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COLCHUCK BALANCED ROCK Route: West Face (5.11-/12+, 8p, 900')

Category: Washington     Trip Report #: 226
Partner: John Plotz
Rock Type: Granite
Summit Elev: 8,200 ft

One of the best climbs in the North Cascades, featuring nearing 1000' of sustained 5.10 climbing with several memorable pitches: an awesome enduro corner, a wild roof traverse, a well-protected short 11+/12- crux, the region's hardest 5.8 chimney, and an exposed V1 boulder problem to surmount the balanced rock on the summit.


The West Face of Colchuck Balanced Rock has become known as one of the best 5.10 multipich routes in the North Cascades. The route features nearly 1000' of sustained 5.10 climbing, with several memorable pitches: an awesome enduro corner, a wild roof traverse, a well-protected short 11+/12- crux, the region's hardest 5.8 chimney, and an exposed V1 boulder problem to surmount the balanced rock on the summit.

This page contains a trip report for a climb of the West Face of Colchuck Balanced Rock with my friend John Plotz. John had climbed the route once years before, but this is the sort of route you can climb again and again. I will certainly be back to climb it again, and John says he will too. Thanks John for the awesome day of climbing!

Some time stats:
   • Trailhead to where trail meets north end of Colchuck Lake: 1:48
    North end of Colchuck Lake to basin below west face: 1:01
    Basin to base of route: 0:23
    Base to summit: 6:30
    Summit block boulder problem: 0:30
    Descent back to basin: 0:50
    Basin to car: 2:45
   • Total car to car: 15:25

Approach map (click image for 8.5x11 size for printing):


Pitch descriptions:
Photo descriptions:
3-4 hours
Trail to Colchuck Lake. From there two options: (1) Follow trail cc around Colchuck Lake, scramble up obvious gully into cirque below the base of CBR. (2) Cross outlet at north end of lake, follow climbers' path up and across timbered hillside to cirque below base of CBR.
a. 6am on a Saturday morning, and the Colchuck Lake Trailhead is already teeming with hikers and climbers and backed up 0.25 miles down the road. I would not be surprised if this is the most travelled trail in the entire North Cascades.
b. This photo (taken in the afternoon while coming down from Aasgard Pass a couple of days previous) shows the approach gully that is described in Approach Option 1. This approach involves hiking the trail around the west side of Colchuck Lake, exiting the trail shortly after it starts heading up to Aasgard Pass, and scrambling up the obvious gully to the east of Jaberwocky Tower shown in the photo. This is a longish approach (~1.5-2 hours from the north end of Colchuck Lake) but for some reason is the "standard" approach option.
c. This photo shows crossing the north end of Colchuck Lake as described in Approach Option 2. This is the approach we chose to take. This approach involves leaving the trail just after it reaches the north end of Colchuck Lake, crossing the outlet at the north end of the lake, and taking a climbers' path up and across the timbered hillside to the basin below the west face of Colchuck Balanced Rock. This approach was surprisingly quick and easy, taking us ~1 hour from the north end of Colchuck Lake to the basin below the west face.
d. The timbered hillside of Approach Option 2.
e. The west face as seen from the basin below. There is a bit of boulder hopping to get to the base of the route.
f. Nearing the approach gully (3rd) to the base of the route.
5.7, 20m
A few steep moves off broken ramp and past a tree to ledge.
1a. In this photo John is nearing the base of Pitch 1. (Sorry about the foggyness on the lower part of the photo; in trying to clean my lens my camera got a bit foggy from my breath.)
1b. Looking up the second half of Pitch 1. Kind of an unremarkable 5.7 rock+tree pitch. Watch out for a bit of looseness on the first part of the pitch.
5.10c, 15m
Thin-hands splitter, then left around pillar.
2a. The thin-hands splitter at the start of Pitch 2.
2b. A bit of wide crack climbing up the front side of the pillar on the upper half of Pitch 2.
5.9, 35m
Stem thin, slabby corner to treed ledge.
3. The thin, slabby corner of Pitch 3. The top of this pitch is excellent stemming. John linked this with Pitch 2 for a rope-stretching 65m pitch.
5.11a, 50m
Corner (10b right, 5.8 left) to finger and thin-hand crack in dihedral to stance with fixed pins/wires.
4a. Looking up from the base of Pitch 4. To access the corner, either go left of the tree (5.8) or right of the tree (5.10b finger crack). I went left.
4b. The awesome corner. Steep and sustained 5.10 climbing with no great rests makes this pitch earn the 5.11a grade.
4c. Nearing the top of the corner.
4d. The belay at the top of the corner and under the giant roof is on a nice ledge, with 2 fixed nuts and 2 fixed pins, and a couple of optional small cam placements.
4e. Looking down at the corner, John starting up at the base of the corner.
4f. The view from the belay under the roof. Mt. Stuart in the distance.

5.11a, 15m
Traverse left under the huge roof.
5a. John starting off Pitch 5, which starts by following the flake up to the roof. 
5b. John on the wild traverse beneath the roof. It is somewhat difficult because the feet are not so good and awkward if you are wearing a helmet (I took mine off when I followed it).
5c. The crack at the top of the roof. It takes good gear.
5d. There is a pinch at the end of the roof. Place a piece here so that the rope does not get stuck. I also noticed a place for a small cam (blue alien sized) in the horizontal crack in the lower third of the photo, which could pull the rope out of the pinch.
5e. Looking back at the roof traverse.
5.11+/12-, 20m
Hand crack in corner, past a roof, and crux boulder problem to ledge above roof.
6a. Looking down at the nice hand-crack of Pitch 6; this crack felt 5.10a to me. I took this photo from the location of the 11+/12- crux.
6b. A nice stopper placement at the 11+/12- crux. There is also a good place for a medium-sized cam (either orange metolius, 0.4, or 0.5 cam would work) right above the crux move.

5.8++, 30m
Flakes and jugs to flaring chimney to hand crack on slab.

7. John entering the flaring chimney. In his Cascades Rock guidebook, Blake called this the "region's hardest '5.8'". 

5.6, 60+m
Move right along ledge and then up to the summit.

8a. From the top of Pitch 7, move right about 40 feet along a nice ledge.
8b. Looking up from the ledge at the 5.6 terrain to the top. It is a bit more than a ropelength to the top from here, so I would advise doubling the rope over and simulclimbing it. There are enough steep sections with potentially loose blocks and some lichen on the rocks that I appreciated staying roped up rather than soloing to the top.
8c. Some more of the 5.6 terrain on the final pitch. Easy climbing, but steep.

V1, ~3m
Do the boulder problem to the top of the balanced rock.

9a. John at the balanced rock at the top, trying to figure out the moves. The V1 boulder problem goes up the spine in the photo. You definitely would not want to fall. We decided to throw the rope over the top of the block and then took turns climbing to the top of the block on a belay.
9b. John on top of the summit block.
9c. My shadow on top of the summit block.
9d. Looking down at John belaying on the north side of the block.
9e. On the summit below the balanced summit block. The other two climbers in the photo are Allison and Mike, who were climbing The Scoop that day.


~45 min to base
Make a 30m rappel to east from slung horn, then scramble down scree or snow rightward (clockwise around peak) and back to the base base of the climb.
a. Looking down at the descent gully from the summit area. There is a single rappel down the steep face to get to the gully. Or you could downclimb it (~5.6), which would be my personal preference. 
b. The scree descent.
c. The scree descent.
d. A view of the west side of Colchuck Balanced Rock from the descent.
e. Evening light on Dragontail and Colchuck from the north end of Colchuck Lake. Such a pretty place. Days like this make me realize that Washington is a pretty awesome place to live.