Elevation Gain: 699m
Distance: 11.28km (likely not accurate due to climb)
Total Time: 8 hours 58 minutes
Date: August 26th, 2022
Andrea and I were originally planning for a 3 day adventure in the Tantalus range in the coming weekend, but a forecasted rain storm on our summit day forced us to call it off. Our back up plan was to find some alpine climbs in the Washington area and to our luck the weather was looking great down there. A few weeks prior we had been in the area to climb Kangaroo Temple and this looked like the perfect place to find some more technical routes. In fact, there’s a very high concentration of “classic” Washington climbs along this stretch of road. Summits like Liberty Bell Mountain, Early Winters Spires and the Wine Spires attract climbers from all over. The weather was looking iffy in most other areas of Washington so we decided to spend the first two days out in Washington Pass and play it by ear for a Sunday objective.
Liberty Bell Mountain via the Becky Route (5.6) was going to be our stretch goal with the plan to tag South Early Winters Spire first and move on to Liberty Bell in the afternoon. On Friday morning, we left Vancouver around 6am, but didn’t reach the Liberty Bell group trail head until 11am or so. Adding to that we were both feeling exhausted from a late night of packing and early start. With the warm sun looking down on us, the tiredness finally caught up and the temptation for a nap and change of plans finally caved us in. We changed plans to just go for Liberty Bell Mountain instead and have a nap in the car to catch up on some rest.
At around 1:20PM we finally gathered the energy to pack up and head out on to the trail. The official trail offered an easy ascent up through the forest and around 1870m in elevation, we forked off onto the well-worn climbers trail up to the summits. We followed this trail up to about 2090m and then found a path that cut climber’s left towards the gully between Liberty Bell and Concord tower. The path soon transitioned into a granite talus gully and we found two options up. At climber’s left a loose hiker’s path and at climber’s right a fun 3rd class gully on solid rock. Andrea leads us through the funner of the two options and we got warmed up scrambling up through the gully.
Now came a bit of confusion as we weren’t 100% sure where the start of the Beckey Route was. The approach description mentioned a chimney and that we should traverse climber’s left from the gully about 30′ before hand, but we were having troubles spotting the chimney or any obvious start to the route. Thankfully, there were some climbers going up already and it became more obvious where we should go as we neared the top of the gully. Once we located the correct spot, we ditched our approach gear and switched over to climbing gear.
Andrea lead the way across the short 3rd class traverse and to the base of the chimney. I followed suit and to my surprise it was more of a tunnel than a chimney by climber’s definition. I think this is what lead to the confusion, but it looked like a super cool feature to climb through in any event. The plan was for me to lead first, so Andrea put me on belay and then I had a quick scan around for route choice. It sounded like most people went through the tunnel, but it also looked quite loose and I thought maybe an alternate face climb around the chimney might be safer. Andrea convinced me to go for the tunnel any ways and I’m glad she did. I made a couple of moves up and into the tunnel and then stemmed my way through placing two pieces along the way. As I exited the tunnel, I found marginal pro options every where and faffed around for quite a while trying to place something reasonable. I finally found an ok nut placement and then climbed higher. I quickly discovered all the time finding pro was a bit of a waste, as the route immediately tapered out into scrambling terrain a few meters above the tunnel. Oh well, good practice.
I setup belay around a tree below pitch 2 and Andrea seconded up shortly after. Now we both had a look at the start of pitch 2 and it looked tricky to say the least. The options for good protection were really limited and the first few moves were committing. This pitch was only 5.5 though, so how hard can it be? Andrea put me on belay again and I descended a few meters down to the base of the chimney start. Looking up there’s one loose flake nestled in the chimney to place a piece and then an over hanging chock stone to mantle up and over a few meters higher. Feeling ready to send, I put one #0.75 in the flake for mental pro and then pulled up on the flake and stemmed in succession until I could place my hand on the first chock stone. Thankfully, it felt solid as the next move involved pulling all my weight on it to mantle up and onto a small ledge at climber’s left. All of this at least a meter above the only piece below. A death fall? Not likely at all, but injury for sure.
Once on the ledge the next few moves eased off, but still required some awkward reaching to get further up the chimney. I found an okay #0.5 in a horizontal crack and then pushed on. Again there’s an exposed stemming move up to more chock stones and then one more ledge to rest on. Finally, there’s a 2.5m off-width crux but I just pressed off the wall and then found a jug at the top to haul myself up and over it. I walked a few more meters and found a wide, but stunted tree to sling and belay off of. Maybe I read the route wrong, but pitch 2 honestly felt really stiff for the grade. Many of the moves are committing and powerful, with pro in hollow rocks and I feel this is much more like a 5.8/5.8+ pitch by modern standards. When Andrea seconded up, we were both in agreement that the 5.5 rating was fairly sand-bagged.
