Mt. Rainier - Liberty Ridge Attempt - May 2012 
Saturday, June 2, 2012, 02:50 PM - Trips
Pictures!

Left ABQ at 8pm on Wednesday and landed at 10pm in the Seattle airport. By the time everyone rounded up gear and loaded into the rental van it was easily 11:30. Lance drove us to the closed road at White River so we shuttled gear up to the TH before dropping the van off. Lance and I were elected/volunteered to complete the extra 4 mi bonus hike. Once we got back to the trailhead everyone was gone - later found hiding from the snow in the women's bathroom asleep. Stashed some beer, and then began our hike around 5am. The sky was already lightening.

Worked our way up the trail. I wore snowshoes but no one else did. It was 50/50 snow/dry. Weighed in at the car my pack was 60 lbs so I wasn't moving too fast. Eventually I worked my way into the front of the group and decided to chance it across a 4ft snow formation on a bridge. I made the first step and broke through and promptly dropped like a rock past the bridge into the river. With the mountaineering boots and snowshoes, I managed to keep my feet dry. As I crawled out of the river and onto the edge of the bridge, I saw the rest of the group huddling around my hole. I smiled at them so they would know that I was alright, and crawled onto the other side of the bridge.



We made our way into glacier basin, only to find tons of avalanche slides. The week before dropped more than a foot of fresh snow. This along with the warm weather meant a lot of wet slide activity. Tom lead as we worked our way toward St. Elmo pass. The deep snow made travel painfully slow. We rotated leaders, but each person in front still tired out quickly. The weather came and went and we were bathed in clouds and then back out of them. The snow came and went.

At St. Elmo pass we took a break, eat some food, and plotted our course through the Winthrop Glacier. After glissading down, Lance took the lead with the probe. He managed to make it though a mile of crevassed ice before handing leadership over to Justin. We were moving painfully slow through the fresh foot of snow and traversed too low -- making the route a painful mixed snow/rock trek. Eventually we gave up on making it to Curtis Ridge for the night and camped in a basin. When I got the tent up, dinner cooked, and gear stowed I had been up for 36 hours. Bed was about 7pm.

In the morning (2am), we were up and getting ready for another full day. The snow had returned and winds were howling. Had some oatmeal and roped up for more traversing. I lead the way with the probe. Stabbing the snowpack a foot in front of my steps I did my best to avoid taking another plunge. The overnight winds and cold had helped consolidate the snowpack a little. I did my best to stay out of the wind loaded areas and move toward Curtis. Eventually the two rope teams made it to the cliff-band and camped out while Justin listened to the weather report in 25 knot winds. I took the opportunity to look for ways down the cliff. Eventually we found a way through, but it was a little tricky. We had to belay people on steep snow past a crevasse to a snow bridge. In the process of moving everyone through this obstacle course, I heard a loud noise of moving snow. The Willis Wall was sliding. I knew this would run once in a while, but this explosion of snow kept coming, and coming, and coming. From the belay stance with Tom, Justin, and Leigh, we watched as our path to Liberty Ridge was swept with the snowy plume. It was scary and impressive at the same time. This effectively ended the Liberty Ridge attempt. We realized it was too dangerous to continue.



We set up camp on Curtis Ridge for the day and watched the Liberty Ridge route slide. Definitely the correct decision to not go up. With the rest came higher spirits though and everyone was enjoying the sun and the time to relax. Plans were made to attempt the Camp Schurman route in the morning.



Up at 2am, it seemed that the group was moving slowly to Mike and I. Eventually we sorted out the route and traversed high back to St Elmo's. I lead the entire route, and managed to fall waist deep into a crevasse twice before asking for the probe. It wasn't given to me, so I used the ice axe to hollow out an opening in the top to jump. As I cut the final chunk of snow free of the opposing wall, it fell for a couple seconds before I heard ice crystals shattering a dozens of feet below me. That really got me freaked out, but I still managed to make it across with my breath held.

St. Elmo proved to be a snowy 45 degree slog. We were all happy to get on top and break for a little bit. Justin scouted the route across the Inter Glacier and confirmed that it would be safe if, and only if, we could make a dash across the high side of the snow field. Mike lead, but as I came over the snowy knoll, I could tell that he had gone too low. He was in the glacier proper and we were in trouble. Justin, came over and called things off. Avy danger was too high and our trip was over.

We glissaded back down a ways, grabbed our stashed poles and snowshoes, and had a few beers back at the trail head. Hard having come so far to not climb higher, but I was happy we made the smart (i.e. safe) decision.

*cue car camping party!


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