Trip Report
Liberty Cap Beating #1: Liberty Ridge
Wednesday August 17, 2011 6:09pm
Mt Rainier - Liberty Ridge (III-IV, 55 degree snow/ice, AI2/WI2)

July 15-18, 2011

Credit: PellucidWombat

Credit: PellucidWombat

This July I climbed Liberty Ridge on Mt Rainier with Eric, a local Washington climber that I had met on CascadeClimbers.com. Despite having great weather in late June, the Pacific Northwest was suffering from lingering winter weather in mid-July, and winter conditions persisted on many routes in the Cascades. Since I was only in town for two weeks, I was willing to put up with a mediocre forecast in order to get up on the route and hopefully catch a weather window. Though we had originally planned to do the climb Thursday-Saturday, the NOAA point forecast got us to shift the climb to Friday-Sunday so that we'd have the best weather on Sunday. Friday morning the forecast called for a good chance of rain & snow the first two days, and "Mostly Sunny" for Sunday and beyond. Two days of putting up with rain & snow until weather cleared or we popped above the clouds seemed an all right price to pay to catch the weather window Sunday.

To be safe, we would also carry enough food & fuel for 5 days for the 3 day climb in case weather delayed us on the climb. We also brought a GPS with pre-recorded waypoints for the approach, climb, and descent. This proved valuable on the climb.

Friday - The Weather Ain't That Bad!
Despite the 'bad' forecast, it was actually pretty clear on Mt Rainier.

Credit: PellucidWombat
We had nice views of the lower mountain on the approach to lower Curtis Camp, and visibility was not a problem on the Winthrop Glacier.

Credit: PellucidWombat
Little Tahoma Pk


Credit: PellucidWombat

The only source of moisture on our gear was from perspiration this day as it felt hot & humid.

Credit: PellucidWombat

We made camp at about 7,400' on lower Curtis Ridge and enjoyed some rock slabs that were perfect for lounging and taking in the views. Since we expected it to be cloudy that night, I decided to make use of the weight of the DSLR I hauled in and took artsy photos of the Carbon Glacier.

Credit: PellucidWombat

Credit: PellucidWombat


Credit: PellucidWombat

Credit: PellucidWombat

Credit: PellucidWombat

Credit: PellucidWombat

As the evening wore on the clouds parted and we were fortunate enough to get a clear view of the north side of Mt Rainier. Considering the forecast, I had been prepared to miss out on this, so it was a great surprise!

Credit: PellucidWombat

Thar She Blows!

Credit: PellucidWombat

Credit: PellucidWombat

Saturday - Should We Keep Climbing?
Credit: PellucidWombat
We woke to the soft pitter-patter of rain on the tent walls. Time to get wet.

We started climbing under a light rain, but fortunately I never needed to use the waypoints I had put into my GPS. Clouds were either below us or above us the entire time, so visibility was fine on the Carbon Glacier.

Rain turned to snow as we neared the toe. We had hoped to take the direct variation to Thumb Rock on the west side, but we couldn't find a way through the crevasses and were forced to endure about a pitch of unprotectable skice and slush mixed into a vertical gravel slurry to gain the toe from the east.

Credit: PellucidWombat

Fortunately as we wrapped around the sketch factor decreased, though for about half of the ascent we had shallow snow mixed in with the loose rock. As we neared Thumb Rock I came across one chute that was dribbling out rocks every minute or so. I made sure to sprint across this section!


Credit: PellucidWombat
We made it to Thumb Rock a little later than hoped, but still plenty early in the day. We napped and managed to get our clothes dried during the sunny intervals as the tide of clouds washed in over Mt Rainier, and then receded, over and over again.

Credit: PellucidWombat
The WI3 Center Variation Above Thumb Rock Camp.

