Liberty Cap Beating #1: Liberty Ridge

Liberty Cap Beating #1: Liberty Ridge

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jul 17, 2011
Activities Activities: Mountaineering, Ice Climbing
Seasons Season: Summer

July 15-18, 2011

Mt Rainier - Liberty Ridge (III-IV, 55 degree snow/ice, AI2/WI2) This July I climbed Liberty Ridge on Mt Rainier with Eric, a local Washington climber that I had met on Despite having great weather in late June, the Pacific Northwest was suffering from lingering winter weather in mid-July, and winter conditions persisted on many routes in the Cascades. Since I was only in town for two weeks, I was willing to put up with a mediocre forecast in order to get up on the route and hopefully catch a weather window. Though we had originally planned to do the climb Thursday-Saturday, the NOAA point forecast got us to shift the climb to Friday-Sunday so that we'd have the best weather on Sunday. Friday morning the forecast called for a good chance of rain & snow the first two days, and "Mostly Sunny" for Sunday and beyond. Two days of putting up with rain & snow until weather cleared or we popped above the clouds seemed an all right price to pay to catch the weather window Sunday. To be safe, we would also carry enough food & fuel for 5 days for the 3 day climb in case weather delayed us on the climb. We also brought a GPS with pre-recorded waypoints for the approach, climb, and descent. This proved valuable on the climb.
Liberty Ridge - Route Topo
Liberty Ridge - Route Topo

Friday - The Weather Ain't That Bad!

Despite the 'bad' forecast, it was actually pretty clear on Mt Rainier.
Mt Rainier seen near White River turnoff
Little Tahoma PkLittle Tahoma Pk
We had nice views of the lower mountain on the approach to lower Curtis Camp, and visibility was not a problem on the Winthrop Glacier.
St Elmo s Pass
The only source of moisture on our gear was from perspiration this day as it felt hot & humid.
Lower Winthrop Glacier
We made camp at about 7,400' on lower Curtis Ridge and enjoyed some rock slabs that were perfect for lounging and taking in the views. Since we expected it to be cloudy that night, I decided to make use of the weight of the DSLR I hauled in and took artsy photos of the Carbon Glacier.
Carbon Glacier
Carbon Glacier
Carbon Glacier
Carbon Glacier
Carbon Glacier
Liberty Ridge & Thumb Rock in the parting clouds
As the evening wore on the clouds parted and we were fortunate enough to get a clear view of the north side of Mt Rainier. Considering the forecast, I had been prepared to miss out on this, so it was a great surprise!
Thar She Blows!Thar She Blows!
Sweet Lounging slabs at Lower Curtis Ridge Camp
The north side of Mt Rainier

Saturday - Should We Keep Climbing?

Lower Liberty Ridge - Route Topo
We woke to the soft pitter-patter of rain on the tent walls. Time to get wet. We started climbing under a light rain, but fortunately I never needed to use the waypoints I had put into my GPS. Clouds were either below us or above us the entire time, so visibility was fine on the Carbon Glacier. Rain turned to snow as we neared the toe. We had hoped to take the direct variation to Thumb Rock on the west side, but we couldn't find a way through the crevasses and were forced to endure about a pitch of unprotectable skice and slush mixed into a vertical gravel slurry to gain the toe from the east.
Our route onto the toe of Liberty Ridge
Fortunately as we wrapped around the sketch factor decreased, though for about half of the ascent we had shallow snow mixed in with the loose rock. As we neared Thumb Rock I came across one chute that was dribbling out rocks every minute or so. I made sure to sprint across this section!
Route variations form Thumb Rock Camp (10,760 )
We made it to Thumb Rock a little later than hoped, but still plenty early in the day. We napped and managed to get our clothes dried during the sunny intervals as the tide of clouds washed in over Mt Rainier, and then receded, over and over again.
WI3 Variation of Liberty RidgeThe WI3 Center Variation Above Thumb Rock Camp.
Will it Kill me  WallWilli't Kill You' Wall Provided Good Background Noise for Our Camp
The plan for the next day was to start climbing by 3am to get us over the Cap and down to the TH at a respectable hour, but when Eric checked the updated forecast on his phone, he saw that our "Mostly Sunny" weather window had changed to "80% chance of snow, 1-3" @ 13k'". Yikes! We were tempted to pack up camp then and there and just keep climbing while it was still clear and sunny, but we were tired, relaxed, and decided that since the weather was forecast to move in later in the morning, we'd wake at midnight and be climbing shortly after 1am to beat the weather.

