Climbing the Liberty Ridge Route on Mt. Rainier with IMG
By IMG guide Austin Shannon
As most climbers know, Liberty Ridge is one of North America's 50 classic climbs. It receives this honor because of its iconic location, alpine style of climbing, and over all commitment level. Liberty Ridge is a spectacular 5,300' ridge that summits on Liberty Cap, the northern most summit of Mt. Rainier.
My most recent guided summit of Liberty Ridge was nothing short of classic. As one of the climbers stated, "this was the most difficult and rewarding thing I have ever done." Liberty Ridge demands everything a climber possesses. Due to the challenging conditions on this particular trip, each of the climbers was tested in their own way. Here is a more detailed breakdown of the trip:
Day 1: (5hrs) Approach from White River to St. Elmo's pass. We had great travel through the forest below. Great dry trail led to compact snow travel near Glacier Basin. A seamless transition to snow on the Inter Glacier made for efficient travel without snowshoes or skis. Easy step kicking up the steep slope to St. Elmo's Pass made for a great day. Tent platforms on snow made for a great camp that night. No running water was found.
Day 2: (4hrs) We traversed across the Winthrop glacier to camp at the bottom of Curtis Ridge. Due to low visibility and moderate winds we decided to pull up short and camp at Curtis Ridge near the edge of the Carbon Glacier. No running water was found at this camp either.
Day 3: (5.5hrs) Big move up to thumb rock. Crossing the Carbon Glacier was relatively straight forward. We made our way up climber's right of the main ice fall to access good compression zones that led to easy travel. Once near the bottom of Liberty Ridge proper some tricky rout finding was required to find access to the ridge. Steep snow climbing led to the ridge crest. Once on the ridge crest it was good boot packing in styrofoam style snow all the way to Thumb Rock camp. Once at Thumb Rock camp we found generous amount of snow in which to dig a large tent platform.
Day 4: (17hrs) The great push up and over the mountain is the single most committing part of the climb. Leaving Thumb Rock camp we encountered boot-top to knee deep trail breaking for the first thousand feet. Once near the Black Pyramid the trial breaking became more consolidated snow and ice. No ice pitches were encountered on the route. However, we were required to do two steep snow pitches to get above the Black Pyramid. From there it was easy glacier travel up to the bergschrund. One 12' vertical snow and ice pitch was needed to ascend up and over the bergschrund. Once above the bergschrund, steep snow climbing led us up to Liberty Cap! There was moderate winds and light snowfall during the entirety of our climb. Once on top of Liberty Cap we found ourselves in a complete and total whiteout. Advanced whiteout navigation skills were required to find our way to Columbia Crest. Once on Columbia crest we followed the Disappointment Cleaver route all the way to Camp Muir where our DC team was waiting for us with some hot drinks and soup!
Day 5: (2.5 hours) We hustled down to Paradise and were in Ashford for lunch!
A great climb with some great climbers. A special thanks to fellow guide Nickel Wood, who was there with me every step of the way!
Austin Shannon, IMG Guide