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[TR] Rainier - Liberty Ridge 7/29/2011

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Trip: Rainier - Liberty Ridge


Date: 7/29/2011



Trip: - Prodigal Ascension: Liberty Ridge in the Summer of Eternal Snows


Date: 7/29/2011





“Think Life is Full of Surprises? Wait Until You Die!”


- Billboard for Zion Lutheran Church, Auburn, WA



Good morning! by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr





July 29th, 2011


Thumb Rock, 12:45 a.m:




I’ve been hit by rocks before. With the freezing level lapping Rainier’s summit, I expected to dodge a few, and I did. Being struck in the dead of night, while snugly dreaming of electric sheep grazing in fields of Blue though…that’s a bit over the line, isn’t it? Just because it nearly August and there are still idiots gunning for Liberty Ridge in this New Climate Summer of Eternal Snows, does a fellow really have to sleep in his helmet?


It wouldn’t have helped. The chicken size rock only grazed my calf…after tearing through the tent door. After some speculation as to whether it had come from Thumb Rock, the outcrop upslope from us, or space, we rolled over and resumed snoring.


My calf was fine – a good thing, because Liberty Ridge’s long stretches of ice demanded a fully functional pair. Fortunately, the indefatigable Don Brooks was there to shoulder half the burden…for the second time in two weeks. How that fuel canister crept out of my pack and back into the car last time remains a mystery.



Liberty Ridge by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr


When you climb with the Hoariest Man on Rock or Ice, plan on punching half of your own steps when he’s on lead. The man has a wider stance than any congressman. Using all of his steps increases the risk of falling through one’s own ass.



Wide stance advance by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr







Thumb Rock is a tiny sanctuary, in the loosest sense of the word, perched between two opposing collosi. To the east, the Willis Wall: a slumping, mile high igneous interpretation of charcoal and rotting meat which spits boulders like maggots day and night. To the west, Liberty Cap Ice Cliff, an ethereal fortress of pure white and aquamarine which stands quiescent…until it collapses to re-destroy everything below it.


The glaciers below these two disparate overlords look the same: utter chaos.



The Willis Wall, from Thumb Rock by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr






“Is that a weather balloon?”


The blue and yellow fabric hung limply over the serac like a failed Cristo installation.


One pack, two sleeping bags, two foam pads, a sweater, two headbands, one pot, one fuel canister, several bags of garbage, and one tent. Vintage 80s cheap, mildewed, foul smelling, and highly compressed. The tent poles had splintered into six inch pieces, and the nylons crinkled as if they’d been briefly held over a flame. This gear had taken a long, slow ride inside the Winthrop glacier.



Fuel canister, slightly used by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr




Pack and pad, well traveled by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr




We fought over this one by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr




Carbon sunset by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr




The following morning we began weaving up the Carbon Glacier. We climbed up to the left just east of the base of ridge, then dropped to end run the Ridge’s toe before climbing up and to the right. A huge collapse had filled the bergschrund with dirty cottage cheese ice. We tiptoed quickly over and out from under the massive ice cliffs looming mile above, saving our sprinting legs for the what would come next.



Carbocizing by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr




Upper Carbon by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr




The Netherworld by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr



The shooting gallery at the base of the ridge, beneath Thumb Rock, is where the real magic happens. We climbed above the gaping bergschrund, then quickly traversed to the right, where there seemed to be fewer rock tracks. At a 13,000 foot freezing level, the rocks don’t stop for nightfall: it’s best to do it with enough light to see them coming from far enough away to improve your odds.


We climbed as fast as we could; craning our necks upward every other step to check for incoming. Some near misses, including one high velocity whirler that never seemed to touch down, but no direct hits. The Ridge’s random pitching machine logged no strikes, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.


By Thumb Rock we were completely winded and very happy to sleep the rest of the day away in the bright sunshine, accompanied only by a curious little finch who pecked away at the gravel nearby.



