My buddies and I
have been climbing in the Washington Pass area since the seventies and during that time we kept scouting out possible new routes. Concord’s W Face kept intriguing me even though the lower section looked well above my abilities. While sitting directly above the Chimney pitch on Liberty Bell and belaying Tim Rashko up to me (early in the spring) I noticed some broken rock that looked to be climbable on Concord’s side of the LB-Concord gully. The broken section of rock led to a shelf (mostly snow covered) which completely split the W Face of Concord from N to S; this looked to be within my skill-level. When Tim arrived at the belay station I pointed out the possible route and he was eager to try it with me. We hurried up and finished the Beckey route (on LB) and rapped back down to the gully intent on trying our new find.
Down climbing and glissading the snow gully (about ½ the distance to its beginning) we found the broken rock section, since it was my idea I got the lead out of the gully. The climbing was moderate 5th class (5.6 or 5.7) and led up 100’+ to the large shelf we had noticed from Liberty Bell. Upon reaching the shelf I decided to bring Tim up so we could both make the decision on which direction to proceed. Directly above us was a vertical crack which looked to turn into a thin flake. Since it was now Tim’s lead I was all for this direction but he decided to traverse the shelf to the South and see if there was anything easier to climb. Tim led across the horizontal ramp and started up on some rounded and eroded cracks near the South side of the West Face. Keeping track of the rope (while Tim led) I called out to him that he had better find an anchor as he had twenty feet of rope left. Tim set up an anchor and belayed me over and up to him. His anchor was a single #5 hex in a rounded and flaring crack. The climbing above looked doable but the rock was somewhat eroded. Because the rock bulged out above us it was hard to see very far in that direction. We also couldn’t tell whether we would find any placements for protection and not wearing rock shoes but only our mountain boots the climbing seemed sketchy. We left the hex in position and rapped off of it down to the shelf below determined to come back later in the spring and be better prepared.
Liberty Bell Group from the West. From the left; Liberty Bell
, Concord Tower
, Lexington Tower
, North Early Winters Spire
and South Early Winters Spire
. Photo provided by leejams
Two weeks later I was ready for another try at the W Face but Tim couldn’t come along so I enlisted my good buddy Eric Sandbo
. I described the route to him and what Tim and I had found, thinking that we could push up beyond where Tim and I had stopped the first time. Eric’s always ready for an adventure so our plan was complete. In those days the peaks weren’t overrun with tourists, even though the weekend was upon us and the weather was excellent, we didn’t see any other parties in the area. After the short hike from the car up to the LB-Concord gully we found ourselves at the base of our new route. We quickly changed out of our boots and into our EBs and after I set up an anchor Eric led up the first pitch. I heard Off-Belay and shortly thereafter Belay’s-On and soon I was at Eric’s stance directly below the vertical crack Tim and I avoided two weeks earlier. Looking at the crack above me and then at Eric it seemed obvious to me that he wanted to go up this instead of traverse the shelf to where Tim and I had rapped off before. Not feeling very brave I explained that I thought that this looked a little over our heads but Eric replied that it was now my lead so perhaps it was only over my head. Unable to think up a witty reply (and save face) I took over the rack and checked out Eric’s anchor and then surveyed the route above.
The crack started directly up and was easy enough but turned into a crescent shaped thin flake about fifteen feet above Eric. The flake, opening to the left and bottoming-out shortly past my fingertips, went arching up and to the right on the wall as far as I could see above us. I started up (not very gallantly) putting protection in the section before the flake’s start and then (lie-backing) climbed the flake. The first twenty or thirty feet went quickly enough but now I needed to get another piece of protection in because if I fell I would certainly crash onto the shelf below Eric’s belay anchor. I had only a few Friends on my rack but plenty of Stoppers and Hexes, saving the Friends for later I was able to cam a smaller Hex behind the flake and feeling more confident continued up. Every twenty or thirty feet I would try and place another hex or stopper and continue climbing. After climbing up 100’ or so I looked down to see how far I had come and every piece I had previously placed was 15’ above Eric, caught by the first piece I had placed, after sliding down the rope. I yelled down to Eric about my situation but he explained that he didn’t want to alarm me so he had kept the information to himself. Now I was getting pumped from both the layback and the length of time assuming the position and I seriously needed a piece to hold. Finding my #2 friend I quickly placed it behind the flake and it seemed to hold.
Looking up I could see the flake I was climbing continued arching up and right to the bottom of a roof from which I could see no way above. The rock was starting to get wet (snowmelt seeping from above) and the friction of my EBs on the rock wall was less than perfect, my fingers were also slipping slightly from the dampness. Climbing the flake another thirty feet or so I was able to find another crack which angled up and to the left and looked like it ended at a possible ledge. I was able to place another friend in the flake before I made the transition move from lie-back to jamming the new crack. The new crack wasn’t perfect but my pumped muscles were ready for any change. Eric kept me informed of the rope length left and we were down to single digits. I needed at least ten feet (of rope) to reach the ledge and whatever extra to make an anchor also. As I jammed up the final few feet Eric worked all the slack out of his anchor and gained us enough extra rope for me to possibly reach the ledge. The crack I was jamming narrowed near the top but when I reached up high I was able to slot my wrist into the crack and found that it flared out behind forming a perfect (Thank God) bomb-proof hand jam. Realizing that I was now secure I whooped and then one-handed mantled onto the ledge, now out of rope. I quickly placed my #10 Hex for a bomb-proof anchor and then (spent but elated) started belaying Eric up to me, life was great.
When Eric reached me we rested on the spacious ledge looking above us at the continuation of our route. Since it was now Eric’s lead I wasn’t too concerned about the climbing (above) knowing that he was fully up to the task. I relaxed on the ledge, paying out the rope as it snaked behind Eric, as he led up. The climbing above us was certainly fun and interesting with plenty of variety both of protection placements and of climbing techniques needed, it just wasn’t as intense as the pitch we had just finished. In one spot Eric was able to run a sling through a hole in the rock and tie off the fin for a perfect natural protection placement. After following Eric’s enjoyable lead I was able to continue on another of similar quality but slightly shorter. This lead was the final one and finished with some face climbing to the summit.
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