Liberty Ridge Climbing Accident Update
Investigation into the accident and possible recovery options is on-going.
If you encounter any articles on your climb that you believe to be related to the accident, The National Park Service has several requests.
1.Take a photo of it to put it in context, take a GPS waypoint of the location. If you don't have a GPS, pinpoint the location on a map as best you can.
2. If you chose to, collect the articles.
3. Report any pertinent information and turn in any collected article to Camp Schurman (when rangers are present), or the White River Ranger Station.
As submitted by Adam Ungar.
Trip date: July 14-15
The Winthrop Glacier took a lot longer to navigate than we had anticipated. we gained the Lower Curtis Ridge around 7,000 ft, and traversed upward to the 7,200 ft mark where we had no problem dropping onto the Carbon
Navigating the upper Carbon Glacier and gaining the ridge to Thumb Rock was definitely the crux of the climb. The route we chose on the Carbon took us to the Liberty Wall side of the ridge, and was held together by a few thin snow-bridges that were sure to collapse within a few days. There was a pretty big bergschrund across the base of the ridge, so we were forced to gain it near the base of Liberty Wall, and that was only possible because there was a thin plug across the 'schrund.
|~8,000 "Grand Canyon"|
The climbing up high on the ridge was fantastic, however, with the high freezing levels we were up against some pretty extreme rockfall. We opted to try and gain the upper snow/ice ramp as low as possible to avoid crossing underneath the Black Pyramid, so we traversed climber's left from around 11,400 ft and scrambled up the cliffs until we were able to connect with it. The ramp was about 45° of firm snow for the bottom third, and ice for the upper two thirds, before it started mellowing out around 13,200. We cruised from the top of the ramp to the final 'schrund ice pitch at 13,800. There was about 70ft of 60° ice before it changed to firm snow. From there it's a 150 ft slog to Liberty Cap.
We talked to a party over the weekend who was descending the Emmons Glacier after climbing Liberty Ridge. They reported it to be in decent shape, with several pitches of ice both below and next to the Black Pyramid. Expect more of that as the season goes on. They also reported that exiting above the 'shrund to gain Liberty Cap was the crux of the route for them, and that it involved some "spicy" climbing. Come prepared for anything if you're planning an ascent of this classic objective.
As part of being prepared for anything, make sure you have a good handle on how to get onto the Emmons, or whatever your descent route of choice is. The area between Liberty Cap and Columbia Crest is a huge, broad plateau and it's difficult to see where to get on the Emmons from above, especially if you've never climbed it. One big difference this season is that there is a large crevasse all the way across the top of the Winthrop, preventing you from passing through Liberty Saddle and traversing onto the Emmons. You can still get there, you just have to climb a few hundred vertical feet back up out of Liberty Saddle. Check out the Emmons/Winthrop blog page for more specific information.
Day 1: We started hiking from White River Campground at around from the top of St. Elmo's allowed for easy navigation of the Winthrop which had a few crevasses which were easily identified). We eventually made our way to Curtis Ridge camp where we met Sean and Mike. and made our way to Glacier Basin, up St. Elmo's Pass, and across the Winthrop Glacier with no issues (clear weather
Day 2: We started moving at around and made our way towards Thumb Rock. There was an older boot pack on the lower section of the Carbon Glacier making navigation pretty straightforward. We were able to take a pretty direct route up the Carbon to the toe of the Liberty Ridge. From here, we opted to head right, cross a bergschrund, and climb the snow directly under Thumb Rock (Sean and Mike climbed a different route staying on the top of the ridge most of the way). The conditions here were great for climbing (maybe a little soft due to the sun starting to come over the ridge). We eventually made it Thumb Rock just before and made camp for the night. The Willis Wall and Liberty Wall were both very active overnight.
Day 3: We started climbing just after . We first moved right around Thumb Rock and up the hard, firm snow. Navigation on the route was pretty straightforward and we were able to follow good snow all the way up to the Black Pyramid where we moved left and encountered some ice. The weather was pretty cold and windy at this point and the ice was very brittle, but held screws well. We eventually made it to the top of the Black Pyramid and towards the final bergschrund. We noticed a large crevasse directly overhead and opted to move left to some good glacier ice (70 degree ice ramp for 30m, with a left over v-thread with cord) and avoided the crevasse altogether. We made it to the Liberty Cap around and descended the cap and headed towards Columbia Crest. At this point the winds were picking up and the clouds were moving in, so we made a decision to find a nearby rock formation and dig in camp (the whiteout made descending the Emmons too dangerous). Overnight, about 3 feet of snow piled up around our camp.
Day 4: We had clear skies in the morning and spent some time digging our stuff back out from the wind and snow overnight. Sean and Mike who had been with us all day decided to head down Emmon's while Ryan and I went for the summit. From our camp it was a straightforward hike up to Columbia Crest. Afterwards, the wind died down and we were able to descend the Emmon's Glacier to Camp Schurman and out.
May 29 - 31
A team of rangers got out for a patrol of Liberty Ridge this past week. There have been many ascents of the route in the past few weeks, along with a tragic accident. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families. Despite all the events of last week Liberty Ridge is definitely in season right now so here is some info for those who are planning to give it a go.
The approach follows the trail alongside the White River into Glacier Basin. The trail is in good shape, there are some downed trees from winter avalanches that are easily passable. The trail becomes snow covered about 2 miles from the trailhead.
The route then drops off Curtis Ridge onto the Carbon Glacier. This is a huge glacier that has the distinction of the lowest elevation terminus of any glacier in the lower 48, approximately 3,600 feet! As with the Winthrop, we found straightforward passage that you can expect to become more problematic as the year goes on.
Ascend the Carbon to the toe of Liberty Ridge, around 8,600 feet. The route varies between this point and Thumb Rock. The basic idea is to work the ridge crest, moving to either side as conditions permit. Sometimes that means ascending the east slopes, sometimes the west. We did a little of both, finding good firm snow on the west side and wet gloppy snow on the east side. This section contained some steep (40-50 degree) snow climbing, as well as an occasional rock step. As the season progresses the ridge starts to melt out to rock, the approach to thumb rock will shift climbers right to the face and take a more direct approach to Thumb Rock.
|Climbing Toward Black Pyramid|
The section between Thumb Rock and the Black Pyramid roughly follows the ridge crest. Deviate to either side as conditions dictate. We found good firm snow climbing, with a few sections of rock scrambling and a little tool swinging as well. This section is definitely airy with exciting climbing and real exposure. Keep in mind that if you aren't acclimatized, you may notice a lack of your normal strength at this point. It is typical to carry over all your gear on Liberty Ridge, so be prepared for technical climbing at altitude with an overnight pack.
|Upper Cirque ~ 13,000'|
|Exit Ramp above Bergschrund|
After exiting the cirque it's a short walk to Liberty Cap. From Liberty Cap it is typical to descend the Emmons Glacier back to White River. Consider planning to spend a night at Camp Schurman to break up your descent. It's a beautiful place to contemplate your climb and refuel before the rest of the walk out.
Expect conditions to change frequently throughout the season on this route. Keep an eye on the blog for most recent updates and ask at the ranger station what the latest info is.