Liberty Cap of Mount Rainier + Camp Schurman + Emmons Glacier / 自由帽

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Liberty Cap, a sub-peak of Mount Rainier, stands by the renowned Columbia Crest. Climbers often associate the peak with the Liberty Ridge route. But Emmons Glacier via Camp Schurman is the more common way.

Liberty Cap of Mount Rainier at dawn
Liberty Cap of Mount Rainier at dawn

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Liberty Cap at a Glance

Access: Glacier Basin Trailhead
Round Trip: 19.5 miles
Elevation Range: 4280′-14112′
Gear: helmet, ice ax, crampons
GPS Track: available
Dog-Friendly: no pets

The Preface

I had my first close encounter with Liberty Cap in 2013 from Columbia Crest. Then today, it became my final peak on the Washington State Top 100 Peaks list. After last week’s trip, I enjoyed another sunny weekend in solitude.

See more trip photos here.

Wilderness Permit for Liberty Cap

The national park approved my solo climbing permit at the end of June. But because of COVID-19, walk-ups for overnight camping were not available. Then it took three tries to get one during the second week in July. Persistence paid off, after all!

Ironically, I was the only person at Camp Schurman on the night of the climb. But the couple I met on my way out mentioned they couldn’t get a permit for the same night. Perhaps everyone had canceled their plans at the last second.

Glacier Basin Trail
Glacier Basin Trail

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Glacier Basin Trail

It was hard to believe seven years had passed since I first set foot on this trail. Back then, I teamed up with friends from the Seattle Mountaineers to climb Mount Rainier. But I never thought I’d return after the second time.

Many campers were at the Glacier Basin Camp as I hiked past. Nice to see people enjoying the weekend despite the pandemic. Soon, I reached the top of the basin below Inter Glacier and took a water break to enjoy the views.

Inter Glacier
Inter Glacier

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Camp Schurman

Another hiker showed up shortly as we leapfrogged our way up the glacier. We saw each other again atop the snow and chatted over a quick lunch. Then I crossed over the ridge down to Emmons Glacier afterward.

Two groups came up right before I continued. Then I went over crevasses on the glacier below Camp Schurman before meeting another party as they came down. Soon, I reached the helicopter landing zone and rested.

Camp Schurman below Steamboat Prow
Camp Schurman below Steamboat Prow

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Preparing for Liberty Cap

Two more groups exited in the late afternoon before I went up to scout the high camp for a spot. Sweet! There were two big sites 300′ above Camp Schurman. So I brought my things up and enjoyed a quiet afternoon.

In the past, I’d get sick at 10k+ altitude. So I got some Diamox for the climb last year before I delayed the trip. Though skeptical, my doctor assured me the prescription was still valid. So I took a dosage 24 hours before the trip.

Preparing for Liberty Cap
Preparing for Liberty Cap

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Liberty Cap Climb

I didn’t sleep well before my 11:30 PM start. Part of me was anxious about climbing alone but enjoyed stopping as little or as much as needed. But it was exciting to visit the sub-peak of Mount Rainier at last.

The first 2000′ up to the 11800′ bergschrund detour went by fast. Soon, I became suspicious when the route went downhill, thinking it had come from below. So I went up the steep slope and poked my head over the edge of a big gap. Noop!

One of the many crevasses
One of the many crevasses

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Altitude Sickness

As it turned out, this year’s route dropped 100′ to bypass the north end of the bergschrund. Then it rose sharply over the steep terrain above the crevasse. Soon, I felt the onset of AMS at 12k, minus the headaches and nausea. Thank goodness!

Soon, fatigue and shortness of breath followed, which meant the medication had lost its effect. But I was still glad not to have felt sick sooner at 10k like I usually would. My speed slowed significantly, and I tried hard to stay awake.

Dawning below Liberty Cap
Dawning below Liberty Cap

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Liberty Cap-Columbia Crest Saddle

After going over several areas of heavy crevasses, I reached the 13600′ saddle above Winthrop Glacier. I was extra mindful of the thin snow bridges. But it was more nerve-racking seeing that the newer tracks went through them.

I finally knelt on the windy saddle and soon lay on my pack. I wasn’t hungry but forced an entire turkey bacon sandwich down my throat to reduce the sickness. Then I drank water as I watched the south horizon slowly show light.

Sunrise
Sunrise

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Liberty Cap Summit Views

I felt so much better after eating some food and resting. But the half-a-mile walk to the base of the peak went super slow. I steered through a few small gaps using the old tracks and slowly went up the east ridge.

The terrain steepened below the top as I bypassed the final crevasse from the south. Whew, OMG, finally! Then I paced around the flat top to soak in the much-needed warmth. The sun had been out for half an hour now.

Mount Rainier (Columbia Crest) panoramic view
Mount Rainier (Columbia Crest) panoramic view

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Leaving Liberty Gap

The hazy views to the northwest had me suspecting wildfires somewhere. But I could still make out Mount Baker and the Stuart Range in the distance. Then I looked over to the Columbia Crest with a few people on top.

I felt anew after the 45-minute break, but I continued eating and drinking to energize my body. Back at the saddle, the three climbers coming up after me in the dark were leaving the main summit. I waved but wasn’t sure if they saw me.

The significant reroute
The significant reroute

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Back to Schurman Camp and Out

The descent to camp was uneventful as most side paths I saw in the dark ended nowhere. But I focused on the route and avoided the thinning snow bridges when possible. Parts of the main trail even went through giant seracs.

I took a break after reaching camp earlier than expected. I briefly chatted with the three guys when they walked past my tent half an hour later. But instead of napping, I packed up to go home at a decent hour to see the pups!

Thanks for another safe outing
Thanks for another safe outing

See more trip photos here.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Vivian Hauer

    I love the summit! Who is so heavy that left such dented footprints on the snow?

  2. Jim Morrison

    I did that exact route with my nephew many years ago. Looking back I wonder if it was brave or foolish for just the two of us alone on the mountain. Solo even increases the risk. I guess it is a personal decision based on how you evaluate the risk and the reward. I usually avoid saying “awesome” but I thought your pictures and videos were no less than awesome.

  3. onehikeaweek

    Thanks! It’s a big place for sure.

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