Thursday, July 3, 2014

Trip Report: Beckey Route on Liberty Bell

"Wouldn't It Be Cool If We Could Climb That..."

Driving along Rt. 20 out of the North Cascades National Park, a range of beautiful cliff walls rose up in front of us.

We pulled into an overlook to get a closer look.

Dave made his "I want to climb that" face - a little smirk plus a twinkle in his eye.  I made my "I'm going to get dragged into a Type 2 adventure, {sigh}" face.

But I had to admit, those were some mighty fine mountains.  Especially that tall one on the right.

In Mazama the next day, the owner of Goat's Beard told us that was Liberty Bell, and there was a moderate route up its southwest face.  Oh really?

In camp that evening, the climbers next to us insisted that we would love the Beckey Route.  Oh really?

Eh, why not!

The Approach

Kind of sucks.  I guess the extremely loose, steep choss pile is "normal" for the North Cascades.  I wore a helmet (probably the only place on the mountain where it was really warranted).

We had to pull out our Super Topo book a few times to make sure we were picking the right gully, but after you're up here once, you'll know exactly where the climb starts.

Also, watch out for aggressive mountain goats, especially if they have kids.

dave attempts the frozen snowfield without spikes - that didn't last long!
nasty, loose, chossy approach
played "hide and seek" with these guys for a few minutes

The Climb

Pitch one - not that memorable.  I do remember thinking that the rock quality is very good, especially compared to the sand pile below.  5.easy.

pitch one
Pitch two was the money pitch for me.  A series of chimneys, some mantling, and even a (easily bypassed) sweet short section of offwidth (never pass up an opportunity to stack hands!).  It was more physical and more fun than I expected.  I went deep into the chimney to make it a bit harder, felt about 5.6.

On pitch three, I had a self-professed "dirt bag" up my rear end the entire climb - literally - he could have touched my feet for the entire pitch - instead, he gave me tips on my technique (how, uh, considerate?).  Fortunately, I was in a good mood, otherwise I would have told him to back the f*** off 'cause I was about to fall.  ;-)  Anyway, the "airy finger traverse" should come meet some of our airy traverses in the Gunks.  This felt closer to 5.4-5.5.

pitch three
Pitch four is some 4th class scrambling and a short 5.6 slab.  Depending on your comfort level, you could drop rope and harness at the P3 belay and solo to the top.  If you'd downclimb it without a rope (which at least one person in your party will have to do), you can climb up it without a rope.  Being generally timid with exposure, I stayed on belay the entire time, 'cause why not, we had nowhere else to be.

pitch four
The Views

Second only to the Khumbu Valley in Nepal.  Seriously, took my breath away.

We hung out on top for a while, eating lunch and soaking in the views.

The Bad Part

While we were at the top, I had my first close call in my 6+ years of climbing.  We let another party use our anchor, and the clueless-yet-thinks-he-knows-what-he's-doing leader didn't understand what he was seeing, didn't have the humility to ask, and therefore put my (and his) life in danger.

(Quick story: he set up a single strand rap off the wrong biner in our anchor.  He used the biner on the back of the ATC in guide mode - and I was still in the belay (views were too good, I got distracted!)  So the only thing holding his 225 lb rear end to our anchor was the wire on the back of the ATC...  and my 125 lbs body weight on the other end of the rope.)

Amazingly, without seeing how he set up his rappel, my spider sense told me that I shouldn't trust what was going on.  This was the guy whose anchor for P2 was a PAS to a single shrub the size of my arm, and who belayed his wife directly off his harness - no, really.  (What do you do in a situation like that? Say something? What could you possibly say??)  I untied and escaped from the system as soon as the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.  Thank you, feminine intuition.

At almost the same time, Dave did see what was going on, and immediately acted to correct the leader's error (and potentially save his butt, too).  Backed up that biner with a quickdraw into the power point of the anchor.

Lesson learned:  NO ONE TOUCHES OUR GEAR FOR ANY REASON WITHOUT DAVE OR I CHECKING THEIR WORK.  This goes for people we meet on the climb as well as our climbing friends of many years (who know their stuff and will understand why this is important!).  Dave and I always check each other, because it's so easy to make a mistake and the consequences can be so high.  We should have had this rule in place before, but I guess it takes a close call to make you remember why it's important.

The Descent

I rapped off our top anchor to avoid down climbing the 5.6 slab and to get down fast.  There were multiple parties coming up P3 and P4, and I am not a fast climber or downclimber!  Dave broke down the anchor and downclimbed (he's fast).

From there, it's an easy scramble/ downclimb to two sets of bolted anchors.


It was an awesome experience!

For not a ton of effort or commitment, we saw a landscape that only the birds and climbers get to see.

We climbed our first alpine-ish route.

And I think it's so cool that we were able to see a mountain, say "wouldn't it be cool if we could climb that"...  and then go do it.

liberty bell is the face on the right

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