| Mount Rainier: The Next Step
Mt Rainier 14,411'
Disappointment Cleaver Route
Ski from 11,000' at Ingram Flats
Mount Rainier draws many from afar, across the US and around the world. You are almost assured to run into climbing parties from overseas, which speaks to the popularity of the mountain. Tahoma, its native name, offers more than 10,000 vertical feet of relief, heavily glaciated terrain and seemingly limitless route choices. Very accomplished mountaineers earned their stripes on this peak.
Debbie and I opted to climb as a two person party, which requires knowledge of somewhat involved rescue techniques and a large amount of glacier rescue gear. In order to rescue a helpless rope mate who has fallen into a crevasse alone, it is generally accepted that a Z by C pulley system is required to generate enough mechanical advantage to carry out the rescue. You must also set a snow anchor while in self arrest; no easy task. Several other details muddy the waters in a single rescuer situation.
Our training involved setting up pulley systems in our living room repeatedly throughout the winter and then several on snow sessions practicing the anchor placement while in self arrest under heavy load. With pickets on your harness at the ready, we found it was actually quite reasonable to perform the anchor placement after some practice. Two pickets with draws, three prussiks, three lockers and three pulleys are required by each climber for the Z by C pulley system.
We originally had our sites on the Emmons/Winthrop route, but heavy snow this year in the pacific NW have all but the Paradise trailhead requiring long snow covered road approaches. Many routes start at Paradise. Record high temperatures virtually shut all the routes down due to avalanche danger. Fortunately, the disappointment cleaver route is a pretty safe spring route and therefore was our choice for a summit attempt.
Less talk now, more pics. We started at Paradise at 6 pm with a permit to camp on the Muir snowfield to avoid the hoards at Camp Muir. Debbie skinning up:
Muir snowfield, the ascent route to Camp Muir:
The snow was heavily pockmarked with suncups and bootsteps. Many locals make daytrips to Muir and back.
We set camp on the climbers left side of the Muir Snowfield at 7,600'. Heavy winds blew throughout the night, a full moon shined bright. We were treated to a secluded night.
Morning dawned with a somewhat concerning lenticular formation over the summit, a sign of changing weather. Having spent virtually zero time in the Cascades, the weather was somewhat of a mystery to us.
The skin up the snowfield was easy with spectacular views of Adams and Hood:
After a brief stop at stinky and crowded Camp Muir (10,000'), we continued on toward Ingram Flats.
We used Cathedral gap to gain access to the Ingram Glacier.
Looking back at Gibraltar and Cathedral Rocks:
The gap was melted out, so the skis went on the packs.
After cresting ridgeline, we were treated to a view of the lower and upper ingram icefalls and little Tahoma Peak:
We set camp on the flats between opening crevasses in complete isolation, a far cry from sleeping in a stinky hut at Muir.
The weather held through the night and the snow froze. We were clearly spending some karma on this trip.
We slept through the alarm and started a bit late at 5 am. Several guided groups had already made their way onto the cleaver. We made our way over solid snow bridges and through a large serac fall induced avalanche debris field to the base of the steepest section on the route.
The guides set fixed lines through this section, which traverses above cliffs on high 40 degree terrain to reach the ridgeline.
The fixed lines seemed to go a bit overboard for this terrain. Guided groups often have super newbs though who may grasp this line for dear life.
A brief steep snow slope had us on more solid ground with views of the expansive Emmons Glacier.
We found a few brief class 3 rock sections.
At this point the first of several groups aborting their summit attempt came down past us. They spoke of high winds on the summit dome.
Hmmm… what does high wind mean in the NW? Several guided groups continued. Debbie catches the first up close glimpse of the summit dome.
This route finds a way through most of the crevasse fields. Early season deep snows make this a walkup.
A few snow bridges must be crossed, which on a frozen May morning should be stable.
Upon sighting rock again, you are close. The summit crater is just a few hundred feet away.
We were surprised with the significance of the summit crater. High volcanoes are so cool, I cant wait to climb more of them.
The guided groups seem content with standing inside the crater without heading over to the true summit. When we asked one of them where the summit was, they replied right here. We thought to ourselves, um, no, this is clearly not the summit buddy. Oh well, off to the top! It's a good idea to stay roped up on the crossing of the ice filled crater as steam fumaroles can make holes in the seemingly solid snowfield.
Sustained 40 mph winds were annoying but warm. Debbie on top of Washington:
This was a special day for Debbie and I. The act of summiting Rainier was cool, but it paled in comparison to the step we took in our lives together. I snuck a rock on a ring up there and surprised her with the question of all questions. She didn't see it coming at all, which made it so cool! I love you Debbie, my Fiancée!
After a nice break on the summit with a stunning vista of the Cascades it was time to head down.
The snow bridges up high remained well frozen:
Which was good because these holes have no visible bottom.
Adams and Hood:
The Emmons Glacier with me in the foreground on the DC:
Looking down the Ingram Glacier:
A look at the terrain below the section with fixed lines. Can you spot our tent below Cathedral rocks? Adams on the horizon:
Traveling below teetering seracs is a bit unnerving.
This bridge was getting pretty soft, so we added some additional strands in our safety web.
Time to ski out to Paradise:
If you haven't skied with a 50-60 lbs pack, you're in for a treat the first time you do it. Debbie did a very impressive job getting down this mountain with her heavy load. I have a feeling if she had a chance to start skiing when she was young she might just whoop my butt down the mountain.
Camp Muir is an impressive array of climber's shelters.
Debbie skiing the Muir snowfield as weather takes Rainier back under its shroud.
I was waiting this whole trip to watch an icefall occur on the mountain. Just as I had accepted the fact that it wouldn't happen, the Nisqually Ice Cliff gave birth to a rumbling avalanche of ice, a treat to watch.
Rainier rolled over pretty easy for us. I can't wait to get back here really soon and try a more interesting route as well as ski from the top.
We spent some time in Seattle eating seafood and walking the piers, then headed to North Cascades National Park before climbing Mount Baker during the next weather window. That TR to come soon…