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wfinley

Questions about Liberty Ridge

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Hi all.. I'm tentatively planning on treating myself to a bachelor party by flying down to Mt. Rainier to attempt Liberty Ridge with my old climbing partner who now live in Montana. I have the following questions:

 

Season

- We both have wide open schedules from mid-April - July. When should we go?

- I'm assuming May/early June night temps will hover b/t 0 and 10... is this a correct assumption? (Can anyone point me to tabular data for weather / temps?)

- I read that if we do it in May we'll want snowshoes. Is this true? (I hate snowshoes.)

 

Gear

- Seems most people haul an alpine axe and a tool, some pickets and a few screws. Is there anything else we need? Pins, etc.?

- Would you suggest two tools instead of an alpine axe and single tool? Seems most people say this is great up high at the bergschrund but sucks down low. Maybe have the leader haul two tools?

- Apart from am extended tent bound stay at Muir a few years ago, I have never climbed on Rainier or in the PNW. Should we substitute a deadman for a picket - or will pickets be adequate?

 

Route

- As I stated before, I've never climbed in the PNW so when looking at pics of the route I'm slightly lost in reference to scale and difficulty. Can someone compare this route to a similar climb in the Canadian Rockies or Alaska? (I'm fairly familiar with these areas.)

- Seems the average time is 3-4 days - is this what people normally haul for food / fuel? Can Thumb Rock be reached in a day from the parking lot?

 

Finally - after LR I'm thinking of taking my brothers up either the DC or Emmons. Where can we rent gear close by for this? All we'll need is plastic boots - I can provide them with everything else.

 

Thanks for everyone's help!

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May is often known for unconsolidated snow but it is popular I think because there is less exposed rock on the route then and less ice climbing. Check with the rangers, but I bet the success rate is highest in early July.

 

You will want a standard ice axe for most of the climb. I used a second tool only for maybe 500 feet or so out of about 5,000 feet of climbing where you want an axe for a possible self arrest in the event of a slip. At the schrund, the leader can use the two “second” tools if they need to.

 

I don’t think anyone uses pins on that route, and I doubt many carry a deadman. A picket can be buried “deadman style” if you need an anchor in softer snow.

 

Don’t know about the comparison, but the approach is done by some but probably not most parties in one day to Thumb Rock and one day back to base, but I think your 3-4 day timeframe is far more common. As I noted there is 5,000 feet of climbing on steep-ish terrain but only several hundred feet that anybody would call technical and really only a short bit that is steep (maybe a 40 foot section right out of camp, and another 75 feet at the top?).

 

You can certainly rent gear in Seattle - Feathered Friends or REI, I think. ‘Don’t know about closer rentals.

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I went mid July and had really good conditions, although rockfall was an issue. I used an axe and a north wall hammer, this combo worked well. I think 2 pickets and 4 screws should cover it. We took one day (12 hours) to thumb rock and another day to climb and descend (30 hours car to car.)

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I don't know, I climbed it once in late June and rock fall was an issue low on the route. I don't think I'd wait until July if I could go a bit earlier. We didn't use snowshoes and had no problem, but the whole upper mountain was a sheet of ice that year, so it may not have been normal conditions.

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Thanks for all the info. July is not an option for us as I have to be in town for my wedding. May/June is wide open but I hate leaving Alaska during King season! That said I think we're leaning towards a late May/ early June attempt.

 

RE: Rockfall -- Just how bad is the rockfall? I saw where someone compared it to Skyladder. Perhaps we were lucky but when we climbed Skyladder the rockfall an issue, but no more than normal for that type of route. Is the rockfall average for this type of route or worse due to the volcanic rock?

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Compared to the Canadian Crumblies, rockfall is trivial on Liberty Ridge. However, there are frequent accidents due to falling objects, though chunks of ice I think are probably more common than rockfall.

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As many know, this is a great guide book for Rainier written by Gator. Make sure you get the second edition, it's even better than the first. bigdrink.gif

 

Mike, you need to update YOUR website with your new book! hahaha.gif

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We experienced constant, large rock fall from the toe of the ridge to Thumb Rock. The spine of the ridge was exposed rock and rocks were not so much falling as sliding down the mountain. We crossed many troughs that were worn into the ridge by falling rocks. We would come to a trough, wait for a rock to slide down it then quickly cross.

