Gibraltar Ledges Archive - 2008

Gibraltar Ledges Route Conditions - 2008

May 5th

Last Monday Ben Kurdt summited via Gibraltar Ledges. Here is his trip report:

Three IMG guides, two friends and I converged on Camp Muir with the intent to climb. We all ended up climbing together on Gib Ledges. We woke at 4:00AM(ouch, since I have not been doing too many alpine starts lately) and went wheels up at 5:25AM. We hit Camp Misery at 6:50AM and took a break. Heading into the Ledges we were well aware of the rockfall hazard from Gibraltar Rock above and the fall hazard with the steep exposure overlooking the Nisqually 1000 ft below. We made it to Camp Comfort at 12,600ft in short time and took a nice break. We made it to the crater rim at 10:50AM. On our way down, we ran into funky sun effected snow which slowed us down a bit. We definitely moved as fast as we could with Gibraltar Rock above us now getting plenty of sun to help it to toss rocks down on us. We dodged a bullet and got out from under Gib Rock unscathed and got down to Muir around 3:30ish PM. We booked it down to Paradise...
As for the route: It was in standard shape(mostly snow on ledges with patches of exposed rock/scree). The route is melting and I am guessing that it will hold for about a month(this is a rough guess) depending on the temps.
As for the snowpack: with these windows of warm spring-like weather, the southern-aspect snowpack is looking real stable. As for the north- east aspect, we dug some pits last week near Muir and found some discouraging signs (multiple Q1 sheers within the top 30 cm). But, I have not gotten up on the Ingraham Headwall (which looked pretty broken from high on the mountain) to dig a pit since all the wind loading that occurred in the beginning of last week. With all that being said, things are changing by the day. Photo by Ben Kurdt

With warm temperatures on schedule for this next weekend watch out for wet slides on steeper southern aspects. Enjoy!

April 28th

Rangers climbed the Gibraltar Ledges route along with several independent parties over the weekend. Conditions on the ledges were good with 90% snow , 5% rock and 5% alpine ice. Snow leading up to Gib Rock required post-holing knee deep. Fortunately a path had been kicked in already. The chute leaving the ledges and heading to Camp Comfort was straightforward. It involved climbing snow at 45 degrees. Above Camp Comfort the route was direct with few open crevasses. Rockfall continues to be a hazard on this route. Be sure to wear a helmet and move quickly through exposed sections.

~ David Gottlieb

Jan 23rd

On January 23rd, Bill Mickel, John Rouches, and Jon Corriveau notched the first ascent of 2008. Jon Corriveau provided the trip report and photos.

Yesterday, Bill Mickel, John Rouches, and I successfully climbed Mt. Rainier via the Gibraltar Ledges route. After a windy and cold night in the surprisingly clean public shelter at Camp Muir we departed at 6:00 a.m. with no wind. The route was very straightforward with Styrofoam snow conditions.

Above 12,500’ our route to the summit was a plumb line crossing over only three small crevasses. Our progress was swift and we reached the summit at approximately 11:30 a.m. The weather on the summit was springtime conditions; at 25 degrees F with only 5 mph winds.

Our worst conditions came during our descent of the Gibraltar Ledges. We encountered unusually warm conditions and were pelted with rock and icefall. Our crampons frequently balled up with the soft snow. We made it back to Camp Muir at 2:30 p.m. Since we were late leaving Muir, I tried to make a radio call to Dispatch to inform them of our late arrival. The radio in the public shelter did not operate despite a voltage reading of 13.6 volts. I tried several times.

We survival skied back to Paradise over the large sastrugi and reached our car just
after 5:00 p.m. I have to say that we were the luckiest three people on the planet
yesterday to successfully climb Mount Rainier on January 23 (123) with a full moon
and no wind.
Photo by Bill Mickel

For more information on the Gibraltar Ledges route, check out the 2007 and other archived reports.

Disappointment Cleaver Archive - 2008

Disappointment Cleaver Route Conditions - October 14

The last two weeks have been relatively quiet up at Camp Muir. The reports of new snow and probable sun brought a handful of skiers and snowboarders up to the high camp this past weekend. Despite icy ski conditions on Saturday and a wet and foggy Sunday morning, afternoon blue skies made for a great slushy descent.

Winter weather conditions have been the norm on the upper mountain since the guiding season came to a close. There have been no summits via the DC route since the first week of this month. Snow bridges and avalanche conditions have been the two main factors turning climbers back.

The bridges over many of the crevasses encountered on the route are extremely weak. Late September was blessed with days of intense solar gain and high freezing levels. These mild conditions left many of the large crevasses exposed and relatively easy to navigate around. The recent snow accumulation and high winds have created a deceptively uniform surface coverage of the Muir Snowfield, Cowlitz Glacier, and Ingraham Glacier. The previously open cracks in these areas are now covered with a thin wind slab (3"-6") that can fracture easily under the weight of a climber. Many hikers were making their way up to Muir this weekend in the tracks of other visitors who had ascended on skis. Please be mindful that bridges able to hold the weight of a person spread along the surface area of a pair of skis may not be strong enough when that weight comes down on the small surface area of a foot. Make sure to probe in suspect areas and give visible cracks a wide berth. Until more snow falls on the Muir Snowfield to help solidify these bridges, utilizing the rocks on climbers right as a handrail up to Anvil Rock and then on toward high camp is recommended.

