Below is a very detailed and informative TR from Dmtiry Freitor.
We started from the White River RS about 9:30 am on June 12. It was mostly soft snow up to the camp site on Curtis Ridge. We've been told that a day or two earlier an RMI group turned back because of high avalanche danger on the Carbon (?), so we hoped to be able to follow their tracks. But the tracks were not much help, as we still post-holed through them.
The next morning we started at 5:20 am, the snow was a little better, but still soft. We had to break our own trail through the Carbon Glacier. The glacier was in good shape, we were able to tread pretty much straight for the steep ramp in the middle part of the glacier. On our last year's attempt, I remember all of us feeling totally heart-broken when we dropped onto Carbon and saw the great distance we had to cross to the ridge and the altitude we had to re-gain to get to Thumb Rock. But this year it did not seem too bad, and in fact we managed this part relatively quickly. To get to the ridge we had to go across some ice scree left by what must have been a huge serac falling down from the Liberty Wall few days ago. But since it seemed to have indeed been a few days, we opted for this quick pass through to the ridge, rather than trying to skirt it through lower seracs. In fact, we have not seen anything more falling down from the Liberty Wall for most of the day until we were well settled in our camp site at Thumb Rock. This came as a big surprise, as last year both Liberty and Willis walls had constant serac avalanches (and that was some 3 weeks earlier!).
We gained the ridge by the second short snow slope from the West. Last year we followed the ridge mostly below the exposed rock bands, where rockfall was quite a bit of concern. This path also deposited us low on the big snow slope leading directly to Thumb Rock, where again we were constantly bombarded with rocks and ice. So, this year we wanted to try and keep close to the crest of the ridge, as some route descriptions suggested. We have not, however, found this possible and ended up following almost the same path as last year. After two tries, I do not know how one can keep to the crest of that ridge, I think that's fiction. What was truly surprising, again, that this time there were no rockfall anywhere along our way. So, I think that under the right conditions the best way up to Thumb Rock is to continue on the glacier right up to the last big snow slope (staying close to the ridge seems to be fairly free from both rocks from the ridge and ice from the Liberty Wall), and ascend that all the way up.
We got to Thumb Rock in perfect weather, and I was very much surprised that we were the only party on the route. Later in the day we saw another team following our tracks across the Carbon, but somehow they never made it to Thumb Rock. We were hoping to climb the upper ridge the next day. But in the afternoon the wind started to pick up, and by 7 pm or so was blowing quite hard. The strong wind continued all through the night and when we woke up at 3 am, going up did not seem like a good choice. The wind seemed to die down around 6 am, but by that time we decided it was too late, as we were trying to avoid bivouacking higher on the route. In fact the strong wind picked up again a little later.
At 1:30 pm we were joined by another duo from Seattle, though they were not the same team we spotted yesterday. These guys complained about a lot of rocks coming down the big snow slope; we also heard the ice falling down from the Liberty Wall about every 30 minutes. So, I guess we got very-very lucky with conditions on the day before.
We found the gully through the middle of the rock band above Thumb Rock mostly devoid of any ice/snow. There were tracks going below the rock band all the way to the ice/snow field to the right. But it seemed that taking the left gully should provide a much quicker access to the upper ridge. So Oleg and I went to take a look, and we decided that this is the way we will take tomorrow. We also eye-marked the spot where we would cross to the East side of the ridge.
The next morning we started at 3:30. Our tracks from yesterday proved to be very useful. We ascended snow of various degree of softness all the way to the Black Pyramid. There things got interesting. The entire slope was covered by a sheet of 40-50 degree ice. We were hoping to be able to simul-climb through this section. But due to the state of the ice (sort of like waterfall ice on a very cold day: hard and brittle on top, coming out in big chunks with every swing of our ice tools, leaving soft crumbly mess underneath) we ended up using our five screws more often, so Oleg had to stop and bring me up each time he reached the end of our 30 m rope. We stayed on the very right edge of the slope, almost on the border with the serac, this afforded occasional good stance on packed snow and enabled us to only climb less than 200 feet of ice. Going through the middle of the slope would probably yield some solid 300 feet of pure ice climbing.
