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swall

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About swall

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  • Birthday 07/11/1988
  1. Thanks Yocum, believe me we were practically drooling over the conditions on Ptarmigan Ridge after our trek up the rock. Definitely something to consider for groups facing similar conditions to ours. Regarding some of the later comments I've seen, even in hindsight its very difficult to say whether the Carbon would have been accessible via the more typical route. The boot pack we followed in the flatter, western sections around 8000' ran across several 2-3' crevasses that must have significantly widened in the few days since the last team went up. That said, it would have definitely been worth checking, rather than climbing the toe immediately. At the time we felt that our Carbon Camp (on one of the flatter fins behind Alissa in our second photo) was reasonably sheltered from rockfall on either side of the ridge, but as ScaredSilly pointed out we could have been in serious trouble in a larger event like a serac fall. We were aware of the rockfall risk and erred on the side of caution by climbing at night, but in doing so reduced our visibility and, with our lack of familiarity with the ridge, chose correspondingly poor routes. As many posts have pointed out, this could have been mitigated by 1. seeking advice from forums like this, and/or 2. turning around. Thanks everyone for your insightful comments. This is really great feedback and much appreciated.
  2. Trip: RAINIER - Liberty Ridge 7/3/2013 - Liberty Ridge Date: 7/3/2013 Trip Report: [font:Arial]Liberty Ridge Mount Rainier National Park, WA 3-8 July 2013 Climbers: Alissa Doherty, David Maver, and Sterling Wall What follows is a trip report for a six-day climb of Liberty Ridge on Mount Rainier, Washington from July 3rd to 8th, 2013. Two climbers from Boston and one from Philly meticulously planned a 3-4 day ascent of the ridge, and quickly found themselves winging it in late-season conditions. Day 1: 3 July 2013 We were one of the first groups to register as the White River Ranger Station opened, and hit the trail in high spirits at 0830. At Glacier Basin, we met a team that was coming down after a successful climb of Liberty Ridge. They described the route as, “a little slushy.” We reached St. Elmo’s Pass at noon and traversed across the Winthrop glacier, intending to establish a camp near the Carbon at about 7500’. We ran into unanticipated difficulties with fatigue and chose instead to establish a higher camp at around 8000’ on the Winthrop side of Curtis Ridge and make up for the distance with an early start and higher entry onto the Glacier. Day 2: 4 July 2013 We broke camp at midnight and traversed the remainder of the Curtis Ridge to the Carbon, maintaining an elevation of about 8000’ and descending as needed to reach gaps in the smaller ridgelines. To our surprise the ridge ended abruptly in a chossy cliff. Our headlamps could faintly distinguish a very broken Carbon Glacier a few hundred feet below. Humbled by our mistake, we descended the ridge to about 7100’ and gained the Carbon at 0300. We kept to the east side of the Glacier, which appeared to have a gentler slope and be in better condition. Climbing above 8000’, the glacier became more heavily crevassed and difficult to navigate. As the sun rose we saw a potential entrance onto the eastern side of the ridge, however sections of the route remained out of view and our efforts to bypass the large crevasses became more complex and committing. We eventually decided to end our push on the east side of the glacier before we reached a point of no return. Fortunately, we spotted an older set of tracks approaching the ridge from the west side of the glacier. We set up our second camp at 8300’ on a broken but flat section of glacier and successfully scouted a route to the tracks. Back in camp we considered our position. We had lost a day on the Carbon, but that wasn’t unusual in the later part of the season and we now had a clear route to follow to the ridge. Likewise, our fatigue from the previous day had not resurfaced, and the forecast was clear for the next several days. We opted to push on, but in doing so we missed a clear warning sign: the condition of the lower ridge. Little snow and ice existed on the eastern side of the ridge and this would cause us a number of headaches later on. Day 3: 5 July 2013 We again broke camp at midnight and began following our tracks from the previous day. They quickly led us to an easily distinguished set of tracks making straight for the ridge. Aside from a few widened crevasses requiring some additional navigation, our route was straightforward. We gained the toe of the ridge (8872’) at 0200 and began climbing up a frozen rock chute. Although initially easy, the climbing quickly became more tenuous and desperate, as snow gave way to frozen earth and gravel. After a few close calls, including a rock that knocked out our middle climber’s headlamp, we found ourselves straddling a broken, rocky ridge with much climbing still to go. Our options for travelling back to the Carbon Glacier rapidly diminished. We continued climbing for the next four or so hours, with conditions improving as we crossed occasional snow bands that provided us with protection (pickets) and a more direct means up the ridge. At a rock outcrop on the ridge I (Sterling) made the decision to cross left onto easier rock, however this decision ended up committing us to the eastern (sun-exposed) side of the ridge for the remainder of the climb. I can’t say for certain that the western side would have made for easier climbing, but the pictures above and below illustrate most of what we encountered on the eastern side. We spent the next 12 hours gingerly traversing the melted