The increased risk of avalanches has also been turning climbers around. The problem originates less from snow accumulation and more from the wind loading that has accompanied most of the recent storm systems through the area. Snow depths vary radically at different points along the DC route. The upper mountain has remained relatively scoured as high wind velocities have transported most of the new accumulation onto lower flanks. Between Camp Muir and the Disappointment Cleaver however, depths range from a trace of the new snow to ten foot drifts. Be careful of triggering fractures in these areas of wind deposition. Cathedral Gap, the slopes above Ingraham Flats, and the south aspect of the DC seem to be holding the most significant of these loads.
Winter is definitely on its way and requires attention to factors, such as those mentioned above, not always encountered during the summer climbing season. As you plan for summit climbs in coming months, be sure to pack for extra days on the mountain in the event of weather and carry the necessary knowledge and equipment to evaluate the ever changing avalanche hazard. It is a terrific time to be out enjoying the seasonal changes on Rainier as solitude and a dynamic natural world take center stage.

October 3

This past week, all three guide services wrapped up their climbs for the season. This means not only a large reduction of folks climbing the mountain, but also a loss of wands and fixed protection. Independent climbing parties are ALWAYS on their own, but folks often take advantage of, and feel safer, following the large guided groups up the Snowfield and routes, and the fixed lines are definitely used by a vast majority of climbers on the DC. These securities have been removed, so be sure to come prepared for a true mountaineering experience. Expect to encounter the unknown and to do so literally, on your own, since the high camps have been pretty vacant.

The hike to Camp Muir from Paradise to Camp Muir is pretty interesting right now. The trail from paradise to Pebble Creek is bound to change daily, but on Sunday, you could hike from Fall into Winter within a mile and half of Paradise. THings are pretty slick at Pebble Creek as the rain and then fresh snow have created a nice layer of ice on rocks. Crevasses are still broken up considerably on the snowfield, so watch out for those and continue to stay to the hikers right on the way up the Snowfield. Three people required assistance from guides and rangers over the past 3 weeks after hikers fell through weak snow bridges. Be aware of your surroundings and keep your eyes open for signs of crevasses that may be hiding under the snow.

Up at Camp Muir this weekend, there were reports of rain and then snow and plenty of wind -
Last week several parties summitted and reported decent conditions for this time of year; however, this weekend we received some snow that drifted into piles up to 10 ft in spots at Camp Muir. On the route up the DC, beware of loaded slopes and wind slabs just below the Cleaver.

Even with the rain and clouds that are so common for this time of year in the Pacific Northwest, your trip up to Paradise will surely not be a waste. The mountainside and surrounding landscape are currently blanketed in full fall foliage of yellows, oranges and fire engine red. Check out the few pics here and the new post "Autumn in Paradise" that is coming soon.

Sept. 21

Camp Muir climbing ranger, Tom "Master" Payne, today reported high avalanche danger from the top of the DC on upwards. Apparently, the trace to 2 inches of new snow that accumulated in the last 24 hours high on the mountain resulted in significant soft slabs on wind-loaded slopes. Early this morning, several guides were in the process of digging a snow data pit around 12,000 ft. when the snow surface released with enough force to carry the climbers a short distance. According to sources on the mountain, every summit party turned around at or above the Cleaver as a result of the avalanche conditions. That said, Rangers reported sunny conditions and trace amounts of new snow at Camp Muir, so despite the gloomy conditions here at Paradise, the cloud deck appears to be around 9000 ft.

Thbis brings us to the next topic of discussion, the Muir Snowfield. Approaching Camp Muir whether to climb or simply for a training hike requires both crampons and strong glacier travel skills BEFORE reaching Camp Muir. That's right, its 'game on' for the approach with three separate incidents of hikers falling into crevasses in the last two weeks BELOW Camp Muir. The hikers each fell approximately 25 ft unroped into open crevasses on the Muir 'snowfield', each requiring high-angle rope rescue by either professional guides who happened to be close or by climbing rangers. Please exercise extreme caution when traveling above Pebble Creek to Camp Muir. (the photo below is of Climbing Ranger Tom Payne, retrieving a tent blown into a crevasse on the Cowlitz. Several hundred pounds of climber-generated trash have also been removed from the Cowlitz this week)

The final caveat concerns rockfall, which has been occurring regularly around Cathedral Gap and at the transition from the Ingraham to the Cleaver. Rocks are rolling within 100 m of Camp Muir, day and night with impunity. I will be the first to admit that climbing with headphones and music can be an enjoyable alternative to the sometimes monotonous plodding. However, strong situational awareness combined with acute hearing can make the difference between a safe climb and having an entire rope-team suffer from the sometimes massive rocks rolling across the climber trail on the DC route. This is NO exaggeration; the car-sized boulder just a few hundred meters from Camp Muir is a strong testament to the reality of rock-fall danger.