From the top of the ice we had no problems until we got to the bergshrund. At first it seemed that we could easily cross it on the far right end. To get to the bergshrund we had to climb some snow which was quite steep, quite soft, and quite unreliable. Basically, you kick a very deep step, stand up on your foot and until the very last moment you're not sure if it's going to hold your weight. Then repeat with your other foot. And again and again. Here we again belayed, using our pickets and ice tools, though neither of us wanted to try weighing our "anchors". What we thought would be an easy long step over on the far right end of the bergshrund, turned out to be a very large gap. So, we traced our way some 100 feet back left to the infamous "vertical step".
The "vertical step" is more of that semi-packed snow under your feet, good glacial ice from your waist up, and nothing in between. So, the ice is forming a sort of a roof above the snow. The ice is excellent for placing tools, but the screws do not bond that well, I ended up placing one screw under the leap of the "roof". Right under the "roof" the snow formed a little step, which allowed me to simply raise my left foot as high as I could and, pulling a little on my ice tools, shift my weight over and bring up the right foot. But as I stepped on the snow "step", the snow compressed and the step became smaller, and yet smaller after Oleg did the same. So, I do not know what will become of this section after two more parties go over. Further ascends may require finding a pass on the very right edge of the bergshrund, few hundred feet from where we crossed it. All together it took us about an hour to negotiate the bergshrund.
What looked like some pleasant snow above the bergshrund turned out to be more ice, very hard on the bottom and very soft and rotten on the top. Our 16 cm screws were mostly for piece of mind, but we placed them nonetheless. From the "vertical step" we traversed some 100 feet to the left. From there we could either follow the 30-40 degree slope straight up, or take the ramp through seracs to the right. We opted for the ramp, where again we found more rotten ice and unreliable snow. Finally, around 10:30 am we reached the gentler snow slopes leading to the Liberty Cap.
When we reached the top of Liberty Cap we were both utterly tired and in various degrees suffering from the altitude. The weather was still very fine, with not a single cloud all day and somewhat mild wind. Yet, we decided to forego climbing another 400 feet to Columbia Crest and instead try to find the trail down the Emmons Glacier. We never did find the trail, despite quite a number of people apparently ascending the route on that day. Shortly after 6 pm we made it to Camp Schurman and the next morning back to the trailhead.
Here is a report from one memeber of the Seattle duo, also mentioned in the route report above.
We left the trailhead at White River CG at 11am. The Glacier Basin trail was still in disrepair from the November 2006 floods. There was a lot of snow and the trail followed the winter route along the river for the last mile or so. Snow conditions up to St Elmo's Pass were soft with some sluffing evident, but not too bad kicking steps. No problems crossing the Winthrop Glacier towards Curtis Ridge. We reached camp at 5:30pm on the east side of lower Curtis Ridge at about 6800', on dry/level ground with running water nearby.
On Saturday we left camp at 5am. We took too high a line following a track across the remaining lobe of the Winthrop Glacier, getting to 7800' before realizing that we had to descend to 7300' to drop onto the Carbon Glacier. We followed the obvious route up the Carbon Glacier to the west side of Liberty Ridge. We simul-climbed steep snow slopes directly to Thumb Rock, protecting with pickets. We encountered frequent rock fall, and quickly learned to look up whenever the wind gusted. I was hit on the shoulder with a fist-sized rock while belaying Brian, but luckily no injury. We reached Thumb Rock at 1pm where we found another pair of climbers, waiting for good summit conditions. They were excited to hear that the forecast for Sunday called for lower winds on the summit.
On Sunday we left Thumb Rock at 4am, about 30 minutes after the other climbing party. We climbed to the east (left) of the buttress immediately above Thumb Rock and then gained the ridge crest. We ascended towards the Black Pyramid, first a bit left of the ridge crest and then right of the crest, ultimately traversing left under the Black Pyramid to reach a steep snow slope. Above the Black Pyramid this slope turned into several hundred feet of 40 degree smooth hard alpine ice, which we skirted by staying to the right. At this point I first had problems placing ice screws, an issue that would continue to plague me. We continued up steep snow slopes towards the bergschrund. We followed the tracks of the other climbers and crossed the bergschrund at the far right, which involved climbing steep unconsolidated snow and then a committing move. More steep snow led to the final crux pitch - a full rope-length that combined sections of steep ice and steep unconsolidated snow over ice. From there it was an easy slog to the Liberty Cap summit, which we reached at 6pm. We decided to camp at 7pm at the col between Liberty Cap and Columbia Crest. Winds were moderate but it was cold during the night - we both wore all our clothing inside our sleeping bags.
