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Liberty Ridge, Mount Rainier, Washington

Author: David Rogers

Participants: David Rogers, Dave Mills

Trip summary:
  • Weather- sunny and mild the entire trip, except for one evening of drizzle. Below freezing most nights.
  • Conditions- snow good to fair on most of Liberty Ridge and glaciers, except nearly solid ice for 700 feet below Liberty Cap. Carbon Glacier wanded and easily passable. No other climbers on Liberty Ridge.
  • Dave Mills- stoked the entire time. Serious sunburn, leather boots wet, frozen, and rubbing toes. Ready for the next trip.
  • David Rogers- stoked part of the time. Mild sunburn, tired, cuts on face and leg. Thinking about an easier trip next time, like Forbidden Peak.

July 4: At 12:30 p.m. we were in the White River Campground parking lot and ready to go, when I realized I’d left the tent poles in Seattle. Reached by phone, Dave’s sister Amy generously agreed to fetch them and meet us in Enumclaw, so we were able to start at about 4:30. Beginning at 4,400 feet, we climbed about 3500 feet over St. Elmo Pass, and camped on the Winthrop Glacier at sunset- 9 p.m.

July 5: The next morning we traversed over the rest of the Winthrop, rounded Curtis Ridge, descended to the Carbon Glacier, and climbed onto the east side of the foot of Liberty Ridge. We followed a nice wanded route up the glacier. At times, the route didn’t seem to be going the right way, but we kept returning to follow it. Dave did a spectacular solo onto the base of Liberty Ridge on lousy rock, and hauled the packs and me up. About 10 hours and another 3500 ft, I guess. It being 6:30 p.m., we decided to camp on the edge of the Carbon Glacier.

July 6: After 4 hours and about 2000 feet, we reached Thumb Rock at noon and decided to spend the night there. On the way, a small cliff band collapsed as I climbed up above a steep snow slope. Several boulders and I tumbled off and down the slope about 30 feet. I thrashed onto my face with feet downhill, watching my ice axe recede uphill. Fortunately I hit a rock band and stopped, and then started yelling for Dave to get my ice axe. The fall cost me a bent and scratched pair of glacier glasses, cut face, and a black eye, not to mention dampened underwear.

July 7: Finally getting an early start (sunrise- just after 5 a.m.), we set off up Liberty Ridge. Dave started to lead up the central gully above Thumb Rock, and liked it so little he encouraged me to go around. He reported that the gully above was extremely icy. I climbed good 45-degree snow around the left side of the rock system and we met above.

After about 7 hours, we were well above the Black Pyramid, onto the Liberty Cap Glacier below the bergschrund. The preceding journey from Thumb Rock had been mostly straightforward snow climbing on moderate quality steep snow, with a distracting exposure of several thousand feet. There was nowhere to sit down.

At this point, we found that the snow above changed to thick ice. I led six full pitches of moderate ice, about 30 to 60 degrees for the most part, with some near-vertical sections 10 or 15 feet high. I’d say it was AI 2 or 2+; it held screws well and I placed several pickets (we had three long screws, four 2-foot pickets, and one ice tool each- the ice tool felt solid and the ice axe felt shaky). I used about 2-3 protection points per pitch aside from belay anchors. We both would have been too scared to solo this steep, icy, crevassed terrain with a 40-pound pack. On the last pitch I optimistically (or stupidly) put the screws away before climbing 10 feet over the vertical bergschrund; once above it I realized conditions were too tenuous not to protect, and too solid for a picket. Out came the screws again.

By about 6:30 (after 13 hours) we were on 14,100 foot Liberty Cap and I felt too tired to climb to Columbia Crest. Finding ourselves in a 30-mph wind, we found a relatively sheltered spot above Russell Cliff and pitched the tent. Between Liberty Cap and the camp, I postholed into two crevasses. My altimeter claimed we’d covered over 13,000 feet of vertical to this point. We cooked in the vestibule and slept in the next morning.

July 8: The next morning, while Dave ran up to the top of Columbia Crest I sat on the Emmons Glacier track and snacked, consoling myself that I’d already seen it. Then we trekked the 10,000 feet down to the White River Campground in about seven more hours, arriving about 7 p.m. I managed to fall while down climbing a crevasse lip, and tear a hole in my leg with a crampon. Dave held me up in the air like a fish with a nice boot-axe belay. Once in the parking lot, we looked for jumper cables to get the rental started- and then drove two hours to find transmission fluid for the folks who jumped the car. Once back in Seattle (near midnight) I packed, got two hours of sleep, and we left for our 5:50 a.m. flight.


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