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dave schultz

[TR] Liberty Ridge w/ Partial Ski Descent 4/11-14

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Trip: Mount Rainier - Liberty Ridge with Partial Ski Descent

 

Date: 11-14 April (really, just a long Saturday and Sunday)

 

Trip Report:

It started with a big ambition plan, the good luck of knowing a friend with a snowmobile, and a good weather window. The goal was a single push, ski descent of the Liberty Ridge, starting Friday night, 11 April; included in this was an easy transition to a backup of climb/ski over the weekend. I only got three pictures with my iPhone before it got too cold … wtf; thus Alex will have to submit the ones he captured.

 

We got a late start, and started skinning after the snowmobile ride just before midnight on Friday. We made expected fast time to Saint Elmo Pass (just over two hours) and only had to do crevasse avoidance shenanigans once (on the Winthrop Glacier around 7190 feet). Ski crampons were nearly required to make the continuous traverse at around 7200 feet. The drop off to the Carbon Glacier from the Curtis Ridge was spot on at 7200 feet, and no easily identifiable option existed above (as far as I could tell at 530am). We stopped before the toe in order to transition from skinning to technical climbing, we also melted snow and had some lunch around

 

Our climbing up was a little slower than expected, but not bad. The shrund was easily passed, and we opted to cross over to the east side of the ridge about half-way to Thumb Rock. We arrived at TR around noon.

 

Based on our climbing pace, the fatigue from not getting quite a good pre-climb nap, and our overall priority of the ski descent, we opted to overnight at TR and get a good rest, acclimate, and start again around midnight, Sunday morning. We each set at creating our own little snow cave, and essentially had the afternoon to relax in one of the most incredible landscapes on earth - cloudless, bright sun, moderate temperatures, complete silence – except for the clockwork regularity of avalanches from the Curtis and Willis Walls, transition to dusk then night, and a blinding (nearly full) moon.

 

No alarm was set, as it is unnatural to go to sleep at 3pm and stay asleep for more than 7 hours, so at 10pm Alex and I started getting ready to go. We at this point had not met the single-push goal, so we were essentially on a casual pace, with no real hurry, and just a whole lot of mountain and whole lot of time. We opted to go left above TR and essentially continued making left choices until we were forced to go right. We moved slow and steady, taking one large break around 3am to melt some more snow. Shortly after this my Suunto HR Monitor watch’s batteries died, along with my too-cold iPhone, meant I no longer had any notion of time.

 

This “left choice” eventually placed us at skier’s right, and at the base of, an enormous “snowfield” that was actually 30-45 degree ice. Sunrise (Sunday) occurred shortly before arriving at the ice field. Not expecting to do long or continuous technical climbing we only brought a 30m 8mm and a 35m 6mm tag line. From our original vantage point it was unclear is this would be a short section of ice, or run full length. We did a single 30m pitch hoping to reach a better vantage point. Needless to say, 30 meters sounds like a good distance – it’s not! The second pitch we did some pre-planning and discussed the options for simul-climbing should the need arise, and it did; we simuled about 2 rope length to get into a position to fully appraise the situation. The third and final lead was all simul, nearly 5 or 6 rope lengths of the 30m rope, to reach the end of the ice.

 

This put us in position to identify the break in the ice cap where we could climb up through. The gap was simple and straightforward – we soloed it. The climb (death slog) from that point to Liberty Cap was very windy (the windiest of my Rainier summits … this (finally) was the first), and seemed to go forever (hence, death slog). I thought it was right there … then this one … then maybe this one … then I’ll just wait to be surprised. We summated between noon and 1pm (maybe?).

 

Given that our overly causal day put us pretty late on top, we had a short discussion on the summit about the descent options, should we bail down the Emmons or go for the LR descent? We chose to go for the money …

 

We booted back down, choosing not to ski because of the horrendous wind, and made an easy rappel back down the ice step. I transitioned at the base of the rappel, and had probably the best turns of the day for the next 200 feet of vertical (little did I know). The snow turned to unskiable ice (as we experienced on the way up, but failed to make a good mental note), and the art of transitioning from skis to crampons was once again practiced. We down-climbed to the top of the “snow” (I mean “ice”) field and made two 30m rappels. This moved us to skier’s left where we could search for a ski line (in an area we had not climbed up) using the various topos from the guide books. We made another three 30m rappels through the steepest/continuous ice, connecting large sections of easily down-climbable terrain. Once again, we stopped for a lengthy snow melting break, around maybe 3pm.

 

Around 5pm we eventually settled on a line that looked like it would go … and it didn’t … another round of skis to crampons. Some down-climbing and back on skis for a good section of skiing, though with quality getting worse, eventually bad enough to not justify skiing … skis to crampons. There was one more final stretch of good skiing that once again ended with running out of real estate, and skis to crampons. We booted down the remainder of the ridge (sunset Sunday near the bottom), staying skier’s left and making a final 30m rappel through some ice that is climber’s right on the west side of the ridge while gaining TR.

 

Thanks to the GPS track from the approach we were able to ski full speed across the Carbon Glacier with headlamps, transition to skins, and gain the Curtis Ridge without a hitch. Our skin track was still visible enough to follow it all the way back to Saint Elmo Pass (we avoided the crevasse this time). We again stopped to melt snow, about halfway across the Winthrop Glacier. The climb up to Saint Elmo was crappy, the last thing we wanted to do was boot up a semi-supportable, but 99% breakable crust to just below the knee … really fun. We transitioned at the top, and crushed that slope in the dark – mega-bright headlamp skiing is one of the coolest things around. We were able to ski along the White River and to within one mile of the campground (sunrise Monday near the campground). Some snowmobile shenanigans and we were off. 31.5 hours camp to car.

 

Thoughts/Notes:

 

1) The Liberty Ridge has millions of options. I think people might get wrapped up in doing a specific section, or feature, and lose sight that the entire thing is the ridge, climb what you want and what looks fun. I think this mindset contributed to our “left choice” mentality instead of just going for something, and seeing what you get. I also think that the left options is significantly longer (overall distance traveled), which makes it a much more time consuming route.

 

2) I generally always follow the mindset to climb it before you ski it (if it is that type of terrain, and I would consider LR to be in the category). We did not follow this, and it cost us. The reason was the that length of time to get through the ice by rappelling would have been too long, and the terrain on the far climber’s left seemed that I would be placing you in a location not ideal for skiers … Next time, I would have put more thought into the up-route, and made sure that we were actively seeking our descent line, and making good mental (or working iPhone) notes.

 

3) Time and speed, we were really slow. This was hard to quantitatively notice because of a dead watch battery (it started at 100%) and a frozen iPhone. We stopped twice on the climb to generate water, which we would require since we are at altitude, and having going for a long time; I don’t think you can cut these out – maybe carry more water, heavier=faster?. Technical climbing, we did one short pitch (30m), a short simul pitch (60m), and long simul pitch (275m) … that’s not a ton of belays and time sinks … but perhaps it is and I just don’t recognize it as such. I believe that the biggest source of lost time were inefficient water breaks (as previously discussed), and other general breaks that should either have been shorter, or should not have occurred.

 

4) Snow and ski conditions, is the bullet-proof snow and ice throughout the entire ridge a common condition, or did we gamble on conditions and lose?

 

All in all, this was a good climb, but I don’t think it was a great climb, though I did have a great time. I would round up and call it a partial ski descent. I liked the remoteness, route-finding challenges, and size/scale – I underestimated the overall package of the Liberty Ridge. I thought that there would have been more technical challenges with it, perhaps with a different line of ascent there would be more (the lack of technical climbing is what downgraded it from great to good). I personally enjoyed Mt Hood’s North Face more.

 

 

Gear Notes:

30m 8mm dynamic

35m 6mm tag line (for making 30m rappels)

6x 16cm screws

1x 22cm screw for v-threads

6x double length slings

3x single length slings

2x screamers

2x ice tools

2x skis

2x ski crampons

30 degree sleeping bag

half sleeping pad

lots of fuel for melting snow

 

Approach Notes:

WRG - Saint Elmo Pass - 7200 feet across the Winthrop Glacier to Curtis Ridge - across the Carbon Glacier to the toe.