Sunday - We Should Have Kept Climbing

Upper Liberty Ridge - Route Topo
Climbing was great under a bright moon, and although we climbed in darkness, we had nice views of Seattle and the north side of Mt Rainier as we ascended. As we got higher we encountered more early-season conditions as the hard neve/ice often had a layer of fresh snow on top. Sometimes we could crampon, but often we were kicking steps calf deep and sometimes knee deep in the snow to make steps or reach purchase in the ice beneath. This was hard work and slowed our ascent more than expected. We took turns breaking trail, swinging leads about 6 times on the route. The weather was still clear as the sun rose shortly after we rounded the Black Pyramid to ascend the slopes above Willis Wall. I took my sole climbing picture of the day then, as by the time we reached the top of the Black Pyramid, the storm had already broken.
Eric nearing the top of Black Pyramid at sunriseEric Nearing the Top of the Black Pyramid
Me nearing the top of Black Pyramid at sunriseMe following below the top of the Black Pyramid at sunrise. Storm arrival t-minus 1 hour.
We moved at a snail's pace as we tired from the elevation and soft snow, but the snow kept getting softer and deeper. As I traversed over to the bergschrund crux, I was often digging through waist deep snow, right up to the ice pitch. By this time it was snowing hard and the wind was blowing around 30-40 mph. The ice pitch had a continual dumping of windblown snow that was sluffing off the slopes above. I got thoroughly drenched from these pervasive ice crystals as I climbed 1 pitch of ice through the whiteout, stopping every time snow poured down on me to brace myself and cinch up my hood. This pitch normally would have been pretty easy but conditions definitely added to the stress factor! Eric took the next trailbreaking lead and found another nice pitch of sustained 40 degree ice. Though exhausted at this point, I welcomed the ice for the break it provided from the soft snow. Plus it was fun! I finished another pitch of ice to the top of the route. Unfortunately here the wind gusts picked up and visibility dropped to near zero. We had difficulty reaching the top of the Cap as a large bergschrund stopped us less than 100 ft from the top. Going left, it grew larger, so we backtracked to the right and end-ran it and were shortly on top of Liberty Cap. The problem at this point was that we could barely see the snow 1 or 2 steps in front of us. Despite having our waypoints for descent set in the GPS, that only helped us for the larger scale routefinding. We realized that we could easily walk off a cliff or into a crevasse with the visibility as bad as it was. We were both thoroughly soaked and becoming mildly hypothermic. I was covered in rime ice, already had the "umbles" and was beginning to get the "stumbles" and both Eric and I had been shivering non-stop for the past 3 or 4 hours. The last forecast we had seen showed the weather to dissipate Monday, so we decided it was best to set up shelter on the Cap to get warm & rested, and attempt to descend once visibility improved a bit more. We dug a platform into the bergschrund wall that we had end-run and I built up some hardy wind walls. Despite the howling wind, the BD First Light we were using was pretty calm, and our biggest complaint was being buried from snow drifting over our tent. Eric took initiative and shoveled snow off the tent a couple of times throughout the night. Everything in our packs was saturated, including our sleeping bags. Luckily neither of us was using down loft! We melted more water and spent the night gradually rewarming as we slept in our soggy bags and clothes.
Liberty Ridge - Liberty Cap - Route Topo

