This summer I took another mountaineering class with the American Alpine Institute, the follow-on to the intro course I took last summer. With a successful mountaineering trip on Mount Baker just few weeks before, I was excited to learn more about alpine rock climbing. I joined Matt Y. and Matt B. to learn from our incredible guide, Elias. After several days of lessons and rock climbing, we sent this this 4-pitch climb to the summit of Liberty Bell via the famous Beckey Route, named after the American mountaineer Fred Beckey.
Approach: 2.25 mi (one-way) | +2000 ft
Climb: 400 ft | trad | 4 pitches with scramble to summit
Difficulty: Class 1 -2 approach, Class 5.5 – 5.7 climb [learn more]
Route: Begin at the Blue Lake Trailhead and follow the trail to the well-marked climber’s route on the left (east) side of the trail. Ascend the obvious path to large slab and continue up the left side. Continue up through the boulder field under the west face of Liberty Bell to the wide Liberty Bell-Concord gully. The base of the climbing route begins just below the top of the gully. For a description of the climbing route, refer to one of the websites or books in the resources section below.
Permits & Regulations: A Northwest Forest pass is required to park at the trailhead, but no permit is required to hike or climb here.
Resources: For a quick overview of this climb, check out the Summit Post and Mountain Project pages. You’ll find more thorough descriptions of the routes as well as climbing topographic charts in the Cascade Alpine Guide (Beckey) and in the Washington Pass Climbing (Nicholson) books.
05 August, 2020 | 2.25 mi | + 2000 ft | View on Map
My alarm goes off at 3:30 AM, long before sunrise. I munch on a bagel and an avocado as I gather my gear: a harness, belay device, assorted carabiners and slings, a headlamp, plus snacks and water for the day. At 4:30 I meet up with the rest of the group; we go over our plan for the day and then drive the short distance from our campground to the Blue Lake Trailhead. By 4:50, we’re striding up the trail with headlamps on. It’s chilly, but comfortable weather for a brisk morning walk to base of the climb.
We eventually leave the well-trodden Blue Lake Trail and begin up the steeper climbers trail. The sun rises as we clamber up the path, warming the surrounding peaks but leaving us in shadow. We work our way up a chute full of loose rocks to a small saddle between two cliffs. This is where the climbing begins!
The Beckey Route
+400 ft | 4 pitches | 5.5 – 5.7 YDS
We all gear up in the shaded chute and then begin the first pitch. All four of us are roped together on two 60-meter ropes. Elias will lead the pitches since he is the only one of us that is qualified to place trad protection. Sixty meters of rope separates him from Matt Y; another 60m rope links Matt B (goes by Splat) and I to Matt Y. Splat is only a few meters up the rope from me, so we’ll have to climb at the same time. Once we’re all roped up, Elias leads the way up the first pitch with Matt belaying from the base of the climb. Elias builds an anchor and then belays Matt from the top while Splat and I wait our turn.
Matt soon completes the first pitch, and Splat begins to climb with me trailing just behind him. The climbing itself isn’t terribly difficult, but managing the rope between Splat and I proves to be a challenge. As the last climber, I have the additional responsibility of removing the protection that Elias placed as I climb past it.
Splat and I soon reach the top of the first pitch and Elias takes off again, leading the way up the second pitch. This one is more of a challenge and much more fun than the first pitch! A small chimney proves to be the crux of this section – between my backpack and the various cams and nuts slung over my shoulder, I struggle to maneuver through the tight space.
We continue climbing in the same order up the third pitch. I particularly enjoy a short stretch of exposed climbing but otherwise make quick work of the pitch. My favorite section of the fourth and final pitch is a 2m bouldering problem; the rest of the climb to the summit is mostly class-4 scrambling.
We reach the summit at about 11:00, well ahead of the schedule we laid out last night. We relax on the summit for a while, eating lunch and admiring some truly spectacular views. It’s a beautiful day – the sun shines brightly and a light breeze keeps us cool.
After taking some pictures and one more look at the splendid panorama, we head down. Elias hangs back as we down-climb the fourth pitch, which I find more intimidating than scrambling up it. From the base of the fourth pitch we wind down a tree-covered bench to the top of a rappel. Elias ensures that everyone’s belay device is set up properly before disappearing down the cliff. Matt and Splat follow him, and I bring up the rear. A second rappel delivers us back to the rocky saddle where we began the climb this morning. Elias pulls the rope down and we all take off our climbing gear before beginning the slippery descent through the chute. From the climbers trail at the base of the chute, we enjoy an easy walk back to the trailhead and our cars.
I can’t wait to do more alpine climbing like this! I just love the combination of the physicality and problem-solving aspects of rock climbing with beautiful mountain scenery. Trad climbing requires many different skills and I have a lot left to learn.