Route: Liberty Ridge (steep snow/ice)

TR #: 91

Category: Washington (Rainier)        Summit Elev: 14,411 ft       Rock Type: Andesite

Partner: Jason Schilling

Classic north-side route on Washington's license plate icon. The conditions were perfect with the heavy early summer snowpack, making for a quick and relatively easy ascent.

The left side of this page provides a trip report and lots of photos from the climb.

My initial plan was to climb Mt. Rainier's classic Liberty Ridge in May 2010, but when the spring dumped several inches of snow in the Cascades, I was forced to wait until later. June's weather was a typical mix of rain and clouds, so the climb didn't happen then either. But then July arrived, bringing with it sunny skies and warm weather. Liberty Ridge was in perfect condition, something that only happens for a couple of weeks each year. Time to climb!

What follows is a photo trip report for my climb of Liberty Ridge with my friend Jason. We had perfect conditions, perfect weather, and a great climb together. Click the photos for descriptions.

(Jason and I had so much fun on Liberty Ridge, that we climbed Ptarmigan Ridge on Rainier the following weekend with our friend Steve. Ptarmigan Ridge is a close contender with Liberty Ridge for Rainier's "best" route. Click the link for this trip report!)

Day 1 - White River Campground (4,400 ft) to camp on lower Curtis Ridge (7,500 ft)
elevation gain: 3,100 feet
time: 5.5 hours

Photos from approach to camp on Curtis Ridge

Photos from camp on Curtis Ridge

Day 2 - Lower Curtis Ridge (7,500 ft) to camp at Thumb Rock (10,800 ft)
elevation gain: 3,300 feet
time: 3.5 hours

Photos from climb of lower Liberty Ridge

Photos from high camp at Thumb Rock

Day 3 - Thumb Rock (10,800 ft) to Liberty Cap (14,112 ft) to summit (14,411 ft) and descent of Emmons Glacier back to White River Campground (4,400 ft)
elevation gain: 3,600 feet
elevation loss: 10,000 feet
times: 5 hours from Thumb Rock to Liberty Cap, 1 hour from Liberty Cap to summit, 2 hours from summit to Camp Schurman, 2.5 hours from Camp Schurman to car

Photos from climb of upper Liberty Ridge

Photos from summit

Photos from descent of Emmons Glacier
The right side of this page provides a general overview and photo overlays for the route, as well as our trip itinerary.

Liberty Ridge and Ptarmigan Ridge routes on Rainier as seen from Seattle, overlay by Steph Abegg.

General Overview

Route Info

Location: Mt. Rainier, Washington
Route: Liberty Ridge
Difficulty: IV, Steep snow and ice
Summit elevation: 14,411 feet
Elevation gain: 11,400 feet
Max grade: 55 degrees
Approach: White River (less-popular alternative is via Carbon River)
Time: 2-5 days (3 for us)


60m 8mm rope, 3 ice screws, 2 pickets, a few slings, 2 tools each, crampons


White River Campground: 4,400 ft
Camp on Curtis Ridge: 7,500 ft
Camp on Thumb Rock: 10,800 ft
Summit (Columbia Crest): 14,411 ft
Liberty Cap: 14,112 ft


Route Overlay

 Poster of Climbing routes on Rainier

Our Itinerary

Day 1:
  • Drive from Seattle to Rainier, get permits at White River Ranger Station
  • White River Campground (4,400ft) to lower Curtis Ridge (7,500ft)

Day 2:
  • Curtis Ridge to Thumb Rock (10,800ft)
Note: Some parties shoot for Thumb Rock in one long day (6,400ft up) and avoid camping on lower Curtis Ridge, and hence make it one long day from the car to Thumb Rock.

Day 3:
  • Thumb Rock (10,800ft) to Liberty Cap summit (14,112ft)
  • Liberty Cap to true summit Columbia Crest (14,411ft)
  • Descend to Camp Schurman (9,510ft) and via Emmons glacier
  • Camp Schurman to White River Campground (4,400ft)
  • Drive back to Seattle
Note: Some parties begin descent after the summit of Liberty Cap rather than tagging the higher summit. As we did, it is possible to descend all the way to the trailhead and not camp at Camp Schurman, and hence make it one long day between Thumb Rock and the car.

Comparisons 1 week apart

I climbed Ptarmigan Ridge exactly 1 week after Liberty Ridge. It was interesting to see the amount of melting that occurs over the course of 1 week of normal warm summer weather.


Photos from my parents' scrapbooks

My parents climbed Rainier on several occasions in the 1970s (my mom climbed it more than my dad, since before they met she was part of the Tacoma Mountaineers; Rainier was and still is common destination for the Mountaineers). My parents climbed a few different routes (Emmons Glacier, Disappointment Cleaver, Ingraham Glacier, Sunset Ridge, Kautz Icefall) on Rainier, but they never did climb Liberty or Ptarmigan Ridges, although these were on their list. Then I was born, and the list was passed on to me.

Here are a few photos from my parents' scrapbooks. The people and gear have changed greatly over the years, but Rainier is much the same now as it was when my parents were climbing it over 30 years ago.

Camp Muir and Gibraltar Rock; 1974.
Final Assault of the Emmons Glacier, 7am; July 1974.
My mom on the summit of Rainier after climbing Emmons Glacier;  Liberty Cap and Olympics in the background; July 1974.
Hut at Steamboat Prow (Camp Schurman); climb of Emmons Glacier, July 1974.
My mom on the lip of a crevasse on the Disappointment Cleaver route, 1975.
My mom trudging on as Little Tahoma fades in the clouds; Mt. Rainier via Disappointment Cleaver, 1975.
Camp in the crater rim near a sulfur cave;  Mt. Rainier via Disappointment Cleaver, 1975. (The tent in the photo is an old REI Crestline tent, which was later blown apart in heavy winds on a winter attempt on Mt. Rainier.)
My dad and John Skirving on Liberty Cap after climbing Sunset Ridge, June 1980. (Following this photo was a debate over which way to head down....white out conditions don't make the decision easy!)
My sister (20 months old) hiking above Paradise on Mt. Rainier, August 1986.