We woke up at 3am for an early start of the Beckey Route.  However, after venturing out of our tent we quickly decided that a slightly later start might be wiser. It was shockingly frigid outside even though daytime temps were hovering in the 80s that weekend and just the day before we had been sweating bullets on SEWS, South Arete. We woke to our second alarm at 4:15am. The air temp had gone up a bit and we were confident the rock would be warm enough to handle once we arrived at the base of Liberty Bell. We departed from camp 300 feet below SEWS saddle with our harnesses giggling in the cool, comfortable air of early morning. Damien and I traversed high above the slabs on mostly snow (no crampons needed) below the lofty spires until we reached the infamous Concord-Liberty Bell gully. I recalled this gully being pretty rotten last time I had the pleasure of ascending it 4 years ago. We moved upward first on steep snow and then on dryish loose rock and gritty sand. Then up another steep snow slope. We were able to kick good steps and did not break out our axes. I wished the entire gully was full of snow so were could have avoided the crummy loose rock, but it wasn’t as wretched as I remembered from last time. Maybe I’ve gotten used to such conditions over the years. We ran into a team descending the gully on our way up. They had topped out at 3am from Liberty Crack. Turns out they  saw our headlamps when we first woke up and were confused as to who could be down in the basin so early/late!

We stashed our boots, poles and axes in a tree near the top of the notch and made our way over to the bottom of pitch 1. Getting to the pitch is a bit cruxy within itself. After moving around narrow ledges toward trees around the corner of Liberty Bell there is a very exposed 4th class traverse section on slabs to the start of the gully start of the Tunnel Pitch. When I climbed this route with Eric a few years back we had used the alternate finger crack start thus avoiding the exposed 4th class section. The moves weren’t difficult, it was just exposed.

I led the first pitch through the actual “tunnel” formed by chock stones. The pitch is easy to protect with cams. The most  intimidating section is when you find yourself just above the tunnel with legs on either side. Lots of playful movement and I somehow managed a knee jam (probably not necessary, but ulta fun). The pitch ends just to the right of the crux chimney by the tree.

Last time I climbed the Beckey Route I led the crux chimney pitch. To me it had been a rite of passage or sorts, so I wanted Damien to experience the pitch on lead.  The most difficult part of the chimney is tendency to get sucked too high into the chimney and getting your head stuck under the chockstones above. Stepping out onto the left ledge as soon as possible to critical. Damien was pretty psyched for the pitch and made astoundingly quick work of the crux moves! I was so proud of him! After easily moving off the ledge on big horns above the chimney he moved into the easier chimney system above and out of sight. I could hear the friction of his backpack though as he squeezed through. Backpacks are always an issue in chimneys!

Upon rejoining Damien at the top of Pitch 2 we had a short discussion about the chimney crux. The most difficult part for Damien was getting his leg on the left ledge. The move was awkward for him probably because of his height. For me I found the most difficult part to be reaching the jugs above the ledge (in the end I had resorted to some stemming variation followed by a pull-up/mantle). Personal attributes change how we view cruxes.

I put Damien on Belay for pitch 3 as well since I wanted to lead pitch 4. Pitch 3 requires the most route finding. The key is to follow features trending right until you reach Beckey’s fixed piton. Then make a sharp left onto the delicate finger traverse. Reaching very far left on this traverse will get you onto a more secure hold. Rope drag is a very real issue and unavoidable on this pitch and it is imperative to extend gear properly to avoid making it even worse.

From the top of the third pitch we moved the belay over some 3rd class terrain a few yards to a big platform just below the start of Pitch 4: the 5.7 face. This 10 foot,  blank and unprotected face is the original crux. Apparently Beckey ascended it by standing on his partner’s shoulders. I wanted to climb it because it’s a boulder problem in the middle of a mountain. There are decent ledges on the bottom so the lack of handholds isn’t an issue until those ledges end. The jug top hold is just out of reach of course. The best handholds available are not secure and include a mono-pocket with small thumb catch on the left and a barely useful small slopper n the right. The strategy I came up with was to grab these holds, smear hard, trust my feet and commit. The terrain after the slab is low fifth class to the summit. We were joined by the youngest team I’d ever run into into the alpine: two teenagers aged 17.  I wish I had started that young!

We hung out on the broad, spacious summit to enjoy the view for about 20 minutes. The sun wasn’t baking us yet (luckily we had the pleasure of climbing almost the entire route in the breezy shade) and we were in no big hurry. But we did eventually have to descend. Most people down-climb all of pitch 4 including the 5.7 slab. We opted to do the optional rappel. We down-climbed from the summit to descender’s left of the terrain/gear belay area just after the summit slabs and then turned left and down-climbed a few steps to a tree with slings. The key to this rappel is to not go straight down, Instead stay left and do not go directly down the face. You will end up on a small platform just around the corner from start of pitch 4.

From here we descended to the belay tree at the top of pitch 3 and then turned left moving down through the trees until our first chance to turn right. We walked onto a rock large rock ledge. There are chains on the wall here. We rapped down to a smaller ledge with chains (don’t miss them!) and made a final rappel to the notch. Make sure you direct yourself left on the final rappel or you will end up hoovering in space and not on the notch!

At the notch we gratefully removed our swollen, throbbing feet from the our tiny climbing shoes and savored the moment. A beautiful climb, on a glorious day in a spectacular setting! Plus, we were in the shade! Eventually we put on our boots and descended back to camp. The Beckey route was crowded and completely in the sun now. We had climbed it at just the right time!

Gear note: in addition to the standard Beckey Route rack (nut set, double cams  .4-3″) we found that a few mid-sized hexes proved to be very useful.

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