Peak(s):  Mount Rainier - 14,411 feet
Date Posted:  07/09/2012
Modified:  07/10/2012
Date Climbed:   07/06/2012
Author:  SurfNTurf
Additional Members:   speth, Fisching, Matt
 Mt. Rainiering: Disappointment Cleaver  

MOUNTAIN: Mt. Rainier (14,411')
ROUTE: Disappointment Cleaver
CAMP: Ingraham Flats (11,100')
DAYS ON MOUNTAIN: July 4-6, 2012
SUMMIT DAY: July 6, 2012
CLIMBERS: Matt (Matt), Matthew (speth), Greg (gregory_fischer), Jeff (SurfNTurf)

First off, it was apparently a Gathering on Rainier this week. Even though I didn't bump into anyone except I Man and robco over victory beers, congrats to the other groups on their summits. I'm sure mine won't be the only TR, and I look forward to reading them all.

The itch to do Rainier has been around forever, but the mountain always felt unattainable. A guide was out of my price range and I didn't have the glacier skills to try it on my own. When my good buddy kushrocks and his badass girlfriend Annie summited last summer unguided, however, it inspired me to launch an attempt.

The initial are-you-interested PM went out last September, and as usual with these things, people joined and dropped out and joined and dropped out until finally three of us bought plane tickets to Seattle for July 3: Matt (Matt), Matthew (speth) and me. Greg (gregory_fischer) joined somewhat last-minute because he was already planning to drive to the Pacific Northwest for a family vacation and decided to sneak away for a couple days. Chris: congrats on med school brother, we all wished you could have made it.

Plane tickets bought, it was time to focus on training. None of us had ever set foot on a glacier or set up a crevasse rescue pulley. A very, very special and sincere THANK YOU to Carl, Marc and James for taking time to show us the ropes. We also relied heavily on the great little book Glacier Mountaineering: An Illustrated Guide to Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue by Andy Tyson and Mike Clelland. We went once to St. Mary's Glacier and met several times in Denver-area parks until we understood the theories and were able to set up a Z-pulley in our sleep.

I am exceptionally proud of this team because the four of us came together and reached the summit as equals. We didn't hire a guide and none of us had prior glacier experience. Learning glacier travel and crevasse rescue is a daunting task for the uninitiated, but we did the homework, put in the training hours and relied solely on ourselves on the mountain. It really felt like we earned Columbia Crest.

By the time we boarded our flight for Seattle on July 3, we felt ready. Tip: sit on the left side of the plane flying into Seattle. You'll be treated to some nifty views.


Our flight was scheduled to land at 7:10 p.m., giving us plenty of time to check-in to our Tacoma hotel and hit REI and the grocery store. Lady luck wasn't with us at the beginning. The plane was delayed two hours for unknown reasons, and by the time we acquired our rental car at SeaTac it was almost 11 p.m. The plan was to go straight to Paradise in the morning, so we were already at a disadvantage.

Thankfully there are these wonderful things known as 24-hour WalMart SuperCenters. We stopped by one at about 7 a.m. somewhere between Tacoma and Mt. Rainier National Park that satisfied all of our fuel and food needs.

We arrived at Paradise shortly before 10 a.m., a few hours later than we'd have liked but still fine. It took a while to sort gear, secure our permits and stare warily at our newly acquired blue bags, but we finally hit the trail at about 11:15 a.m. We were on snow within a few feet of the parking lot. From there, the summit of Mt. Rainier loomed nearly 9,000' above. It was an indescribable sight.

Gearing up and taking over a large section of the Paradise parking lot.

Mt. Rainier and 9,000' of vertical relief.

Obligatory setting-off group photo (L-R Matthew, Greg, Matt, Jeff).

