Liberty Bell Mountain

July 26, 2019


North Cascades Highway, WA

Liberty Bell Mtn. is by no doubt the most sought-after objective in Liberty Bell Group that rises abruptly south of Washington Pass next to North Cascades Highway. The rock spires of this group catch one’s attention no matter what type of outdoor enthusiasts you are. Unlike the slightly-taller neighbour, South Early Winters Spire, there is no “easy route” on Liberty Bell Mountain. The easiest route, SW Face Beckey Route involves two sustained pitches of 5.6 and a slabby boulder problem on the upper route. This is no big deal for veteran rock climbers but I’m more of a mountaineer than rock climber. For a few years I had wanted to climb this peak but I never felt confident enough to lead it. With a competent rock climber with me I’d be much more comfortable tackling this challenge and it turned out that I finally managed to sneak this climb into the busy summer schedule of 2019.

On the way back home from Sahale/Boston climb I checked weather and realized the next day (Friday) was still golden everywhere in the vicinity, but I was already too spent to do anything long. I thought about just scrambling a short objective but threw out a few last minute checks to friends just in case, and sure enough I found out that Natasja was planning to climb Liberty Bell with her climber friend, Dominic M. (Dom). This seemed like a perfect oppourtunity for me to jump in. The only problem was the fact I had to drive all the way back to North Cascades Highway, roughly 3 hours from my home in White Rock, B.C. Too bad I couldn’t just stay there because I had to drop my partners on Boston Peak back to B.C. and this added ~6 extra hours of driving into the game plus two additional border crossings (without Nexus). I eventually got back home at almost 10 pm on Thursday night and spent the next few hours shopping for food and repacking. I didn’t turn in until 1:30 am and the alarm was set at 5 am. I did manage to wake up, and dragged my tired self back into the truck and onto road down south again. The border crossing took roughly 40 minutes. The agent asked a shit ton load of questions because I was crossing back and forth in two consecutive days. I sure would suspect this guy if I were him… The rest of the drive was boring as fuck and I had to stop to rest for 10 minutes near Diablo Lake lookout. I felt like crap but kept pushing nonetheless and made to the trail-head on-time at 9:45 am.

Liberty Bell via Beckey Route. GPX DL

The approach to this peak was short and sweet. I did no research on the approach other than knowing “there’s a trail”. All I did was following Natasja and Dom and they sure did a great job picking the right trail to the base of Liberty Bell. There was trail crew constructing a new climber’s trail to the base of Liberty Bell’s SW Face to improve access and we greatly appreciated that. Into the gully separating Liberty Bell with Concord Tower we stuck on climber’s right side to avoid crowds. The “wrong side” took us into some slabby 3rd class terrain. Above the scrambling section we crossed path with two early birds on their way down. They informed us there was only one other party on the peak (descending) so we would have the whole route to ourselves. The biggest problem on a popular climb like this was managing with the crowds and there’s a reason why I only do popular climbs on weekdays instead of weekends.

Cutthroat Peak south of the highway

Natasja on Blue Lake Trail approach

Dom leading the way on the climber’s (new) trail

Heading for our objective

The trail led us into the correct SW Gully

Dom picked a climber’s right variation in the approach gully

Higher up in the approach gully. 3rd class here and there.

At the base of the route we geared up as quickly as we could because of wind and coldness. Dom led the first pitch through the tunnel and didn’t place any pro – a stiff 4th class pitch and felt more “scrambling” than climbing to all of us. The second and third pitches were supposed to be the sustained 5.6 ones and between a chimney problem versus slabs I picked the chimney (P2) to lead. The terrain looked different than what I remembered from the photos I’d seen on internet and in fact, Dom said there were multiple variations on this stretch so I wasn’t sure whether or not we were on route. The pitch looked hard and it sure was. I placed at least 6 or 7 pieces of pros (including clipping into a fixed piton halfway up), and used all kinds of strategies to overcome one challenge move after another. Speaking from the rock climbing perspective it was the hardest pitch I had ever led in alpine. In the end I was very glad I accepted the challenge and did reasonably well. Above Pitch #2 we scrambled a short stretch of 3rd class terrain to the base of a slabby wall with a fixed piton. The 3rd pitch started from an awkward leftwards finger traverse right off the bat and also involved an awkward crack/slab problem with overhanging wall pushing me outwards near the top. I think I could have done it too but was definitely glad Dom took the lead here.

Natasja climbing Pitch #1 into the tunnel

Natasja happy to be back into sunshine

Me leading Pitch #2. Photo by Natasja Y.

Dom at the second belay station. We had to build one here.

Natasja finishing the Pitch #2 – chimney pitch

We decided to scramble up 3rd class slabs to shorten the 3rd pitch

Dom sorting the rope out at the base of the 3rd pitch

This place was awkward to linger around…

Natasja starting the 3rd pitch. Hand/Finger traverse at the start

Tricky moves on this pitch.