out ridge. The condition of the rock was the worst we ever climbed on. Almost nothing could be trusted to bear anything but the slightest pressure, and with the exception of a few very large and stable rocks that we could belay from, our protection was purely nominal. Slinged rocks only provided mental protection. Thankfully, rock gave way to the occasional snow field, which would at least accept a picket. At times we were able to climb above the small ridges above us and gain altitude, but our route appeared to be headed inexorably towards Willis Wall. At this point our carried water had been exhausted, but a steady runoff stream from one of the cliffs provided a much-needed supplement. Exhausted and demoralized, we eventually reached a large snow ramp that was still mostly intact, and discovered an older set of tracks making straight for Thumb Rock (10500’). We set up Camp 3 at the rock at about 2000. Rather than taking off immediately for the cap (night climbing being needed to reduce rockfall hazard) we opted for a rest day. Day 4: 6 July 2013 We spent most of the day resting in the rejuvenating sun, eating, and melting snow from around camp. Our surroundings quickly revived our spirits, and we opted to tackle the remainder of the ridge just after sunset. We departed at 2100 and chose to traverse left along the eastern route above Thumb Rock; the western routes having melted out. After a tricky climb over some rotten ice we found ourselves following a faint line of tracks by headlamp through the rocky bands that formed the black pyramid. With only two snow pickets in our group and the first day’s fatigue coming back with a vengeance, our pace slowed significantly. Day 5: 7 July 2013 At dawn we came to another treacherous rock traverse, this time spanning the entire rope length. The frozen earth held the rocks more securely in place, but provided very little purchase for our crampons. Since we had three climbers on the rope, we had to establish an intermediate belay station on the rock slope, a risky but ultimately successful move. Conditions improved markedly after this section, with rock bands giving way to a pure snow slope leading up to the cap. A few inches under the snow we found good enough ice to take screws and establish a proper simulclimb, and our pace increased despite the warming sun. On reaching the gentler upper slopes around noon, what should have been an easy walk to the bergschrund turned into a crawl, with crushing fatigue from altitude affecting one of our party. A slower place and ibuprofen allowed him to partially recover. We soldiered on, eventually climbing the ‘schrund around 14,000. We followed melted out tracks to the steeper walls of the cap and prepared for the final climb out. After our first pitch over some rotten ice we were abruptly confronted with a fracture line in the snow right across our intended path. Disheartened, we backed off our route and rappelled off of a picket down to the gentler slope above the ‘schrund. An attempt at a secondary route onto the cap proved equally fruitless, with the long sun exposure having turned the line into slush and rotten ice. We weighed our options, and decided to rappel off of a screw and downclimb to a spot just below the ‘schrund to set up camp and try again in the morning when the snow and ice had solidified. Our spirits were at their nadir. Although only about 300’ below Liberty Cap, our available routes off of the ridge were blocked. We had used both of our contingency days, and although our food was holding out, we were low on water and fuel. We didn’t have reliable communication with our emergency contacts since Thumb Rock and they were sure to be worried. We had been up for 24 hours and our decision making abilities were diminished. Finally, although current weather conditions were clear, we didn’t know what weather the next day would bring. With those thoughts in our heads, we crammed three weary climbers into a two person tent for a windy night’s rest. Day 6: 08Jul2013 Despite our fears, our plan worked flawlessly. Our streak of good weather held and the overnight winds slackened to a slight breeze by the morning. We climbed to our secondary route on solid ice and snow and quickly attained the cap, reaching Liberty Cap (14112’) just before 1030. Pausing only for a few minutes, we immediately started down, following faint tracks in the direction of Camp Schurman. In an attempt to intercept the tracks at a lower point, we found ourselves committed to a long traverse across a steep but relatively secure snow slope. As we continued the traverse, we noticed a small helicopter approaching. They drew level with us, and we dug our ice tools in as the helicopter slowly closed distance. With the helicopter hovering just 50 feet from us, the NPS rangers inside held up a whiteboard with our team name, asking if they’d found us. After some smiles and enthusiastic waves, we made our identities clear and confirmed that we were in good shape to continue down unassisted. Not long after, we noticed a wand sticking out of the slope ahead. Miraculously, our traverse had taken us directly to the main route back to Camp Schurman. Just after reaching the trail, we were able to make a final phone call from the mountain to our emergency contact confirming that we were in good shape and on the way down. Reinvigorated, we slogged down the remainder of the boot pack towards Schurman. Two climbing rangers that had been in the helicopter caught up with us on the way down and offered assistance and water. After thanking them profusely for their efforts on our behalf, we followed in their tracks and began the slow but relatively easy descent down to Camp Schurman. We traveled over the interglacier and down the trail, reaching White River campground at 1830. After a debrief by another NPS Ranger in the parking lot we departed safe and