Why is this man smiling? Entering the Shooting Gallery by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr




Peppered by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr




The Shooting Gallery by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr



"Back up...back up, now..." by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr




Loogout! by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr




Thumb Rock daze by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr





Thumb Rock farewell by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr


Parting with Thumb Rock wasn’t a sad thing. We ascended east of the ridge crest. Snow conditions varied but were generally decent. The sky was clear, the wind strong. We hugged the highest rock outcrop to avoid projectiles, rounded a corner, and started up the Ridge’s long final slope, the last several hundred feet of which was frozen solid. The wind had freshened with the altitude. I climbed up to a small perch overlooking the Willis Wall, now at point blank range, lassooed a rock, threw a puffy on, and brought Don up.


What-could-go-wrong fantasies had crept in with the wind. Perched on that narrow ridge, overlooking all that mayhem, I felt grateful for the grizzled man on the other end of the rope who would propel us over the top.


Ascent by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr


Don finished off the slope, placing 3 screws just before it rolled over onto the traverse. Red and black yielded to white and blue, brimstone to ice.


I zigzagged through the bergschrund pitch, placing 3 screws and a picket for the belay. Don climbed up and past to the base of the final ice pitch, a shimmering shield that took three screws before transitioning to steep snow and Liberty Cap’s heavily corniced summit. A crevasse tugged Don’s foot not 100 feet below the top. We paid it little mind.



The classic vision of a fluffy white Sky Heaven intrigues me. Clear, clean, lifeless. Wind purifies the Reality version of Sky Heaven of all its earthly imperfections: foul humors, footprints, tents, desire, life. Wind also makes Reality Sky Heaven fucking cold – which makes me wonder whether Sky Heaven’s inventors ever ventured very far from the beach.


Ah, Perfection. According to a third of our fellow patriots, entry into Sky Heaven requires it. One must be pure. Ass Masters and their fellow fallen need not apply. Why an anus performs just as well as a vagina is not addressed. Purity over absurdity. There is only One Knowing Plan. Trust in it.


The Wind must have found us wanting, because it sure as Hell tried its damndest to blow us off the peak.


Sky Heaven crashers by tvashtarkatena, on Flickr





Is there any feeling like that first step down? To leave Sky Heaven’s clean abstraction and return to the clutter of the living world?


No place provides a more apropos port of entry than Camp Sherman. Turn one way, some old guy’s taking a dump. Turn the other, some young chick’s peeing a foot from her tent. That’s the way of it, I suppose. I’ve been there…and there can be comfort in numbers on occasion.


Sherman is an outpost. We plunged into a radiant sea of salmon fog and found the true living world as we left it, although somewhat darker. Burroughs, whose crumbled slopes we’d maligned two days prior, was now resplendently shrouded and worthy of a monastery.


Headlamps. Frogs, crickets, and finally, voices.


Reentry comes in stages. The next involved getting in line behind what appeared to be a tattooed draft horse and her pole bean boyfriend at the Enumclaw Subway. Pulled pork. Not great pulled pork, but still.


As Don drove back through the Arby’s and Petsmarts of Seattle’s insulation against the brutish hinterlands, I thought about Colleen, who I would see very soon, and the summit, which I would never see again. There has to be a last time for everything, and enough time to bask in summer’s imperfect warmth. If this requires leaving the colossi to rage against the purifying wind on their own, so be it.


Pat Gallagher




Gear Notes:

3-4 screws, 2 pickets


Approach Notes:



Edited by tvashtarkatena

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"I thought about Colleen, who I would see very soon, and the summit, which I would never see again. There has to be a last time for everything, and enough time to bask in summer’s imperfect warmth. If this requires leaving the colossi to rage against the purifying wind on their own, so be it."


Never say never. I never do.

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It is good to have you back writing TRs! Although I miss the explosions.....

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Is there any step like that first step down? That's good, that captures something essential there.

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bad ass -- though, that's no surprise.

Edited by rob

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