Credit: PellucidWombat
Willi't Kill You' Wall Provided Good Background Noise for Our Camp

The plan for the next day was to start climbing by 3am to get us over the Cap and down to the TH at a respectable hour, but when Eric checked the updated forecast on his phone, he saw that our "Mostly Sunny" weather window had changed to "80% chance of snow, 1-3" @ 13k'".

Yikes!

We were tempted to pack up camp then and there and just keep climbing while it was still clear and sunny, but we were tired, relaxed, and decided that since the weather was forecast to move in later in the morning, we'd wake at midnight and be climbing shortly after 1am to beat the weather.



Sunday - We Should Have Kept Climbing
Credit: PellucidWombat

Climbing was great under a bright moon, and although we climbed in darkness, we had nice views of Seattle and the north side of Mt Rainier as we ascended.

As we got higher we encountered more early-season conditions as the hard neve/ice often had a layer of fresh snow on top. Sometimes we could crampon, but often we were kicking steps calf deep and sometimes knee deep in the snow to make steps or reach purchase in the ice beneath. This was hard work and slowed our ascent more than expected. We took turns breaking trail, swinging leads about 6 times on the route.

The weather was still clear as the sun rose shortly after we rounded the Black Pyramid to ascend the slopes above Willis Wall. I took my sole climbing picture of the day then, as by the time we reached the top of the Black Pyramid, the storm had already broken.

Credit: PellucidWombat
Eric Nearing the Top of the Black Pyramid

Credit: PellucidWombat
Me following below the top of the Black Pyramid at sunrise. Storm arrival t-minus 1 hour.

We moved at a snail's pace as we tired from the elevation and soft snow, but the snow kept getting softer and deeper. As I traversed over to the bergschrund crux, I was often digging through waist deep snow, right up to the ice pitch. By this time it was snowing hard and the wind was blowing around 30-40 mph. The ice pitch had a continual dumping of windblown snow that was sluffing off the slopes above. I got thoroughly drenched from these pervasive ice crystals as I climbed 1 pitch of ice through the whiteout, stopping every time snow poured down on me to brace myself and cinch up my hood. This pitch normally would have been pretty easy but conditions definitely added to the stress factor!

Eric took the next trailbreaking lead and found another nice pitch of sustained 40 degree ice. Though exhausted at this point, I welcomed the ice for the break it provided from the soft snow. Plus it was fun! I finished another pitch of ice to the top of the route.

Unfortunately here the wind gusts picked up and visibility dropped to near zero. We had difficulty reaching the top of the Cap as a large bergschrund stopped us less than 100 ft from the top. Going left, it grew larger, so we backtracked to the right and end-ran it and were shortly on top of Liberty Cap.

The problem at this point was that we could barely see the snow 1 or 2 steps in front of us. Despite having our waypoints for descent set in the GPS, that only helped us for the larger scale routefinding. We realized that we could easily walk off a cliff or into a crevasse with the visibility as bad as it was. We were both thoroughly soaked and becoming mildly hypothermic. I was covered in rime ice, already had the "umbles" and was beginning to get the "stumbles" and both Eric and I had been shivering non-stop for the past 3 or 4 hours.

The last forecast we had seen showed the weather to dissipate Monday, so we decided it was best to set up shelter on the Cap to get warm & rested, and attempt to descend once visibility improved a bit more.

We dug a platform into the bergschrund wall that we had end-run and I built up some hardy wind walls. Despite the howling wind, the BD First Light we were using was pretty calm, and our biggest complaint was being buried from snow drifting over our tent. Eric took initiative and shoveled snow off the tent a couple of times throughout the night.

Everything in our packs was saturated, including our sleeping bags. Luckily neither of us was using down loft! We melted more water and spent the night gradually rewarming as we slept in our soggy bags and clothes.

Credit: PellucidWombat

Monday - The Sorry Soggy Slog

Credit: PellucidWombat
The First Light survived the storm!

Credit: PellucidWombat
Rime covered snow pole.

