Nisqually Icefall - 2008

Nisqually Icefall Route Conditions - March 2008

This report was provided by Ben Kurdt, a guide with International Mountain Guides.

This past Monday Eben Reckord and I (Ben Kurdt) set out for a winter adventure on Mt. Rainier. We had our sites set on climbing the Nisqually Icefall. We had both looked at the route way too many times and had the itch to get up it. Our weather window was great and the avalanche conditions were looking satisfactory. So, we decided to stick our noses in it and see what we found.

We set out from Muir at 6:45 a.m. on the 5th of March. We post-holed (about mid-shin to knee deep) down to and across the Nisqually Glacier. This was a time consuming and tiring process, but it was just the beginning of the post-holing. Ten seconds after being out of the main icefall hazard (the area that pukes huge ice blocks very frequently) a huge boulder came bouncing down it. We knew that we dodged a bullet and were tired from post-holing so we took a well-deserved break by 8:30 a.m. at around 10,700 ft. behind shelter.

Back at it, we found wind-deposited crust layers between 3 and 7 inches thick on top. This crust did have a sliding surface under it, but we were satisfied with not finding too much of the 7 inch crust and a majority of 3 inch crust. Other than the disagreeable mostly thin crust we were happy with the snow conditions, which were fairly unconsolidated. However, progress did involve wallowing up to our waist.

Snow bridges were fairly stable, although at one point Eben had to employ the belly crawl over a thin bridge. This was entertaining to watch, though I must admit that I employed the same technique. At about 11,300 ft., we were sick of snow swimming so we popped onto the glacial ice and climbed some AI4 (Alpine Ice) to gain more ground. This was nice but only lasted about 400 feet. At 12,100 ft. we were able to jump up onto the Wapowety Cleaver. Oh boy, it was nice to walk on windswept snow. We made good time on the cleaver up to 13,000 ft. We then headed back onto the Nisqually glacier and up to the summit. To our displeasure, we found more post-holing (about mid-shin) between 13,000' and 14,000'. However, we made it up to the summit by 5 p.m.

Our first choice of descent was Gib Ledges, but we ran out of light and opted for the sure/straightforward descent of Gib Chute. While walking down this scary chute, we walked on the debris of a grade 4 avalanche for about 45 minutes. This was sobering, knowing that it ripped at some point that day while we were up on our route. It is assumed that the avalanche was propagated by icefall from the ice cliffs above. We made it back to Muir around 8:30 p.m. completely spent. On this day, we earned our dinner. Photos provided by Ben Kurdt.

For more reports on the Nisqually Cleaver, Icefall and Icecliff, check out our archives.