Matt and Joanne’s Page

August 10, 2009

Washington Pass, Liberty Crack

Filed under: Climbing — joannestamplis @ 8:35 pm

We managed to get out of the Portland area for the first time in a couple months and planned to steal away for a few days into the North Cascades. Leaving Portland around 7PM on Friday we drove North through Seattle then East through Darrington and Marblemount, stopping only once for gas, until we tiredly arrived at the Blue Lake Trailhead at 1:15AM. We reclined the car seats and shut our eyes for a few hours, rudely awakened at 5:20AM by our cell phone’s alarm clock.

Our objective was to climb Liberty Crack on Liberty Bell Mountain – we fought the urge to go back to sleep and started moving around. I wolfed down a hunk of french bread and brie cheese, made some final gear organizations, then drove down the road a mile to the side of the highway where the hike in begins. From the pond next to the highway, we picked up the trail and continued steeply up into the forest. Though steep, the trail is mercifully short and probably didn’t take more than an hour or so to get up to the base of the climb. Unfortunately, we had been beaten to the start of the route by a team of two who looked to just be starting up – D’oh!

We watched the party above us solo up to the base of first pitch. We decided to rope up and it was a very good idea as there was definitely at least 1 5th class move there. Joanne led up and hang out at the base of first pitch for quite some time before the first party got off the pitch.

Emerging from the trees on the hike in, you’re rewarded with a great view of the East Face of Liberty Bell Mountain. Liberty Crack shoots straight up, somewhere around the left skyline.

Talus-hopping along the base of route. By this point we realized we’d been beaten to the start of the route!

With somewhere around 1000 feet of technical climbing, including several sections of aid, we were unsure if we’d be able to finish in a day. So we packed fairly heavily, with a couple jackets, one sleeping bag, and one bivy sack. Basically enough to ensure that an unexpected night on the mountain wouldn’t be cozy, but at least not completely miserable. Of course, climbing technical terrain with that extra weight is a bit of a pain in the bit, which became pretty obvious on the first pitch. I had planned to free climb this but with a pack on, it quickly became obvious that this wasn’t happening so I just pulled on anything to get up it.

Matt hauls himself (and his bag up the first pitch, 5.10+?)

Joanne joined me and she got to lead the next pitch, which is likely the most memorable part of the climb, the Lithuanian Lip. I’m 1/4 Lithuanian so maybe I was born to climb this…but it was Joanne’s turn to lead. With fixed gear all the way to the lip, the aid climbing here is really straight-forward and she shot right up it. The trickiest part looks to be placing a piece above the roof and then awkwardly backstepping in the twisting etriers to pull yourself up over the lip.

Joanne working up and over the lip. This is a pretty unique pitch as you’re just dangling under the roof. Also fun to clean this pitch!

The third pitch is supposedly the “crux” of the aid climbing (A2) but once again, with all fixed gear on the thin sections, this pitch is pretty easy. It’s worth noting that the fixed gear here is in pretty sorry shape, an assortment of bashies with mangled wire cables that look ready to fail at any time. I think if I did it again, I’d let Joanne lead this one (she weighs less than me!).

The 3rd pitch. Looked real thin and probably really scary to try to free, on the existing fixed gear.

Most of the fixed pieces here had frayed cables and just looked like they were about to pop and send you for a ride. Fortunately, they all decided to stay in place that day…

At this point, the guys in front of us pointed out that we were moving faster than them and graciously let us pass at the end of pitch 4. It was nice to be in front (as another party had come up behind us) so we switched on the turbo jets, climbing and swinging lead like maniac! We never saw any of the parties below us again.

From the end of pitch 3 you can put away the etriers and turn into free climbing mode. The climbing stays steep and interesting, with all pitches clocking in at 5.8 or harder (until the last pitch or two). In particular, we liked pitches 4, 5, and 7. Pitch 4 is a cool splitter crack that goes free at around 5.9+. Pitch 5 is a fantastic sustained 5.8+ dihedral. And pitch 7 throws some interesting slab moves at you. For a long alpine route, there were very few bad pitches (though the “Rotten Block” on pitch 6 is definitely scary – what is holding that thing onto the mountain!?!?).

Somewhere around pitch 9 – 5.9 climbing is much more interesting with a large pack…

By the time we reached the rappel station, there were already lines formed from the Becky Route so since we have to wait anyway, we decided to unroped and solo onto the summit. The final summit pitch is easy with a crux friction slab section which is a little tricky to down climb. Less confident climber should definitely get belayed for this section.

All in all, not counting the time we were waiting behind the other team, we climbed the route, base to summit, in 7-8 hours, which was waaaay faster than we expected. For teams that are competent on 5.10 terrain with some aid climbing experience, we’d make the following recommendations: fire the climb in a day (don’t bother fixing the aid pitches), get an early start to get in front of other parties, and bring a relatively light rack (1 set of stoppers w/ micronuts, 1 set of cams from the smallest TCUs to a #3 or #4 camelot, doubles in the 0.75, 1, and 2 sizes). Also consider linking the two pitches above the Lithuanian Lip (the A2 pitch and the 5.9+ splitter).

The obligatory summit shot with fantastic views of the surrounding spires and more distant peaks.

Looking back at the descent gully and Liberty Bell from a different angle. The gully was fairly ugly to descend, though not as bad as the horror stories I had heard.


  1. This makes me want to do this stuff! πŸ™‚

    Comment by Mark — August 10, 2009 @ 8:54 pm

  2. Super awesome! Very nice work! I am drooling all over my keyboard.

    Comment by Hobbs — August 11, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

  3. Hehehe, thank you. It was an awesome climb, lots of work but fun. I am still recovering from all the climbing πŸ™‚

    Comment by joannestamplis — August 11, 2009 @ 7:30 pm

  4. The view is just breathtaking. I can almost hear the whistle of the wind, smell the freshness of breeze , great job, keep bring us those nice pictures.


    Comment by woody — September 10, 2009 @ 4:23 pm

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