Beckey Route II 5.7-
Trip ReportBeckey Route, Liberty Bell + birds and birding
Birds and Beckey Route on Liberty Bell.
Good idea: Liberty Bell by the Beckey route. After all Tony and I are awesome 5.6 climbers BECAUSE of our combined 125 years of age. The plan was that Tony would fly up from Oakland Friday PM and then we drive to WA Pass, climb one of Sat, Sunday or Monday depending on weather and crowds, and we bird the other days. We've had very good and even too hot weather for two months in Western Washington, but I knew I should keep track of the track. The Friday morning before Tony left Oakland, Cliff Mass, LWG*, PhD came on one of our NPR stations and said that for thunder and lightning
in the whole NW corner of Washington, would be f*#ked Friday, more f*#ked Saturday, and kiss you ass goodbye Sunday. I phoned to warn Tony, but he was almost on the plane and besides we would be happy just birding if it came to that, we said. Guess what day we went up on Liberty Bell.
Traffic heading north out of Seattle Friday night after Tony's 2:30PM arrival was ganz schrecklich, but still we were able to have dinner on the road and set up camp near the Pass in a bit of light. As predicted that night produced awesome thunder and lightning over our camp and I awoke early and still happy in a steady but light rain. Unlike what I expected from the report, it was generally overcast. I was nonetheless way stoked to finally be outside camping and maybe climbing, so I arose early, set up the stove under a tree and brewed tea and then coffee. We agreed that, it would be a birding day.
We made a big loop NE to LoupLoup, Conconolly, Sinlahekin Valley, Phi Gleason's home(?) Tonaskett on the Okanogon then back. We did have a good birding day. The highlight for me was seeing a pair of Prairie Falcons, the beautiful little habitat by Blue Lake, lots of good prolonged views of Eastern and Western King birds. We scoped out some beautiful campgrounds, too. Then we were heading home, we passed through a burn area with a active WB Nuthatch, Hairy, Downy, Lewis's Woodpeckers, Calliope HB, both Kingbirds and T. Solitaires. Then a few miles further on we saw Common Nighthawks: always a BIG hit with me
This is Tony's photo of a Prairie Falcon and was not actually from this trip, but I couldn't pass up using it. It was taken in Arizona.
That night was very clear and Tony first spotted some of the Persieds, and I spied a real doozy from my tent that was almost bright enough to hurt my eyes, and it left a trail that lasted 10 seconds or so.
Sunday morning dawned totally clear (see first paragraph) and we decided go for it but just play it safe and bail at the first sign of bad weather. Ahem, we probably should have gotten going at the break of dawn, but we wanted to make sure it wasn't just a sucker hole. Strangely, the road closed gate was swung across 1/2 the road, but given the lack of signage, we ignored it. ;-)
It took us a tincy bit longer than planned to get up the notch to the base of the climb (2.5hrs?), and still a tincy bit longer get on the rock. Oh, and we were alone! ;-) Most climbers are idiots to waste this day. ;-)
By then there were some hints of clouds but it was still mostly clear to the west.
I checked to the east when I first got to the notch, there was some grayness out there, but not bad. It was difficult to see in that direction, and yes that's from whence this system's weather comes.
First pitch is called 5.0, but it's all of 5.4 and steep. We crushed it dude! We team led the stiff ;-) 5.6 second pitch. [self deprecating irony, for those so impaired]. I got to the top of the chimney and I said, "Tony, I think I felt a drop", but it was in no way obvious that the brown stuff was about to hit the fan. By the time I sprinted up the next 50' of third class and set up an anchor, things felt a lot more serious. In retrospect, I should have stopped in that 3rd class section and easy down climbed to anchor to the the little tree on top of the chimney. But for some bizarre reason (I was still thinking that we might get to the top?), I yelled for Tony to come up. That too was a mistake.
By the time Tony climbed up into the chimney, there were buckshot sized hail falling and thunder all around, and there was no way to get Tony to retreat.
He couldn't hear me.
That was a long 15 minutes for me. The weather just got worse and worse with more and heavier hail, and I started to see flashes. I was sticking out on a buttress. At some point I did see a bolt hit around S. Early Winter Spire, but I never had my hair stand up or anything.
Tony stopped by a small tree at an exposed stance at the top of the chimney, and I slid down to him through the accumulating hail and water over the 3rd class pitch. We girth hitched the tree with a girth hitched rap ring (good trick Tony, and booty alert).
Being a gallant fellow (NOT), I rapped first and that was undoubtedly the longest few minutes of Tony's life while I rapped. After Tony got down to the ledge, there was a ton of drag as we tried to pull the rope, and it wouldn't pull until Tony did another trick of pulling and releasing to unweight the tail end of the rope. That got us 3', then again for another 3' and then the rope was pulling. The second rap was easier with a bail tree already well wrapped with slings, and the fact that we weren't exposed on a buttress allowed us to calm down a bit (i.e. go from abject terror bordering on panic to just being concerned/afraid).
We got down to the base of the climb, and then the real fun began.
Somewhere during that time a nice weather window briefly opened up, and we did dawdle a bit and savored being un-electrocuted and poured water out of our shoes.
But then it started just dumping rain and hail again as we started down the gully. Thunder crashed constantly. We were being quite careful and deliberate heading down.
At first just trickles of water stated flowing down the gully, but by the time we made it 100 yards water was coursing in an 6" deep cascade in some places.
We were high in the gully and there weren't any real feeder tributaries, so we weren't too worried about a real flash flood, but I sure thought of it. About this time we heard a bad sound as a basketball sized rock rolled down the cascade bouncing in and out of the water. The sound of it grinding under water still gives me the creeps, although it missed us both by at least a few feet. After that we stopped for a minute or two under one tiny overhang of Concord Tower during a particularly bad spell, but it wasn't much shelter and we wanted to keep moving anyway. All in all, I was incredibly grateful for how generally grippy the rock was even with water flowing over it.
After maybe another 3/4 hour the weather did let up a bit and it became just a long slog over treacherous footing. I was a little freaked out at some spots when the gully got less steep but was composed of sand and dirt with big rocks in it, and I could totally imagine one of the big rocks cutting loose.
The hike down to Blue Lake Parking area on the trial itself was shorter than I was fearing,
and just before the parking lot, a Spruce Grouse gave us a beautiful view of herself, presumably to distract us from her three adolescent chicks. As we got back to the EMPTY Blue Lake parking lot a truck pulled in, and two women scheduled to lead a Liberty Bell trip the next day told us that Hwy 20 was closed due to landslides just west or Rainy Pass.
The next day, we drove up to Harts Pass (NE of WA Pass, 6300' v. high for Washington). The road there is exciting and not paved, and we saw a flock/family-group (5?, Tony #?) of Pileated Woodpeckers eating berries on the drive. A few Pileated Woodpeckers go a long way, because they are so big. We also saw a Rough-legged Hawk (starting it's migration south?).
That's a beautiful bird and its image in the remote setting still stays with me.
Slides closed Washington and Cascade Passes, and so we headed back to Seattle by going through Wenachee/Leavenworth. We apparently missed "flocks" of Red-eyed Vireos in Marblemount. Life is tough. GFETE
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