Kautz Glacier Route - August 10
The Kautz is in great shape! The fan approach is still doable, although the fan itself is completely melted out. There are still several good sources of running water near the camp sites above the turtle. The fixed lines around 11,000' have not changed.
The chute itself is becoming steeper and icier. The lower part can still be climbed easily, but there are a few open cracks and some places with harder and more brittle ice. The upper section is all ice and can be done in two sixty meter pitches. Bring two tools and a few ice screws for this section. There are several larger crevasses open above the ice chute, but they can all be avoided, and the route is for the most part straight forward and direct.
Kautz Glacier Route - July 26
Since the weather has turned good again people are back summiting via the Kautz Glacier. The route is still in good shape and offers an enjoyable climb with few crowds.
It seems that almost all parties are now approaching the climb via the fan, although the Wilson Glacier approach is still in great shape, with just a small section of ice to cross. There are good sources of running water near almost all the campsites along the Turtle. The fixed ropes near 11,000 are still the prefered way to access the chute. There are two ropes there now...one good, one bad...so just be aware of what you are trusting your life with. The chute itself is still a mix of snow and water ice. The first ice section can still be ascended fairly easily by just walking, and the second ice section has now become a full two pitches of steeper climbing. A second tool and some ice screws are definitely recomended for this section. A 60 meter rope would also be recomended just to make things go a little faster. Above the chute the glacier is in good shape. There are some large crevasses starting to open up but there are no major roadblocks on this part of the climb.
The parties we saw on the route were all descending the Kautz and not carrying over, but be prepared for rappels through the steep sections. There is no fixed gear to assist in the descent, so if you are not comfortable with that situation a carry-over might be the way to go.
Picture is of two Canadian skiers we met on the summit, making a late season but probably worthy descent of the Emmons.
~ Cooper Self
This past week the mountain was plagued with bad weather. We had some thunderstorms, snow, rain, and high winds. No parties summited Kautz since Monday. The approach to the Kautz route is melting out but is still in good shape. Most parties are no longer taking the Fan. It is melted out in the middle but mostly snow. The standard route now goes up the Wilson Glacier. There are crevasses opening and some water ice showing through down low. The rock and ice fall in this area is active and parties should moved quickly through this area. The Fan can still be used if the Wilson is looking dangerous. The Turtle is looking good there are a few spots of water ice showing through on the steeper slopes. We found trash around the bivy sites at 10,700ft. Please pack out your trash and double check your site when you leave. Fixed ropes are looking a little dicey. The ropes hang down about 20ft, the last 10ft are vertical with big fall potential. It traverses loose cobbles 20ft to a large snow ledge. The rope itself looks OK but a belay as well will help safeguard the area. The glacier down low is exposed to rock and serac fall. Move quickly to the chute. There are some huge seracs hanging over this area it won't be long before they topple. The Chute is a mix of snow and water ice. The upper glacier is opening up but straightforward glacier travel. Many parties have been caring over to avoid descending the ice chute and the objective danger down low.
Due to the recent storm on Friday (June 29th) the avalanche conditions on the mountain have raised from a lower level to something most parties should consider carefully. Guide agencies have turned around due to dangerous avalanche conditions both Saturday and Sunday (June 30th and July 1st) even with amazingly good weather. Please use caution approaching the ridge that leads to the Turtle Snowfield (around 7500') and on the upper snowy slopes above the ice pitches (above 12,000').
Photo by Stoney Richards, taken on June 26th.
~ Tom "House of" Payne
Conditions on the Kautz are still excellent. A climbing ranger patrol recently spent two days on the route and found it to be an enjoyable climb with nothing unexpected getting in our way, minus a few hours of strong winds (60+) during the night and early morning hours.
Most parties these days seem to be crossing the Nisqually and going up the fan to get to the high camps, but we decided to cross higher up the Nisqually and onto the Wilson. The route we took was very straightforward with no major crevasse crossing thanks to lots of snow remaining on the lower parts of the glaciers. Do watch out for point release avalanches on the steeper slopes of the Wilson if you decide to go that way, as some of the debris finds its way across the standard bootpack. On the fan approach be aware of rockfall especially as temperatures increase.
Many of the rock campsites on the route have begun to melt out along the side of the snowfield with the ones between 9'600 and 10'000 having a fairly steady supply of running water. If you do decide to use the rock sites please use your best minimum impact skills.
At 11'200 there is an anchor with a handline going off the ridge and onto the glacier. This is the preferred approach since it greatly minimizes your exposure to the hazards from the Kautz icefall. Be sure to inspect the ropes before you use them since this great amenity is not maintained by any one person. The ice chute is currently climbing very well and remaining a mix of snow and ice. The lower pitch can be climbed fairly easily with a single tool, while the second pitch is a little longer and steeper, requiring more technical climbing. A second tool and some ice screws would be recommended for this section, depending of course on your teams ability and comfort level. There are some slings wrapped around ice pillars on the second pitch and these could be used as protection on the ascent as well as rappel anchors on the decent, just be sure to thoroughly examine these before you use them since they are not maintained.