Monday - The Sorry Soggy Slog

The First Light still stands!The First Light survived the storm!
Rime covered ski poleRime covered snow pole.
Hooray! We could now see about 20-50 feet! We were up early, packed up camp, and began navigating to our waypoints to bypass the Columbia Crest and GET DOWN. It felt like we were going pretty slow, but we actually made pretty decent time through the 50 mph gusts and whiteout as we found the right way off the Cap and around the Crest. There was still tension in the air as we climbed, as all of the fresh windblown snow hid the crevasses pretty well. I punched into two as we descended the Cap. The first one was large enough that I stopped my fall by hooking the far side with my tool and stemming my legs. I ratcheted back up, rolled onto the near edge, then jumped across to keep up the pace. Barely a setback at this point.
Descending the Emmons Glacier in Whiteout ConditionsStill covered in rime and annoyed as I climbed out of my second and smaller punch-in. I got much more thorough with my pole probing after this.
We did get held up briefly in the seracs atop the Winthrop Glacier, as apparently you can't traverse straight over to the Emmons from the height of the saddle connecting the Cap & Crest (oops). For future reference, you still need to ascend a couple hundred feet up the Crest to bypass the seracs & 'schrund before dropping back town towards the Emmons Glacier.
GPS Track of Our Liberty Cap Crossing in the Whiteout
Gradually the skies cleared and we found the Emmons Glacier wands. I put away the GPS, put my brain into autopilot mode (with the crevasse-search feature still engaged), and at last began a relaxed descent. I finally stopped shivering as we got more sunshine through the blowing clouds. Sadly the Inter-Glacier was too slushy for any real glissading, but we made good time rushing down the trail as thoughts of Doritos and beer in the car kept me at a steady 3mph clip.
Despite being thoroughly trashed, I headed back to Mt Rainier the following weekend to climb Ptarmigan Ridge, a longer, harder, and arguably more classic route than Liberty Ridge. The weather forecast was much better for this climb, but Liberty Cap wasn't done with me yet.


Gear Notes

We brought 4 screws & 2 pickets between us. This was more than sufficient.

Approach Notes

The Carbon Glacier was getting more broken up when we crossed it. We had to do a large end run to the far west side of the glacier at the beginning, and we couldn't find a route around the toe of Liberty Ridge. The rock on Liberty Ridge's toe was very melted out and best avoided if possible. It was some of the most dangerously loose rock I have ever climbed. Rocks were also falling off the ridge crest regularly just below Thumb Rock.


Report on Personal Website Just in case I didn't put in enough photos in this TR, you can see more of them here. :-P Trip Report of the following weekend: Liberty Cap Beating #2: Ptarmigan Ridge


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-5 of 5

jpsmyth - Apr 4, 2012 1:13 am - Voted 10/10


Great trip report. Thanks.


PellucidWombat - Apr 5, 2012 3:07 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Motivating

I'm glad you enjoyed it!


LuminousAphid - May 14, 2013 12:51 pm - Hasn't voted

Reading more of these...

"We were both thoroughly soaked and becoming mildly hypothermic. I was covered in rime ice, already had the "umbles" and was beginning to get the "stumbles" and both Eric and I had been shivering non-stop for the past 3 or 4 hours."

"he saw that our "Mostly Sunny" weather window had changed to "80% chance of snow, 1-3" @ 13k'"...We were tempted to pack up camp then and there and just keep climbing"

...and I officially take back my comment regarding no one having the right to question your decisions. Some of your decisions, which you openly admit to but don't seem to see any problem with, are far from the best ones. I think your experience in more "extreme" mountaineering has left you with an overconfidence and a skewed sense of risk assessment. This shows in what mrchad pointed out in your 2010 Shasta report when you stated that you didn't feel you had anything to learn since you did everything right, and then there's this little gem:

"There are some valuable lessons for other climbers to learn from the tragedy as well – the decisions I made that got me down the mountain alive."

How about lessons on when to turn back (even if it's before you summit)? When to realize that the weather might come earlier than you expected? When to decide, "Maybe I shouldn't be doing this in the first place, too many unknowns"? mrchad is totally right, you are arrogant and have too much confidence in your superiority over mother nature. This is why people think mountaineering is unreasonably risky and dangerous, because people like you often make bad decisions which put you and your partners at risk

edit: also if you are going to flaunt with epics, do it in your own mountains. We already have enough people needing rescue around here each and every year


PellucidWombat - Jun 3, 2013 2:32 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Reading more of these...

