Disappointment Cleaver Archive 2007

Disappointment Cleaver Route Conditions - July 27

My week at Muir started with some crazy weather. Camp was surrounded by a cloud for two days with winds averaging between 45 and 60mph and temperatures just warm enough to rain. The highest recorded wind gust was 94mph. The picture to the right is of two independents (Mouser and Laura) making the best of the weather by using webbing as streamers in the intense wind. These conditions made for lots of book reading and not very much climbing.

The week progressed with a dramatic change in the weather. The sun came out and the wind stopped and it was time to climb. Mouser and Laura, the two independents playing in the wind, stuck it out through the storm and allowed me to climb on their rope. I have officially dubbed our ascent the ‘Climb of the Nerds’ because both of them had PhD’s in nuclear physics and I, although less educated, also consider myself a nerd. Our nerdyness was beautifully illustrated when one of us pointed out the international space station orbiting above us at the Flats just before dawn. This brings me to the first route update.

After leaving the flats the route ascends for a couple hundred feet before dropping down to the toe of Disappointment Cleaver. At the apex of this ascent there is an unfriendly crevasse crossing. It is difficult to protect until one is on the far side. From this point it is straight forward till the top of the Cleaver, which is half snow and half rock at the moment. At the top of the Cleaver, the route crosses several crevasses on ladders placed by the guide services, and then steeply climbs in between two crevasses (see picture to the left.) On this high traverse over towards the Emmons Glacier there is a 3 to 4 foot crevasse which also has a ladder over it. Parties have been belaying across this. After this crossing the route is fairly solid to the summit.

Things have been melting a lot and the route might be significantly different within the next few days.

Have a safe climb, Peter Jewell


July 24


After almost a week of rain and strong winds the weather finally broke yesterday. A party made it to the top via the Disappointment Cleaver yesterday. The rain has caused more crevasses to open, weakened the snow bridges, and increased rock and ice fall on the route. Most of the new crevasses opened on the Cowlitz and between Ingraham Flats and the base of the Cleaver. Navigating around or stepping across them is still fairly straight forward. Most of the snow has melted off the Cleaver and there is no longer any fixed gear on this part of the route. Near the top of this loose, rocky ridge most parties are still traversing out onto the SE side of the Cleaver onto some snow to reach the top of the Cleaver. One of the blocks that was bridging the large series of crevasses at the beginning of the traverse from the top of the Cleaver to the Emmons shoulder collapsed and has been replaced by a ladder. Most parties are still circumventing the crevasses at the other end of the traverse by going down a few feet to get around them. Once on the Emmons shoulder the route is still relatively easy to navigate as it traverses back to the crater rim.

July 19

No major changes have occurred to the route since July 15th. The crevasse crossing at the top of the cleaver is still passable. Stormy weather and low freezing levels have kept many teams from summitting this week. It even rained on Tuesday night much to most climber's dismay. The photo to the right shows the route crossing the Cowlitz Glacier after Camp Muir. There were two minor rockfalls coming from Cathedral Rocks right above where the route winds into Cathedral Gap. Parties should minimize their time in this area.

July 15

This past weekend started off with early morning thunderstorms that turned many parties around on Friday and Saturday. Today had a higher success rate but with high winds. Wind gusts up to 50 mph were reported at Muir. Currently there is little fixed gear on the route. There are a few pickets left by the guide service at the top of the Cleaver. These pickets are in a bad area and we expect some of the bridges here to collapse any day. Use caution.

July 12th

Intense summer sun and temperatures that are well above normal are rapidly changing the DC. Rock and ice fall have increased and more crevasses are opening on the lower portions of the route.

Some small crevasses have opened on the Cowlitz Glacier between Camp Muir and Ingraham Flats. These are easy to avoid, but they are good reminders not to take the Cowlitz for granted. Rockfall off of Cathedral and Gibraltar Rocks regularly hits the route as it crosses the Cowlitz Glacier. Cathedral Gap is all rock right now and human caused rockfall is an issue as parties ascend the Gap. Between Cathedral Gap and Ingraham Flats rockfall off the other side of Cathedral Rocks is a hazard.

Ingraham Flats looks great this year. Most climbing parties are doing their best to keep this camping area clean and free of human waste. There have been a few instances of people not using blue bags at Ingraham. Remember that everyone has to melt snow here for cooking and drinking.

