West Face, Big Kangaroo II 5.6 R
Avg time to climb route: 1-2 hours
Approach time: 2-4 hours
Descent time: 2-4 hours
Number of pitches: 7
Height of route: 250'
OverviewBig Kangaroo is the highest point on Kangaroo Ridge, and the West Face is the easiest route up Big Kangaroo. Even for climbers topping out on the massive South Face, the West Face is the best way to climb the final few hundred feet to the summit. Climbers sometimes refer to the West Face as the “1942 route” or the “normal route” and is a fun and adventurous outing with great views of the East faces of the Liberty Bell group.
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Route HistoryThe route was first climbed by Fred Beckey, his brother Helmy and Walt Varney on June 21st of 1942. This was long before the highway was built, so the Beckey brothers and Varney made the 16-mile hike in along Early Winters Creek. The three climbers ascended the slope on the West Face of Kangaroo Ridge on scree, snow, and talus until they reached the final, complex looking pyramid. Some searching around for the best route on mostly 4th and low 5th class terrain brought them to within 15 feet of the summit. A difficult and unprotected final slab separated them from their objective. From a miniscule stance, Fred belayed Varney as he inched his way upwards. Varney reached the top of the tiny summit, threw one leg over each side and straddled it for greater security. To make sure their first ascent couldn’t be disputed, Varney carried rocks in his pack and built a cairn on the small summit.
It was during this ascent that Beckey started to wonder if the name Liberty Bell had been meant for the northern-most peak with its bell-shaped, east face rather than the highest peak in the group.
StrategyThe West Face is best climbed earlier in the season when most of the approach is on snow instead of scree. Snow remains in the gullys on the approach to Big Kangaroo until early or mid-July. That said, Big Kangaroo is climbed all summer. Climbers deal with a slightly looser approach, but can leave boots, crampons, and ice axes behind.
Big Kangaroo is often overlooked by climbers as it doesn’t seem as impressive from the highway as many other nearby peaks. This, combined with the long, steep approach, keeps the crowds at bay, and you’ll likely have the route to yourself, even on a busy weekend.
In early season, when much or all of the approach is covered in snow, an ice axe and crampons are advisable. When the last section, which is mostly visible from the highway, is covered in snow, consider taking these items. The final part of the gully is steep, and because of its west aspect, can remain firm until late in the day. There is no established trail to the base of the route, and when the approach is no longer covered in snow expect some loose cross country travel.
Once near the base of the summit tower, take the left-hand (north) gully. The right- hand (south) gully leads to the top of the South Face. Ascend the left-hand gully on scree, or snow until mid-summer, as it climbs steeply for a few hundred feet. Climb up and through a hole (4th and low 5th class) to a low angle, 5.0, left-facing corner and ramp system where you will gain a notch. From the notch, make an exposed traverse to the right on the west side of the tower. That will take you onto a small ledge about 20 feet below the summit.
The final pitch to the summit is a poorly protected 20-foot 5.6 slab. This pitch should only be led by climbers solid at the grade. Earlier in the season, when you might be wearing boots, consider bringing rock shoes for this final, runout slab. This is especially important for 5.7 and under leaders. While the face isn’t terrible difficult, its slabby nature feels much more difficult in boots.
Early in the season, the gully going up to Big Kangaroo can be both firm and wet all in the same day. There is some avalanche danger earlier in the year, and climbers should assess current conditions before ascending up to Big Kangaroo.
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