Peak(s):  Mount Rainier - 14410
Date Posted:  06/22/2017
Modified:  06/23/2017
Date Climbed:   06/11/2017
Author:  stevevets689
Additional Members:   WSC_Geologist12, shelly o
 Rain Near Rainier: Storm Dodging in the PNW  

Peak: Mount Rainier
Route: Disappointment Cleaver
Elevation Gain: 9,000 feet
Milage: 16ish miles

I dreamt of climbing Mount Rainier for several years. As an insatiable peakbagger, Rainier has a huge amount of pull for many reasons: it's the unquestionable monarch of the Cascade Range, standing 9,000 feet above its highest trailhead and 2,000+ feet above the next highest peak around. It holds more glacial ice than all other Cascade volcanoes combined. And while its summit wouldn't be the highest in Colorado if it were here (at 14,410 feet), its coastal position combined with its northern latitude creates a dramatic environment far unlike what any other peak in the contiguous US could ever offer.

Because of Rainier's enormous prominence, it attracts winter-like conditions year-round. A strong low pressure front was sweeping in, bringing wind, snow, and plummeting temperatures the day after we were slated to arrive in Washington. My wife, my best friend, and I were pretty bummed and trying to make the most of it, and we discussed backup plans as we packed all of our gear. Plan B reflected an attempt of Mount Hood, where the weather looked marginally better. Plan C, our worst-case scenario, would be camping in the rain and playing cards. We boarded the plane to Seattle convinced that we would be doing either plan B or C and that our view of Rainier from the plane would be the best we would get for the whole trip. While a vacation is a vacation, this wasn't shaping up to be what we had been dreaming about.

The mountain from the plane. Should you ever fly Southwest from Denver to Seattle, sit on the left side of the plane.

The day before we would head to climb, well, something, we spent the day exploring Seattle and found that the forecasted rain had not materialized, with the sun poking out from time to time. Puzzled, I looked at the most updated forecast: the low-pressure system was now moving south along the coast instead of moving inland. The forecast for Rainier was calling for ‚snow showers‚Ě versus the original several feet of new snow, and Sunday morning looked to even be partly sunny. This was our lucky break! We decided last-minute to continue with our original plan.

We headed up to the trailhead at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park Friday morning. The higher we drove, the thicker the clouds became and the more quiet and nervous we all were. I was seriously second-guessing, wondering if we were just going to get pounded with rain and snow. As we pulled into the parking lot at about 5,500 feet, we caught a little view of the summit through a small break in the clouds ‚‘ just the bit of motivation I needed! We checked in at the ranger station, geared up, and got started.

Team shot at the trailhead

Fog on the approach, shortly after leaving the TH. Photo by WSC_Geologist12

A break in the clouds on the approach

shelly o stoke

shelly o taking a break before transitioning onto the Muir Snowfield. Photo by WSC_Geologist12

Our approach was on snow the entire way, and while most of the hike was done through thick fog, every now and then the clouds would blow off and we would get huge, sweeping views of the mountain, with the biggest glaciers any of us had seen by far. We were all awestruck. Then we would look back downhill and see utter darkness under the thick clouds rolling up in our direction, and minutes later we were back in fog. We arrived at Camp Muir amid blowing snow and 200 yard visibility sometime after 3pm and, after ducking into the public shelter for a quick warm-up, we set up camp on the side of the Cowlitz Glacier. We melted snow for water and ate some food in continuing off-and-on snow showers, wondering if we would get a good summit day or not.

Much of our approach looked like this...

Some wild looking weather on its way, about an hour and a half from camp

Last view of Rainier on the approach before the clouds came back in

Conditions at camp after setting up. Photo by WSC_Geologist12

Due to the effort from our approach and the best weather being forecasted for Sunday morning, we elected to sleep in on Saturday and use the day to get organized and check out the lower part of the route. I made my way out of the tent in the morning and was pleasantly surprise by brilliant sunshine. Looking back down the snowfield we had ascended the previous day, the valleys below were obscured by a layer of clouds. In the distance I could just see the tops of Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Hood. Then, turning around, I could see the high slopes approaching Rainier's summit crater, and a number of speck-sized climbers climbing up and out of view. If the next morning was going to be anything like this one, we would be in pretty good shape.we got ourselves and our camp more organized on Saturday and then set out for a little hike up the initial part of the route. We crossed the Cowlitz Glacier and then cruised up Cathedral Gap, a broad rock gully which leads up to a ridge and grants access to the Ingraham Glacier on the other side. After a short lunch break, we returned to camp. After receiving an updated forecast from a climbing ranger calling for pretty cold temps and some light but steady winds, we elected a 2am start the next day and got into our bags as early as we could.

Adams in the distance on a clear morning

Looking across our camp at the Cowlitz Glacier and Cathedral Gap

shelly o checking out the views with Little Tahoma in the background. Photo by WSC_Geologist12

Looking back at Camp Muir from Cathedral Gap (it's there, I promise)

With the late afternoon light and noise from other climbers, we didn't get to sleep for quite some time. With what sounded like pretty strong wind gusts shaking our tents throughout the night, I began to fear that we would be fighting some rough wind chill and was more than ready to start moving once my 1am alarm went off. The wind wasn't as bad as it seemed from inside the tent and we set off around 2:20am.

