North Cascades - American Alpine Institute Class - July 2007

Liberty Bell - 7,720 ft

Trip theme: Rappelling or The Approach is Scarier than the Climb


Coming up the ridiculously loose rock filled gully to get to the route on Liberty Bell This morning we packed up camp and headed back to the same parking lot as the day before. Today we would be climbing the 5.6 rated Beckey route on Liberty Bell. This is suppose to be THE classic climb to do in the North Cascades. If you go strictly by pictures on the Internet it should also be full of exposure as well. The approach hike was identical up to the point where the trails diverge to go to the different spires. The final approach to the Beckey route is up a long steep gully full of loose dirt and loose rocks. It was not too hard to get up, but it was obvious that it would be a pain in the butt to get down. Joel seemed worried about the gully descent and mentioned it as we came up. Today I was trying a new method to keep my feet from falling apart. I had taped over the torn and irritated skin on the backs of my heels with athletic tape, and I was wearing polypro sock liners in the rock shoes instead of my bare feet. Time would tell how this would work out. The Beckey route starts at the top of the gully on what in pictures appears to be a wildly exposed step. In reality there is fall potential but nowhere near what it looks like in pictures. Similar to the previous day the first pitch seemed to be the hardest. There was another chimney move that I just couldn't seem to make gracefully at all. So I went with the brute force method, which worked but was energy consuming. Having made it over the obstacle I snapped a picture of Joel coming up behind me. As I continued up some easier terrain I hear "Falling!" behind me. As I was standing on a flatter area my first instinct was to dive down to the ground in self arrest. But wait, this is rock not snow. I managed to resist the urge to hit the deck and stood firm leaning away from the fall. Mat held most of the weight from the belay above but I thought I did OK. I yelled down to Joel to see if he was alright and he indicated that he slipped off in the chimney. A little scrapped up but ready to continue. The first two pitches on this route were certainly harder than anything we had done the previous day, which made it more fun too. I was particularly fond of a layback move that you could do using a crack on the 2nd pitch. Similar to the previous day we reached a point where putting in protection didn't make much sense and we simul-climbed most of the rest of the way to the summit. Once again I had a clean ascent all the way to the top. And my feet felt pretty darn good. Apparently the tape and sock liner thing is the way to go.

Instead of a long down climb with many rappels, today's climb was a shorter down climb with only two longer rappels. Today Mat seemed to be comfortable with a system where he set us up to rappel and then he would rappel down first with us following afterwards. It was at the second rappel station that things turned interesting. At the first rappel I had followed Mat and Joel had followed me. On this rappel Joel was going second and I was going last. So Mat raps all the way down to the bottom (almost a whole rope length) and then its Joel's turn. I'm still not entirely sure what he did, although I think he clipped his backup carabiner into something wrong near his belay device. All you should have to do at this point is tie your auto block, unclip from the rappel point and start rappelling. Well Joel started out on the wrong side of the rope and somehow got himself all tangled up. We were trying to untangle him when Mat starts yelling up, "What's going on up there?", "Everything alright?", "What's the problem?". I didn't want Mat to worry so I kept yelling down things like "He's tying his auto block", "He's almost ready", "No worries", "It's all good!". Joel on the other hand was very very quiet and seemed to be confused and a little shaken. At one point he unclipped from the anchor and I realized he wasn't attached to anything at all. I instantly had him reattach his carabiner and decided that we needed to start completely over from scratch. About this time Mat yells up more urgently "You guys have to tell me what's going on?", to which I yelled back "We're starting over". His instant reply was "NO?!" with quite a bit of nervous nilly in his voice. I helped Joel untangle the mess of rope, cord and sling we reset him up properly for the rappel. Mat was noticeable quiet and I yelled down to ask him if he was climbing up. He said no but that I better tell him what we were doing. I said we were just about ready and that Joel was now On Rappel. The last rappel was pure vertical and was pretty neat. Near the end Mat was video taping me and asked "So what did you learn up there?" to which I replied "Not to get confused at the belay station". Mat was still pretty agitated after I got down. I told him he should have more confidence in his teaching, to which he replied that he was confident. Well I beg to differ or you wouldn't be all agitated now would you. I strayed within a few feet of a drop off right near where we left our boots and he got all nervous nilly on me again, asking me to "just sit down". He peered over the edge and gave a snort again. Hey, I'm not the confused one here. I just helped your other client completely rework his rappel and safely descend. I thought for sure he would want to discuss what happened up on the ledge but he never brought it up once in the ensuing 3 days. I assume he and Joel must have talked about it but I'll probably never know. Joel never brought it up either.

Now was the really hard part, descending the steep gully full of loose dirt and rocks. Joel still seemed a little shaky and wanted to rope up for the gully. Seemed excessive to me but it wasn't worth getting Mat anymore excited than he already was. The gully lived up to the adventure that we thought it would be on the way up. A slow grind with every step being a tentative one until you were sure it was solid. Right at the start we were distracted by the sorriest looking mountain goats you ever saw in your life. Maybe it was because they were shedding their fur, but they sure looked all raggedy. They also seem displeased that we were invading their space. Without further ado we picked our way back down to solid trail and thankfully back to the van. The rest of the day involved us frantically trying to get our backcountry permit for Mt Shuksan. Mat seemed terribly concerned about the permit and that we were not going to make it to the Ranger station in time. I suggested we get one at the National Park visitor center instead since it was nearby and still open. Lo and behold it worked. That's two Mat owes me now. We settled in for the night at the Shannon Creek campground in the NP which was fairly near our trailhead for the next day. The bugs were back with a vengeance of course.
The classic shot looking at the start of the Beckey Route on Liberty Bell
Joel starts the first pitch
Looking up at the beginning of the second pitch
Looking back at South Early Winter Spire
Some of the route is more of a scramble
But then occasionally you still get the chance for some exposure
Joel taking it all in stride
Mat showing us the next move. Note how he hasn't even bothered to wear rock shoes
Joel getting ready to swing up and over
Looking back down at the route
Mat and Joel on the summit of Liberty Bell
Mark on top of Liberty Bell (7,720 ft) via the Beckey route (5.6) on 7/17/07
The rappels today were quite a bit more exciting
The mountain goats seemed annoyed that we were there
Joel contemplates impending doom in the gully of death
If only we were wearing all these clothes because it was raining. The bugs were still at Shannon Creek campground


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