“Where the hell is Dugald?”, I thought to myself as I waited in the arrivals section of the Vancouver airport. “Where the hell is Aaron?, thought Dugald, as he drove around the front of the airport for the third time. In retrospect, I guess we should have discussed what picking me up at the airport meant. I thought it meant he would meet me at arrivals; he thought it meant I’d meet him in the front of the airport. The fact that Dugald is never on time for anything, didn’t help the situation (I thought he was late, as usual).
We finally did hook up and headed off to the US border, on our way down to the Liberty Bell formation in central Washington. Our main goal was to climb “Liberty Crack”, but we were going to do some of the other climbs on the formation first with the goal of eventually working our way up to the “Crack”.
Voyeurism and the South Arête
The first night we camped at the nice campground a few miles east of Liberty Bell. Our first climb the next day was going to be the South Arête on the South Early Winter Spire. We hiked up from the “hairpin” corner (a major hopping off place for a number of the Liberty Bell routes) encountering a very curious mountain goat and her kid. The kid came to within 10 feet of us at one point.
When we did arrive at the base of the route, there was one other party ahead of us. The first pitch is the only pitch that has any real technical difficulties, and unfortunately the party in front of us was having those difficulties. They eventually did get up the first pitch and Dug and I got on the route. We pitched out the first pitch and simu-climbed the rest of the route (the party in front of us were very nice and let us pass them right away). We arrived at the summit about an hour later and hung out there for quite awhile (knowing that the descent route is the same as the ascent, and not wanting to again bother the party we’d passed). We down-climbed the entire route, except for the first pitch. Again, unfortunately for us, a mountaineering club trip from Seattle had arrived and there were about 6 parties cued up for the route. We hung out at the top of the first pitch for about an additional hour (waiting to rappel), while another party struggled with the first pitch. Eventually, we found a break in the action, and rapped.
The trip down was fairly uneventful until we were about 10 minutes from the highway and we met this very cute, very friendly girl (from Bend, Oregon) walking up the trail in a sundress and sandals. We stopped and talked with her for about 10 minutes and then she followed us back down to the highway. She told us she was heading off down the creek to go for a swim. We said good-bye and started sorting gear, re-hydrating, and generally relaxing. About 15 minutes later Dug says “Holy cow, I think that girl’s naked”. Sure enough, we could see her about 300 yards away, naked and in the creek.
To any women who may be reading this, I apologize in advance, but basically you have to know that if you’re naked in a public place, we’re men and we’re going to try to look at you. Our next move wasn’t something that would make our mothers proud, but basically we tore apart our vehicle looking for the one pair of binoculars we knew were in there somewhere. We both wanted to be the first to find them. Dugald won this battle, and got the binos up. This is when karma played its hand – her big, hairy, naked, boyfriend walked into the picture; this put an abrupt end to our voyeurism.
East Buttress Direct - South Early Winter Spire
The next day we climbed the “East Buttress Direct “on South Early Winter Spire. This is a very aesthetic 8 pitch route that goes at 5.11 (or 5.10/A1) and climbs the steep buttress on the east side of South Early Winter Spire. We had gotten up very early in the morning determined to be the first on the route – we speed hiked the approach, starting in the dark and arriving just as it was getting light. As we were approaching the start, Dugald noticed something up on the wall. We couldn’t believe our eyes; someone was bivied on the ledge at the top of the third pitch. To add insult to injury, two more climbers were about 300 yards below us and heading up fast. We quickly racked up and Dugald took the first lead; I took the second, and Dugald the third. The third pitch is a dandy – a left facing sustained 5.9 corner, which ends on a nice ledge. By the time Dug had reached the top of the first pitch I had company from the party below us. It hardly mattered though, because the two guys bivied on the ledge, were just starting to climb when I arrived. By the time all of us were on the ledge, they were still leading (aiding) their first pitch.
Now we recognized the guys behind us were going to be faster than us, so we told them they could go ahead of us. We perhaps wouldn’t have been so nice if we had of known we were going to be on this ledge, waiting for the “bivy boys” for three hours (I’m not exaggerating). These guys were carrying a huge haul bag, which they continually got stuck. After the guys we let pass had left, we’d been on that ledge for over 4 hours. Finally, we started climbing again.
