Liberty Bell/South Early Winters Spire
June 21-23, 2013
Loren and Andrew were looking to complete some unfinished business at Washington Pass so I joined them to help in their quest! Earlier in the week I met Phil from the Boulder REI who was in town for the Anderson Award Week festivities and I invited him to join us.
I was late arriving at Loren's place Thursday evening so it wasn't until 11pm that we pulled into the Lone Fir Campground where Phil had been waiting to meet. We quickly set up the tent, ate some dinner and crawled into our sleeping bags. I had brought my REI Kingdom 6 tent and it was quite spacious for just the three of us. Phil slept in his car, as was his usual practice.
In the morning we made a proper breakfast then headed out for SEWS. We made good time hiking up to the pass and were on snow for the last 800' or so. At the base of the route we were greeted by four mountain goats! I made friends with these goats by peeing on a rock that was in the opposite direction from our route, so the goats went their way and we went ours! Everybody wins!
Andrew climbed with Phil and I climbed with Loren as we belayed the first two pitches. After this we simul-climbed up to the Whale's Back where Phil climbed first across while being "belayed" by Andrew. This 40' exposed and runout section is very easy but a fall, even on belay would not be good as there is only a single bolt half way across. The first time I climbed this route with the Mountaineers the bolt wasn't there.
We all made it across without incident and continued up the gulley to the ridge to the summit! It was awesome to share this highpoint with Loren, Andrew and Phil! We could look over to North Early Winters Spire and see climbers topping out on what appeared to be the classic West Face Route. We ate some food and enjoyed the views before heading back down. We made a couple rappels and soon were back at the saddle.
Our pee offering had been accepted so the goats had left our backpacks unscathed! We glissaded back down to the trail and had a nice hike out to the TH. Thanks for the great climb, Andrew, Loren and Phil! It was super fun to get to the top with you all!
After some coaxing in the morning we broke down camp, packed up, loaded the cars and drove up to the Blue Lake Trailhead to climb Liberty Bell. I forgot my phone in the truck, so I sadly don't have any pictures, but I will try to get a video of the helicopter from Andrew to post.
Our first clue that things weren't going to go smoothly were the two Search and Rescue trucks in the parking lot. We immediately commented that we hoped they were here for just a training exercise. There were several other cars in the parking lot as well- too many for such an overcast day so we figured that there must have been an accident. We re traced our steps from the day before, took the turn off trail and continued up the steep climbers trail. I was in front and I my eyes were first drawn to a plastic bottle and bag under a rock. I thought that it was just someone's forgotten garbage but then I saw two ropes thrown up in a nearby tree. Then I saw the climbing rack hanging below the ropes in the same tree.
We figured that the gear was stashed by the search and rescue folks who deemed it unncessessary for their mission. It wasn't ten minutes later that we came upon a clearing and saw 8-10 serach and rescue folks in a clearing with an apparently injured climber in a litter. Phil asked if we could be of assistance and they thanked us but said they had everything under control. One of the rescuers who was standing nearby jokingly asked, "Where were you guys two hours ago?"
We learned later that a man had fallen and broken his leg while descending Liberty Bell the day before. Two other climbers who had bivy gear stayed with him through the night to keep him comfortable while the rescue was called in. The SAR folks informed us that a helicopter was a few minutes away and suggested we move away from the area to keep it clear. Andrew, Phil, and I moved away to some nearby trees, out of the clearing but we weren't able to let Loren know, who was a few minutes behind us.
Loren had just reached some boulders below the open snowfield when the helicopter arrived. The wind from the blades were pretty strong where we were and we hoped Loren was able to find cover since he was directly below the hovering helicopter. A SAR man in an orange flight suit lowered out of the helicopter and then another litter was lowered. The helicopter then took off and circled around the valley while the injured climber was transfered to the second litter. We watched for a few minutes while Loren hiked up to us then we all continued up the climbers trail to our route. The helicopter returned about ten minutes later, and flew off with the injured climber. We were glad that the injury wasn't any worse than it was. I have only seen rescue helicopters in the mountains a few times and most of them were body recoveries.
We slowly worked our way up the loose goat trails to the base of the gulley leading up to the notch between LB and Concord towers and we met a woman who was waiting by some trees for her friends who were climbing the Beckey Route on LB. We chatted for a while and she filled us in on what happened to the injured climber. We said goodbye and continued up the snowy slope. It was steep so we pulled our our ice axes but the snow was soft so we didn't need crampons and just kicked steps up.
Unfortunately it started to rain while we put on our harnesses and just as Phil and Andrew were beginning the first pitch I heard a thunder clap. Dark clouds were now all around us and I knew it wasn't going to be a pleasant climb. So we made the decision to descend. I had built a three piece anchor that we used to make a double rope rappel which sped up our retreat.
The weather improved slightly as we descended but with the wet rock and unstable weather we agreed that we made the right choice. Sorry guys! We got SEWS done but unfortunately LB is still on the "to do" list for you!