North Spire of Governor's Peak 

  • Destination: North Spire of Governor's Peak (+6600')
  • Date: April 20 , 2003
  • Difficulty:  4+
  • Payoff:  4+
  • Starting Point: Cayuse Pass (4694') 
  • High Point:  North Spire of Governors Peak   (+6600')
  • Round Trip Distance: c.6 miles
  • Equipment: The ten essentials, ice axe  
  • Mountain Skills: Route finding, avalanche assessment, snow to 45 degrees, class 3 rock

  Map courtesy of National Geographic; created with TOPO! software

It was opening weekend at Cayuse Pass and I had to take advantage of that. The weather forecast wasn't particularly inspiring, but it wasn't hideous either. I drove up to the area the night before and took advantage of cabin privileges near Silver Springs.  After dropping off most of my gear, I headed up to the pass to get a feel for the snow and perhaps a view of Governors Ridge... I parked at the Highway 410/123 interchange where 10-12 feet of snow embanked the highway. I headed up the gully that is SW of the interchange which was largely Avy debris. Skinning up seemed pointless but I stayed in the skis until I reached the gap south of point 5550'. Aside from checking out the snow conditions, I wanted to get a view of Governors Ridge. With little to no view at the gap, I headed toward point 5550. After a bit of moderate snow I reached the bottom of a chimney. I continued into the chimney and crawled under a chock stone then up. The chimney was snow filled and low angled but could be more difficult depending upon conditions. Above the chimney, easy slopes led to the top where better views awaited.

The South End of Governor's Ridge from Point 5550'


An Area of Interest...Governor's Needle to N. Spire of Governor's Peak

I skied the gully where conditions were less than ideal. It was survival skiing through avy debris and large block that had fallen from slabs for the  first 100-200 feet down, then reasonable mashed potatoes back to the pass. I headed back to the cabin trying to decide whether to ski or climb the next day. I had failed to bring snowshoes and in hindsight, should have opted to ski at least part of the route. Instead, I would posthole most of the way to and from the summit of the NE Spire of Governors Ridge. The NE Spire wasn't necessarily my first choice of objectives, but it seemed to provide a reasonably safe route to the summit of something after too many showery weekends. The North Spire is a bit shorter than Governors Peak, but I didn't expect snow conditions to support an attempt on the later. 

I awoke, not too early in the morning. After coffee and breakfast I was ready to go but the resident elk herd were moving up the valley. They had surrounded the cabin. More coffee and some bad photos through the windows of the cabin were in order.  




I arrived at Cayuse Pass and headed up to the gap SW of point 5550', the same gap I had been to the day before. The snow had a solid M/F crust as expected and sluffs, small or large, would be the threat of the day. From the gap I began a descending traverse toward Sheep Skull Gap. Once below the gap (c.5000'), I continued traversing, then climbing to the basin NE of the spire. 

The North Spire of Governor's Peak  from the NE

In the basin I headed south through stepped, slightly treed terrain to gain the east ridge of the objective. On the ridge I got a view of Barrier Peak and Governors Needle. The going was easy to the base of the summit rocks.

Governors Needle, Cowlitz Chimney is in the Background


On the East Ridge

I traversed left then climbed steeper snow (to about 45 degrees) and class 3 rock to regain the ridge crest. I traversed the ridge keeping just left of the crest then finally reached the tiny, exposed summit. There was no room to get comfortable and I backed down the final 15 feet to enjoy the view.

Back on the East Ridge


The Summit of the North Spire

I descended avoiding the class 3 rock by taking more steep snow. The best bet with little to no snow would seem to be to traverse to the notch between the N Spire and Governors Peak. The ascent would be fairly easy from there. I went down to check it out before leaving.

Cowlitz Chimneys from the notch, minor sluff running off the rock face

I retraced my steps until I was below Sheep Skull Gap and decided to return to Cayuse Pass by crossing through the gap, then traversing the NE side of Point 5550'. The gap is narrow with large slabs of snow... in other words not necessarily safer than the way I had taken to get here. I traversed trying to stay high but also stay below the cliffs. Approaching the area via Sheep Skull Gap or through the gap SW of Cayuse Pass is a toss up in my book.

Cascade Alpine Guide, Volume 1, 2nd Edition; Fred Beckey; Pages 131, 132-133