No ropes are necessary on the initial trail or the Muir Snowfield, so we agreed to go our own paces and regroup at Camp Muir (10,080'). Greg and I made it around 3:45 p.m. and snooped around, after witnessing a HUGE avalanche on the way up. Gulp. The weather the previous week had been atrocious, with several consecutive days of non-summits. Guides and park rangers alike spoke continuously of avalanche danger from 6+ inches of fresh snow. Our spirits sank. The weather was supposed to be stellar, but that wouldn't mean squat if the upper route was an avalanche death zone.

The Muir Snowfield is the right-hand ridgeline.


Arriving at Camp Muir.

The Matts arrived not long after us and we took an extended break, roping up (we used an 8.3mm 40-meter Mammut Glacier Line) to cross the Cowlitz Glacier a little after 6 p.m. The first steps onto a real glacier were equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. Everything we'd been practicing for months was now for real. I dressed my prusiks, took a deep breath and set out for Cathedral Gap.

Matthew roped in to cross the Cowlitz Glacier.

Carrying 50-pound packs up 5,500' in a day was, as you might expect, exhausting. We limped into our campsite at the Ingraham Flats (11,100') with only an hour or two of daylight remaining. The storms of the previous week had erased any existing platforms aside from those already in use, so we set to shoveling and stamping out level spaces. A big team from Alpine Ascents International (AAI) was already sleeping in preparation for a midnight wake-up call, so we tried our best to keep quiet.

The weather forecast was borderline perfect all the way through Saturday, except for moderate winds. We had camping permits for the Flats for 7/4 and 7/5, and then Camp Muir for 7/6 and 7/7. Time was on our side. Given our late arrival, the avalanche danger and the clear skies, we unanimously decided to declare 7/5 a rest day. I enjoyed the sunset and kept my eyes peeled for fireworks, looking forward to sleeping in the next morning.

First sighting of the guide tents and the Ingraham Flats.

Not a bad view for sunset; Happy Fourth of July!

The next day dawned still, clear and bright. Our only objective: eat a ton of food and kill about 12 hours by doing nothing. The chief source of entertainment was building the world's creepiest tortured snowman and trying to knock it into a crevasse with snowballs. A house-sized serac also came loose about 200 horizontal feet from our camp, reinforcing the fact that "holy-$%^&-we're-on-a-freaking-glacier."

Most of the AAI group turned around above the Disappointment Cleaver, citing "pockets of instability" in the snow. One pair - a strong client and a guide short-roping him - made the summit, along with an independent party of three. We never saw the mob from RMI so they either turned around super early or didn't even mount an attempt 7/5. A few people making the summit and a strong melt-freeze cycle boosted our morale for our own try the next morning.

Rope team coming down an exposed section of the Disappointment Cleaver.

Chinook helicopter on the way to retrieve the body of hero, park ranger Nick Hall, who died on the Emmons Glacier the previous week. RIP.

Matthew and The World's Creepiest Snowman.

Sunset on July 5. Our thoughts turn to our summit attempt, mere hours away.

AAI left and was replaced by a big guided group from International Mountain Guides (IMG); the two companies share the stocked tents at the Flats. We remained as the only independent party up there. The IMG folks were super nice, giving us their outlook on the avalanche conditions (it should be fine) and even some of their leftover pasta. They went to sleep at 5:30 p.m. and we followed not long thereafter, with alarms set for 1 a.m.

We stalled a bit to give the IMG party a headstart and eventually hit the trail ourselves at 2:45 a.m. The trail zigs and zags around some truly massive crevasses before turning right and traversing to the nose of the Disappointment Cleaver. The Cleaver is currently in more-challenging-than-normal shape, with some snow sections steepening to above 40 degrees. The guiding companies have placed fixed ropes on much of the route between 11,300' and 12,200'.

In the dark, we couldn't do much more than focus on the few steps in front of us. The RMI snake of 15+ headlamps came into view over our shoulders and gave us motivation to keep moving. Sunrise greeted us at the top of the Cleaver, along with a hellish wind. Two independent parties ahead of us turned around as soon as the gusts started whipping, but we felt comfortable and IMG was still heading up. We took a break, adjusted layers, and continued.