Above Pitch #3 Dom said there’s one last 5.7 boulder problem that many climbers would just scramble it and we should do the same. I wasn’t confident to solo at that grade even if it’s just one or two moves, but accepted the challenge nonetheless. I went first and got over with just a few tricky moves and Natasja seconded it with no problem. Of course Dom made it look very easy. The rest of the way to the summit was some enjoyable 3rd-4th class scrambling and in no time we were on the top. We lingered there for at least half an hour for the views.

A view of Early Winters Spires from high up on Liberty Bell

Me soloing the boulder move on Pitch 4. Photo by Natasja Y.

Natasja free soloing the crux on Pitch #4

More exposed but easy scrambling near the summit

Summit Panorama from Liberty Bell Mountain. Click to view large size.

The complicated west face of Silver Star Mountain

North Gardner Mountain and Gardner Mountain

Cutthroat Peak and its south buttress

Bonanza Peak in the distance

Glacier Peak in the background; McGregor Mountain in foreground

Dome Peak with Sinister Peak and Gunsight Peak to its left

This group of spires are aptly named The Needles

Golden Horn (L) and Tower Mountain (R)

Mt. Hardy on left; Jack Mountain behind on right

Black Peak with the tip of Whistler Mountain in front

Goode Mountain and its NE Buttress

Our group shot on the summit of Liberty Bell Mtn.

Me on the summit of Liberty Bell Mtn.

On the descent we decided to down-climb the boulder problem to skip the first rappel. Again I wasn’t so sure whether or not I could do it but committed to the moves nonetheless. After trying a few things I climbed back up but decided to give the down-climb a second try, and this time I trusted the friction on my feet and got it done with no problem. Natasja went down with Dom giving her a body belay from above, and Dom of course made it look easy with his techniques. Watching Dom down-climbing made me want to improve my rock climbing. A few sections of down-climbing later we did two rappels from station to station. The worst was getting tree oil on my hands at the first station but otherwise the rappels were straightforward. The stations were all bolted and the route was obvious.

Time to head down. Easy scrambling at the start

A bit of 4th class down-climbing

Natasja down-climbing the boulder move. It’s quite technical without long legs

Natasja finishing the boulder move

Natasja with Big Kangaroo behind

It’s Dom’s turn to down-climb the boulder move

More easy down-climbing on the descent route

Rappel station action.

Dom leading down the first rappel we did

Me on rappel. Photo by Natasja Y.

Natasja finishing the first rappel

Natasja on the second rappel.

Rappel #2

Just one more photo of Natasja on the second rappel. It’s a bit diagonal

The rest of the descent back to car following climber’s path and trails was uneventful but the grunt wasn’t very fun in the afternoon heat. I think I preferred the snowy approach in spring when I could just go straight up from the parking lot instead of following the long switchbacks of Blue Lake trail.

Finished the technical section.

Natasja had to retrieve her approach shoes

A view into the deep notch between Liberty Bell and Concord Tower

Down the access gully. We stuck on the easiest line on descent

More about the gully descent.

Looking back at Liberty Bell Mtn. and the route

Descending the climber’s trail

One last photo of the trail section. It was very hot.

The day was still young and Dom and Natasja wanted to do some sport climbing in Mazama, about 20 minutes on the opposite direction of my way home. I was tired and sleepy and wanted to just go home, but figured this was a great oppourtunity to work on my rock climbing skills so after some internal debating I decided to join them. The climbing in Mazama was very none-granite with mostly face climbing on small holds but the rocks were much less grippy than the limestone in Rockies. It took me a while to get used to this type of rocks. In the end I managed to on-sight lead a 5.7 route and top-rope a 5.8 route after two tries. Dom played for fun on a 5.11 roof that he had done many times in the past and I tried at least half an hour and did make some sort of progress, but such grade was no chance without spending a lot of days in gym and at crags so gave up after my arms were all pumped. This was my first time ever sport climbing in an outdoor environment and I have to say I really enjoyed it.

Natasja starting the 5.7 pitch at Mazama

Natasja higher up on the same pitch

That evening we all went to a nearby restaurant for some pizza but then we got a problem. Natasja couldn’t find her car key and she suspected it must have been locked in the car. Crap. Thankfully we found someone in Mazama to give direction to a local locksmith living in Winthrop. About 1.5 hours later the locksmith came and solved the problem. The key was indeed in the vehicle. The vehicle took no damage but 170 dollars were donated… It was 9:30 pm and I should have just slept in my truck but I forgot to bring a sleeping bag in this trip. Crap again… I decided to push all the way back home even though it seemed like an impossible business. I don’t know how I managed to drive all the way near Bellingham after stopping a few times to rest. I was completely done and didn’t want to risk pushing the last 30 minutes so passed out in my truck at a “rest area”. I had a pretty good sleep sitting on the front seat without sleeping bag and that showed pretty well how spent I was. The next morning I resumed the rest of the drive back home. I had only half a day to get things repacked for another overnight trip, and this time, in BC Cascades. Overall this was a Type 1 kind of day turned into a Type 2 because of the driving, but I was damn glad I pushed myself to make it happen. A few days later Natasja would move to Las Vegas to start her new page of life so it was a great trip to say goodbye to her, and I was happy to meet Dom as well, an awesome climbing partner for technical summits.