Climbers and Rangers alike report that the DC is still in good shape, offering a direct climb to the summit despite late season conditions. Some climbers have reported getting off-route on the cleaver. Please keep in mind, when one traverses onto the cleaver from the Ingraham one should stay either on the ridge itself or left of the ridge. Exposed rock-scrambling is required and can make for difficult route-finding, but bear in mind that once on the cleaver climbers should NOT be on the climbers right side of the ridge. Stay on the ridge or slightly left -- the route does NOT traverse around to the Emmons at all. Finally, though guides have fixed some anchors around 13,000 ft. for a running belay above a particularly exposed portion of the route, ALL fixed anchors should be regarded as suspect. Please test anchors and use your OWN judgement with regard to anchors....did you hammer that picket in? Do you know who did? How long has it been there? The best tool for climbing is YOUR brain...use it!

Sept 11th

The route is still in great shape, especially for mid-September. All of the snow from our late August storm has melted. Lack of snow cover has brought an increase in rockfall - climb early while temperatures are cooler (see photo to the right where a Volkswagen-size boulder just rolled through the climbing trail). The cleaver itself is now relatively snow free. Some parties have complained about route finding issues on the cleaver at night. When in doubt: err to the climber's left of the spine (see photo of Disappointment Cleaver below). Luckily the upper portion of the route is still extremely direct. The crevasse crossing at around 13,000' is still negotiable! This keeps overall summit times faster than normal for this time of year. Enjoy!

September 5th

"Nothing disappointing about the Disappointment Cleaver"
So, here we are at the beginning of September, and the route once renowned for it's rockfall hazard and lackluster qualities late in the season still remains in remarkable shape. With the last recent blast of snow on the upper mountain it seems little has changed on the DC between mid July and September. "Tennis anyone?"

Leaving Camp Muir there are some obvious crevasses to avoid before gaining the upper reaches of Cathedral Gap and the same rockfall hazard exists here as it has all season. The traverse onto the lower portion of the Disappointment Cleaver itself has filled back in with snow and the route to the top of the cleaver now follows more of the rock crest instead of the exposed snowfields to climbers left.

The route from the top of the cleaver has gained some exposure and steepness at the beginning and midpoints of the route in order to traverse above and avoid some rather large crevasses and seracs. The last 1000ft. to the summit however remains as the glory-ridden homestretch consisting of very straightforward glacial travel.

Keep in mind that as the route continues to change and the guide services continue to put in new bootpacks and possibly even ladder bridges for the route...use your own mountain sense. If you don't like what you see, look for a better route. This usually doesn't take long to do and if you find a better way around the given obstacle, your route will more than likely turn into the new bootpack for the climbers behind you.
See you on the mountain.

Disappointment Cleaver Route Conditions - August 27th

A couple of low pressure systems have moved through the area this last week dropping snow above 7,000 feet on the mountain. Some slopes have accumulated three feet of fresh powder. The new snow covers up most of the rocky sections on the Dissapointment Cleaver and a good amount of the rock on Cathedral Gap (see photo to the right of the cleaver). A ladder is still in place around 13,000 feet to short cut a dangerous crevasse crossing. For late August the route is in extremely good condition.

High winds the night of August 26th have created some snow slabs out of the fresh powder. A guide company triggered a slab avalanche on the backside of Cathedral Gap on the morning of the 27th. Use caution on wind-loaded slopes.

August 14

A quick addendum to the comprehensive August 8th blog update: the DC is still seeing plenty of traffic and climbers and guides alike are psyched to see the route holding strong despite warm temps and heavy traffic. While the last week has seen more than a few 'sunset' climbs with the quick rise in temps this weekend, climbers should take care to time their climbs with colder temps as crevasses are widening and snow bridges are becoming more suspect. That said, in cold conditions the route is generally safe and straightforward with very little deviation from the route's original path back in May.

A concern from independent climbers is the difficult route finding at the base of the cleaver. Some parties have wandered too far to climber's right and picked up an old fixed-line, leading them to believe they were 'on-route'. So, here is the fresh beta...Once you have transitioned from Ingraham Glacier onto the rock, walk and scramble across approximately 100m to the base of the ridge proper on the cleaver. From here, scramble up scree and some short class 2 rock trending to climber's left. After a gain of about 100 vertical meters, hang left across rock to the snowfield. Whether or not you hit the switchbacks on the snow immediately, simply climb up the snowfield until you gain the obvious and wanded switchbacks. They should lead to the top of the cleaver without any routefinding required. (see photo at left showing top of cleaver with penitentes and the upper route).

As for the rest of the route, both getting to and climbing above the cleaver are still very straightforward, with the obvious bootpack weaving around open crevasses more often than actually stepping across them. However, due to dynamic conditions, please rope up safely from Camp Muir onward as time of day, weather and changing snow conditions all combine to render potential hazards along the way. A good way to anticipate the route is to schedule a rest day either to scope the route from Camp Muir before a summit bid or to move camp to Ingraham and gain a sense of conditions the day of your climb. The photo at left is taken from the bottom of the cleaver and gives a sense of the awesome terrain found at Ingraham Flats.

Finally, remember the full moon this weekend!! This makes for a great opportunity to climb at night with colder temps and still have great light all the way to the top. Between meteor showers, moonlight, sunsets and sunrises, Rainier continues to keep even the most hardened climber interested with its unique and inspiring terrain.

August 8th

It's early August and the popular "DC" route on Mt. Rainier continues to hold up to its reputation of one the most direct and aesthetic routes on the mountain. The overall conditions of the route remain to be in stellar shape with very little crevasse negotiation and straightforward route finding. Read on below for more details.

