Dane and I have been planning to attempt a climb of Liberty Ridge on Mt. Rainier for a while, and we finally found a weekend where we were both free and the weather appeared like it was going to cooperate. We left Seattle on Saturday morning with plans of approaching to Thumb Rock (10,800') about 1/3 of the way up the ridge that day and completing the climb on Sunday. We both fully recognized the ambitious nature of this plan upon its inception.
|Dane on St. Elmo's Pass|
|The North Face of Mt. Rainier and the Carbon Glacier - Liberty Ridge cuts straight down the middle|
|Close up of Liberty Ridge, all 5,000 vertical feet of it|
We started crossing the Carbon Glacier at 12:45am. About two hours later, aided by footprints from another party, we reached the area near the base of the snow slope we were aiming for. As we predicted, large crevasses barred access from the glacier to the ridge. The only option was for us to traverse far to the right, around the crevasse and over obvious debris from the glacier calving activities observed the previous night. We were already slightly exposed to this danger and moving right would just make it worse. The odds of the glacier calving while we were under it were low, but the consequences were of the highest degree. Not wanting to spend time deliberating while exposed to this threat, Dane, who was in the lead at that point, made an executive to decision to initiate a hasty retreat.
At 3:30am we were back at our previous campsite, having had a nice midnight jaunt across the Carbon Glacier and back. I don't think I've ever been on a large glacier in the middle of the night before, and found this experience quite fun/eerie/surreal. We considered traversing back to the Emmons Glacier and summiting via this easier and less committing route, but ultimately decided that this would make for a very long day with disproportionate rewards. So we re-set-up camp and went back to bed. Starting about 9am we retraced our route from the previous day back to the trailhead.
Despite reaching a high point a vertical mile below the summit, we still obtained fantastic views, got lots of exercise (ascended about 5,000 vertical feet with full packs and covered about 14 miles), and came back safely. It sure beat watching TV all weekend. I'm excited to try this again next season, earlier in the year when the lower ridge is snow covered and the objective hazards significantly reduced.