Liberty Bell - Beckey Route, August 2002
I wanted to introduce Agata to the allure of alpine rock climbing. My challenge was to find a complementary peak/route that didn't entail an overly lengthy or unpleasant approach. Flipping through the "Selected Climbs" v.1 guide book, I soon discovered that there are numerous quality alpine rock routes at a moderate grade and with relatively short approaches in the Washington Pass area. Soon thereafter a plan to climb Liberty Bell and time permitting, South Early Winters Spire was hatched.
Pitches 1 and 2 were relatively straight forward. I particularly enjoyed the short cave section on the first pitch. Pitch three starts out easily enough but takes a right (not a left) after the short (5.6) finger traverse (see sling) protected by a piton. Either have a long sling handy (about 3x longer than mine) or avoid clipping into the piton entirely to keep rope drag down to a minimum. I ventured off-route to the left and was forced into doing a 5.HARD move up and over a slanting foot-free crack with only marginal holds for the left hand. I ended up aiding off of a cam and wedging my leg into the crack managed to crawl out onto the slab above.
Judging by the amount of gear littered below this move, I figured I hadn't been the only one to have struggled here. Rope drag was getting bad by now and only got worse when I clipped a piton just below the final easy crack. I had to downclimb back to the piton, unclip the rope and with all my might scratch my way along the final hand crack to the next belay. With all the friction in the rope, belaying up Agata was exhausting. She could hardly believe that had I led that funky move. Agata led out on the fourth pitch. I was most concerned about the 10ft 5.7 friction slab on the final pitch but ended up not giving it any thought. It wasn't exposed and didn't pose any problems. Minutes later we were standing on the summit and took in some unique views. Hardy, Jack, Golden Horn and Tower Mountain (left to right) dominated the view to the north. We lounged on the summit for about 30 minutes and chatted with others that had climbed the route. I had a good look at Cutthroat Peak across the valley as I'd like to climb it one day.
Eventually it was time to head back down. We downclimbed/rapped back to the last belay ledge and carefully picked our way down a gully to a wide ledge above the gully between Liberty Bell and Lexington Tower. We paired up with another party, tied our ropes together and rapped off the bolts/slings all the way down into the gully. We could see people on Lexington Tower, South Early Winter Spire and a party of three doing a really stout crack route on North Early Winter Spire. A very popular area indeed!
While we were climbing the route earlier, we would occasionally hear people shout "ROOOOOOCK" followed by loud crashing sounds. We were fortunate not to have anyone ahead of us while climbing the gully in the morning. It was certainly a little more crowded upon descent. We kept our helmets on and stayed to the far left of the gully before crossing over to the right onto a faint trail. Our casual descent to the car was hastened by the swarming mosquitos. All in all, the route is fun, follows solid rock with interesting chimney moves and is situated in an impressive corner of the North Cascades. With the array of other climbing options in the area, we're sure to be back sometime soon.
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