Updated Liberty Bell Group conditions

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Updated Liberty Bell Group conditions

by AlexeyD » Fri Jul 13, 2012 12:06 am

Climbed the trade routes on Liberty Bell and South Early Winter Spire this past weekend. Here are some general points:


Blue Lakes Trail is still about 50% snow-covered, but melting out fast. There are a couple of sections where the trail is a bit hard to follow, but not too bad - just look around carefully and you'll find it. For the off-trail approach to the spires: there are numerous boot tracks that lead left and up into the woods from the trail. All will eventually take you to the base of the spires, but some will take much longer than others. DO NOT take the first set of tracks climbing up from the first clearing - this will involve a prolonged bushwhack and will make the approach a very substantial effort. Instead, continue to the second clearing and follow tracks over snow that will soon take you to a steep, but well-trodden and occasionally cairned climbers' trail that follows a sometimes wet gully. Eventually this ends and you will be forced back onto snow. At this point I would recommend trending right a bit, following signs of passage, until you come to a well-worn boot track going up into the basin below the spires. Here, head left for the Liberty Bell approach gully, or right for the Early Winters spires.


From the basin below the spires, head up and left across snow and talus until you're in the leftmost major gully. Do not follow the gully directly upward, but instead keep heading up and left until you hit a small rib with heather and talus. A decent climber's trail heads up this and onto snow in the upper gully, avoiding a major rock step that one encounters in the main gully (we made this mistake on our ascent of the approach gully, and ended up having to belay over the rock step. Going this way certainly adds spice to the whole adventure, but adds considerable time to the approach). Above the rock rib, steep snow (40-45 degrees in parts) leads upward, eventually petering out to very loose scree and talus a couple hundred feet below the notch. Note that snow is rapidly melting away in this gully, and dangerous undermined sections exist; use caution. Fortunately the snow is usually quite soft by afternoon, making descents fairly easy (we did not, nor see anyone else, use crampons), and you will likely find a good boot track in place. All this said, do not underestimate the approach - we found it to be in many ways the most difficult part of the whole climb.


From the basin below the spires, head up and right on snow, aiming for the flat ridge that joins South Early Winters Spire and Blue Lake Peak. At some point, you will need to negotiate a steep headwall a couple hundred feet high that leads to another bench below the Early Winters. We did this via a small snow finger that was rapidly melting away and had water flowing uncomfortably close to where the boot track went...it is likely that at this point, other means will be required to gain the upper bench. Once on this bench the way up is pretty obvious, and you may take one of many options depending on whether you prefer snow or loose rock.


Both routes are snow-free and dry at this point, except for one very small snowbank on the south arete of SEWS, on one of the flat sections, that can easily be bypassed. On the Beckey Route, a decent rappel anchor (two fairly new slings around a slung block) is currently in place above the 5.7 slab move on the fourth pitch, so downclimbing this is not required to reach the rappel route. Rappel slings and rings also exist at the top of the first and second pitches, so retreat is possible from here (although I would treat the tree above pitch 2 with some caution - I was pretty happy to have it backed up with a 0.5 Camalot while belaying off it). On the South Arete, numerous rappel anchors exist as well, including a two-bolt anchor above the first pitch. The bolt in the middle of the whale's back is also in place. All of the anchor trees seemed solid enough, though some of the slings could probably stand to be backed up or replaced soon. The upper portion of the Southwest Couloir is totally melted out and very loose - I highly recommend staying up on the ridge crest to the right instead of cutting across the couloir as we saw many do. On the way down, it's possible to rappel across the couloir from a tree just below the summit block, minimizing the length of time spent in this unpleasant garbage chute.

All in all, the area is rapidly transitioning to summer, but there is still a huge amount of snow in the area...things are very much in a transitional period. so be prepared for a variety of conditions, occasionally hazardous (undermined snow, etc.). Good luck and enjoy!

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