lead us into Mojo Rising at the base of that route's 5th pitch. I kept climbing, enjoying the amazing 5.9 finger crack beneath the setting sun, and then let Graham take over to lead us to the summit.

This month marked the death of one of Jim Morrison (AKA Mr Mojo Risin')'s band mates from The Doors, the keyboardist named Ray Manzarek. His name is an anagram for all kinds of awesome phrases that would be excellent route names (or video game weapons) including "Karma Zen Ray" and "Zany Arm Rake". Choosing one of those for the name would be a bit of A Zany Remark, and alas not everyone is as interested in crosswords and esoteric puns as I am. I fear that the significance wouldn't stand the test of time.

For now we called our variation "Free Mojo" and the crux felt about 5.11 with perfect pro. It is highly recommended for 2 reasons. First, there just aren't very many good pitches harder than 5.10- along the western aspects of the Liberty Bell group, and secondly, we got a nearly-new green Link Cam stuck low on pitch 2, but it will definitely come out as a prize for the second ascent team! (the trigger bar is the stuck part). Go get it done!

Excellent Topo originally courtesy of Mark Allen


  1. Hey there, great tr, has there been a second ascent of free mojo yet? I think I was looking at the route on the decent of the west face, are the belay stations on the first 2 pitches slung blocks with white webbing? Or maybe that's mojo rising?

  2. Hi Matt, I have not heard of anyone doing it, but they should!

    There is a free .75 link cam at the first belay we used, but that is it. I am pretty sure you could booty it with no trouble.

    The route is longer and better but of a similar nature and protection/difficulty to the nearby mega popular West Face of NEWS.

  3. The tat and bolts you saw were probably on the next crack line to the left, which is the Selters aid line. Free Mojo starts just down the hill from the mega chockstone that you rappel off when descending NEWS. It's obvious from the ground.