Hooray! We could now see about 20-50 feet! We were up early, packed up camp, and began navigating to our waypoints to bypass the Columbia Crest and GET DOWN. It felt like we were going pretty slow, but we actually made pretty decent time through the 50 mph gusts and whiteout as we found the right way off the Cap and around the Crest.

There was still tension in the air as we climbed, as all of the fresh windblown snow hid the crevasses pretty well. I punched into two as we descended the Cap. The first one was large enough that I stopped my fall by hooking the far side with my tool and stemming my legs. I ratcheted back up, rolled onto the near edge, then jumped across to keep up the pace. Barely a setback at this point.

Credit: PellucidWombat
Still covered in rime and annoyed as I climbed out of my second and smaller punch-in. I got much more thorough with my pole probing after this.

We did get held up briefly in the seracs atop the Winthrop Glacier, as apparently you can't traverse straight over to the Emmons from the height of the saddle connecting the Cap & Crest (oops). For future reference, you still need to ascend a couple hundred feet up the Crest to bypass the seracs & 'schrund before dropping back town towards the Emmons Glacier.

Credit: PellucidWombat

Gradually the skies cleared and we found the Emmons Glacier wands. I put away the GPS, put my brain into autopilot mode (with the crevasse-search feature still engaged), and at last began a relaxed descent. I finally stopped shivering as we got more sunshine through the blowing clouds. Sadly the Inter-Glacier was too slushy for any real glissading, but we made good time rushing down the trail as thoughts of Doritos and beer in the car kept me at a steady 3mph clip.

Credit: PellucidWombat

Despite being thoroughly trashed, I headed back to Mt Rainier the following weekend to climb Ptarmigan Ridge, a longer, harder, and arguably more classic route than Liberty Ridge. The weather forecast was much better for this climb, but Liberty Cap wasn't done with me yet (Liberty Cap Beating #2: Ptarmigan Ridge)

Gear Notes:
We brought 4 screws & 2 pickets between us. This was more than sufficient.

Approach Notes:
The Carbon Glacier was getting more broken up when we crossed it. We had to do a large end run to the far west side of the glacier at the beginning, and we couldn't find a route around the toe of Liberty Ridge.

The rock on Liberty Ridge's toe was very melted out and best avoided if possible. It was some of the most dangerously loose rock I have ever climbed. Rocks were also falling off the ridge crest regularly just below Thumb Rock.


Just in case I didn't put in enough photos in this TR, you can see more of them here. :-P


Links
Personal Website

  Trip Report Views: 5,198
PellucidWombat
About the Author
PellucidWombat is a mountain climber from Berkeley, CA.

Comments
this just in

climber
Justin Ross from North Fork
  Aug 17, 2011 - 06:15pm PT
"Despite being thoroughly trashed, I headed back to Mt Rainier the following weekend to climb Ptarmigan, a longer, harder, and arguably more classic route than Liberty Ridge."

Sheet yeah!
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Aug 17, 2011 - 06:23pm PT
Now that's what I call 'detailed'! Nice!

Boy, that shizz looks like work!
PellucidWombat

Mountain climber
Draperderr, by Bangerter, Utah
Author's Reply  Aug 19, 2011 - 01:05am PT
Oh mighty GPS, we give thanks for the guidance and direction that you provide us in our tumultuous and confused lives. We will be forever grateful to know not only our bearings, but how far we've traveled and where the crap we actually wandered (though we might not like to know how far we have to go!).

Thank you for the bounty of post-trip information you have bestowed upon us. While knowing our average travel speed on different sections of a route is not necessary and sometimes embarrassing, still we give thanks. And importing our route into Google Earth is pretty cool too.

