Liberty Ridge - 2009

June 17

Former Rainier climbing ranger Terry O'Connor and partner Simon Weaver decended through Muir today after a successful ascent of Liberty Ridge. They reported easy travel across the Carbon to the base of the ridge with some postholing in soft snow. The route to Thumb Rock is significantly melted out and rockfall is a serious hazard at this time. O'Connor was struck by a small rock as the team made their way to camp yesterday afternoon. The ice chute above Thumb Rock camp is totally melted out and most teams are climbing the slope to climber's left. The route above was reported as good steep snow and moderate ice with a 20' vertical ice bulge at the bergschrund. This report indicates that late season conditions will soon predominate on the ridge, the rockfall hazard on the lower ridge should not be underestimated.

May 30

Trip report from Jeff Street:

Glen Glover, Jiri Richter, and I climbed Mt. Rainier via Liberty Ridge this past Wed/Thu/Fri, May 27-30, 2009. We lucked out and had sunshine and blue skies and relatively warm temps during most of the climb. We followed the typical plan for climbing Liberty Ridge, which is to take two days to get to the Thumb Rock high camp at ~10,600' and then summit and descend via the Emmons Glacier hence making a loop back to our car and requiring us to carry our full overnight pack up and over the summit.... a significant physical challenge!

On Wednesday morning we left the White River Campground and hiked via the Glacier Basin Trail to a camp at St. Elmo's Pass overlooking both Glacier Basin and the Winthrop Glacier. We brought our snowshoes anticipating significant postholing. We started encountering serious postholing above 6,000 feet and we put our snowshoes then. We decided to stop and camp at St. Elmo's Pass, rather than lower Curtis Ridge camp as planned, and travel the remainder of the lower elevations to Liberty Ridge in the early morning when the snow would be firmer or frozen so we could avoid having to carry our snowshoes over the mountain with us.

On Thursday morning, at 5 a.m., we left St. Elmo's Pass and crossed the Winthrop Glacier and the lower Curtis Ridge and then got onto the Carbon Glacier and ascended it to the base of Liberty Ridge and then up the ridge crest to the Thumb Rock camp at ~10,600' by around 2 p.m. The plan to leave early and avoid the postholing to a large extent worked but we still encountered some serious and exhausting postholing in the later part of the day on the upper half of the lower Liberty Ridge. Everyone we spoke to who climbed during this period experienced serious and exhausting postholing between 6,000' and 11'000 feet on most aspects. We were very happy to arrive early at 2 p.m. at Thumb Rock camp and enjoyed a very long relaxing and recuperative afternoon in the sun and then hit the sack early.

On Friday we awoke at 2:45 a.m. and departed camp at 3:30 a.m. for the summit. We found lots of steep exposed ridge and face snow climbing and 5 or 6 pitches of moderate ice slabs, bulges and steps with, thankfully, firm snow conditions the whole way. Just before making it to Liberty Cap (14,114') a lenticular cloud descended over the top 1,500 feet of the summit and put us in a cold windy whiteout. We choose to bypass the trip to the summit crater rim and had some challenging and tense route finding around the summit plateau to find the descent path down the Emmons Glacier. We finally came out below the cloud cap at around 13,000' feet on the Emmons and breathed a sigh of relief. We arrived at Camp Schurman at around 6p.m. and decided to stay overnight there and descend to the cars on Saturday morning.

On Saturday morning we descended the Winthrop Glacier and headed back up thru St. Elmo's Pass so we could pick up the snowshoes that we left there on the inbound trip before heading down through Glacier Basin and back to our cars at the White River camp ground. All in all, this was a really grand tour on the mountain.

Here are some photos. For a complete collection of photos from the climb go to
go to my Facebook photo album.

base of the Carbon

sunrise on the ridge

first ice slab pitch

ice above Liberty Cap

Liberty Ridge - May 23

Over the weekend climbing rangers got onto Liberty Ridge and had a very pleasant and successful climb. The stellar weather over the past few days has led to some great opportunities to climb all over the mountain, and with the road to White River Campground finally open, Climbers have been getting out on the North and East side routes.

The approach to Liberty Ridge via St. Elmos Pass is almost completely snow covered with unconsolidated spring snow. This means that traveling is very nice early in the morning before the surface has softened but in the afternoons expect very soft snow and slower than normal traveling. Skis or snowshoes definitely help with speed, but remember you have to carry everything you have up the route.

Camp sites on Lower Curtis Ridge are still in the snow, as is Thumb Rock. getting onto the Carbon is very easy around 7,200 ft. and the Carbon is very straightforward glacial travel to the base of the ridge. From there some parties have been gaining the ridge higher and taking a more direct line to Thumb rock, while others have gained the ridge almost at the base and climbed to Thumb rock from there. Conditions will dictate which would be the more appropriate choice and with the warm weather the lower ridge could become harder and harder as the snow melts and more rock is exposed.

Above Thumb rock the climbing is quite good at the moment. We took the left most route out of camp and climbed through soft but good snow and a few small rock bands to reach the upper slopes above the Black Pyramid. Near the top of the Black Pyramid we started to get into Ice and did some belaying and simul climbing to get to the glacier. The ice pitches are now only two to three hundred feet or so, but expect these to grow larger as the season progresses. Once we got onto the Liberty Cap Glacier travel was straightforward to the bergschrund, although there are a few possible options for getting over/around it. We decided to go pretty much dead center and climb a small but steep pitch to get on top, and then a good mix of snow and ice from there to Liberty Cap. Another party went to the right side of the 'schrund and climbed a good two pitches of lower angle ice to gain the summit ridge. Yet another option that is untested as of this moment is to continue up the ridge from the top of the Black Pyramid and bypass the 'schrund on the left side. This way looks like the lowest angle approach but also the most ice covered. Once on Liberty Cap stay roped up and navigate through some crevasses to the summit, and then descend the Emmons back to Camp Schurman or White River.

Take note that conditions on the upper part of the route take longer than "normal" right now and with the soft snow the approach could also take longer than expected, so it would be wise to plan an extra day or two for your climb and be able to take your time instead of feeling rushed. Also I will be adding pictures in the next day or so to this blog...stay tuned.

C.S. - NPS

April 15th

We're starting to receive questions on opening dates for teams planning on climbing the ridge this spring. Here they are (tentatively):

White River Approach:

Currently the road is closed at the park boundary on 410. You can park in the snow-play parking lot and start your climb there; turn left on Crystal Blvd and the parking lot is just to your right. (Do NOT park in front of the gate on 410 itself - you can be towed). Self-registration is possible 24 hours a day at the White River ranger station.

The road to White River Campground Lot is scheduled to open 08:00 05/20/2009. On this date you should be able to park at the campground and start your approach there. Be sure to stop and self-register at the ranger station on your way by.

Entrance facilities at White River are scheduled to start operating 05/22/2009. Register in person at the ranger station beginning on this date.

Carbon River Approach:

As of 4/16/09, you can drive to Carbon River Entrance, but the gate is closed there. The road is cleared up about 1.25 miles towards Ipsut Creek, so the walking is easy. However, beyond 1.25 miles backpackers have reported that many of the washed out road sections where the side streams and the Carbon River have damaged the road are yet again damaged. So there will be a fair amount of bushwhacking through those sections.

There have been reports of 3-4 feet of snow at Ipsut Creek.

Please pick up a permit and a climbing pass at Carbon River Entrance.