Ascent of Liberty Mountain on 2020-07-25

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Paul Michelson -- Trip Report or GPS Track
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, July 25, 2020
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Liberty Mountain
    Elevation:5680 ft / 1731 m

Ascent Trip Report

Useful Info:

On average, Liberty Mountain is climbed only once or twice a year, and for good reason. Even though the summit is only 25 miles from downtown Everett, it is very remote, has no trails of any kind, and features brushy approaches on logging roads quickly reverting to nature. It’s a very long and tough day, even for veterans of Cascades epics.

There are two usual approaches, both starting off from FR 41. The southern approach uses the FR 4111 branch and goes via Canyon Lake. This report is for the northern approach, using FR 4130 and 4131. These roads were decommissioned in 2014, and all culverts were removed, so that there are countless little ravines that must be crossed. About five of them are pretty deep and a couple require some scrambling to get across. Also, side alder is consuming more and more of the road, so stretches of it are very dense and unpleasant. With an early start and morning dew, you will get drenched.

At the end of FR 4131, you drop 640 feet through mostly open forest to the South Fork of Canyon Creek. In spring you might want a log or else wade. On both sides of the creek, in the valley bottom, are thickets of devil’s club and vine maple that are pretty miserable. If you use the FR 4111 approach, you will also get to about this same point and use the same route to the summit.

From the creek, once up out of the devil’s club zone, the climb is steeply uphill through open forest featuring lots of deadfall, then into a zone of brushy huckleberry and evergreens. Rocky steps and ledges then begin to appear, and eventually steep and slippery fern meadows (snow in early season). The only technical section is the summit block, where a gully steepens to Class 4 as you squeeze under a tree. The open summit has fine views, but the register was hard to open and soggy—we saw spans of several years with no ascents recorded.

Although this route is challenging, it is actually not as brushy as it could be, relative to other famously terrible Cascade bushwhacks. The alder on the road is not thorny, at least, and the only really bad brush-bashing sections are on both sides of the creek crossing, and most of that is somewhat avoidable. One trip report from 2011 using the south approach seemed to indicate a lot more brutal bushwhacking down low than we encountered.

Our Story:

We slept at the trailhead and left at 4:30 AM by headlamp. Our progress on the road was slowed by the wet brush and disappointment over the countless ravines to cross—the condensation on the slide alder, evergreens, and ankle-high weeds got us thoroughly soaked on this dry, sunny day. It took us 2.5 hours to travel 4.5 miles to the end of the road, putting us behind our schedule from the start.

It was not too bad getting down to the creek, except for the riparian zone of devil’s club, and we tanked up our water bottles there from a source with basically zero human contamination potential. Then it was uphill very steeply—we were following a GPS track from the Cascade Climbers web site that worked well. The route gained the SW ridge, which became more pronounced and rockier the higher we got. We saw a few trees with red flagging tape, but certainly nothing one would call a trail—too few people come to create any kind of footway. It was an exercise in constant routefinding, looking ahead constantly for the path of least resistance around giant logs, brushy areas, little cliff bands, and steep dirt slopes.

Once out of the forest we tediously trudged up some very steep fern slopes, up some steep rocky ledges, and finally to the base of the summit block. Here we elected to rope up, and I led the very short class-4 pitch up the gully, having trouble getting through the tree-hole with my pack on (best to leave them below). I then quickly belayed up Paul, and we both scrambled easily for 2 minutes to the summit.

We did not stay long—it was now 1 PM and we knew it would be race with darkness back to the cars. So after 15 minutes of eating, snacking, picture taking, and register signing, we headed down. We did the awkward rappel down through the tree hole, using fresh red webbing likely left by Conner McEntee a couple months ago. Using the rope added quite a bit of time, of course, but in a remote setting like this safety is paramount.

It took us 5.25 hours to get from the creek to the summit, and 4.5 to get down—the steepness of the terrain made it hard to make good time even with gravity assist. Also, we had to be very careful with routefinding, since a minor wrong vector could have quickly sent us down in a disastrously bad direction. In a couple places there are narrow “necks” of ridge need to be navigate that can’t be seen from ahead very well in the brush. So we were checking our GPS frequently as we plunged down into and through the forest, making sure we didn’t get cliffed-out or way off course.

There had been zero water or snow on the peak, so we were very thirsty and tired when we got to the creek. We tanked on pure mountain water before the agonizing climb back up 640 feet to the road—a classic “heartbreak hill” that sapped almost all our strength.

Now we had the 4.5 miles of brushy, ravine-cut logging road, and we were actually slower doing this section that we had been in the morning—it took us 3 hours to zombie-trudge out, due mainly to overall fatigue. Doing some tricky scrambling moves to cross some of the ravines was at our limit. We turned on our headlamps at 9:30 PM and were back at the cars at 9:55.

Younger and fitter parties can likely shave a couple of hours off our 17.5 hour time for this peak. The statistics of this trip are hard to pinpoint. Paul’s phone said it was 10.6 miles each way, my GPS said 8.5, but 7.5 when I manually removed a bunch of errant waypoints. We went around so many logs and obstacles that there is no way to get an accurate figure. For elevation gain, I just took the net trailhead-to-summit gain, added the 640 feet drop to the creek, plus an extra 100 feet for the ravines on the old road.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5406 ft / 1647 m
    Extra Gain:740 ft / 225 m
    Round-Trip Distance:15 mi / 24.1 km
    Route:SW Ridge
    Trailhead:FR 41 & FR 4130 spur  1754 ft / 534 m
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Rope, Headlamp
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Time:8 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:8 Hours 35 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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