We were on about an equal pace with a rope team of four from Spokane, so the eight of us moved on together. IMG was ahead, RMI and two or three more unguided parties were behind. The mountain felt well-loved but not overly crowded, kind of like a weekday 14er.

Sunrise high on the route, above 13,000'.

The trail disappeared at parts above the Cleaver, as new snow and high winds had obscured it. Wands helped us navigate the tricky parts. We did cross a few sections of questionable wind slab, but luckily nothing slid. The winds got worse and worse until eventually we were in full-on winter mountaineering mode. Several gusts reached into the 30- to 40-miles per hour range. Just when it started to get frustratingly cold, however, the sun's warmth reached us around 13,500'. For the first time we all realized we were going to make the summit. Our moods soared.

Final push toward the summit.

One last break before the crater rim!

We crested the summit crater shortly before 8 a.m., about the same time as the IMG group. We caught our breath, unroped and wasted little time traversing the final couple hundred feet to the true high point, Columbia Crest. Here we took our obligatory summit photos, but as the wind speed was continuing to increase, we returned to our rope after only 10-15 minutes. We forced down some food and water and started the long 9,000' drop to Paradise at about 8:45 a.m.

Looking back on the summit crater from Columbia Crest, the true high point.

Group shot on Columbia Crest (L-R Matthew, Greg, Jeff, Matt).

Summit crater.

Another team heading to Columbia Crest, from where we gained the crater rim.

The descent took longer than anticipated because of worsening winds and bottlenecks at the fixed lines on the Cleaver. A few gusts were now strong enough to almost knock me over, which in my experience means 40+ miles per hour. The warm day had wreaked havoc on the steeper sections of snow, requiring extra caution to avoid a slip and subsequent 1,000-foot tumble to the Ingraham Glacier below. None of us breathed easy until we were off the Cleaver and back at camp.

Starting the long slog down, chased by increasing winds.

Little Tahoma and camp waaaaaay down on the Ingraham Glacier.

See, I told you it's down there.

Spokane rope team takes a break at the top of the Disappointment Cleaver.

Bottleneck waiting to get back on the fixed lines.

Crossing the nose of the Cleaver; almost home!

With the wind continuing to worsen and Rainier now sporting a lenticular cloud cap, we didn't take much of a break at the Flats. We just wanted to get down. The wind finally abated a bit at Muir, where we took a long break and packed away the rope. The 4,500' descent down the Muir Snowfield went quickly, with many long glissades. We reached Paradise around 4:30 p.m. and basked in our accomplishment. Rainier didn't seem happy to have allowed us to summit. The upper route was now entirely shrouded in an angry-looking cloud.

Me, back at Camp Muir. Time to put away the ropes and gear.

Mt. Rainier got angry as we descended.

We stopped for dinner at the Whittaker compound and bought a few souvenirs at Whittaker Mountaineering. Our hotel back in Tacoma was a welcome relief, and by the time we'd all showered and forced down a beer or three we could no longer keep our eyes open.

Saturday was spent exploring downtown Seattle - namely, Pike Place Market and several local breweries. We also spent countless minutes staring at Rainier, which absolutely looms on the horizon. The Pike Brewery gets a huge recommendation, along with Brouwers in Fremont.

The trip was about the perfect length. We'd initially harbored thoughts of also attempting Mt. Hood, but spending an extra day on Rainier and a day touring Seattle was the way to go in our eyes. I personally wouldn't change a thing. Only a day removed from the Pacific Northwest and about as broke as broke gets, I can't shake one nagging thought from my mind: whither next?

Mt. Rainier from the waterfront in downtown Seattle.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Congrats guys (and other 14ers members up there!)
07/09/2012 22:14
Stellar, I'll probably read this a good four or five times today. Image #11 certainly brings back some memories. Way to represent CO and get it done on a true mountaineering test piece. Congrats gentlemen!