Edited by dave schultz

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A spectacular weekend. Here are some of my photos:

 

First view from the Carbon Glacier

 

IMG_20140412_055907.jpg

 

Dave on the Carbon

 

IMG_20140412_060622.jpg

 

Heading up to the toe of the ridge

 

IMG_20140412_070419.jpg

 

Looking up at Thumb Rock

 

IMG_20140412_092945.jpg

 

The next morning above Thumb Rock.

 

IMG_20140413_060442.jpg

 

IMG_20140413_144312-PANO.jpg

 

There were a few pitches of unavoidable glacial ice

 

IMG_20140413_073109.jpg

 

Putting on skis below Liberty Cap

 

IMG_20140413_133051.jpg

 

Boiling water with a view on the way down

 

IMG_20140413_162057.jpg

 

Rapping down a section of glacier ice

 

IMG_20140413_164538.jpg

 

IMG_20140413_170223.jpg

 

Just above the black pyramid

 

IMG_20140413_171824.jpg

 

vthread

 

IMG_20140413_171836.jpg

 

Tag line worked great for raps

 

IMG_20140413_170241.jpg

 

Full album: https://plus.google.com/photos/103764998885643953728/albums/6002308739623361137

Edited by Alex Leone

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Dave Schultz you seem to be good at attempting to ski committing routes in sketchy and dangerous conditions. I'm surprised you are not dead. Good job in making the summit, I guess.

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Kind of crazy conditions for April, I'm surprised to see so much ice. I wonder if the dry and warm weather in January didn't allow for more recent snow to bond well and it's slid off? I would've expected a soft snow grovel upwards and variable but good ski conditions. Does anyone know how the Emmons is looking right now for skiing?

 

An unconventional approach to LR but well written and some great photos.

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Great pics and nice send. Nothing about those conditions makes me want to go skiing, but I'm guessing you weren't in it for the joy of the turns.

 

In that last pic you have a biner added horizontally between your rap device and attachment biner. Did that work? I thought the trick was to use the extra biner in parallel to the attachment biner, thereby doubling the rope contact at the "pulley" point, as it passes through the device. Your method would seem to just raise the device slightly from your attachment biner. I usually just add a wrap or two to my backup loop, if I want more friction, but I'm sure there are many ways to achieve the same result.

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Emmons is filled in with multiple clean lines. we ascended to camp schurman and found hard icy conditions with some wind packed amongst the runnel depressions. in short, awful skiing, but you cant stay above the crust without skis. at 9k ft there was little to no softening through the day Saturday, and cold windy conditions overnight Saturday.

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Dave Schultz you seem to be good at attempting to ski committing routes in sketchy and dangerous conditions. I'm surprised you are not dead. Good job in making the summit, I guess.

 

Pete - rumor is Hood's NF is in skiable condition ... Want to partner up for a single push ski descent?

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I already skied that shit on my 210 Atomic Arc DH race skis. It was icy as shit so I just tucked and pointed it the whole way. If you want to race Chinese Downhill though I'm in.

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Great pics and nice send. Nothing about those conditions makes me want to go skiing, but I'm guessing you weren't in it for the joy of the turns.

 

In that last pic you have a biner added horizontally between your rap device and attachment biner. Did that work? I thought the trick was to use the extra biner in parallel to the attachment biner, thereby doubling the rope contact at the "pulley" point, as it passes through the device. Your method would seem to just raise the device slightly from your attachment biner. I usually just add a wrap or two to my backup loop, if I want more friction, but I'm sure there are many ways to achieve the same result.

 

I haven't seen an ATC used in the way shown in the pic. Putting the ATC on the end of a runner (or 2, for redundancy) instead of directly on your belay loop is a standard way to add friction for rapping. The longer the runner, the greater the friction.

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In that last pic you have a biner added horizontally between your rap device and attachment biner. Did that work? I thought the trick was to use the extra biner in parallel to the attachment biner, thereby doubling the rope contact at the "pulley" point, as it passes through the device. Your method would seem to just raise the device slightly from your attachment biner. I usually just add a wrap or two to my backup loop, if I want more friction, but I'm sure there are many ways to achieve the same result.