The next pitch went at 5.11 or A1 – Dug freed some of it, and then tugged on a few bolts; I did the same. When we got to the top of this pitch, the “bivy boys” were still there – they kindly let us go by. I led the next pitch, a 5.10+ pitch with the crux protected by some bolts – I freed it with one minor slip. When I got to the top and brought Dug up, he was dragging another rope. The bivy boys realized they might be out there another night if they didn’t hurry up and had asked him to fix their rope for them.
The remaining pitches were moderate, with one of them involving a kind of scary down-climbing move. We down-climbed the South Arête route and then headed back to the vehicle. While glissading down the steep snow chutes I slipped, and actually had to perform an honest-to-goodness self arrest; the friggin thing worked too. By the time we packed up the vehicle and left, it was about 8:30. The bivy boys still had another few pitches to go.
The Becky Route
The next day we climbed the Becky Route, which we wanted to do for the fun and the history. More sneakily, we also wanted to scope the descent for when we did Liberty Crack. The Becky Route was a fun, moderate route. As luck would have it though, we got our ropes stuck rappelling and had to re-lead the rappel route to get them unstuck. Got an extra pitch of climbing though, I suppose.
That night Dug and I went over our plan for climbing Liberty Crack. At lot of this planning went into figuring out how to aid climb; something neither of us had ever done. We had bought a couple of aiders and had a book – between the two of us, we figured we’d learned enough on the picnic table that night to get us by the next day (or so we’d hoped). Our plan was to make the climb in one day from the bottom (12 pitches)
The following morning, we started hiking in the dark and arrived at the base about 30 minutes after first light. We immediately noticed two fixed ropes hanging from the climb. Someone had obviously fixed the first 4 pitches.
After some tenuous delicate climbing up the snow/ice at the base of the route, we racked up and started the first serious pitch (5.11 or A1) – Dugald led this pitch. Keep in mind, we’d never aided anything before. We were introduced to one of the things all experienced aid climbers know; once you start aiding it’s really hard to stop (and start free climbing again). Dugald is a good enough climber to have freed this entire pitch (I freed it with a pack on), but once he got aiding, he couldn’t stop himself. It took a long time – I got eaten alive by mosquitoes and grumpy.
The next pitch is the famous “Lithuanian Lip” – a 10 foot horizontal roof. This is where I did my first aid climb – aid climbing is fun; and I found out what Dug did, once you start, it’s hard to stop. The following pitch was rated A2 or A3, depending on which guidebook you looked at, but in reality it’s pretty much A1, because all the pieces are fixed. Somewhere between these first three pitches, the guys with the fixed ropes, jugged by us – we never saw them again for the rest of the day.
The 10' roof on the Lithuanian Lip on the second pitch of Liberty Crack
The 4th pitch is a straight-in 5.10 crack – I led this and found it pretty burly. I ended up pulling on a few pieces to get me through a difficult section. The pitch after this climbs a left facing corner, and is long and very sustained. Dug took a long time leading this pitch, and I was starting to get worried about how slow we were going. We hadn’t encountered one pitch where you could really move fast. The next pitch changed that – it was a pretty mellow 5.7 and I was able to run it out a bit and make up some time.
The 7th pitch is often called the rotten block pitch – it can go free at 5.10 or can be aided at A1/A2. Dug aided both of the harder section but was considerably faster – perhaps he was getting good at it; after all this was his third aiding pitch of the day (and his life). I led the next pitch, a short 5.9 pitch and Dug tackled the 9th pitch, a 5.6 chimney system. The last pitch, was the nicest of the route, and climbed long a left facing ramp/corner, with a couple of steep crux moves. The last climbing was more of a scramble up a bunch of ledges – kind of a disappointing end to a spectacular climb.
The descent proved uneventful, as we knew exactly where we were going from our climb of the Becky Route the day before. By the time we’d hiked out and walked back to our car it was about 9:30 p.m. and just about dark.
The next day, our hands were bloodied and bruised, and having accomplished what we set out to do, we headed home.