Peak(s):  Mt. Rainier - 14,410 feet
Date Posted:  07/24/2009
Modified:  04/16/2010
Date Climbed:   07/20/2009
Author:  Carl

 Mt. Rainier - Disappointment Cleaver  

Mount Rainier, 14,410ft
Route: Disappointment Cleaver, 9,000 vertical feet
Group: Carl (wesley), Kiefer, Sean (sstrauss), Anton (anton_solovyev), & Marc

Mount Rainier is one of North America's premier mountaineering destination. It has the largest system of glaciers in the U.S. outside of Alaska and is covered with huge crevasses. It is the 21st most prominent peak in the world, and the most sought after summit in the Cascade Range. This is what I told my wife when she asked why I wanted to spend our money to climb a mountain outside of Colorado. She still wasn't sold. Then I showed her this picture of Rainier over Tacoma, WA and I think she understood.

Whether to hire a guide?
I thought this issue might be considered by many who head to Rainier for the first time so we figured a brief note on our thought process may prove useful. Our original group was me, Sean, Marc, and Anton. We had talked with Kiefer at the beginning but he initially had plans to go with another group and wasn't able to commit until a few months down the road. We all four had a fair amount of snow climbing experience and regularly enjoyed climbs in Colorado that required crampons and an axe. Sean and I had some rock climbing and rope managment experience, while Anton and Marc had considerably more. Anton had been to camp Sherman on Rainier once before but none of us had any real glacier travel experience. We weighed the pros of having a guide (familiarly with route, skill building opportunity) against the cons (expense, subject to unfamiliar group dynamic, slower more regimented pace, traveling in a large group, not being self sufficient). After talking it over it was pretty clear that none of us desired to do this climb as part of a guided group, nor with the right preparation did with think it necessary.

Our primary concerns of an unguided trip were navigation and crevasse rescue. The issue of navigation is mitigated in huge part by choosing the Disappointment Cleaver route on which dozens are guided everyday during the summer months, planning our trip during late July and building in extra days for any possible weather, studying the route, and of course carrying gps, map, compass, and wands just in case. To complete the skill set necessary to safely summit Rainier we hired Dale Remsberg of Colorado Mountain School to spend a day with us in RMNP. Dale had been a lead guide on Mt. Rainier for 3 years and was an absolute pleasure to learn from. We showed up having already practiced tying the requisite knots and ascending ropes with prussiks, allowing us to focus on glacier travel, building snow anchors, and effectuating a rescue.

Here, Sean holds the fallen climber (Marc), while Anton sets the picket and Dale instructs.

The climb
I was told you should sit on the left side of the plane in route to Seattle. They were right. Excitement built as Marc and I saw Rainier for the first time Saturday afternoon, July 18.

We chose to stay at the Whittaker Bunkhouse in Ashford, WA, just 6 miles before the entrance to Rainier National Park. Renowned mountaineer Lou Whittaker (and wife) own this hostel style climbers lodge built in 1912. Also conveniently located on the property is Whittaker Mountaineering, a grill, and a coffee shop.
Dinner at BaseCamp Grill.

We checked into one of the few rooms with its own bath and started sorting gear.

The next morning we picked up our sandwiches we preordered the evening prior from Basecamp Grill next door and enjoyed breakfast in front of the Bunkhouse.

We drove to the trailhead, spent some time getting our permits, and were on the trail a little after 9:30am.
photo by Kiefer

The Nisqually Icefall was breathtaking.
photo by Marc

The hike to Camp Muir is 4.5 miles and 4,500 vertical feet. For the most part we just split up and all climbed/rested at our own pace. I only caught Anton (the pace setter) when he stopped to enjoy his first ever peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He said it was very good.

Having packed fairly light (40 to 45lb packs), trained pretty hard, and been living at a mile above sea level, we managed to take a lot of pictures and still reach Muir (10,080ft) in about 3 hours. Pictured here is the RMI hut, the guides A-frame, and the rangers stone abode.

Also at Camp Muir are a couple toilets and a first-come first-serve hut for unguided climbers. A look inside the latter.

Anton and I secured a couple campsites that had been excavated by a prior party and everyone began pitching the tents and melting water. By the end of the day we had gone through two 8oz MSR butane bottles turning snow to water so we could pump it.
photo by Sean

Most of the afternoon was spent relaxing though. Me, Sean, and Marc relishing the perfect weather outside the climbers hut.

The views from Muir were absolutely amazing. Pictured here is Mt. Adams but also visible from that single bench outside the climbers hut is nearby volcanoes Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Jefferson.

After an early dinner we sojourned to our tents around 7pm. The camp was relatively quiet and we all slept a little before waking up for the second time that day at 11:30pm. Kiefer putting on crampons while Anton flakes the rope for their 2 person rope team.

Marc tying into the middle of our 3 person rope team.

The early wake up call paid off and after gazing at the star lit sky for a brief while on this moonless night, we were the first to leave Camp Muir at 12:30am. Many other teams prepared themselves as we hit the trail but it was a perfect start to be out in front and not following any other headlamps.
Marc looking up the rope as I lead us across the Cowlitz Glacier to Cathedral Gap.
photo by Marc

At Cathedral Gap our crampons came off, we unroped, and climbed loose sand and rock for a few hundred vertical.
photo by Sean

Crampons back on we proceeded to pass Ingraham Flats camp at 11,100ft, stepped over a few small crevasses, and made our way to the second rock section known as the Disappointment Cleaver.
Sean climbing an odd snow slide instead of the loose rock.