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June is probably your best bet for good conditions, but it will obviously depend on the weather - which will also dictate if rockfall will be an issue.

 

Be aware that most approach LR from the White River Campground. The road to the CG is normally not opened until late May, sometimes early June. You can usually get to within a couple miles of the CG in the weeks prior to the official opening, but just be aware of this if you're doing it from the east side and check with the NPS as your window gets closer. It'd be a bummer to get down here and find out with no notice. Seems like when they open the road to the CG determines the season on LR... at least for the masses.

 

You could also go in from Ipsut Creek (from the north) which is accessible all year round, assuming the Carbon River hasn't taken out the road. Problem with that is that you add a couple thousand feet gain, and it makes a loop trip a lot longer. A lot.

 

-kurt

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I always bring this up in these discussions, and have been at times criticized for saying so, but don't assume you HAVE to approach this climb from White River so you can make a loop out of it. If you have substantial mountaineering experience and are comfortable descending steep snow and moderate ice, it is reasonable to climb up and back down Liberty Ridge and, if this is your plan, an approach via Ipsut Creek is probably shorter than starting at White River. (I'd argue that if you don't have substantial experience or are not comfortable downclimbing steep snow and moderate ice you have no business on Liberty Ridge in the first place, but we've been through all that before.) Here's an old thread that includes discussion of this topic: 2003 thread

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I climbed Liberty Ridge on June 1-3 on a somewhat low snow year and thought conditions were perfect. We got a noonish start at the White River TH on day 1 and camped on the far side of St Elmo's Pass. We then bivvied again below thumb rock and did the midnight departure on summit day. We belayed one pitch at the 'schrund, but other than that we soloed from the Carbon. I used two tools, but in the conditions we encountered (softish snow lower down, styrofoam from just above Thumb Rock to the summit, temps just above freezing) I could have easily got away with using just a short mountaineering axe if I really felt the urge to save weight. Maybe one short mountaineering axe and a third tool would be the perfect compromise in good conditions. In my opinion, though, why chance it just to save a little weight ... it could be icy and you may be glad you brought two tools. Especially if you're coming all the way from Alaska. You may not have the luxury of watching the forecast and conditions, so you should be prepared for the whole range. The 'schrund can get pretty nasty later in the season, and may require two tools and/or maybe even some aid. With the amount of snow we're getting this Winter though, the 'schrund should be in decent shape well into June.

 

Most years you'll want snowshoes through the end of May, and this year you may need them into June. I did not have to use them on June 1st of a low snow year, and am sure glad because that would suck to have to carry them up and over pitty.gif

 

From my general Cascades experience, temperatures can be all over the map in June so it's pretty tough to say for sure, but I'd say be prepared for as cold as 0 at night in super shitty conditions at 10,000ft. I think it was like upper 20s at night when I was up there (at the coldest)

 

I'd go with DPS' advice on pickets/screws (2/4). You may not use any screws, especially in May where you're more likely to experience a steep snow climb, but you should definitely have some along.

 

Difficulty can be so varied on Liberty Ridge, so it's tough to make an accurate comparison to another climb unless snow/ice conditions are known. I would say be prepared for a relatively moderate grade III at the easiest to a full-on grade IV with significant objective dangers, steep ice, and the whole weather gammet at the very hardest. Time of year and snowfall/depth, firmness of snowpack/temperatures in the days leading up to the climb will be key factors in determining how difficult the route will be when you are on it. Either way, expect dramatic exposure. Also, and this may or may not be obvious, but expect Mt Rainier to be MUCH bigger in person than you imagined from pictures. I found this to be the case with Mt Rainier more so than with other any mountain I've encountered. Rainier is mammoth.

 

Write a TR and take lots of pics.

 

Edit: I cannot advise making the trip in from anywhere else but White River CG. I won't go into my reasoning here as there is an entire thread devoted to the topic somewhere on this site (see link above).