Crossing the Cowlitz Glacier from Camp Muir and moving towards Cathedral Gap is turning into more of a real glacial travelling experience than it may have been considered to be in the early season. It is highly recommended that all teams are roped up right out of camp as there are some rather large crevasses beginning to show themselves through tiny black holes in the bootpack. Don't be afraid to be the first one to look for a better route if you don't like what you see, especially considering that the bootpack most people are following was made back in June!

Once at the top of Cathedral Gap, you will find additional straightforward glacial travel up and around Ingraham Flats and onto the Disappointment Cleaver proper. The lower 1/3 of the cleaver is currently scrambly rock and dirt before you step back onto the upper glacier portions for the remainder of the ascent. (see photo above right) While wandering around this lower portion of the cleaver by headlamps in the middle of the night be careful not to get lured too far to the climber's right of the crest of the cleaver. The more established route stays well left of the crest and has been wanded by the guide services. Several climbing parties have reported getting off route here and wasting valuable time.

At the top of the cleaver, don't forget to turn around and admire the view to the northeast, as the sunrises behind Little Tahoma are routinely breath-taking. From this point, although there are some dog-leg turns here and there, the route follows another well-established bootpack up the Ingraham Glacier all the way to the summit. This past week yielded some exceptional summit days in which climbing parties were able to spend considerable amounts of time on the true summit with very warm temperatures and virtually no wind! So, if you are wondering "whether or not the climbing on Mt. Rainier is still a go?" The answer is... YES! Get out and go climbing.
See you on the mountain.

~Kevin Hammonds
Disappointment Cleaver ("DC") Route Conditions - July 30

The DC route is currently in excellent summer condition. Climbers have found the route to be direct, especially when compared to last year's version of the DC, which actually went all the way out to the Emmons shoulder.

Getting from Camp Muir to the cleaver is straightforward with no large open crevasses over the Cowlitz and only a few to get around crossing the Ingraham. Watch out for rockfall through Cathedral Gap and move fast across the upper part of the Ingraham and through the first part of the cleaver to minimize your exposure to rock and ice fall. The cleaver itself is about 50 percent snow covered at the moment with wands showing the trail over both dirt and snow. Above the cleaver, the route takes a direct line toward the crater, winding around a few large crevasses, but mostly switchbacking to the rim. The route does not seem to be in danger of significant change anytime in the near future and should remain a great climb during the second half of the summer.

See previous post for some great advice on working with other climbing teams and keeping everyone safe as the season moves forward.

~C. Self

July 19th

The days have been great the past week on the DC. The weather has been near perfect, although the conditions do get hot as early as 10 a.m. on the descent. The photo to the right was taken from above the cleaver looking down at two teams of climbers and the high camp at Ingraham Flats.

Whether you're starting from Camp Muir, Ingraham Flats, or even the Muir Snowfield, climbing the DC is sure to be a fun alpine adventure. Some climbers are doing a three-day ascent, spending one night at or near Camp Muir, the next at Ingraham Flats, then proceeding up to the summit and all the way out on the third day. Other groups choose the one night option: up to Muir, a little sleep before a midnight start, then up the route and back to Paradise on the second day. And others, with a little more daring or a little less time, are choosing to head straight from Paradise up to Muir, stopping only to eat a snack, then heading straight up to Columbia Crest and all the way back out to Paradise without a wink.

The DC has seen significant rockfall as of late, usually after sunrise, but in the middle of the night as well. When approaching Cathedral Gap, the cleaver, or anywhere rock is found, move quickly yet carefully to avoid rockfall or creating it by accidentally kicking rocks off of the cleaver onto the unseen trail below (Yell, "Rock!") -- wear your helmets, be aware.

Note: Anywhere you see rocks near the trail, they didn't grow there, they fell. Where one rock has fallen, more will follow.

The upper glacier, above the cleaver, is beginning to open up but is still relatively direct all the way to the crater rim. Crevasse rescue skills and equipment are obviously encouraged to bring along on your climb.

Stay aware of the other climbing teams around you, both above and below, and be courteous upon passing or being passed by other groups on the route. Don't be afraid to step off of the boot path to either let other climbers pass or to pass other climbers. Be wise in your choice of location when attempting either maneuver. If you have a longer rope, it is not necessary to keep the entire length in between you and your partners. It's useful to coil rope at either end in case of emergency, creating less lag while turning switchbacks up the mountain.

Life on the mountain is good.

July 11th

The DC is holding strong despite warm temps over the last few days. While high winds Wednesday night discouraged some from summitting, the Cleaver has seen multiple ascents every day this week. Some notable summitters include three disabled veterans; one blind, another partially blind and a third with a below the knee amputation. Conditions were excellent on their climb Tuesday night with clear windless skies and a beautiful sunrise. The same for this morning as Wednesday's wind event slowly dissipated resulting in calm clear conditions and an extremely high success rate. (see above photo) Important updates include the removal of all fixed ropes leading to and up the Cleaver.

The path from the Ingraham Flats tent sites climbs steadily uphill above an open crevasse then descends slightly as one turns back east to the Cleaver. The Cleaver itself has seen a lot of traffic and combined with warm temps has continued to melt out to rock. At the transition from the Ingraham to the Cleaver there is a short steep exposed section of rock leading across to the Cleaver ridge. (see photo at right)

That said, the route travels mostly on snow with short rock steps on the east side of the switchbacks. Above the Cleaver the route takes a few long switchbacks in order to cut between an impressive crevasse system. (see photo below) The upper route does cross a few narrow parallel sided crevasses but manages to completely avoid anything wider than a foot or two.

As noted elsewhere rockfall is perhaps the most significant current objective hazard. Yesterday a party was struck by sliding rock on the east side of Cathedral Gap apparently triggered by strong winds. Today a climber was struck by rockfall on the west side of the Gap easily visible from Camp Muir. This small section has become notorious in recent days for rockfall at any hour so please take precautions. As one transitions from snow to scree on the way up the Gap please take a minute BEFORE entering the Danger Zone to catch your breath and and brief team members. Then move quickly through the short 100 meter section before stopping. Have your helmet on at all times. While this sounds obvious, experienced climbers have been injured here. Accidents do happen and speed can mitigate this hazard.

July 6th

"The DC still in great shape!"

As depicted in the photo to the right, the climbing conditions remain phenomenal on the Disappointment Cleaver route. Several of the long-term guides and climbing rangers have claimed that the route might "be in the best shape in a decade they have seen for July."

Most of the Cleaver consists of a new bootpack put in that zig-zags up more of the snow fields and much less of the rock spine than it did a couple of weeks ago. The upper portion of the route also remains in fine condition with minimal crevasse negotiation and a more or less straight shot to the top. The upper mountain also even picked up a couple inches of fresh snow from yesterday's weather event that really helped in softening up the cramponing just the right amount.

Now for the standard safety caveat...although conditions are excellent there has been significant rockfall originating from the lower Cathedral Gap and lower Disappointment Cleaver proper access areas. These zones of rock and possible ice fall are not to be taken lightly but given due respect can be easily in...don't stop here for lunch! With the freezing level expected to rise to 14,000 ft. this week, use extra caution when traveling through these areas at any time of day or night.

In addition to this, see photo right, think twice before trusting any fixed lines or pro when traveling in the mountains if you didn't place it yourself! Always thoroughly inspect any fixed gear before clipping in yourself or your partner.

~ Kevin Hammonds

Disappointment Cleaver Route Conditions - July 1

The route is still in fine condition for this time of year (7/1/08). Warm weather resulted in many parties departing very early, some as early as 10 p.m. to avoid the heat and possible snow sluff-offs later in the day. There has been active rock fall from Cathedral Gap, so parties should move through quickly and, as always, wear helmets. The Cleaver is mostly snow travel and still in good shape. Watch your rope work on the Cleaver -- long stretches of rope between climbers on the rock sections can activate rock fall onto people below. Above the Cleaver the route is very direct. Over-all the route is in great condition!

June 27th

I thought I'd add a note on how things went for us up there last Friday. It was the first day of the season that the freezing level got above 14,000 feet. Crevasses were opening up on the Ingraham Glacier - we may have been one of the last parties to be able to hop over a couple before they became too wide - so the route takes you up quite a ways, and then you traverse over to the Cleaver. There was recent evidence of rock fall while approaching the Cleaver, and from there, it was a relatively mellow (but stable) scramble around the nose. That puts you onto the steep snow and well defined boot path for the rest of the Cleaver. We stayed on snow the entire way up the Cleaver, switchbacking most of the way up.

The boot path from the top of the Cleaver was a fairly direct, well-flagged switchbacking ascent.

The descent was VERY HOT. We noted that one person punched through a snow bridge on the bootpath. The upper portion of the route (12,500 - 14,411 feet) was relatively solid. On descent, there was a couple inches of slush formed over a windpacked snow/ice layer. Our crampons caked up pretty fast, and some people in our party decided to take their crampons off below 13,000 feet.

From the top of the cleaver down, it felt like 90 degrees and we were up to our knees in slushy post holing. All in all a spectacular day, with super clear skies.

Here are a few photos too.

~ Erik Kingfisher

June 23

Climbing rangers ascended the Disappointment Cleaver Sunday morning. Conditions were excellent with clear skies, a spectacular sunrise at the Cleaver and a well-beaten path up the route. While some gusts were encountered, the winds seemed to taper off the higher we ascended and by the time we reached the crater the wind all but dissipated. On the descent the snow stayed firm all the way to Camp Muir making for a quick return to camp. In contrast to dreary conditions at Paradise, the upper mountain above 8000 ft. was bathed in warm sun most of the day.

"Anything but a disappointing sunrise from the Disappointment Cleaver"

There are still fixed ropes as one traverses onto the Cleaver, as well as several leading up the steeper 35 degree slope above. Take care if you feel compelled to clip into the fixed lines, particularly with other parties on the same rope. Be advised that parts of the Cleaver are melting out and one should be prepared to do some scrambling on rock with their crampons on. The route itself is well wanded. However, with recent snowmelt wands are showing up scattered about the upper mountain. Private climbing parties are asked to retrieve their wands. Several crevasses were beginning to appear, in particular crossing Ingraham Flats towards the Cleaver. Please use safe glacier travel techniques for the entire climb. Futhermore, rockfall was encountered at Cathedral Gap as early as 9a.m. so again please wear a helmet, particularly when moving under exposed rock.

June 19th

Almost all climbing teams made it up to the summit this week from Camp Muir due to great conditions. Many "lowlanders" have been complaining this week about unseasonably cold, rainy, and cloudy weather at the park, but at Camp Muir the weather has been solid. Calm winds, 9,000' freezing levels, and a straight-forward route on the upper mountain have combined to make times from Camp Muir to the summit relatively quick.

The spine of the cleaver is almost completely melted out (see photo above). Teams have been staying to the climber's left of the spine on snow. Fixed lines are still on the cleaver. Do not clip into these lines unless you are prepared for the risk of doing so. Who put the lines there? How long have the lines been there? Has anybody stepped on it with their crampons the day before? What are the lines anchored to? Please communicate with other climbing teams at the fixed lines and other "bottle neck" areas (Cathedral Gap, etc...) to expedite everyone's trip.

Hopefully the route will stay in such excellent condition for weeks to come. Enjoy!

June 14-15

The route is in fine condition. Fixed lines are set leading onto the cleaver (always inspect the anchors and rope before trusting). The cleaver is still mostly snow covered with some rock steps. Above the cleaver, the route is still direct with just a few open crevasses. There is still lots of snow up high on the mountain, but watch for warming trends as they may lead to point releases on the route.

P.S. flat spots above the cleaver are covered crevasses.....

June 3rd

The cleaver itself is still holding most of its snow (see photo right). This makes rockfall less of a hazard and lessens the need to perform tricky foot work on choss with crampons. The upper mountain is still holding together nicely. No thin bridges or big sun cups yet. See the photo below. If you zoom in you can see the foot path switch-backing straight from the top of the cleaver all the way to the summit crater. Overall the route is in great shape.

Remember to move quickly accessing the nose of the cleaver. The section from Ingraham Flats to the nose can be very dangerous. Work with other climbing teams to expedite everyone's passage through this area (this means communicating and being prepared to wait for others).

May 25th

The DC is still in great shape. Cathedral Gap is melting out quickly, so please be careful of loose rock if there are climbing parties near or below you. Ingraham Flats seems more broken up than usual this year. Definitely "rope-up" when travelling across the flats.

The cleaver is still mostly snow covered (90%). Above the cleaver the route follows a direct path straight toward the summit crater. All of the crevasse crossings seemed solid, so far. The directness of the route makes for fast summit attempts.

There are fixed lines at the toe of the cleaver and on the spine. Make sure the anchors are solid and you know who else is clipped into the fixed line if you decide to use them. It can be safer and faster not to use the fixed lines.

May 17th

Normally, this route doesn't really get "kicked in" until the latter half of June, but it seems as though the Ingraham Direct is heavily crevassed and scary... Climbing rangers and guides have expressed concern over the potential for severe icefall and crevasse hazards, too.

At this point, "the DC" seems to be well established and "booted in." Cathedral Gap is starting to melt out, and things remain smooth between Camp Muir and Ingraham Flats (11 K). There are a few sketchy crevasses between "the Flats" and the base of the cleaver (11,400 give or take), where the guides have placed a long fixed line out to "the nose." From the nose of the cleaver, there is another fixed line that assists with ascending the ridge. From the end of that fixed rope, it's a nice switchbacked boot-track to the the top of the cleaver. Compared to last year, the top of the cleaver to the summit crater rim is really straight forward. Beware, many crevasses are lurking below.

UPDATE: Heads up on the crack systems forming on the Ingraham Flats. The Ingraham Headwall continues to be an icefall with large, house-sized, ice blocks. Snow conditions below 13,000' along the D.C. are very soft and wet with VERY HIGH RELEASE POTENTIAL.
~ Arlington Ashby and Mike Gauthier

Here are the 2007 archived reports.