We passed two parties that had left from Ingraham Flats and continued on as the sun began to breach the horizon.
Looking back on Marc and Sean on the first rope and Anton followed by Kiefer on the second.

At 5am, four and half hours after leaving Camp Muir, we stood on the crater rim. Image
photo by Kiefer

And watched the sunrise.

We dropped our packs there and proceeded across the crater to the true summit, Columbia Crest.
Marc on top of Mt. Rainier.

We waiting on the summit just long enough for a pair of climbers to reach the top from another route and get this shot of the five of us.
Sean, Kiefer, Marc, Anton, me, and Rainier's shadow.

Kiefer and Marc headed back across the crater

As other groups started to reach the crater rim we began our descent. Since we ascended entirely in the dark it was a treat seeing the terrain we navigated hours earlier.
Anton on the end of the first rope and me on the beginning of the second.

Due to some crevasses opening up it seemed that the ideal route was recently pushed a little farther onto the Emmons Glacier. Looking back at Sean and Marc as we start to wind our way down.

Me after heading around the main crevasse that we had to end run before traversing back to the Cleaver.

photo by Marc

Standing aside as team ascending the mountain approaches. Mt. Adams in the background.

Me checking out one of the crevasses as Anton looks on from above.

photo by Sean

Kiefer jumping across while Anton stands ready.

photo by Sean

Marc opting not to use the 2x6 that one of the guides presumably placed.

photo by Kiefer

Ingraham Flats and Muir camps visible from high on the mountain.

Descending towards the Disappointment Cleaver.

photo by Marc

Heading around the bottom of the Cleaver to the Ingraham Glacier. The trail visible in the upper right of the photo.

photo by Sean

Stepping over a crevasse at its narrowest point.

From farther back you can see that both ends of this crevasse really open up.
Sean stepping over that same point pictured above.

Marc with Ingraham Flats and the Disappointment Cleaver above him. Three rope teams are barely visible in the top center of the photo descending snow towards the rocky portion of the Cleaver.

Marc and Sean below the Ingraham Glacier approaching Cathedral Gap.

Me following Marc down Cathedral Gap towards the Cowlitz Glacier and Camp Muir.

photo by Sean

Another look at Camp Muir. Our two tents visible just below the climbers hut.

We unroped after the Cowlitz Glacier, took down camp, and began descending the Muir snowfield back to the Paradise Trailhead. Snowline was somewhere around 7,000ft. Marc and I paused for a picture while fielding questions from some day hikers after getting back on the dry trail.

The last half mile of the trail is steep pavement and torturous in mountaineering boots with heavy packs after having just descended 8,500ft. Back at the trailhead around 1pm we celebrated with a mediocre meal at Paradise Lodge and talked about the next two days. Anton decided to take one of the rental cars back to Seattle for some camping and relaxing on the beach while Marc, Kiefer, Sean and I decided to head to Portland and climb Mt. Hood.

Back at the Bunkhouse, Kiefer and Marc loaded the Jeep Patriot and we were off for Oregon.

Mt. Rainier is simply an amazing climb. The mountain is huge and the views are truly spectacular. I think we all agreed that we wouldn't trade the diversity of challenging climbs and beautiful hikes of Colorado, but we definitely want to head west again soon to enjoy more of the volcanoes of the Cascades. Thanks for an incredible trip guys!!

On Wednesday morning three of us reached the summit of Mt. Hood for sunrise before heading back to Seattle to catch our flights home that evening. Kiefer's Hood trip report is available here.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

11/30/2010 17:20
on getting it you guys! Boy I wish I could have made it out for this one, I'd be lying if if I said I weren't a bit jealous. Great climb and way to sum it up with a good TR Carl! Let's climb soon.


Nice TR and amazing pics, Carl!
07/24/2009 22:36
I was just wondering earlier today how your trip turned out. Glad to see you guys had great weather and even got in Mt. Hood as a bonus summit!


07/24/2009 22:40
Nice TR, it really brought back good memories of last year. It is interesting to see how the route shifts from year to year and even day to day. Hopefully after this TR your wife will understand!

P.S. - You are absolutely right, it is a must do to sit on the left side of the aircraft because the views of Rainier are incredible. I used to fly to Seattle for work and I never got tired of that view.


Nice....Memories for me also
07/25/2009 00:06
Brought back some memories for me also having just climbed Rainier a month ago. Thanks for the TR and the pictures were great.


07/25/2009 04:12
What a great trip and climb. You guys let it out in a big way and bagged a sweet peak. Great work and speed up and down.


Good stuff!
07/26/2009 05:24
Thanks for the invite, an awesome team with some of the best comrodery ever and more laughs then I think I‘ll remember!
It was great trip Carl and thx for putting this up! The crevasse pics were great!
...and who can forget Portland!


07/26/2009 23:25
You got it done! I will talk to Marc about how it went! Great report, and way to go! Now we just need to ski it...


07/27/2009 15:32
Well done, guys. You certainly made good time on summit day - very impressive. The route does look a bit different this year. Thanks for posting the report and photos! I‘m assuming you guys got Hood too?


07/27/2009 22:44
FOR being safe, especially around the crevices, you have shared an amazing story.
Wesley‘s MOM


Thanks for the comments
05/02/2011 14:23
Mom - Welcome to We like to call those crevices crevasses. It makes us sound like we know what we‘re talking about.


uh oh
07/28/2009 05:18
your mom discovered the site, now you have to watch your p‘s and q‘s. I keep mine in the dark, she has enough grey hairs.

Nice report of the adventure, if I hadn‘t spent so much time driving, I may have remembered more of the climb, but I figured reports like this would do the mountain justice anyways.

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