Now came pitch 3, which Andrea was going to lead. There was a fairly novice group ahead of us and they were struggling to climb up the crux, which meant we had to hang out at the belay station for a little while. No matter though, as the views are more than enough to distract. At one point, the climber going third star fished on the rock and couldn’t make any progress so we had to provide some instruction on how to pull off the rope and batman up beyond the crux. Finally, the traffic jam cleared and Andrea started her way up. The crux was a horizontal finger crack traverse, which Andrea easily cruised through and then up to a slabby section with some hand jams for holds to traverse around. I seconded not long after and then topped out at the end of the rope-drag heavy third pitch.
The next pitch is the supposed hard section, a 5.6 slab problem with no pro. However, this section is extremely short, not exposed and the remainder of the pitch is a scramble. How this part got graded 5.6, but pitch 2 is 5.5 is a bit of surprise to me still… From where ended pitch 3, there was a bit of scrambling to the base of the slab, so we just carried the rope over together and setup belay from the bottom. I lead up first and it took just a few easy steps to over come it and then I scrambled the rest of the way to a set of boulders just below the summit. I placed one piece part way up and then slung a boulder to belay Andrea up. She followed up with ease as well and then we scrambled the short remainder to the summit.
At the summit we got a really good 360 view of the whole Washington pass and the incoming rain clouds. Neither of us was keen to be stuck on a technical route in rain, so we left quickly and headed for the first rappel station. Some people will down climb the 5.6 slab problem and then make a down scramble to a ledge 2/3rds of the way up Liberty Bell, however there is a rappel station at climber’s right about 15m after the 5.6 boulder problem. Andrea and I spotted it on the way up and decided we’d use it rather than a contrived down climb and scramble.
Andrea rappelled first and then I followed down. There was a pair directly behind us so I did my best to speed up the transition and let them down as well. Once we recovered the rope, Andrea guided us a short distance skier’s right where the ledge system naturally tapered off. At the end the the ridge opened out a bit underneath a head wall and there we found the second rappel station. This one was bolted with rap rings and the party who was initially struggling up pitch 3 was now working out how to rappel all three of them down. By now the clouds had really started to roll in and the temperatures dipped. Andrea and I had maxed out our layers already so we were about to be in for a long evening.
The party of 3 ahead of us finally started down, but at a snails pace. We tried to negotiate having them leave the rope up and we could chain the rappels with our rope on the next station. However, they didn’t like the idea that four people (Andrea, myself and the party of 2 behind) would be descending and they’d have to wait. So we hung out at the rappel station for at least 20 minutes, until they reached the next station. Andrea and I decided to share ropes with the party behind, Mark and Olivia as we found out, to save time. We setup our rope first and I dropped down to the next station which was already crowded with the party ahead.
Again there was a nice bolted rap station, but with much less room than the previous spot and it quickly got crowded as myself and then Mark joined in. Andrea rappelled in next, but hung out above us instead of going off rappel to save some room. Another 20 minutes passed while this slow party faffed around as they messed up their initial setup and had to climb back up to fix it. Finally, they pulled their rope, Mark set his up and we all rappelled in quick succession back to the gully. I was freezing now, but happy to be back on regular terrain.
The last bit of light was just beginning to fade when Mark pulled his rope and…. it got stuck. Like really stuck. Not wasting any time, Mark geared up to lead up on the other end of the rope and I offered to belay him. To our luck, the rope got stuck on a climbable section, otherwise I really don’t know what we could have done. Mark cruised up to the rope, freed it and then ascended all the way back up to the rap station to setup another rappel. After reaching the gully again, the rope pulled freely at last.
Andrea and I were freezing at this point, so we packed up as quickly as we could and started the descent down the gully with head lamps on. It wasn’t too bad in the dark and we passed that slower party of 3 on the way down. They’d gotten confused about where the trail was and couldn’t find their way down so we pointed them in the right direction, before moving on. We joined up with the trail soon after and then it was an easy return back to the car.
Our afternoon adventure wasn’t supposed to turn into a night time shiver session, but on a route that busy I guess it has to be expected. Personally, I have no issues with a new/slower party figuring things out as I’m still new to alpine climbing myself. However, it does bother me when if there’s a lack of consideration. That party certainly could have let us pass or share the ropes, but instead we were held up for an hour on the rappels and 20 minutes on the third pitch. Nonetheless, it was an epic adventure and I was all smiles the entire time.
- Doubles of BD #0.3 to #2 and a single #3 and #4
- DMM Wallnuts #1 to #6
- 70m x 9mm Rope
The pro on pitch 2 is marginal with many loose flakes/blocks as the only option but we didn’t end up using doubles in anything. The #4 stayed on the harness the whole time.
When climbing in a new area, better to go for an easy route first to see how the grading/climbing style is first. In some ways we got lucky that we ran out of time for Early Winters Spire as we were planning to send the SW Rib at 5.8. After doing the 5.6 route on Liberty Bell, I felt a bit humbled as the grading/climbing style was quite different than say Mount Habrich or Nesakwatch Spires. Even Kangaroo Temple, which was 5.6 ended up being 5.easy made the comparison difficult.