Above the Flats the route ascends a few hundred feet before traversing towards the base of the Cleaver. As it turns towards the base of the Cleaver the route crosses 2-3 open crevasses. The route passes under a very active ice and rock fall zone as it reaches the Cleaver. So far the moat between the Cleaver and the Ingraham Glacier has not opened. This fact makes getting onto the Cleaver relatively easy. There is no longer any fixed gear on the Cleaver. Once on the Cleaver most parties are staying close to the nose of the ridge at the base and then traversing out onto the snowy faces to make switchbacks near the top. Snow melted off 1/3 of the Cleaver this week. This trend should continue and soon climbing the Cleaver will mean more scrambling over loose rock than kicking steps in the snow.

At the top of the cleaver large crevasse crossings and melting snow bridges replace the rockfall hazard. Between 12,400' and 13,200' there are several large crevasses on the Ingraham and Emmons glaciers. To avoid these crevasses the Cleaver route is traversing 1/4 mile towards a ridge on the Emmons Glacier. At the beginning of the traverse (top of the Cleaver) there is a series of bridges over several large crevasses. (See the photo on the right). Some sections of these bridges are steep and offer little space for good footing. Many parties are choosing to place gear and use running belays to cross these bridges. On busy days this area creates a bottleneck for climbers. After this crossing the traverse continues towards the shoulder of the Emmons Glacier. Near the end of the traverse there is another large crevasse with a rapidly thinning bridge. Some parties are even choosing to avoid this snowbridge by descending around it onto the Emmons' shoulder. Those who are crossing this bridge are again using some sort of belay to protect the crossing.

After these two sections of crevasses the switchbacks up the shoulder of the Emmons are a welcome change of pace. Near 13,200' the route begins to traverse back to climber's left towards the crater rim. This upper section of the route is still relatively straight forward.

July 7th

The DC route is in for a change. With the warm temperatures we have been having throughout this weekend and those we are forecast to have for the rest of the week, it will cause some of the already hazardous snowbridges to be melting out a lot more. This will mean more wandering in the route especially above the Cleaver. Most parties have been setting anchors and belaying across the less desirable snow bridges. That being said, the DC route is always a fun adventure and although warm days mean melting snowbridges they also mean awesome summitting weather.

This is really a great time to do the DC. The Cleaver itself is still almost entirely snow covered which makes traveling on it much nicer. If you are planning on staying in the public shelter at Camp Muir, we have been having issues with people leaving their trash, so PLEASE pack out anything you pack in. What you leave the rangers must pack out, and that makes for unhappy rangers! Please stay safe and have a great climb.

I would like to send out a big word of thanks to Brian, pictured above, for bringing a watermelon to the summit and then sharing a slice with us. Rumor has it that he also cooked an amazing salmon dinner for his group at Camp Muir the night before. Kudos.

~ Peter Jewell

July 5th


The recent snows, now solidified, have helped fill in the DC route and its crevasse crossings. Both of the snowbridges on the traverse look better than they had earlier. (The photo at right shows an RMI team traversing back to the top of the Cleaver after a successful ascent.) There is still excellent snow cover on the Cleaver itself. When added to the better conditions on the traverse and straightforward ascent of the upper slopes to the crater rim, the DC is in great shape! A few people have even skied/snowboarded from the crater rim to the top of the cleaver over the past few days!

~ Paul Charlton, NPS

July 1

Since the storm on Friday night (June 29th) both independent parties and the guide services have been turning back from their climbs at the top of the Cleaver due to high avalanche danger. Saturday morning there was slab fracturing activity with a 14" layer of fresh snow on top of a slick icy layer which was dangerous on the slope/bowl feature right after the Cleaver. Sunday morning the snow had begun to stabilize. Parties found a 3" crust but also started breaking through around the top of the Cleaver on the traverse (some reported sinking in up to their knees). Hopefully with the next couple days of sunny weather the snow will consolidate and become safer. [The photo above shows climbers conferring about the snow conditions from the safety of the top of the DC.]

~ Tom "House of" Payne

June 28

More and more climbers attempt the DC as mid-summer approaches. There are several areas where "traffic congestion" could occur if climbers are not mindful of their pace and the pace of those around them.

