June 28, 2013
I was honored to be given my 5th opportunity to guide Liberty Ridge for International Mountain Guides (IMG). We delayed our intended departure date of June 24th by one day given the poor weather forecast in hopes that the weather would improve enough for a climb on the 25th through the 28th. On Tuesday the 25th, we made good time to our camp at 7,300 feet on Curtis Ridge with intermittent rain showers. Exiting the Winthrop Glacier proved to be the biggest challenge with one remaining solid snow plug that will not last much longer.
Awakening at 0400, I found the calm conditions, light rain, and the cloud deck to be at approximately 7,600. Checking the weather hourly, we hoped for improving conditions, but none came. At about 0900 we left camp. The very quickly melting out edges of the Carbon Glacier made for a challenging entrance to the massive glacier.
Due to the poor visibility and wet conditions, Mike Haft, my assistant guide, and I had discussed the need for making conservative decisions, but felt comfortable pushing onto the Carbon Glacier in hopes of improving conditions. In attempt to avoid getting caught by heuristic traps such as feeling pressured by paying customers, getting committed to making it to Thumb Rock, and simply ego driven poor decisions, we set two firm turn around factors: decreasing visibility and increased precipitation. We took the western approach up the Carbon Glacier and found very broken conditions requiring intense route finding and numerous running belays for safe crevasse crossing. Eventually, we made it to within a few hundred feet of the base of Liberty Ridge and took a break stretched out in a relatively safe area. Unfortunately, in addition to the 2+ inches of new snow, the visibility had decreased to 100 feet and a downpour of rain had begun. With us both being on the same page and our guests in full agreement, we promptly retraced our tracks to our camp at Curtis Ridge and made the long trek out to the White River trailhead without incident.
While I found myself obviously discouraged by not getting onto the route and being able to summit, I was proud of our decision making process and resulting safe “climb.” We were also grateful to have guests that were qualified, competent and completely respected our decision to turn around. Now back in the comfort of a roofed structure, I am even more confident and proud of our decision making process and feel a sense of complete success in our ‘failed’ attempt.