 

I haven't seen an ATC used in the way shown in the pic. Putting the ATC on the end of a runner (or 2, for redundancy) instead of directly on your belay loop is a standard way to add friction for rapping. The longer the runner, the greater the friction.

 

I don't remember when/who/how I learned the extra biner trick. It does push it further away, but it still adds some surface area, and thus friction. I had not considered placing BOTH biners through the belay loop, but you would run into issues with different sized biners (with only one through the loop the sizes are of no importance to the system). I will give the two biners through the belay loop a try next time I am in a position to want added friction. I usually use two biners for 8mm ropes and smaller, or other times when I want a little more control without defaulting to the prussik backup (such as with gloved, cold hands or doing a free-hanging rappell).

 

Adding a sling to the system, as far as I can tell, does not increase the friction - it would only reposition the device further from your belay loop. This can increase control and safety by making it more accessible, and by improving the effectiveness of a prussik backup. The extended rappel device I find more useful in a free hanging rappel, when you will be doing many rappells in a row, tandem rappelling, or other various/specific situations (none of which were encountered by us).

 

Pete_H : Chinese Downhill looks like it has potential. I had to google it to see what it was. How about May 10th or 11th from Camp Muir to the parking lot? I'll throw $100 for the winner.

 

Eric - we had a secret spot to park. We sledded to a sign that advertised no more snowmobiling was permitted.

Edited by dave schultz

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Dave, Alex, this trip sounds like it was pretty damn burly. Nice work on the summit, and I'm glad to hear y'all made it out safely after a >30hr day! Ouch.

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Adding a sling to the system, as far as I can tell, does not increase the friction - it would only reposition the device further from your belay loop. This can increase control and safety by making it more accessible, and by improving the effectiveness of a prussik backup.
.

 

When your device is on your harness, it is hard to get a full 180 bend in the rope as it comes out of the device- your body is in the way. Putting the device on a sling gives the space you need to get a sharper bend in the rope, thus more friction. When I've done it, the reduction in effort needed to stop yourself is pretty noticeable.

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discussion on extending the rappel got me googling around for some ideas, and this setup from the petzl website seems pretty slick... a hard connection and an intermediate point for the device with one (I'd bet double?) sling.

rappel_03.gif

 

but, to stay a bit on topic, sweet pics guys. really dig seeing that side of the mountain in the early morning light.

Edited by alpine et

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Guys -- badass. Dave, great to see you getting these bold objectives ticked off! It must have been pretty rad having that snowmobile -- Dan and I tried something like this once but we skied up all that road, ugh

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vthread

 

IMG_20140413_171836.jpg

 

Tag line worked great for raps

 

In this pic with the v thread, is the tag line running through the v thread holes? Have not seen that setup before, although also haven't climbed with a tag line either, so wondering if that is a typical setup. Obviously leaves nothing behind when you pull the ropes, but I'd be concerned (not having tried it before) with friction when trying to pull them.

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discussion on extending the rappel got me googling around for some ideas, and this setup from the petzl website seems pretty slick... a hard connection and an intermediate point for the device with one (I'd bet double?) sling.

rappel_03.gif

 

but, to stay a bit on topic, sweet pics guys. really dig seeing that side of the mountain in the early morning light.

 

I wouldn't want that half sling dangling around my ATC while rapping, personally. 'No loose stuff zone' n all that.

 

Plus, the knot reduces the sling strength considerably - but I reckon you'd need to have a dead cow strapped to your harness for that to be a real concern.

 

I use two redundant extension slings (only fully extended in the following pig-rider scenario) when rapping off vertical stuff on doubles smaller than mid 9mm, singles smaller than 10mm, or when I'm riding a pig while rapping (Who says guys can't multitask?)

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Trip: Mount Rainier - Liberty Ridge with Partial Ski Descent

...

 

 

Gear Notes:

30m 8mm dynamic

35m 6mm tag line (for making 30m rappels)

6x 16cm screws

1x 22cm screw for v-threads

6x double length slings

3x single length slings

Bolt Cutters

2x screamers

2x ice tools

2x skis

2x ski crampons

30 degree sleeping bag

half sleeping pad

lots of fuel for melting snow

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