On Monday we left camp at 6:30am and continued traversing to reach the Emmons route. We descended the Emmons Glacier slowly but without difficulty, reaching Camp Schurman at 10:30am. After a long rest break to melt snow and eat (which we didn't do enough at our summit camp), we descended the Inter Glacier reaching Glacier Basin by 1pm and then the trailhead by 3pm.
Gear notes: We brought six pickets and six screws, which was about right for us. We mostly simul-climbed on the ridge, with several belayed pitches. We brought a SPOT satellite messenger (www.findmespot.com), which we used to send "OK" signals once or twice a day to family. We brought a GPS w/ waypoints, but we had good visibility the whole trip and didn't really need it.
A party of three climbed the ridge in mid-May and gave this report. Since their summit, a couple of other parties have managed to climb it as well, including a guided group. Here is what one member of the party had to say:
We made it, but not without great difficulty. We started from the Carbon Ranger Station, biked the section of road that was closed, and blazed trail all the way to the base of the mountain in very deep powder! The approach took 3 days due to bad weather(rain), the climb 2 days, and the descent took another 2 days. The Carbon offered almost direct access to the base of the ridge; we only had to navigate a few crevasses. We gained the ridge on the west side. The climbing was good and clean in the morning, but as soon as the temperatures rose the hard snow turned to deep slush. It was some of the most terrifying climbing I've ever done. At the Thumb there was a constant showcase of avi's, ice, and rockfall. Summit day was 15 hrs. of exhausting climbing in deep snow and hard alpine ice with a constant attack of falling ice and rock. The upper route was solid until we gained the slope to the left of the BP (Black Pyramid) where the snow became deep and sticky. Every time I pulled my foot out to kick another step, 50lbs of snow stuck in my freakin pons! I had to beat it out on my other foot, which is terribly exhausting. Above the BP the deep snow instantly turned to hard alpine ice for the last 400 ft. or so. We opted to take a more direct and difficult route to gain the cap. The crux was 60 ft. of WI3+, which ate up all 5 screws and a picket. We got to the summit around 7:30 pm (too late to descend), so we dropped down a short distance to find shelter from the fierce winds and bivied at 13900 ft. We woke up to high winds, but we made the decision to pack up and drop down anyway. As soon as we got down below the summit plateau the winds abated and with the exception of a couple route finding mistakes, the descent went well. The Emmons was in great shape except for some pockets of deep snow. Here is the link to the pics....
Gear notes:Snowshoes- need 'em, we wouldn't have made it otherwise. Bikes- use 'em. Screws- for up high, 5 was perfect for the route we took. Pickets- we took 2 for a team of 3, worked well. Helmets- wear 'em.
Another access point for this route is from White River and as these climbers go to show, where there's a will, there's a way -- they didn't let a little road closing get in the way of their trip plans.
My partner Victor and I had a great 5 days on the mountain. After catching a ride to the gate at the ski resort to where the snow plows ended, about 2 miles short of White River campground, we made it all the way to Glacier Basin that evening. The trail was washed out, but well marked. The next day we went up over St. Elmo’s pass and across the Winthrop Glacier to Curtis Ridge camp. From this point, we had beautiful views of Willis Wall, Liberty Wall and Liberty Ridge and several avalanches on both these walls. Day 3, we crossed the Carbon in a whiteout and ascended the west side of the ridge to Thumb Rock. This was definitely the most direct route, with 35-40 degree packed snow. We set the tent up in 70 mph winds and used everything we had to stake it out. Day 4, we awoke to clear, calm weather and left camp at 5 a.m. Most of the route was good packed snow. We skirted ice around the Black Pyramid and climbed to the bergschrund. At this point, we put a rope on for a 15 ft. snow wall and 600 ft of simul-climbing. We placed 1 screw and 4 pickets before getting to easy ground below Liberty Cap. Being from the East coast and suffering from the altitude, we dragged ourselves to the top and reached the summit at 5 p.m. for a total of 12 hours of climbing from high camp. Thinking we could make it to Camp Schurman, we started down the Emmons in good conditions, but occasional whiteouts and fatigue forced us to stop short of our goal, setting up camp in a crevasse. In the morning, we continued down to Schurman and caught another ride back to our vehicles ~ Thanks to Dan and Uwe. Overall, conditions were perfect – we didn't need snowshoes and temperatures were low at night (about 32 F), which made for safe and easy travel.
~ Peet Danen
For more information on Liberty Ridge, check out the archived route condtions from previous years.