Kautz Glacier Archive - 2008

Kautz Glacier Route Conditions - June 27 - July 1

Kautz Glacier Climb and Summit Overnight

This trip report includes lots of planning amd preparations, an interesting summit experience and some great pics. An annotated version of the entire trip is included below. The complete report can be found here. Thanks to Curtis and his team for sharing their experience.
Six of us did the Kautz Glacier Route from 6/27 – 7/1. The climb was pretty straightforward, but the interesting twist is that we spent a night on the summit (intentionally)...and someone fell into a crevasse (tunnel?) on the summit. We were able to pull him out without injury, but it might be interesting to some.
DAY 1: The route was through the Fan to our Camp 1 at 8,200 feet. We roped up into 2 teams of 3 and I (Curtis) led across towards the Fan. Everyone was using one pole and once ice axe. With all of the snowfall from early June, we had no problems with crevasses. With all of the nice weather from the previous week, we had no problems with hip-high postholing. We left off the crampons. Other than being a little sloppy, we had great conditions. The Fan was steep, but not nearly as steep as it had appeared from the other side of the Nisqually. We followed the boot track (which I started calling the Yellow Brick Road) and at 7,600 feet, came across a group of two mountain rescue teams (one from Tacoma and one from the Sierras in California) that were training together. We tromped through their camp as they good-naturedly mocked us (can’t remember what for, but I’m sure it was deserved), and we continued up to the target camp at 8,200 feet. McGoo took the lead in setting up the campsite, digging out platforms for the tents in the snow and getting us tied down for the night. Our doctors (2 in the group) took stock of everybody’s health, and the freeze-dried chowfest began. We made sure to melt lots of snow for water BEFORE going to bed. The views of Adams, Hood, and Mt. St. Helens were tremendous as the sun went down.
DAY 2 - 3: We called morning bell at 6:00, targeting an 8:00 departure and actually left around 8:15 after roping up. We skirted right of some rock outcroppings on the left side of the Wilson Glacier. I led at a slow, comfortable pace out of camp, past the place a hundred feet from camp where McGoo had bailed a year earlier due to his own knee problems (No issues this year). Again, we had no need of crampons due to the warm conditions and the reasonable boot track. As expected, the air got thinner, the sun got hotter, and the steps got harder, but we were still making decent progress. At around 9,100 feet, we encountered a talus field. The snow was sloppy with potential postholes, while the rocks were slippery as well. It was a tough little stretch and we took a break. About 20 minutes and a couple hundred feet past this spot we found abundant running water and stopped again (briefly) to fill up after about a 50 foot climb off the path to an ice-cold waterfall. We continued up to the Turtle snowfield which is a relentless, steep slog.
Camp 2 was at about 11,000 feet, and we had to struggle to find spots on the crowded weekend near the top of the Turtle. It was a beautiful late June weekend, but still more crowded than I ever expected to see the Kautz Glacier route. Most of the good sites were taken, so we improvised 2 tent sites on the cleaver, and a third on the snow that required a fair amount of digging to make a platform. Most people slept better, although I had a short terrifying bout with AMS in the middle of the night. was momentarily concerned that my trip was over. Luckily this went away fairly quickly. I got up later that night and was rewarded with the kind of sky you never get to see. The Milky Way was out in all of its glory, and the light of Portland illuminating the outline of Mt. St. Helens from behind was awesome. The mountain loomed above lit by the waning crescent moon ~ Good to be here.
We stayed for an extra day here to acclimatize in anticipation of the summit stay and did some skills / scouting in the chute. Sunday we had our first bad weather of the trip. From around 7:30 to 9:30, we got pummeled with a thunderstorm, including high winds, heavy rain, and tons of lightning. I started counting the seconds between flash and boom, but stopped after awhile as most were within a mile.
DAY 4: Although we endured a lightning storm for a few hours Sunday night, the stars were out by the time we packed up for the summit. Everyone was packed up and ready to go by 2:45 (15 minutes early). With full packs, we headed to the summit. We hiked up to the rappel station unroped on the climber’s trail on the cleaver. We rappeled down with full packs in the dark and with the overhang (tendency to tip back), which was sightly challenging but not a big problem, and we quickly had our crampons on and were traversing to the base of the chute. Bucket led the first team, I led the second, and Nick was on cleanup duty. Bucket and I each had an ice tool in addition to our mountaineering axes. The rest had only ice axes. Bucket placed 1 running belay anchor using a 22cm ice screw in the middle of the 1st pitch in the middle of the ice jumble near a crevasse. We negotiated the first pitch without too much trouble, but it took longer than I had anticipated. It was fully light out when we were done with this. The calls of “ICE!” were frequent as much of the ice we were slamming our axes and tools into was rotten and started careening down the chute at the trailers. After a short, less-steep section in between the pitches, the second pitch began. Again, it was pretty straight forward for the first part (good steps and upright self-belays in decent snow with ice axes), but then got icy and steeper, requiring use of picks and both hands. Bucket set 3 separate ice screw anchors on this pitch.
We rested and then set off across the Kautz Glacier towards the cleaver separating it from the upper Nisqually. This was about 900 feet of climbing through a crevasse field. I punched through one, but was able to extract myself and walk around. We merged up with a boot track that wasn’t much help with the postholing (was a downhill sloppy track), but did keep us away from most of the crevasses, some of which were hard to spot after the storm the night before.
The rest of the trip to the summit was a snow slog. We were able to follow some other boot tracks which helped. At around 13,400', I started to struggle (cold/cough, AMS, fatigue, whatever), and yielded the lead to Bucket who pushed on to the summit. We entered the crater rim at about 2:00 PM at about the 5:00 position (12:00 being North). We had had beautiful weather most of the trip, but we arrived at the summit in a small whiteout. We had to jump an opening to the steam tunnels to get into the crater. The wind was appreciably less once we did that.
After getting all safe and sound into the crater, we decided to look for a campsite and set up camp for the night prior to going for the true summit. Bucket and I tied in, I grabbed the probe, and started moving west; we figured the best location would be around 6:00 or 7:00 per the prevailing wind direction. About 1 minute after starting, I probed a space under the snow. I asked for a belay which Bucket gave me. I then offered to belay him, but he said he didn’t need one: “there are no crevasses on the summit.” Two seconds later he was gone. It was like something out of a bad movie where Karma always strikes those with hubris right after they proclaim their invincibility. Paul came over close to the newly formed hole and shouted down but got no response. Once the anchor was built and Nick was ready to rappel down, he got to the edge and finally got word from Bucket. Huge sense of relief here. He was totally unscathed and asking that someone drop a camera down to him so that he could take pictures. I wanted to drop a boulder on him. After getting some unique pics, the guys constructed a Z-anchor and hauled him out as he helped climb.
The weather yielded to blue skies and we slowly (very tiring work) built up our camp. We ended up having the entire summit to ourselves for about 16 hours before the teams started coming up the next morning. We thought about exploring the steam tunnels, but after Bucket’s little impromptu expedition, and given that we were pretty beat, we just enjoyed the views, the weather, and the feeling of being on top. We could see into some of the openings, and we believe we could see the wing of a small plane that crashed on the summit circa 1990. That night we all had our best night of sleep on the trip so far.
DAY 5: We got the full group pic on the summit that was now crawling with several other groups of people, packed up camp and left at a leisurely time of about 9:45 a.m.
The first 2,000 feet down to Disappointment Cleaver were quick and somewhat uneventful. The track followed the south side of the Cleaver in the snow (not the rock), which was increasingly sloppy. We had decided to take off our crampons. Each step was either slippery from being packed down, or a hip-high posthole from not being packed down enough. At the bottom of the cleaver, there were some fixed ropes which we clipped into to take us over to that dangerous stretch above Ingraham Flats below the icefall. After a short rest at Camp Muir, which was busy as usual, we unroped and headed down the Muir snowfield. We kept looking for glissade opportunities, but the snow was mushy and sloppy, and long glissades were few and far between.
We checked in with the rangers, took advantage of the best deal anywhere ($0.25 for 7.5 minutes of shower in the basement of the visitor’s center), found our car keys, and headed down to Copper Creek, which had been elevated to Nirvana status over the last 5 days as we salivated over steaks, blackberry pie, and beer. After that, we negotiated the MOST dangerous part of the trip: the drive back to Seattle.
June 29