"This is why people think mountaineering is unreasonably risky and dangerous"

Well there we go, this is the point where we can agree to disagree, and on this point I can't/won't argue with you because it is a personal decision on what risks are worth doing, and what risks are careless versus being reasonably prepared and living life. At this level, I can only say each of us is entitled to our own opinions and I can't judge you deciding it is too risky to do much mountaineering. It is risky, and you can't rule out risk, only be prepared to mitigate it and still even then, take a change. My attitude is you do that in many other ways that you don't elevate to the same level as something as 'flashy' as climbing, and the rewards I get out of it are worth the price. I have probably had as many (or more) near death encounters on my road bike than in the mountains from careless drivers (I almost got T-boned last week when I had the right-of-way). In fact, the closest I personally came to dying, related to a climb, was DRIVING back from Mt Shasta when a car was driving the wrong way on the freeway, straddling both lane lines. Good thing I wasn't dabbling on my smart phone on that straightaway, or otherwise distracted while driving . . .

If we were overconfident about Liberty Ridge than we would have only brought supplies for the 3 days we expected to climb it in. We expected the possibility of a storm hitting us high on the mountain, even with a good forecast, and prepared for it. The weather forecast changed drastically after we had left (which is common, and we were prepared for, hence 5 days' provisions for a 3-day climb, and a good GPS with waypoints previous marked), and us knowing about it was an unexpected (and very modern) convenience. We were high enough on the route that it was debatable whether bailing was safer than pushing up and over and leaving sooner to get through the worst before the weather broke.

I really don't see how you think we were overconfident in that once we saw that we were beginning to get hypothermic, and that a GPS track wasn't sufficient for safe travel in the storm, we decided to stop while still in control, warm up, hydrate, eat, rest, and wait until conditions were safer to travel (knowing that no system was heading our way, just lots of regional instability in the forecast - as per the NOAA forecast discussion). We stopped while in control, got better, and as soon as conditions were safer to travel, we navigated down the whiteout without incident. I can point out many many ways this could have gone badly, but didn't, if had not been prepared or charged ahead once things got bad. ANAM is full of them and we were fully aware of what has happened before.

"also if you are going to flaunt with epics, do it in your own mountains. We already have enough people needing rescue around here each and every year"

Yeah, you really showed how closely you looked at these reports about us outsiders in 'your' mountains. Tom was from Vancouver, Nastia was from Portland, and Eric was from Olympia you jackass. And what exactly are 'my' mountains?

I'm not arrogant. I've personally had a number of acquaintances and friends maimed or killed in the mountains over the past 6 years (NOT with me, as Chad would claim), and every one makes the dangers that much more salient, but I don't pine about it online to an audience. But perhaps I come across as arrogant because I don't give respect to POS like you. If you really cared in talking on a sincere level, I am just a PM away, and you can start by directly asking me questions in a constructive or clarifying way, and not throwing prior judgments and accusations at me from incomplete or vague information. I have had many such conversations with people in PMs or in person and I HAVE adjusted either how I do things, or how I view things, after having such discussions. One small example is even though it wouldn't have helped Tom, I was convinced to put in the time and money to get trained and certified as a Wilderness First Responder, as this can make such a huge difference on any outing in the backcountry or high on a rock wall - and I intend to keep up with my certification. I show much more humility and genuine feelings and doubts to those people because they approached me with respect and as a decent human beings - there no need to launch into public attacks with half-assed accusations that show your lack of sensitivity. In those cases I am not inclined to talk to you respectfully, openly, or seriously. That's not arrogance, that is just weeding out all of the obvious BS.

pchernik - Apr 5, 2014 6:23 pm - Hasn't voted


Thanks for the great trip report!

Viewing: 1-5 of 5



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