Above the ice chute the climb takes on a more mellow angle and continues up the glacier to the summit, weaving around a few obvious crevasses. On another note, the Turtle snowfield is becoming very suncupped, so all you skiers might want to think about another line if you had your sights set on that area, unless we get a good storm...and it is snowing at Paradise currently, so maybe there will be some fresh snow to ski in the next couple of days!
~ Cooper Self
As a quick addendum to the previous posts, recently a few teams have climbed the Kautz with short (25 meter) ropes and ended up making an unplanned descent of the DC because they weren't comfortable descending the ice chute on the Kautz. Unfortunately for these particular teams, their tents were still waiting for them at the 10,500' high camp on the Kautz route, necessitating a long, undesirable trudge back up the Kautz to retrieve their gear.
If you expect that your party won't be confident downclimbing the ice sections (roughly 50 degrees with the longest section of continuous ice presently being 300' long), then bring a rope that is long enough to facilitate rappelling.
During a patrol on June 14-15, we found straightforward and enjoyable conditions for the length of the Kautz Route. Ample snow remains for quick access from Glacier Vista (Paradise Meadows area) down to the the moraine of the Nisqually Glacier. After crossing the Nisqually Glacier, most parties seem to be using the Fan rather than the hiking up-glacier onto the Wilson (see photo at right). Both approaches seem fine; the Fan is snow-filled with rock debris on its surface.
The boot path up the eastern edge of the Wapowety Cleaver to the high camps steps over a few small cracks in the snow, so keep an eye out for these. Some of the campsites in the rocks have melted out, but many remain partially snow-filled. We found mid-day running water up to 10,000', including near the 9,600' camp.
The short-cut bypassing Camp Hazard and the serac-threatened chute is advisable. It is quick and direct, reducing your exposure to the seracs significantly. Look over the fixed rope carefully to be certain you are confident in its strength and in the way you intend to utilize the rope/anchor (belay, rappel, grab it with your hand, etc). The photo to the left shows the current anchor and fixed line situation.
The two ice sections in the next portion of the climb are still mostly snow-covered (see photo below of the upper "snice" pitch). The ice that is showing has features and steps, making for secure, stress-free climbing. There are some large snow fins that could be used as bollards for the descent. Currently most teams seem to be happy bringing about 2-3 ice screws and at least one second-tool. What you bring will depend on your confidence level, of course. As the summer progresses, expect more ice to show.
Above the ice the route takes a direct path through upper Wapowety Cleaver then weaves around some large crevasses between 13,500-14,000 ft. Expect the route on this upper section to change as the snowbridges fall in and other crevasses open.
Enjoy your climb.
~Tom "House of" Payne and Paul Charlton
I've been unable to send a climbing patrol up the Kautz Glacier this year, thus the lack of first-hand reports. Thankfully, Alpine Ascents International guide Nick Bratton contributed this nice report. I'm also going to insert a few GREAT photos from Brent McGregor who was snapping images over the past week. Here is Nick's report,
Crossing onto the Wilson and skipping the Fan is a great idea. However, be cautious of the slopes above the Fan as they are prone to point-release avalanches. You are not out of their way until you hit the crest at 8K.
There is a fixed line below Camp Hazard that makes it easy to drop off the Wapowety Cleaver and onto the edge of the Kautz Glacier. This shortcut keeps you out of that terrifying shooting gallery below the ice cliff that pummels the eastern edge of the glacier.
The Kautz ice chutes make for moderate ice climbing and are in good shape. It can be done with a single tool but a second tool would be nice for those less comfortable on steeper, hard glacier ice and snow. A couple screws will also help if you're not comfortable on the terrain; the chutes were pretty textured and offered good footholds. See photo by Nick
Once past 13K (on the upper Nisqually Glacier just after you cross over the top of the Wapowety cleaver) watch for a couple of the snow bridges that are softening up; beware of crevasse falls and pay attention to where you are stepping. Don't assume that the bootpack denotes the best route!
If you don't want to downclimb the ice face, Nick recommends bringing some cord and using a V-thread. Another option is to rap off a bollard which is a much better style than leaving nylon on the glacier.
Campsites on the Wapowety are melting out, and there are a couple great platforms around 10,500'. Entry photo by Brent of climbers on the Kautz Glacier near 11,500 feet.
Over the weekend it seemed like most if not all parties were crossing the Nisqually and getting directly onto the Wilson while avoiding the fan and all its rockfall and avalanche danger. There is still lots of snow on the lower part of the glaciers and the route across is very straightforward. Be aware of who and what is above you though, as I saw some skier-triggered and natural avalanches run across the main trail on the Wilson. There are good campsites on the Turtle snowfield between 9,500' and 11,000'. The steep pitches in the Kautz chute are starting to melt out and the lower one is mostly ice, while the upper one still has some snow on it. I expect this will change quickly though unless we get a good snow storm soon. Once you get onto the upper Kautz the route becomes pretty straightforward again to the summit with minimal open crevasses and a good snow surface. There are no fixed ropes on this route so be prepared to use all your own gear up and down.
For more information, check out our Kautz Glacier archives.