Northwest Climbers Fight to Save Liberty Bell

Climbers in the Pacific Northwest are working to save the delicate alpine environment around the Liberty Bell Spires, one of the premier alpine climbing destinations in the Northwest. As with many popular climbing areas around the nation, the Liberty Bell Spires are facing severe impacts from the high volume of visiting climbers.

Volunteers at work on Liberty Bell access trails. Photo courtesy of © Matt Perkins.

Located just above the North Cascades Highway at Washington Pass, the climbing access trails go straight up the alpine slopes, making them extremely susceptible to erosion, which is leading to serious degradation of the subalpine meadows below the spires. To make matters worse, the vast network of unofficial trails are confusing to navigate, and climbers often get turned around and go off trail to get back on the right path, making the problem even worse.

“These climbing access paths were established long ago, when climbing was still an obscure activity and the alpine areas saw few visitors,” says Joe Sambataro, Northwest Regional Director for Access Fund. “They weren’t designed by expert trailbuilders to withstand the kind of traffic they are getting today, which has created serious safety and environmental concerns.”

Access Fund and local climbers have teamed up to save this delicate alpine landscape. The Access Fund Jeep-Conservation Team was brought in to create an assessment and site plan, providing the US Forest Service with blueprints for an environmental review. The Conservation Team broke ground in August of 2018, and the crew worked alongside volunteers from The Mountaineers, Washington Climbers Coalition, American Alpine Club’s Cascade Section, US Forest Service, and volunteers from the local climbing community. They’ve completed the first stage of this large-scale restoration: hardening and stabilizing existing trails, construction of a new trail corridor, and rerouting unsustainable trails.

Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team reviews site plan.

“Our goal is to concentrate climbers onto one easy-to-navigate and safe approach route that avoids early snowpack and is constructed to resist erosion,” says Ty Tyler, Access Fund Stewardship Director. “These improvements will eliminate the negative impacts and allow the surrounding alpine areas to thrive.”

But Northwest climbers need additional support to finish these critical projects. The Conservation Team will begin the second phase of this project in July, closing unnecessary “social trails” and installing signage to direct climbers onto appropriate trails that can withstand the traffic. The Conservation Team will also work with volunteers to restore the subalpine meadows by re-seeding slopes and installing water diversion structures to minimize and prevent future erosion.

While climbers have made great progress restoring the sensitive alpine environment around the Liberty Bell Spires, they still need help to finish this critical project and make the climbing area sustainable well into the future. We’d like to thank the partners and donors who have already helped raise money for this large-scale stewardship initiative. We’ve made exceptional progress so far, and only need a bit more help to push this project over the finish line.

Credit Photo Courtesy of:
© Joe Sambataro

Liberty Bell Needs Your Support

Please consider making a donation to help us raise the final $6,500 to finish restoring climbing access trails and the delicate alpine environment at Liberty Bell.