Conditions on the route remain good for the most part. Crossing the Cowlitz to Cathedral Gap is clean and free of any large crevasses. The biggest hazard through this section is the rockfall off Cathedral Rocks and scree kicked down Cathedral gap by other climbing parties. After that the route continues to be straightforward all the way to the base of the Cleaver. Most of the crevasse crossings above Ingraham Flats have not posed any problems for climbers. A "fixed" line is in place on the traverse from the Ingraham to the nose of the Cleaver. From there the route up the Cleaveris almost all snow and stays close to the spine of the Cleaver.

At the top of the Cleaver where the Ingraham and Emmons Glaciers split there are several large, interconnected, deep crevasses that are currently bridged by discrete blocks of snow wedged against each other. This web of blocks is narrow and steep and many parties chose to belay this crossing. After this spicy crossing the route traverses climber's right towards the Emmons shoulder and crosses one more series of large crevasses before it gains the shoulder between 12500' and 12900'. Once on the shoulder the route traverses slowly back to climber's left to eventually reach the crater rim. This upper section of the route is relatively easy to navigate due to most of the crevasses being filled in or bridged by thick, wide snowbridges.

Climbers coming off the DC. Second image, climbers crossing the loose network of crevasses above the DC. Photos by Mike Gauthier

~ Andy Anderson

Disappointment Cleaver Route Conditions - June 21st

Conditions remain great on this route. The photo at right (taken from Little Tahoma yesterday) shows the entire route. Click it to see its full size; climbers are visible all along the route.

Parties have been summitting even with the recent windy conditions. Teams report a few bottlenecks that you should look out for if you are climbing at the same hours as most other parties: 1) traversing onto the cleaver; 2) zig-zagging up the snowy sections of the Cleaver (some parties are clipping pickets to protect their teams); and 3) crossing the large crevasse as you leave the top of the cleaver traversing towards the Emmons Glacier. Try to communicate well with other teams as you approach these areas and be considerate of the needs of others. Your helpfulness and good attitude can help make the climb enjoyable for everyone.

Otherwise, conditions haven't changed much. A boot track is well-established and snow cover remains good. The sketchy snowbridges across the two crevasses at the beginning and end of the traverse towards the Emmons are changing a bit but haven't fallen in yet. Don't be afraid to place your own pickets, clip the fixed ones, and give your team a running belay across these areas. The photo at left shows the crevasse at the top of the DC as seen on the descent while traversing back towards the Cleaver.

~Thomas Payne and Paul Charlton, NPS

June 17th

As the June 15th post mentioned, parties are using the DC instead of the Ingraham Direct. Presently covered with good amounts of snow, the Cleaver is safe and direct. There is a fixed-line in place as you traverse onto the nose of the Cleaver from the glacier above Ingraham Flats (see photo at right). Presently there is little rock hazard on the DC because of the snow cover. Some parties are ascending/descending more atop the spine of the Cleaver than in previous years; this is faster but do watch for party-inflicted rockfall on the spine as the snow continues to melt.

There is a disconcerting crevasse crossing as you leave the top of the Cleaver to begin the traverse towards the Emmons and a second thought-provoking snow bridge over a gaping crevasse near the end of that traverse. Take responsibility for your own decision-making and your own safety while addressing these crossings. Conditions will change quickly with these crevasses so make your own assessment (on both the ascent and descent) as to how best to deal with them. Most teams are using some type of belay and paying close attention to the positioning of their rope teams to mitigate the effects of a fall.

Above the traverse the route heads up towards the crater rim, passing no significant obstacles. The photo to the left shows the first part of the traverse heading toward the Emmons.

There are many wands on the route above Ingraham Flats, though the boot track often disappears completely following even small snow/wind events.

~Thomas Payne and Paul Charlton, NPS

June 15th

Most parties have switched from using the Ingraham Direct to going up the Disappointment Cleaver due to several large crevasses opening on the Ingraham. These make the Ingraham very difficult to navigate. From Ingraham Flats the traverse over to the cleaver is very straightforward; however, it does cross through a very active rock and ice fall zone that extends all the way over to the nose of the cleaver. Once on the Cleaver the route is 90% snow.