In the name of the holy trinity of satellites that provide us with our location in 2 dimensions, amen.
cleo

Social climber
wherever you go, there you are
  Aug 17, 2011 - 07:24pm PT
Nice Mark, well done - when's the slideshow?
PellucidWombat

Mountain climber
Draperderr, by Bangerter, Utah
Author's Reply  Aug 17, 2011 - 09:11pm PT
I just gave one to Rock Rendezvous on a combo of Devils Tower, Liberty Ridge, and Ptarmigan Ridge. Perhaps I should give it again to the CHAOS crew once the kiddies come back to class?
Hawkeye

climber
State of Mine
  Aug 17, 2011 - 09:21pm PT
best TR of LR that i have read! COOL!

THANKS
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Aug 18, 2011 - 06:00am PT
Very nice, Mark - thanks for sharing!
Captain...or Skully

climber
Boise, ID
  Aug 18, 2011 - 08:41am PT
Sounds fairly epic, Wombat. Good stuff.
TFPU!!!
Les

Trad climber
Bahston
  Aug 18, 2011 - 09:22am PT
Out-F*#KING-standing!!!!! Best TR I've seen in a while. Have tentative plans to get on that thing next year. Great work, guys. Really great stuff.
Port

Trad climber
Stockholm, Sweden 🇸🇪
  Aug 18, 2011 - 10:54am PT
Nice TR. The best in a long time.
WallMan

Trad climber
Denver, CO
  Aug 18, 2011 - 03:23pm PT
Great pics!!
PellucidWombat

Mountain climber
Draperderr, by Bangerter, Utah
Author's Reply  Aug 18, 2011 - 03:27pm PT
@ Les - It's a great route! It's really not that hard technically, so long as you look carefully for route finding on the bergschrund. Going straight up is WI3 but if you zig-zag on some steep ledges it is really WI2 with good stances for placing screws and 3 screws sews it up nicely. Otherwise, the main thing this route requires is solid glacier travel skills, good fitness, and sound judgement for dealing with the objective hazards.
Zander

climber
  Aug 18, 2011 - 03:50pm PT
Great TR. Great Pics.
thanks for posting.
Zander
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Aug 18, 2011 - 10:18pm PT
Thanks wombat!
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Aug 19, 2011 - 12:00am PT
Wow that is a great TR. Really dool grapics on your pics and lots of them too. Nice write up. What is not to like.
Mighty Hiker

climber
Outside the Asylum
  Aug 19, 2011 - 02:25am PT
Very nice - a feather in your cap, so to speak.
PellucidWombat

Mountain climber
Draperderr, by Bangerter, Utah
Author's Reply  Aug 19, 2011 - 01:56pm PT
haiyo! Thanks! Now to go back to the PNW and explore some other peaks in the North Cascades. I haven't quite had the classic rock & bushwacking experiences yet :-)
survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Aug 19, 2011 - 02:16pm PT
Super Awesome! (On my secret trip report rating scale)

Good write-up, great pix.

Love the bright graphics! It's a fun change to have everything pointed out like that.
PellucidWombat

Mountain climber
Draperderr, by Bangerter, Utah
Author's Reply  Aug 23, 2011 - 01:22pm PT
Thanks Survival! Always nice to share a story and the route. I loved your Latok 1 trip report.
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
  Aug 23, 2011 - 08:44pm PT
More trip reports like this please! Almost makes me want to go mountaineering... but i'll stick to surf and warm rock in Yosemite.
rlf

Trad climber
Josh, CA
  Aug 23, 2011 - 08:58pm PT
"Cool" trip report.

Thanks!
Fritz

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
  Aug 24, 2011 - 09:10am PT
Very nice report. Loved the graphics. Liberty Ridge was a 30 year old memory that you refreshed nicely. What a scenic grunt it is!
PellucidWombat

Mountain climber
Draperderr, by Bangerter, Utah
Author's Reply  Aug 24, 2011 - 06:11pm PT
Thanks Chris! I wasn't sure how much interest there was for mountaineering reports on a site geared more towards rock climbing, but given the responses, I'll make sure to post more reports in the future on the more technical mountain climbs.

-Mark
Go