P.S. Hope you saved some energy for the rest of the summer!


07/09/2012 22:32
So happy for you all. Great mountain, nice group-o-guys, decent weather, touching the actual summit (not always done in the PNW), spending some time in the Emerald City ... very special to be able to see ”the mountain” from downtown ... gotta love it. 8) Thanks for posting. Happy trails!


07/09/2012 22:40
way to climb it yourselves!


Well done!
07/09/2012 22:55
You're really getting after it, Jeff. Looking forward to seeing your skills grow more and more!


That's my roommate!!
07/09/2012 23:28
Nice work, and great report!


Great Job
07/09/2012 23:33
Great trip report! Congrats on an awesome summit and what I'm sure was a great time had by all. Looks like unguided was the way to go. Hope to climb with you guys soon!


A hefty congrats...
07/09/2012 23:53
To all of you. Looks like you all had one helluva great trip.



Awesome job--congrats guys!!
07/09/2012 23:58
Stellar pics, and glad you all made it! Wish I could've been there with you guys...

And I think you know the answer to your last question--time to get your Gooseneck on!


PNW winds
07/10/2012 00:00
Nice work braving through the winds, they can be quite unnevering. Forecasts in that region apparently mean jack s**t, so nice job persevering through it and summiting. Those rides home after all that planning and anticipation can be demoralizing to say the least. Must've felt nice enjoying a couple ales in Brouwer's knowing the weather gods of the PNW looked down upon you favorably enough and granted you a window of relative safe passage.

Now if you excuse me, I'm going to shift my attention to the 4 life altering Bierstadt reports on the front page.


Sky is the limit
07/10/2012 00:44
You guys are on an amazing path to mountaineering glory. I'm so glad to be a first-hand witness to so much success and talent. Here's to huge things in the future! Congrats on a life-changer. I hope to be there some day.


07/10/2012 01:20
Motivating TR. Glad to hear it went well! Look forward to climbing with you again.

San Juan Ron

07/10/2012 02:30
Sounds like an amazing (and successful) trip! SJ Ron


07/10/2012 02:49
Great job.


Wouldn't change a thing...
07/10/2012 03:32
...about our trip or your trip report. Even with Southwest's delay, our endless search for food on Sunday, etc., this was a week to remember. I sure will.
Thanks to the whole group for meshing so well, my buddy Paul for letting us crash with him, and to Jeff for capturing so well these great days we're living.

I Man

07/10/2012 03:41
Very well written and seems like a great trip. I can tell I would have loved it. Congrats on taking the challenge on on your own, truly impressive. I also wonder what's next for you


no flannel?
07/10/2012 03:59
Until recently I didn't really understand what the awe of climbing Ranier was if you lived in Colorado. I get it now. Amazing accomplishment guys. Someday I will see your name as the author on the cover of a mountaineering book Jeff.

Well done.


Congrats Guys!
07/10/2012 05:13
What an amazing accomplishment! Thanks for the exceptional TR, Surf. Brought back so many memories of my climb. Been awhile since I thought about how nervous I was crossing the cowlitz and the excitement I felt at 13,500' knowing the summit was almost there. A truly great read. Holy crevasses! Looking forward to your Denali TR...if that lady who got bullied on the bus can raise $600,000, I'm sure you can collect the necessary 7k.


07/10/2012 05:14
Really glad you got decent weather...the conditions in the Cascades have been so volatile this summer lots of climbers getting turned back.


This report was a pleasure to read!
07/10/2012 05:55
Made me smile. Loved how you worked as a team. Congratulations to the four of you!


07/10/2012 14:56
Brings back memories. Thanks for the TR.


Congrats Guys!
07/10/2012 15:11
on a great trip. Looks to be a memorable one for sure. Matt, where was the 12-egg omelet challenge at Beth's Cafe? I figured that was a must-do after a climb like that!


07/10/2012 15:23
Well done guys. Good to hear everything came together and you had a sweet trip. Practicing pulley systems over beers was a necessary refresher for me too. Lets do it again before the next one.

