Damien has been climbing for nearly 10 years in the Cascades and somehow never got around to climbing the Liberty Bell Group. I am not sure how this happened, but this weekend we set out to remedy this situation by climbing 2 classics. The South Arete of SEWS was our first objective (the 2nd climb was the Becky Route on Liberty Bell). I climbed this route the summer of 2014 and have a trip report on it. My vision of climbing has changed since then and yearly conditions vary, so I feel that another write up is in order.

We left the Blue Lake TH at about 7:45am. There are big sections of snow on the lowest portion and after losing the boot track we decided to just push straight uphill and bypass all this lower, sweeping, annoying switchbacks. We linked up easily with the trail which was much more melted out about 250 feet up from the TH. Continuous snow began at the second clearing where the route turns away from the Blue Lake Trail and detours toward the Liberty Bell Group. There is a good bookpack from the steady steam of climbers heading into the basin. However, there are lots of creeks moving under the snow. Care should definitely be taken and there are hollow places where you can puncture through pretty deep. Damien and I cut off from the main track and set up camp in a flat area about 300 feet below the SEWS Saddle. We didn’t see much point to camping in the car like most people do. Then we re-joined the track and headed up the snow covered slope to the saddle.

The top of the saddle is melted out with plenty of space to prep for climbing.There were already a bunch of teams on the route. We knew the 5.6 moderate S Arete route is very popular and we were prepared to wait. Damien and I geared up and hung our shoes and poles in the trees out of reach from the goats. I wanted to lead the first pitch since I recalled it being kind of bouldery. The first pitch is the crux and has a move or two that is deemed to be much more difficult than the 5.6 it is rated. I’d have to agree. After some easy moves using a flake you have to step out onto the slab and smear hard on almost nothing while you hands are on awkward and insecure holds. Add the fact that the rock was sweating from the heat and no amount of chalk would help with friction made this section even more challenging. Once passed this part though climbing returned to mid-class 5. I belayed Damien up from the tree at the top of the pitch. There are also chains to the left if one prefers though those are really for rapping.

Damien led on pitch 2 which started in a blocky, low fifth class gully. At the end of the gully is a fun 5.4 chimney which can be awkward with a pack on. The top of the chimney is the end of pitch 2 and the start of easy climbing. Damien and I chose to Simaul-climb the remainder of the route. It is basically all class 3/4 with a few low class 5 moves sprinkled in here and there. Unfortunately the team of three in front of us pitched out nearly everything which slowed us down quite a lot. I think we might have made it to the summit an hour and a half earlier otherwise. Regardless, it was a great opportunity for us to practice efficiency and simaul-climbing skills. I remember that last time I did this route I was pretty disappointed due to all the low class climbing pitches, but this time I knew what to expect and was able to appreciate the climb as a fun, low-stress, warm up for the alpine rock season.

The summit block is a V0 slab boulder problem which delighted me as I didn’t recall that. Damien and I rested in the shade a bit as the day was growing grossly hot and increasingly uncomfortable. Eventually, we ventured back out into the sun for the descent. Since Damien led the simul-climb up, I led down. Basically to descend you reverse-route down-climbing until the top of Pitch 3. Then we did 3 rappels on trees or chains (all directly on the ascent route), back to to the saddle. Enroute another rappelling team recognized us from the summit of Mt Hood last year when we had climbed Leuthold! We had talked to them for some time, but I didn’t remember their faces. We were surprised they recognized us!

We plunge stepped easily back to camp to enjoy an evening beneath the spires.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *