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JColinOlson

[TR] Mt. Rainier - Liberty Ridge 7/3/2014

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Trip: Mt. Rainier - Liberty Ridge

 

Date: 7/3/2014

 

Trip Report:

From July 3rd to July 5th my friend Ken and I completed Liberty Ridge, my first time on the route and his first time on the mountain. Ken and I had met over a year ago in JTree and had stayed in loose contact since then. I was going to be back home in the PNW for the summer (I'm a teacher), and he wanted to escape the heat of the Valley (He's YOSAR) and get some alpine climbing in. A flight was booked and several options depending on weather were tabulated.

 

On the 2nd I drove out of Alpine Lakes and picked Ken up at SEATAC. We went to white river on the 3rd and started hiking in around noon. Conditions were good over St. Elmo's Pass, then late afternoon clouds rolled around the mountain from the south. We traversed the Winthrop in a cloud, for a second catching a glimpse of the Curtis Ridge and navigating mainly by altimeter - we knew not to get lured too high on the Curtis. We made camp on the Curtis around 7200 feet. The clouds then cleared and we were allowed stunning view of the liberty ridge and adjacent features.

 

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We were weary of the high freezing levels and curious to see just how broken up the carbon was. We decided to leave early the next morning, but still have light to navigate - we left camp at 5 am. We gained the carbon and traversed to the right (west) side and followed a fain boot pack which ended at a melted out snow bridge, we did some...creative navigating and eventually wound up on the west side of liberty ridge.

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We wanted to avoid the lower melted out sections at all costs, in doing so we did expose ourselves briefly to the liberty wall. If something massive had come down, it could have been serious, the risks were small the consequences - admittedly - large. We gained liberty ridge at around 8800 feet, put the rope away and simul-soloed to Thumb Rock getting there around 9am. We had a lot of time to kill, but an entertaining show on both sides. Rock fall was an issue coming up to thumb rock, it was head's up climbing and agility and speed were necessary. I actually did get hit by a baseball sized rock after I misjudged its bounce and took it at a medium pace in the balls, it was actually kind of funny.

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We were a little surprised at how quickly we got there, in the future with the right conditions and the right fitness a better option might be one big day to thumb rock. Also, the fireworks from Everett to Olympia on the 4th of July were pretty amazing. We only peaked out at them, but I wasn't really prepared for just how much there would be, it's hard to describe - probably 100 were going off per second, and that's conservative. What wasn't so amazing was the weather - clouds rose and what had been a beautiful day turned into a very windy night (30 mph, gusting to 60 at Thumb Rock) with some light precipitation. Quite unfortunate, as we had gone pretty light and were were not prepared to sit out another day at Thumb Rock, so if the weather held when the alarm went off we would be heading down, reversing some ground that would have not been fun. Doable, just not fun. Luckily we woke to stars above.

 

We left early, around 1 am we started simul-soloing up and left. To my mind, there is no stopping between Thumb Rock and Liberty Cap, and any camp made in between should be seen as failing upward, this has unfortunately been confirmed with disastrous results lately. We had taken photos of the route from below and felt confident that the route would be strait forward, it was, and we were pleased to see it flow so smoothly. Ken and I took turns breaking trail, however, I do feel that over all he did more work at the front than me, he was definitely faster, which I tried to make up for on our next trip. We took our first break on the east corner of the black pyramid, right as the sun was rising, it was glorious, sublime, it was a work of art that nature was putting on - but, of course, life is not a work of art, and a moment cannot last.

 

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I'm not going to say what we saw there. I used to be good with my words, but I can't summarize that.

 

After passing the black pyramid which had as much ice as you could want beneath, beside and above it, we lost our visibility, not that it have ever really been there that long, probably around 30 min. We traversed up and right in a cloud, slogging up to the bergschrund.

 

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I was pretty beat by this point, we had been moving fast and after talking it over we decided to break out the rope and belay the final pitch, we had carried it and six screws(too many) after all. Ken lead up and left and brought me up, we marched up to the liberty cap and kept on trucking for the Columbia crest without even stopping. It was very windy and the visibility was probably 40 meters. I hit the wall here, we were still moving fast, but Ken was hauling. I thought I was fast - but when your co-workers pull off the fricking triple in the Valley the week or so before you go alpine climbing you have a skewed (read F-ed up) sense of what fast means. I felt like I was Everest stepping like the hordes on the DC. We reached the Columbia crest, after some navigating with the GPS at 10:30.

 

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The plan was to descend the Emmons, however, since visibility was terrible, the winds at gale force, and I had never done that route before we were both less than inclined to traipse off into the abyss when we had the trench of the DC directly to our right. Upon reaching Muir we agreed that we made the right decision apparently there was something about a previous party getting lost, ditching a pair of skis, etc. Speaking of litter, some previous party, of which it could only be two, left a nice full blue bag at Thumb Rock for us. Poor form.

 

My girl friend was kind enough to drive to Paradise and then shuttle us back to white river, but not until I had her buy us beer and burgers - what? we didn't have our wallets!

 

 

 

Gear Notes:

Six screws. Two pickets. One tool/One axe. 40 meter 7.8 rope.

 

Approach Notes:

White River is snow free until Glacier Basin. St. Elmo's pass was strait forward. Winthrop is getting broken up, or perhaps it felt that way in a cloud. Carbon is broken up, interesting route finding options will be the only way forward.

Edited by JColinOlson

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