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[TR] Mt Rainier - Liberty Ridge 05/27/2018

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Trip: Mt Rainier - Liberty Ridge

Trip Date: 05/27/2018

Trip Report:


Finally ticked off a climb that Peter and I had been eyeing all winter. On Thursday we were trying to decide between Liberty Ridge and the Tantalus traverse in BC. Given the good forecast and knowing the route was doable we opted for Rainier. After a late arrival Friday night, we leave the car around 4 in the morning from the White River Campground (4200ft). Three miles later we are post holing so we opt for skis and start skinning up toward St. Elmo Pass as the sun rises. We crest the pass (7,500ft) and can see the Winthrop Glacier below us. After a fun slide down with skins still on we rope up and skin across and down the glacier. Skinning downhill while tied together and surrounded by crevasses is very difficult... Eventually we get off the Winthrop and skin up Curtis ridge to where we can see the Carbon Glacier. It is brown cracked up mass, we also can see Liberty Ridge and it looks to have less snow that we hoped. The bergschrund on the west side of the ridge is also open meaning we will have to gain the ridge at its toe. We drop all the way down to the Carbon Glacier and began skinning toward the toe of the ridge. After some tense hops over open crevasses and nervous glances at the seracs above us we reach the place where it appears people have been gaining the ridge. The rock is a loose combination of glacial till and basalt blocks. As we debate where the best place to gain the ridge is, about 400lbs of rock pour off the ridge and on to the snow a ways up ridge from us. With the cliffs around us looking like jenga towers we decided it would be best to get on the ridge line asap. After 30ft of steep loose scrabbling we are on the ridge and relieved. We progress up hill through thousands of feet of loose rock, finally reaching thumb rock around 3pm (10,800ft). It feels like a longer day than it really was. We dig out a snow bivy pad and put down our pads and sleeping bags and crawl in. We sleep from about 4 till 7:30 before getting up, restless.  We realize that the snow in the bottles in our sleeping bag are melting slower than we had hoped. We bum some water off the other group camped at thumb rock, which saves us from snuggling with quite so much snow (thanks!) After a spectacular avalanche rips down the Willis Headwall next to us we crawl into our sleeping bags with soft bottles full of snow to melt for the following day.  We sleep soundly until at 12:40 I awake to crashing rocks. Moments later I hear a whirring of something flying through the air and a slam as something hits my sleeping pad, inches from my head. Peter and I are immediately awake and looking around. We find a baseball sized rock, wedged under Peters backpack, between our heads. Hearts pounding, sleep does not return. We lay there, tense, until 1:30 as we hear the other party starting to move. Already awake and knowing we move faster than them we pack up camp and head uphill by 2am. Cold temps brought solid snow and we move efficiently unroped through a firm bootpack on 45-55 degree snow. This continues through the hours of dawn and as the sun rises we pass under the black pyramid and find a spectacular sheet of ice ahead of us. We get the rope (30m) out for the first time of the day and tie into each end. My hand are cold and Peter takes the first block. As the rope runs out we start to simul climb. We simul for a few hundred feet before Peter uses his last two screws the belay me up. From there I lead out the next few hundred feet until I am down to 2 screws and belay him up. He leads from there to where the angle is so low we feel good soloing again(12,600ft). Rope back in the pack we start up toward Liberty Cap, thinking we still have as far to go as we have already gone. I still feel good but Peter, normally faster than me, is not moving like his normal self. We take a break at a safe spot and finish the last of our water, Peter is out of food so we share some gorp that was nibbled by a mouse at the trailhead and I was saving for last. He complains of some headache and nausea, I learn here that he hasn't been over 11,000ft. With no way down except up, we moved slowly upward. Over the top of Liberty Cap (14,100) we skin down to the col between Columbia Crest and Liberty Cap. Having no interest in more ascent we decide to boot across the Emmons to meet up with the standard route there. Once on the standard route, we unrope and switch back to skis to ski perfect corn down to Camp Schurman(9440ft). A little boot up to the top of the Inter Glacier and we ski through calf deep slush (ACL snow) to the bottom of Glacier Basin (6,000ft). Shoes back on our feet and Peter feeling better, we walk/jog the last 4mi to the car (4200ft). Together we consumed almost a gallon of water from the car, next time we know a stove is worth the weight.



Route from Curtis Ridge


Really fun volcanic junk...


More fun low on the ridge


Aesthetic bivy


Some time between 2am and sunrise


Sunrise a few hundred feet form the ice 


Perfect stairs as we approach the ice


Easy, fun, solid ice


Peter feeling like a champ on the descent

Gear Notes:
6 Ice screws, 2 pickets, quick reaction time

Approach Notes:
Road open to White River CG, gained ridge near toe on the east side.

Edited by PorterM
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Glad to hear you'd take a stove next time.  Hard to keep reasonably hydrated without one and really cuts your margin for error.

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