Peak(s):  Mt. Rainier - 14410
Date Posted:  08/15/2008
Date Climbed:   07/18/2008
Author:  tundraline
 Traverse of Mt. Rainier via the Upper Kautz Glacier Route and Disappointment Cleaver   

This trip report summarizes a climb up the Kautz Route of Mount Rainier, with a carryover to the summit and a descent down the standard Disappointment Cleaver Route, which our group of five from the Boulder Section of the Colorado Mountain Club of Colorado completed. All of us, with the exception of Robert O'Rourke, were graduates of this past winter's CMC Boulder Advanced Mountaineering Course (Robert was an instructor). Our group comprised Robert O'Rourke, Brian Lavin, Alex Harz, Ben Sorensen and Tom Woods.

We completed our climb between July 18 and 20. The weather during the climb was fantastic, as the skies were sunny and cloudless, there was little wind and temperatures were moderate to warm.

We began our climb on the morning of the 18th by dropping down to the lower Nisqually Glacier from Glacier Vista and crossing the glacier. Although we roped up for the traverse of the Nisqually, we did not detect any crevasse danger during the crossing. We ascended the fan under good snow climbing conditions, and did not encounter any rockfall. From the top of the fan we ascended to the Turtle snowfield via the Wilson Glacier, where we also encountered good snow climbing conditions.


Once above the turtle we established camp just below a rappel station to the left side of a rocky promontory located below the Kautz Glacier icefall at about 11,000'. Only a small trickle of water was available at this bivouac site in a gully located about 200 feet down and to the left (looking down the mountain) from the sculpted tent platforms. A water filter is highly recommended if you decide to camp here. We arrived early enough to scout the rappel station and check out the anchors, which looked serviceable but ratty. Safety mavens will wish to bring their own slings for anchor building at this location.

See this interesting link to view a section of the Kautz Icefall collapsing two days before our traverse beneath it:

The next morning we arose at 3:00 a.m. and were at the rappel station by 4:15 a.m. After completing the approximately 50-foot rappel, we set off underneath the icefall for the lower portion of the chute up the Kautz glacier. The first section of climbing up the chute was fairly straightforward and not technically difficult. Nevertheless, conditions on this section of the climb foreshadowed what we were to find all the way up the rest of the Kautz Glacier: hard ice, little to no snow, and penitentes everywhere.


Further up the chute we came to the steepest section of the climb, which turned out to be about 140 feet of hard black alpine ice, with slopes ranging between about 40 and 60 degrees. Contrary to earlier trip reports we had read, this section of the climb did not feel safe doing with only 1 or 2 ice screws. Ice tool placements were sketchy due to the brittle nature of the ice. Initial ice tool strikes typically caused dinner-plating, release of ice (which rained down on those below), followed by further strikes being required to make an acceptable placement. Overall the ice quality was quite poor; I personally achieved only one good "thunk" with my ice tool over the entire pitch. An ice axe with a head suitable for vertical ice climbing and one ice tool, or better yet two ice tools, are recommended to do this pitch safely under current conditions. We placed about 6 ice screws along this pitch and then built a belay station anchor with 3 more screws at the top. Our 100-foot 8 mm ropes were not long enough to permit this section to be led to the belay station in one go. Instead, a second climber followed the leader with a second rope 100-foot rope and simul-climbed until the belay station was reached. The last three climbers were belayed up this section tied to the rope at 15-foot increments. From the belay station we traversed to climber's left from beneath an icefall onto a portion of the glacier that was less steep.




The climb from the steep ice pitch to the top required crossing numerous crevasses. Conditions were generally icy and hard, and penitentes had formed atop the glacier all the way to the summit. Several of us punched through hidden crevasses up to our boot-tops or knees on the way to the summit. Careful route finding was required to mitigate the considerable crevasse danger, which was made more difficult by our inability to find or follow tracks left by previous parties, which could not be discerned in the hard ice and snow.


We reached the summit at 1:10 p.m. and almost immediately began our descent down the standard Disappointment Cleaver route.


Our descent was uneventful except for one of our party nearly being hit by a large rock dislodged by a two-man party following us. Two of our party stopped at Ingraham Flats for the night, while the other three descended all the way to Paradise on the evening of the 19th, arriving at the parking lot at about 8:20 p.m.


In conclusion, we believe we climbed the Kautz Glacier Route a little too late in the season, as evidenced by ice pitches being longer and harder, crevasses opening up further, and penitentes covering nearly the entirety of the upper reaches of the Kautz Glacier than perhaps might have been the case just a few weeks earlier in the season. Because we are not local Pacific Northwest climbers, however, we cannot state with certainty that this conclusion is accurate. We were also grateful for our decision to carry our gear over the summit of Rainier, as a descent down the Kautz Route would have been arduous and objective dangers would have been greater. This decision should also be balanced, however, against the disadvantage of carrying a full load to the summit, which of course slows climbing progress considerably. Needless to say, the climb was very demanding physically. Mount Rainier is a magnificent mountain, and we were lucky to have had such good weather conditions.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
08/17/2008 11:33
Lucky You! Good play!


11/30/2010 17:20
I so want to do this route (up and over) the next time we climb Rainier. Thanks for posting. I've read many trip reports (and viewed many photos of the route), and would have to concur that it was a bit out of ”ideal conditions” form on the Kautz. Glad you were able to get 'er done, though!

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