Thursday, July 05, 2018

“K” Spire Trip Report July 4th, 2018

Climbers approaching K Spire from Meany Crest via the Frying Pan Glacier

Earlier this week, rangers had the rare opportunity to head into the backcountry for a patrol that entailed rock shoes and cams rather than double boots and ice tools. With relatively limited intel on the quality of rock or route descriptions, it made for an enjoyable climb that felt a bit more "wild" than the likes of the standard routes on Rainier. Similar to the Little T approach across the Frying Pan, climbers found the glacier to be in good shape which made for easy navigating towards the spire.

Upon reaching the base of the ridge, the lack of climbers trails or bivy sites reaffirmed the limited traffic this spire receives. A quick climb up the talus gains you the ridgeline just to the west of the spire. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that the NW corner and North Face of the spire are flaky, exfoliating and of poor quality. Additionally, the rock on the South Face seemed to improve dramatically the higher you got up the face. Although rangers climbed the South face via a 3rd class ramp that put you into the better rock, a few other routes could easily be climbed depending on your willingness to deal with poor rock down low. A blocky dihedral system on the SE corner seemed like a viable option after pushing through 20 ft. of rotten rock. Additionally, there were a few variations from the top of the 3rd class ramp that might go between 5.7 and 5.11. 

After scrambling up the ramp, climbers roped up and began working up and right through broken blocks, slab, a high step (5.9) and eventually into a short chimney section that gained you access to the summit ridge. As stated, there were many possible variations but the route taken seemed to offer the best mix of solid rock and moderate climbing. Climbers were treated to a nice view up the Emmons glacier and across to Mt. Ruth. A quick look around made it clear that the best rappel line from the top existed off a large horn, directly above the 3rd class ramp.  A single rappel down to the ramp made for a clean rope pull and an easy stance to swap shoes and downclimb back to the ridge. 1 rappel to the ramp with plenty of rope to spare made a 60m rope seem excessive. A 50m rope might be the perfect length to get up/down the spire without carrying extra rope. 

Protection on the upper face was quality and took a handful of cams and nuts. A single rack from small finger sized TCU's to #1 including small-medium nuts is recommended for the route climbed. The harder variation may need another small piece or two. Climbing shoes were helpful but the route could have been put up in approach shoes with easier, mountain boot variations for the ultralight climbers. 

All in all, K Spire offers an alpine climb of a different variety compared to most within the park boundaries and is highly recommended for those willing to make the trek. Fun climbing and an impressive stance above the Emmons glacier make it a worth while venture. Despite the quality rock on the upper wall, climbers shouldn't overlook the hazard of the rotten rock lower down on the spire. Great care should be taken to ensure that holds, protection, ropes and partners are in secure locations to avoid dislodging one of the many death blocks perched on this rarely climbed feature.

West Ridge of K Spire

Climbing quality rock on the upper South Face
Final chimney section before topout

Rare vantage of the Emmons from the summit of K Spire
Clean rappel line from the summit saddle. Notice thin variation to the right of rap line that links past slab and into another rightward flake system to the top.