Monday, June 22, 2009

Liberty Ridge June 1-4, 2009

I recently had the pleasure of climbing Liberty Ridge, one of Mt Rainier’s more challenging routes, for International Mountain Guides. The following is a brief synopsis of our trip and the current route conditions.

Liberty Ridge, located on the north side of Mt Rainier, is not particularly easy to access. We approached the route from White River campground via St Elmo’s Pass. There is a photo below of one of the locals we saw on the trail. After about 4 hours of travel to reach the pass we dropped down to cross the Winthrop glacier and finally crossed the broad Curtis Ridge to reach camp (7350') on the edge of ridge just before the Carbon Glacier. It took us another 3 hours of travel without gaining any altitude to complete this long traverse.

No sooner than we had set up our tents at this first camp it began to hail and then rain. This pattern of the group’s timing being impeccable would continue throughout the climb.

On June 2nd we moved from camp on Curtis Ridge to our high camp at Thumb Rock (10,350’).  We were up and climbing at first light in order to minimize our exposure to rockfall. We accessed Liberty ridge by climbing one of the first gullies on the west side of the ridge. Once on the ridge the snow was once again very conducive to post-holing much to the group’s dismay. Skip claims he will be naming the next beer he brews after this unpleasant form of travel but I cannot repeat the name here. Everyone stuck with it and we were in camp by 12:30 leaving lots of time to relax and prepare for tomorrow’s summit climb.


On June 3rd we were up early and climbing by 4am. Other than a light wind the weather was perfect and everyone was excited to climb. The snow directly above camp was still somewhat soft but began to firm up as we got a little higher. Throughout the day we did a mixture of climbing together and pitching it out. 

Once we reached the Black Pyramid we hit the ice, which makes this route more challenging. Everyone pulled out their second ice tool and up we went. After several pitches of low angle ice we were able to walk together again to the base of the Bergschrund. If you talk to anyone about Liberty Ridge you are sure to hear about “the Bergschrund.” This is the steepest portion of the route. Above the Bergschrund there are another 4 pitches of climbing to reach the gentler summit slopes. 

The group stood together on Liberty Cap at 4:30 PM after 12 .5 hours of climbing. We took a few photos and then headed down the Emmons route to Camp Schurman. After sleeping in the next morning we descended from camp, as a lenticular cloud formed over the summit.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

John, Vance, and Nick off Denali

We are all off the mountain and the 2009 Northwest Mountain School Denali trip has come to an end.  We feel very lucky to have made the top and not be stuck at 17,200 waiting for a summit window.

I will post more details in a few days, but the short version is as follows:

Starting last Monday we noticed an opportunity in the weather forecast and moved up in windy, but warm, conditions on Tuesday.  Wednesday began as a slightly windy, but workable summit day and we went for it.  The summit climb was more comfortable than many past trips.  We experienced moderate winds making the turn near Archdeacon's Tower, and then again on the summit ridge.  All in all, it was a pleasant summit day.  Vance Checketts climbed very strongly and we were able to reach the summit in 6 hours, spend 45 minutes on top, and then descend in 2 hours 45 minutes for a total RT time of 9.5 hours.

On the descent Vance urged Nick and I to keep going at each camp and we went from 17K to base camp in a bit over 12 hours, something I had never even attempted in my 18 previous Denali expeditions.

As soon as we hit Talkeetna Vance headed for the Anchorage airport so that he can rejoin his family in Utah, and Nick and I sorted out the gear in Talkeetna.  

We all want to express our thanks to Cindy Outlaw, Larry Sanford, Phil Nicoletti, and guide, Ian Nicholson.  You all were great teammates and we wish you could have joined us on top, but understand the processes that led to the schedule not working out.  

Waited, Summitted and back in Talkeetna

Hi All,

Sorry for the break in communication. I have been guiding Liberty Ridge and out of the loop. 

The team endured a 9 day stay in bad weather at 14,200' camp.  Unfortunately Phil and Larry's schedules forced them to make the tough decision to leave the trip and they flew off of the mountain with Ian.

On June 2nd the weather finally broke enough to allow John, Vance and Nick to move to high camp at 17,200'. There were still winds above them when they arrived but they made camp in good time and rested up in hopes being able to make a summit bid the next day. Their effort paid off on June 3rd when after only 6 hours of climbing from 17 camp they reached the summit at 3 PM AK time. It was windy on top but they were able to take photos and make a phone call before heading down. 

After all that time on the mountain and the summit behind you all you can think about is getting back to civilization with it's good food, warm showers and family & friends. The team moved from high camp to the airstrip in one push, we usually split this into 2 sections but they must have been particularly motivated.  The mountain was not quite ready to say goodbye and they got to sit out a little more bad weather at base camp yesterday before flying off this morning. 

Now all there is left to do is eat, shower, eat, dry gear, eat more and fly home.