Shawnee Bob

07/10/2012 15:26
Bucket list item for me. Thanks for sharing and congrats!


07/10/2012 15:47
Congrats guys on an awesome trip. Thanks for the kudos but I knew as long as the weather was decent you guys definitely have the skill and ability to get the summit. Awesome trip that brings back some good memories. What’s next?


07/10/2012 16:05
Great job, Jeff and Crew! Amazing TR, strong work, glad you guys made it and all came home safe! Whither next?- LIBERTY RIDGE! Best climb I ever did.


07/10/2012 16:11
Looks like a fantastic trip! Great job and nice TR. Can I come on the next trip with you?


07/10/2012 16:18
Way to get after it! Self-trained and self-guided and done the right way!! Thanks for sharing your great story!


climb to climb
07/10/2012 20:10
First, a sincere congratulations and glad you had a good and safe trip.

One piece of advice as you grow...

Climb to climb. Dont't climb to constantly tell people ”look at me, look at me...I climbed”. An alarming trend with some members of (spending a day writing an ego-boosting trip report after each and every climb. On routes that have been climbed by tens of thousands). Especially the reports on trips where the routes are already documented, people know the conditions, etc..

Maybe use that time instead for a more noble cause...volunteering out on the trails, call and check how a family member is doing, helping new climbers, or something of this nature.


07/10/2012 19:30
Congrats to you guys! It definitely was awesome to read - brought back great memories and made me want to go back! Let Ryan and I know what you have in mind next - we are always up for a new adventure!


Good work
07/10/2012 20:25
gettin' er' done guys and a great trip report! Just ignore the critics, I didn't find your trip report egotistical at all... In fact you gave a great overview and pictures on what to expect when I make my attempt on DC next summer.



@avidhiker123 (or whoever you are)
07/10/2012 20:25
Thanks for the grand entrance to this site. Solid work criticizing one of the best TR writers and most humble, fun climbing partners around. I'm sure you'll make many friends around here. This smacks of a duplicate account by the way.


It is ALL about Rainier!
07/10/2012 21:10
Congrats! Great report of the great effort. And thanks for the preview.


Makes me wonder
07/10/2012 21:37
What type of trip report avidhiker123 would appreciate seeing, since most trip reports are about the hikers experiences... and if you can't read humility in here, well - your loss 123.

Jeff, Greg, Speth and Matt (and all the other's who made their way to Rainier this week - Matt, Rob, Kelly, I know I'm missing others,) - Congrats on a great effort, and at succeeding in the mandatory portion of the hike - getting home to be able to share the experiences.

+1 Dan.


07/11/2012 15:03
Thank you for your sage advice. The response to this TR makes it obvious no one wants to read an account of a Mt. Rainier climb on this website. I sincerely apologize for forcing you to read this and taking time away from your busy volunteering schedule. Whoever you are, thanks for having the courage and decency to say such things using a fake account.

To everyone else -- thank you for the kind words. It was my favorite climb to date and I can't say enough good things about my partners or this community.


Look At Me!
07/10/2012 21:42
Was SurfNTurf's last report, the satire on Pyramid. Guess there is a need on this site for the idiot font after all.

Nice job on Rainier, everyone!


avidhiker123 Get Bent - You and your fake account
07/10/2012 21:47
You need to know what you are talking about before critizing one of the most helpful contributors of this website. A big plus one Bill and especially Dan.


Nice try, Jeff
07/10/2012 21:54
Obviously, you made a fake account to criticize yourself just so your friends can further boost your ego. You've got a real attention problem, man.


@ avidhiker123
07/10/2012 22:09
If you consider this trip report to be a ”look at me,” you have more than a touch of learning to do on this website. As someone who has been on several challenging climbs with SurfNTurf, I can assure you his intent was to inform this community of current conditions on Rainier, as there are members and friends planning trips there for later this summer.