 

Also, don't take the Interglacier for granted -- it is crevassed, and there have been many incidents there in the past related to crevasse falls (some fatal). I suggest remaining roped up until you get further down into the basin. It is easy to fall into that herd mentality and unrope whenever you see everybody else doing it, especially when it looks so benign from the surface, but I can assure you a punch-through on the Interglacier is not a rare occurence.

 

If I had to predict which week would be best this coming summer (May-June) to climb LR, I would go with around the 7-14th of June. I do not proclaim to be Madam Cleo (if I did, you'd be getting charged for this), but if I was coming from Alaska and had 4 days to set aside in advance, that is the timeframe I would gamble on.

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Boy,Im glad I don't have this route on my list.Although

there really aren't any technical difficulties on this

route.It is really difficult to get a combination of good

conditions and weather.The rock fall can be really bad late

season and the deep snow and weather can be bad untill at

least mid june.We did the route in mid July in 1981,we only roped up for the glacier travel and not the route.We hiked in from Ipsut Creek,a long hike with alot of elevation gain and camped at Curtis ridge.We waited until

the afternoon of the next day for the weather to clear and

made it to thumb rock that evening.The weather was perfect

when we started the next morning.Once above thumb rock we

started experiencing rock fall that was as bad as I have

ever seen.Huge boulders were rolling down on us from a

formation known as the Black Pryamid.These things would be

bouncing down the slope straight at us and bounce off at the last second.Gripped,I started running up as fast as I could to get above the Black Pryamid and out of the rock fall.Fortunately we made it to Liberty cap in one piece.

We staggered across to Columbia crest and went down the

Emmons glacier.We managed to hike back to our car that

night but it was along ways back to Ipsut creek.Wished we

started at White River instead.With the heavy snow we 've

had at the upper elevations,mid-June or July should be good for this year.

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Wfinley- sorry to hijack somewhat,are you doing any routes in the anchorage area for training? If so which ones?

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Wfinley- sorry to hijack somewhat,are you doing any routes in the anchorage area for training? If so which ones?

 

Nothing concrete is planned for the Anchorage area. We are planning a Sanford trip in late March/ early April - so we'll just be skiing alot up until then. After that it's the local peaks as they come into shape.

 

BTW - thanks to everyone for the beta!

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Rock can be a real issue on the route even in high snow years and I'm skeptical about soloing in those conditions. During my first attempt at Lib Ridge, in June of 1975, we were hit by rockfall just below Thumb Rock. We played dodgeball but one of my two partners, a climber visiting from the UK, was hit in the arm, chest and backpack by a watermelon-sized boulder and knocked uncouncious. Fortuately we were roped due to respect for Ranier on earlier climbs and after several hours managed to get our Brittish friend down onto the Carbon. Within two minutes a dump truck-sized load of rock scoured the entire gully we had decended. Fortunately, after a camp on the Carbon we were able to walk out the next day. My friend only suffered a badly bruised arm and chest but the outcome would have been far different if we had not been roped.

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I did it in late June of 90. The Carbon was a maze of gaping crevasses and questionable bridges. I was wishing we had taken 4 pickets for our party of 2.

We made it up to Thumb rock in 1 day without a super human effort but conditions were bare up to the Carbon. We did posthole up to thumb rock from the toe and saw a few rocks come off the crest. We stayed high to minimized their velocity.

Getting out of the notch at Thumb Rock was steep rock and ice for about 15 feet. Then it was easy snow. The Black pyramid was dumping rocks down the right side of the chute so we stayed left to the crest. Then boogied under and around the BP to the right. From there it was styrofoam.

We crossed to the summit snowfield in a direct vertical line across a snow bridge that dropped 1 foot when I stepped on it. The Liberty Cap summit snow field was the highlight of the trip. Due to the serac at the bottom, the view between my feet was to the Carbon river 5000+ feet below.

We left a car at Paradise and made it there from Thumb rock in one day descending the Disappointment Cleaver route.

We were young (30 or so) and in great shape. We did it in two days. Conditions overall were excellent.

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