At the top of the Cleaver the route traverses toward the shoulder of the Emmons Glacier (climber's right) for nearly a 1/4 mile. This traverse is necessary to avoid several large, open, deep, and scary crevasses. The traverse cannot avoid all the crevasses, and there are two significant crevassed areas between the top of the Cleaver and the Emmons shoulder. The first of these areas is at the start of the traverse at the top of the Cleaver and the other is at the end of the traverse where it meets the Emmons shoulder. A web-like series of thin and narrow snow-bridges wind across each of these areas. Most parties are setting up belays to cross these sections. From the Emmons shoulder the route traverses back to climber's left. At this point the route becomes very straightforward to reach the crater rim.

June 14th

This update is from Ian Litmans' June 8th ascent.

The cross over the Ingraham to the DC was without hazard or issue. At the base of the Cleaver, there are three fixed ropes that gain access to the bottom of the DC. All were in good shape & solid. Once on the cleaver we climbed up the spine (rather than climber’s left snowfield) moving through the rock and snow.

Once off the cleaver there were four crevasse crossings and the first had dedicated pickets that were solid. Bridges were all very solid despite the unseasonably warm weather and full sun. The Bergschrund had a fixed line. Unfortunately the setter knotted it at three spots or so for use as a handhold, making running a prussic up it for protection cumbersome. In general the route was straightforward and conditions solid.

Coming back down it seemed as though many parties were choosing to descend the DC via climber’s left/skier’s right rather than going down the spine or the Ing Direct which reportedly had required a solid 4ft jump. Descending the snow on climber’s left was a mistake for us, in retrospect. I think it would have been safer, faster and easier to descend via the spine. The conditions at the time of our very late descent resulted in exhausting, deep postholing all the way down climber’s left side of the cleaver.

June 11

IMG kicked in the DC last Thursday, and both guided and independent parties have said it is in good shape. On Thursday and Friday, parties reported that conditions were good on the way up but that it was very soft later in the day. Some people reported sinking up to the waist at nearly every step. The guide services are beginning to shift to this route, as crevasses on the Ingraham Direct are really starting to open up.

June 7

One of the guide services recently installed a fixed line accessing the rocky spine on the lowest section of the Disappointment Cleaver. The route is still not being used so do not expect to find anything resembling a boot pack on the upper cleaver should you decide to try the DC instead of the Ingraham Direct. That said, the snow conditions on the Cleaver are reported to be good. Be prepared to place a few pickets as a running belay in places, both on the Cleaver and above it, should your party feel uncomfortable.

Parties may start shifting to the DC soon but at present the Ingraham Direct is the route in favor.

~ Arlington Ashby

May 23

I don't have any updates to the route. It seems that most climbers are ascending the Ingraham Glacier Direct. But here is a nice aerial image of how things looked on May 22nd. If you're adventurous and would like to earn the distinction as "the team that booted in the DC for 2007", it's all there for you.

Aerial image by Mike Gauthier

May 14th

The DC is in good condition. Another climbing ranger and I skied the route after ascending the Ingraham Direct. The cleaver had excellent snow coverage most of the way down, so we decided to time our descent based on the ski conditions. The turns were great, with a nice consistent 35 - 45 degree slope on the skier's right side of the cleaver. Be wary of avalanche conditions! We avoided the cross-loaded skier's left side of the slope. At about 11,200 ft. we traversed skier's right off the cleaver and onto the Ingraham. The snow was sufficient to ski, but we could tell it was starting to get thin. This is a spot to be careful as the moat at the edge of the Ingraham Glacier is often hazardous.

We traversed skier's right onto the Ingraham Glacier Direct route, and then skied excellent corn down to Cathedral Gap. Cathedral Gap was melted out at the top, so we walked across 5 feet of rocks, with our skis still on, and then skied down to Camp Muir on the nicely filled in slope below.

If you plan to ascend the Disappointment Cleaver, be aware that the route is not yet wanded and the Ingraham Direct is currently being used as the standard route up from Camp Muir. At the top of the Disappointment cleaver, most climbers traverse climber's right all the way to the Emmons Shoulder to avoid the large crevasses at the 13,000 ft. level.

For more information on the Disappointment Cleaver route, check out our 2006 reports.