sound, with a healthy dose of respect for the mountain, and those who choose to climb on its slopes. Analysis: It’s often hard to say what could have been done differently to produce a better outcome, but here are a few things the quickly come up in our immediate analysis. Gear: We should have brought at least one additional snow picket and an additional fuel canister. We attempted to purchase an additional picket once in the SEATAC area, but attempts to find one went unfulfilled. At times we used our second tool as snow anchors to good effect. Six days put a strain on all of our supplies on hand, but carrying more batteries, socks, and the like would likely not be prudent given the intended duration of the climb. Team: Our skills were up to the climb, but we could have benefited from additional conditioning to move faster and simulclimb more efficiently. In the early part of the climb, blood sugars ran high in our climber that has Type 1 Diabetes, slowing his pace and requiring extra time to manage. Each member of the team communicated well and spoke openly. Each member also brought unique skills for the trip and provided good perspectives at key points in the climb. Route Finding: We think that if a more experienced climber were to look at the eastern side of the ridge in those conditions, they probably would have known what to expect from a ridge traverse. We should probably have scouted further up the western side of the Carbon on Day 2 to determine if the snow slopes further back were intact in daylight. Instead, not knowing if the upper western Carbon was navigable, we gained the ridge at the first opportunity and found ourselves in over our heads on the rock. Some additional scouting would have also told us if there was a viable escape route west of Thumb Rock. We did not check for such a route on our rest day. Instead, our decision to traverse the ridge from the toe appears to have led to many of our problems. That decision cost us time and energy, and exposed us to greater objective hazards. We very much regret moving to the eastern, baked-out side of the ridge. The western side probably would have provided better and safer climbing, but we were unable to get back to it. Conclusion: Sterling: If I had to answer the question “would you do it again”, my answer would be a bittersweet no; at least not in those conditions. Although we successfully climbed the ridge without major incident or injury, the conditions on our route for July 4th-6th produced far too many close calls to make the risk acceptable. Although we were aware that high temperatures would affect the route, we had no idea how hazardous that weather had made the lower slope. In effect, our climb was more of an escape from Liberty Ridge than an ascent. We were very, very lucky that the clear weather held out. The climb did create what I hope will be a lasting bond in our team. Despite the constant setbacks that the route appeared to throw our way, we remained committed to each other. This is the type of bond that you really only forge in extreme situations, and should be treasured accordingly. David: I would climb LR again, but only if route conditions were much improved. I certainly would've liked to been in better physical shape. I incorrectly correlated the fitness of running trail marathons and ultras with hiking and climbing with a pack. Additionally, without recently hiking with a pack for an extended time, I incorrectly managed Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) in the first days of the climb. As with my fitness, I incorrectly compared management of T1D while running an ultramarathon to hiking and climbing. I sorted this issue out as quickly as possible. I was ecstatic at every moment with my two climbing partners’ understanding, patience, and willingness to accept T1D on our climb. T1D presents many additional risks and logistics and they took it all in stride. I felt great with all of the climbing and enjoyed miraculous views and settings we found ourselves in even though so much danger existed. I greatly look forward to climbing with Alissa and Sterling again through the rest of the rock season and into ice season in the northeast. I anxiously await our next big climb! Alissa: If asked whether I'd do it again, I'd echo the sentiments of my team members and say that I would not in the conditions we experienced. For my own part, I would do a few things differently. I carefully tracked weather patterns leading into and during our climb but completely overlooked the effect that warm temperatures would have on our route other than what was reported in the week directly preceding our climb. I should have known that even a day can change a route drastically. The type of risk and climbing in late season is, from my own assessment, extremely different than in early season conditions and anyone attempting the route after a thaw should be prepared for the challenges noted above. On the whole, this was an excellent learning experience for three previously untested climbers. Sterling and Dave were exemplary teammates and were in tune with my needs as I tried to be with theirs. I owe them much for their encouragement and ability to tough it out when things looked bleak. I hope to provide them the same support on future climbs! We are sure there are plenty of other decisions that could have been made, and we welcome advice and constructive criticism. Addendum: We’ve attached some Google Earth data that we think pretty closely approximates our climbing route. The waypoints listed in the images were taken from Sterling’s GPS, while the route itself is an estimate based on his recollection and interpretation of our photographs. The satellite imagery from Google actually appears pretty close to the snow conditions we encountered, at least for the lower ridge. [/font]
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