The First Winter Ascent of a Cascades Summer Classic

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Photo courtesy of Ade Miller /
Photo courtesy of Ade Miller /

Ade Miller and John Plotz took advantage of a rare spell of good weather in Washington’s North-Central Cascades to complete the first winter ascent of the popular summer classic the Backbone Ridge with the Fin Direct finish (5.9 A1 mixed; 2,000 feet) on the north face of Dragontail Peak, in the Stuart Range. Warmer-than-usual temps and dry conditions allowed the pair to climb the route in 11 hours, summiting an hour after dark.

Mixed climbing with a short pitch of M4 led to dry rock on the middle section of the route. The pair was slowed on the upper part of the Fin Direct finish by verglas and snowed-up crack systems, eventually finishing over more mixed ground to the summit.

The Backbone Ridge was first climbed in 1970 by Mark Weigelt and John Bonneville, with the Fin Direct (IV 5.9) finish added by Pat Cruver and Kit Lewis in 1975. It has become a summer classic for climbers in the Cascades. Miller had the goal of climbing the complete route, in winter, for the last five years, with numerous attempts and many summer rehearsals.

Further pictures and a full account of the climb can be found at and

Sources: Ade Miller, and Cascade Alpine Guide: Third Edition, Beckey, 2000 (

Date of Ascent: January 16, 2009

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