09/11/2019

Climbers Restore Washington’s Liberty Bell Spires

Access Fund and local climbers have completed an extensive two-year restoration of the popular alpine climbing area, Liberty Bell Spires, outside Mazama, Washington. The Liberty Bell Spires, a cluster of five granite spires at Washington Pass, is home to some of the most popular and iconic alpine climbing in Washington State, including classics like the Beckey Route on Liberty Bell and the West Face of North Early Winter Spire. However, rapidly expanding visitation and a lack of maintenance had led to deteriorating trail conditions, severe erosion, unsafe approaches, and extensive damage to the sensitive alpine environment surrounding the spires. 

Local climbers cutting new, sustainable trail at Liberty Bell Spires. Ancestral lands of Nłeʔkepmx Tmíxʷ (Nlaka'pamux),Syilx tmixʷ (Okanagan), Yakama, Chelan, and Methow. © Matt Perkins


Local climbers first brought these concerns to Access Fund in 2015, seeking help to elevate these issues with the local Forest Service office and provide stewardship assistance.

“Thousands of climbers come to Mazama and Washington Pass each year to climb, hike, ski, and enjoy this beautiful landscape,” says CB Thomas, Manager of Goats Beard Mountain Supplies in Mazama. “We realized the US Forest Service needed additional support to steward this popular area.” 

Access Fund deployed its Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team, a professional trail and conservation crew, in 2016 to work with local climbers and North Cascades Mountain Guides to conduct an extensive assessment of the trail conditions and provide the Methow Valley Ranger District with a proposal to stabilize and restore the sensitive alpine climbing environment. 

The Conservation Team broke ground in 2018, after securing Forest Service approval, and has been working alongside Washington Climbers Coalition, The Mountaineers, American Alpine Club’s Cascade Section, and the US Forest Service to restore this popular climbing area. Over the course of two seasons, these organizations worked together to reroute and rebuild crumbling and unsafe approach trails, restore native plantlife, install water diversion systems, and place wayfinding signage to help guide climbers and hikers along sustainable trails. 

Funding for the project has come from a host of sources, including the National Forest Foundation, the Petzl Foundation, Seattle Foundation, AAC Cornerstone Grant, North Cascades Conservation Council, The Mountaineers, Mazamas and donations from more than a hundred dedicated climbers.

“Watching the response from donors and volunteers has been both inspiring and humbling,” says Ty Tyler, Access Fund’s Stewardship Director. “Folks from across the state really stepped up to help restore and create a sustainable future for this beloved local climbing area.

The Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team crew and volunteers moved more than 86 tons of granite across the alpine slopes to build sustainable stone staircases and retaining walls that will withstand high climber traffic and significant seasonal runoff. Two miles of redundant social trails have been closed and reseeded with native plants, and over 25 navigational signs have been installed to keep climbers on the newly constructed trails.  

Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team crew reviewing project scope at Liberty Bell. Ancestral lands of Nłeʔkepmx Tmíxʷ (Nlaka'pamux),Syilx tmixʷ (Okanagan), Yakama, Chelan, and Methow. © Jonathan Vickers


The intensive, two-year restoration effort has been completed, and Liberty Bell Spires now has the crucial infrastructure needed to protect its sensitive ecosystem and sustain climbing long into the future.The improvements are already being felt and celebrated in the Northwest climbing community. 

“I was blown away at how much progress has been made. The trail has been dramatically improved, making it both safer and helping climbers have lower impact on the fragile vegetation leading up to the base of the popular climbs,” says Tom Vogl, Executive Director of The Mountaineers. “The Mountaineers were thrilled to be a part of this project.”

The climbing community’s victory at Liberty Bell Spires is an empowering example of what’s possible when we work together to fight for the places we love. Crags all over the country face similar challenges, but the climbing community has proven that it is up to the challenge.

“Working with Access Fund has been an exemplary collaboration for Forest Service stewardship projects,” says Zachary Winters, US Forest Service Climbing Ranger. “The most gratifying part of this project has been observing each crew member and volunteer take ownership in stewarding this extraordinary climbing resource. The final product is one we are all incredibly proud of: restored social trails, logical approach design, and sustainable trail structures. Climbing at Washington Pass can remain an example of minimum-impact recreation on the National Forest.” 

Methow Valley Climbers & the Washington Climbers Coalition will partner with the US Forest Service to maintain these new structures and ensure restoration efforts are successful well into the future.