Liberty Bell (7720ft)
SW Face/Beckey Route (5.6)
October 22, 2009
Washington Pass in the fall is a special place with the first dustings of snow and the golden larch trees, so Loren Miller, Bryon Free, Andrew Marvel, and I braved the fall weather to climb some classics! Bryon and I met Loren and Andrew in Sedro Wooley then caravaned to Lyman where we had a great breakfast at the Old Mill. This roadside cafe used to be called the "Lyman Cafe" and if you arrived before 8am, all the breakfasts were $2.49! Sadly, the great breakfast deal went with the old ownership, but the food is still great!
With his new job, Andrew bought an awesome new Toyota Tacoma TRD truck so this was its first of many future trips to the mountains. We arrived at the Blue Lake trailhead around 10:30am, and quickly sorted our gear and packed up for our climb. There were many decisions to made as to what footwear to bring since there was still snow on the trail in places. Loren and I chose our approach shoes, while Bryon and Andrew went with their hiking and mountaineering boots.
Soon we were on the trail making our way up to the turnoff for the climbers trail up to the towers. There were a few hikers on the trail who were interested in where we were going with our climbing gear.
"All the way to the top?"
"That's the plan!
If the snow on the surrounding mountains and the hiker's skeptical responses dampened our spirits, it didn't show. We were happy to be together in the mountains at the start of a classic climb in this amazing rock cathedral !
From my previous trips to LB I was able to keep to the climbers trail and not veer off. As a result we made quick progress up to the col. The gulley leading up between Liberty Bell and Concord Tower had about three inches of snow in it which made the footing somewhat slick. Because of the snow we belayed from the col, across the slab and onto the corner where the route begins. This was probably the most difficult part of the entire climb. We could see that the upper pitches were snowfree. About 20 feet up the first pitch, I stopped and set up a belay and brought Bryon across. Bryon and I tried to climb as quickly as the conditions allowed but Andrew and Loren got pretty cold waiting at the col and decided to just hike back down to warm up. Bryon and I chatted with them as they descended since the narrow gulley provided great acoustics.
The snow on the route and the brisk air made it feel like a proper alpine climb. Love it! Bryon and I made steady progress up the second pitch with it's awkward chimney. Bryon has done a lot of cragging and sport climbing, but this was his first alpine climb and he did great. Rock climbing in boots and gloves isn't for everyone, but his time living and ice climbing in Alaska made today's climb mostly enjoyable.
All the pitches on this route are fun, but I think the third pitch is my favorite. We climbed up some easy slabs to a rightward layback crack, then after two fixed pitons (I only clipped the second as clipping the first creates too much rope drag) there is a committing move back to the left with only smears for feet! Then the route traverses back to the right (use double runners all the way on this pitch or the rope drag will be difficult) and up around the base of a big block to the right to easier ground. Fun!
From here we coiled the rope and climbed together over easy third class terrain to the base of a steep slab. I scrambled up this short, unprotectable slab then gave Bryon a gentleman's belay up. I was climbing in my new 5-Ten Camp Four approach shoes my friend Jeff had recommended and they did great. Bryon was climbing in his La Sportiva Trangos and had no problem with this thin face. Once above this last technical "pitch", we untied and left the rope while we scrambled up the last 40 feet to the summit!
The views were incredible with rugged snow capped mountains in every direction. It was around 5:30pm and getting cold so we took a few minutes to snap some some timed summit photos then made our way back down to our rope. We made a short dulfersitzer rappel down the slab then coiled the rope again as we scrambled down and right to the rappel. I lead down to the rappel bolts trying to find the correct way so Bryon wouldn't have to back track also if I took a wrong turn. In the summer there is usually an obvious trail but with the snow the way was somewhat obscure.
At the bolts we threaded our 8.9mm Serenity rope through the chains. Without Loren and Andrew's rope we would have to make two single rope rappels. I was fairly sure that there was a second rappel station with bolts halfway down so I went first and found the second set of bolts on a huge leftward facing block. This second rappel left us near the top of the large slab above the col. Again, in summer this is an easy scramble down to the col, but with all the snow this descent was a slick endeavor. Once Bryon rappelled down, we slung a large block and I belayed him as he downclimbed to the notch. He placed a cam halfway down so I would be somewhat protected for when he belayed me down. This took a lot longer than we expected and in hindsight it would have been faster for us to just both rappel off the block.
Once down at the col we downclimbed the slick gulley to a tree where Loren and Andrew had left a sling that they rappelled from. This rappel still left us a fair ways up the gulley but the terrain wasn't quite as steep. Bryon lead down since his boots had better purchase and his Mammut headlamp was blinding compared to my little Petzl E-Lite. Bryon's headlamp was so bright that at slick spots I joked, "Hey Bryon, shine your light over here and melt this ice!" Slowly but surely we made our way back down the gulley, following the well defined boot track from Loren and Andrew. Once at the junction with the main trail, we celebrated by cracking open the can of PBR that Bryon had carried with him to the top in the lid of his pack. Cold and refreshing, a little taste of home!
The trail out always seems to grow longer when you are tired, but we finally made it back to the trailhead and my awaiting car. I had left the vanity light on when I was putting in my contacts, so I was a little concerned that the battery would be dead, but it started right up. We climbed in the car, cranked the heater, and drove down the other side of Washington Pass to the campground where Loren and Andrew had already set up camp. It was a little before 9pm when we arrived at camp and Loren and Andrew were already in their tent. Bryon and I set up our tent then built a campfire to cook our hotdogs (Hebrew Nationals - Sorry you couldn't make it Dan!), then fired up Loren's new Brunton campstove to heat up some baked beans! The thick cloud layer kept things relatively warm as we sat around the campfire telling stories and recounting the climb. Camping with these guys is always a riot!
Thanks for a the fun trip fellas! Looking forward to next summer when we can all go back and climb South Early Winters Spire also!