| Mt. Rainier via Liberty Ridge
Vertical Gain: 10,100'
June 24th – Day #1 (White River Trailhead to Curtis Ridge)
The day began with us checking in with the Mt. Rainier Backcountry Office to pick-up our backcountry/climbing permit for our excursion. We probed the climbing ranger for any route beta and weather info, the most recent route beta was from several days ago that indicated rockfall was prevalent on the route. The climbing ranger also indicated that it had been unseasonably warm and the ridge may be "interesting". After attaining the permit, we proceeded to the White River Trailhead (4300') to begin packing our bags for the lofty journey.
Since the route involved carrying over and descending the Emmons Glacier, we decided that it was crucial that our backpacks did not exceed 45 pounds. While packing we had input from a guide stating that it was "nuclear up there", we of course took that with a "grain of salt". Having climbed Mt. Rainier (via Fuhrer Finger) before we both knew that Mt. Rainier is all about the weather that you are dealt. Upon completion of packing we estimated our packs to be hovering in the low forties, which was acceptable. We packed a weeks worth of fuel just in case "the sh&$ hit the fan".
We set off on the day's objective, Curtis Ridge Camp (7800') via the Glacier Basin and the Winthrop Glacier, which would entail gaining St. Elmo Pass (7400'). We cruised up the trail hitting patchy snow and eventually the travel turned into 100% snow travel. We gained St. Elmo Pass and donned our shell jackets since the wind had picked up and it began spitting. We proceeded to drop down onto the Winthrop Glacier and roped up for the impending crossing of the glacier. Just being the two us embarking on this climb, I was not terribly excited about crossing any glaciers, but sometime duty calls. We tied knots in the rope to provide additional friction if one were to decide to check the bowels of a crevasse.
View toward St. Elmo Pass
Crossing the Winthrop Glacier
Nearing the end of the Winthrop
The Winthrop Glacier crossing required a traverse of the glacier, which is not ideal, but most crevasses were identifiable as well as the snow bridges. The Winthrop crossing went without incident and soon we were at Curtis Ridge, which included our first views of Liberty Ridge. The ridge of course looked daunting, but was also aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
The first view of Liberty Ridge
Alpenglow on Liberty Ridge
After setting up camp, we spied our objective and notice the bottom of the ridge was melted out and not so "in". We determined that we would have to travel further up the Carbon Glacier and gain the ridge via its western flanks. This wasn't ideal since this would increase our exposure to the Liberty Wall and its icefall. After preparing for the next day's climb to Thumb Rock (10,400') we turned in for the night.
June 25th-Day #2 (Curtis Ridge to Thumb Rock)
We awoke to clear skies and calm winds perfect climbing conditions especially since we were on the northern slopes of Mt. Rainier. After breaking down camp we started searching for our access point to the Carbon Glacier, after some searching we found an established rappel anchor that would deposit us onto the glacier. After rappelling we geared up for glacier travel up the Carbon. Travel was quite easy since the snow was firm. As we proceeded up the glacier we noticed the escalation of rockfall as the morning temps warmed this caused us to expedite our journey up the Carbon.
The lower portion of Liberty Ridge
Since the lower portion of Liberty Ridge was melted out and looked like a scree nightmare we continued up the Carbon. This would require us to "run the gauntlet", which entailed a traverse under a serac so we could gain the western flanks of Liberty Ridge. The "running of the gauntlet" was slightly stressful and tiring.
Once out of harms way, well not really, we began the vertical ascent toward Thumb Rock. The ascent went quite quickly since the angle was hovering in the 45-50 degree range and the vertical gain was about 1300'.
Headin' toward Thumb Rock
We were at Thumb Rock in about 5 hours after departing Curtis Ridge. We set camp and spent the rest of day napping, melting snow, and kicking it.
June 26th-Day #3 (Summit Day)
We awoke once again to amazing weather….are we on Mt. Rainier??? We both wondered. Once again we broke down camp, and began the journey upward toward Liberty Cap (14,112') and then onto Columbia Crest (14,410'). The day would entail gaining over 4k feet and several pitches of ice.
Before leaving Thumb Rock you have a decision to make either to go left of the ridge(east) or right(west)….we opted for the left (east) version since the rock bands on the western flank of the ridge were melted out. The utmost attention was paid to the slopes above us so we didn't get decked by a meteor. We climbed roped together with each us carrying a Kiwi coils and short amount of slack between us. We continued upward toward the Black Pyramid, a rock formation, where we knew the ice pitches would begin. Upon reaching the Black Pyramid we took a break and geared up for the 55-60 degree ice pitches.
The view down valley
Brian embarked on the 1st ice pitch (crux) placing several screws for protection and eventually setting an anchor. The ice was a bit pumpy since we were carrying over and we were at about 13k.
The 1st ice pitch above the Black Pyramid
After several pitches of ice we were deposited back onto firm snow and ascended toward the bergschrund at 13,300', that would require another decision to be made.
Headin' for the bergschrund
We could either take the schrund head on or end run it….we opted for the end run. The end run required some gear to be placed since we were walking a plank between a serac and crevasse.
Which way now??
Once we succumbed the schrund we then tackled another ice pitch and we were allowed access to the final slopes of Liberty Cap.
The final ice pitch
The last steps before Liberty Cap
Finally, we gained the summit of Liberty Cap!!! The moment was trumped by the fact that we had another 1.5 miles and 800' vertical gain to Columbia Crest, which is Mt. Rainier true summit.
The slog to Columbia Crest was brutal since the angle had eased and we were gassed. We gained the summit, stayed for maybe a minute since the snow was whipping and it was getting late in the day. Never has a summit been so anti-climatic since we both had stood here about 3 years earlier and we were both exhausted.
Going into the climb we figured we would probably be camping in the crater, which came true since descending the Emmons in the dark was not an option. We set camp, struggled to get the stove to ignite, but eventually we got it going after some severe cursing. The wind whipped the tent all night not allowing for a pleasurable nights sleep.
June 27th-Day #4 (The Descent)
We awoke to voices and the crunching of the snow….the masses had arrived!!! We hadn't seen anybody in 2.5 days now there were about 20 people outside our tent. We proceeded to pack up camp and begin the 10k descent back to the trailhead.
Lower portion of the Emmons Glacier
We did a bit of wandering in effort to find the Emmons Route since there were know signs of a trail, but we eventually identified the descent route. The descent toward Camp Schurman was made a bit difficult due to the balling of snow in the crampons so the utmost care was employed to avoid incident. We arrived at Camp Schurman where we took a break and then headed for the Inter Glacier. The rest of the descent was mellow and relatively easy. Back at the trailhead we scorned ourselves for failing to stash any beer, and decided that that would never happen again.
All in all, the trip went amazingly well due to our experience, route conditions, and the amazing weather. This route could turn quite interesting if the weather turned or you were plunked by a rock. I also believe following the advice of Mark Twight "light and fast" made this climb more enjoyable and plausible. This climb definitely fulfilled its billing as a Fifty NA Classic.
More photos of the climb:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):