With a full moon and clear skies, we made our way to the previous day's highpoint in Cathedral Gap in a little less than an hour and then continued up along the edge of the Ingraham Glacier to Ingraham Flats, an alternative high camp. We could see numerous headlamps making their way up the mountain ahead of us, as the large guided groups had started a little earlier. We could already see the very beginnings of sunlight on the eastern horizon.

The next portion of the route is likely the most objectively hazardous. We ascended the Ingraham Glacier around a large crevasse and then traversed across under a section called the Ice Box. Here, we were under a substantial icefall, and blocks can frequently break loose and tumble across the trail. Immediately after this, we were in the Bowling Alley, where the danger changes to falling rock from the ridgeline above. We tried to move quickly and get onto the Disappointment Cleaver, the route's namesake ridge separating the Ingraham and Emmons Glaciers. We then climbed around 1,000 vertical feet of snowy switchbacks up the ridge to the point where it disappears into the glacial ice at 12,300 feet.At last, the sun came up. It looked like the crevasses in the glacier were on fire, and I appreciated the slightly increased warmth. The next 1,800 vertical feet of climbing brought us up the high glaciers, traversing under a large overhanging serac, weaving between some large crevasses, and crossing far back across to the south side of the crater rim after crossing one final, very large crevasse on a snow bridge. We were all thankful for the heavy snow year that Rainier had received, as it made most of the crevasse crossings almost unnoticeable.

Moon setting over Gibraltar Rock, from the Disappointment Cleaver. Photo by WSC_Geologist12

Looking up from the top of the Cleaver at sunrise. Photo by shelly o

Sunrise from the Disappointment Cleaver, Photo by shelly o

We reached the crater rim at about 7:30am under clear, blue skies and around 20mph winds. Knowing that there are no crevasses in the snows filling the crater, we unroped and excitedly made our way across the crater and up the final rocks on the opposite side, walking through sulfurous steam rising through the rocks, reaching the summit at around 8am. We made it! I had to pinch myself as it didn't really feel like we could really be standing there. We all hugged each other, happy to be standing up there together. Views in all directions were clear and spectacular. Savoring this moment, I was also looking forward to returning to warmer ground lower on the mountain and getting back on the other side of the rock and ice fall zones. We quickly made our way back across the crater, tied back into the rope, and started down.

Cloud deck from the summit. Photo by shelly o

WSC_Geologist12 and myself on the summit. Photo by shelly o

shelly o and myself on the summit. Photo by WSC_Geologist12

Our descent was pretty uneventful, though the crevasses seemed quite a bit bigger and closer to the route than they had on the ascent. Every time we stopped we had to strip layers of clothing off as it got warmer and warmer, and once we were back to Ingraham Flats I was down to a light shell over my base layer. We arrived back at our camp at about 2:30pm, finally allowing ourselves to high five each other for a safely accomplished climb. We took it easy the rest of the night, enjoying our remaining time on the mountain.

shelly o and myself happily descending from the crater rim. Photo by WSC_Geologist12

Me just after downclimbing a snow bridge at 13,900 feet. Photo by shelly o

shelly o and myself descending through a steeper, more crevassed section near the Emmons Shoulder. Photo by WSC_Geologist12

WSC_Geologist12 happy to be almost back to Ingraham Flats. Photo by shelly o

Cool shot of Gibraltar Rock. Photo by shelly o

Looking back at the upper route from below Ingraham Flats. Disappointment Cleaver is on the right profile

shelly o and WSC_Geologist12 next to a crevasse on the edge of the Ingraham Glacier

Finally, on Monday morning, our time was up. We packed up and made our way down, having fun glissading on the snowfields. What had taken seven hours to ascend on the first day was descended in less than two hours. Even though Paradise was once again surrounded by fog, we found ourselves among a crowd of tourists, who gawked at and took pictures of us as we rolled into the parking lot. We were smelly, coated in zinc sunscreen, and beaming.

shelly o and WSC_Geologist12 starting down the Muir Snowfield on our hike out, Mount Adams in the distance over the deck

As we drove back to Seattle to reorganize our gear for the next day's flight and relax, I reflected on the trip. I felt like our training prepared us well. I already knew that our team was highly cohesive as we've all climbed together previously, but we did a better job than ever of relying on each other and helping pull each other through to get the climb done safely. Everyone carried their weight and did their part throughout training and the climb. My greatest takeaway, however, was to always take the forecast with a grain of salt, for better or worse. Now, we just have to figure out what's next...

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

 Comments or Questions

Fixed pickets?
06/23/2017 08:01
The Rainier climbing blog mentioned something about fixed pickets on the traverse above the Cleaver. Curious if you saw those?

Congrats on the summit!


06/23/2017 08:09
They were not on the traverse under the serac, but just afterwards where the route winds steeply up between a few larger crevasses. We didn't use them on the way up but we did on the way down. Also a couple above the big crevasse/bergschrund at 13,900 which we used in both directions.

Keep in mind that the route changes over the course of a season due to the movement of the glaciers and melting snow, and could be different than what we experienced even now. That snow bridge over the big crevasse won't last much longer.

If you're heading there this year, I hope you have a great trip!


06/23/2017 08:44
Yep, planning on giving it a shot July 2-3. Thanks for the notes!


We were all awestruck
06/23/2017 10:43
Rainier's like that, eh?
It's good to see you pop up here again, Steve, and even better to read about your success on Rainier.


06/23/2017 22:42
Great write up Steve!!! Glad the weather worked out for you!!!

   Using your forum id/password. Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2021®, 14ers Inc.