He's one of the most humble and intelligent mountaineers I've met in this community. It's unfortunate that you're unable recognize that. Maybe you are the one who should use your time more constructively?

I Man

I agree with Ryan
07/10/2012 22:10

Thanks for taking the time to write this, sure have talent!

I forgot to offer my congratulations to the rest of your team in my last comment, so...CONGRATULATIONS Matt, Matt and Greg!!!


@avidhiker123 ...
07/10/2012 22:15
You may want to change your name ... I noticed ”asshathiker123” is available.


07/11/2012 02:08
You've gotta be kidding me! Can't be a serious post BUT if it

That part about everyone knowing the conditions and the route being well documented made me LOL because none of that applies on Rainier and many other mountains. Weather conditions, especially this season, are incredibly volatile in the Cascades and are exacerbated on Rainier given it's mass and prominence. Heck my group got blasted off of Hood by a blizzard that was not in the forecast forcing a retreat. Routes change at least weekly if not daily given the dynamic avy/crevasse conditions on glaciated cascade peaks.

Also wanted to mention that all 14ers and cascade peaks have most likely been climbed by thousands of people, so are you suggesting we just put a moratorium on TRs?

Even though I have a decent number of 14ers and Cascade peaks under my belt, I still consider myself to be a new hiker as I have not attempted class 3 yet (soon to change!). That being said, SurfNTurfs TRs, which I consider to be among the most informative, well-written, and enjoyable TRs on the site, will be a valuable resource for me and many others as I/we start to embark on more challenging climbs. So there's a noble cause for ya. If I were climbing Rainier this season, I would pay money to have info as good as this as any information is so crucial to a safe and successful climb. No room for errors on Rainier via any route.

Quit being a coward and post on your real account, ya POS.


07/11/2012 04:42
Awesome photos, cool climb, WAY beyond my skill... thank you for letting me live vicariously upon the large nuts of other adventurers...


Something's Missing...
09/24/2012 15:44
Where are all of the photos of SurfNTurf?

Hmmm... maybe I should bring a camera next time.


Love the TR!
07/11/2012 12:50
Congrats Jeff and Crew. Glad you made the summit safely. The Cascades are a beautiful place!


What an accomplishment
07/11/2012 15:14
To all 4 of you: amazing job getting this thing unguided, I am sure it saved money for the beer in Seattle afterward and gave a great sense of satisfaction.

As usual a great report, always nice to see accounts of peaks outside Colorado, even if 10's of thousands of people have climbed it

Avidhiker123, while a valiant attempt, the troll force is strong with you.


I'm with Avidasshat123
07/12/2012 00:49
Who would want to read this prideful garbage!?

But seriously nice job Jeff and crew, I never get tired of seeing PNW pics. I really want to climb and ski there some day and this TR just makes me want it more.

Thanks for the report Jeff!


This is awesome Jeff!
07/12/2012 11:26
We're headed up to WA tomorrow to climb (and I'll ski) Mt. Baker - this gets me totally pumped. Very well done as always!


Nice to meet you.
07/13/2012 16:36
Great trip report. Met you as I came down from the top. I was with the guide (my dad from Iowa set it up). I am glad you were able to make it to the top.

moon stalker

Congrats Jeff and company!
07/14/2012 12:27
It's weird how people from CO can come so close to each other half way across the country on the same day on the same peak! We summited Rainier on the same day but just a few hours after you from the Emmons route. That wind was annoying, I was wondering when the others on my rope team would say they wanted to turn around, but we all held out! I wish we could have enjoyed the top a bit longer, but oh well, can't control the weather. Very awesome accomplishment, congrats to all of you! And I don't need to tell you to ignore those ignorant comments from avid-whatever-idiot.
Rainier is a great mountain. I'm sure I'll be back trying other routes.


07/15/2012 23:57
Nice write up. I was also watching those lenticular clouds and wondering what the weather was going to be like over the next
48 hrs!

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