It was a warm, sunny weekend, which brought alot of hopeful climbers to the park. A climbing party of 4, including one IMG guide, succeeded in ascending one of our less frequented routes, Kautz Headwall. They also descended the Kautz Glacier and provided a great trip report and pictures, which was just posted under Success Cleaver Routes.

June 15-17

Signs of warming temperatures and enhanced sun radiation can now be seen up on the mountain, not far up the route to Camp Muir. While taking a break around Pebble Creek, look across the Nisqually to the Wilson and perhaps you'll see remnants of the slide activity that is described in the trip report by IMG guide Mark Allen, attached below. The report is stellar, and provides some great avy reporting and route updates. Thanks to Mark and other guides for the report and pictures!

Approach: On June 15th the freezing level was again above 10,000ft for the third day after the compounding cold NW storm cycles of early June. This was also the third day of intense radiation that affected the snow conditions, making sloppy spring snow below 10,000ft. As a result an impressive avalanche shed cycle began on the afternoon of June 13th. Radiation has triggered several 5+ R1-D1 (small) and 5+ R3-D3 (R3 Medium, relative to the path; D3 truck, destroy a wood frame house, or break a few trees.) wet slab avalanches on SE-NE aspects in elevations of 7000-9500ft, primarily on the Wilson Glacier in close proximity to the climbing route. The recent spring snow and windstorms loaded the SE-NE aspects with new snow on a melt freeze spring snow service. After the main event of the shed on the 13th, the most recent slide was on the afternoon of June 17th, proving the layer still reactive. Again, the size was an R3 D3, burring the climbing track for 200m in the location of the avy bench. Much of the hazard has been reduced. Still use good judgment in this terrain. I recommend using snowshoes for crossing the Nisqually and Wilson glaciers to make travel more efficient or getting an earlier start. After 9:00am the crust is no longer supportive.

Climb: On June 17th the Kautz glacier route was in great shape. Compared to historical conditions, the ice in the upper chute is exposed relatively early for the season. The first step on the glacier is neve, making 90m of snow climbing with some glacial ice exposed at approx 45-50 degrees. The second ice step in the chute is a 130m section of neve’ and ice with 70m of exposed ice. Skiers descending the route now have to rappel a short section. Right above the ice chute the slope breaks over at 12,000ft. Several soft cracks exists here and several are opening up on the way up to Wapowety Cleaver. Crossing through the icefall at Wapowety cleaver, the route crosses a scary crack protectable by ice screws. From 13,000-14,400ft the route tracks the similar mid-season route by navigating around the soft schrund at 13,600ft and 14,000ft. The surface is scowered and isolated wind slabs are eroded down to sastrugi fields yielding shin deep powder post-holing and good cramponing.

Descent: the Kautz required v-threads or ice bollards.

~Mark Allen

May 29th

Although a band of clouds and heavy fog hung out at Paradise on Wednesday evening into Thursday, the scene on the upper mountain was a different story and rangers were able to check out Kautz Glacier, Fuhrer Finger and Wilson Headwall. It just goes to show that you never know what kind of weather this mountain will throw at you.

The Kautz glacier route is in good, late spring conditions, the chute is still rather straight forward with no ice yet. Above the chute, the route is still rather direct with little open crevasses. A fixed line is set approximately 200 ft below Camp Hazard, descending to the Kautz Glacier (about 20 feet). Take CAUTION when you use any fixed ropes NOT set by your party. The other option is to walk onto the Glacier via the ledge at Camp Hazard. LOOK UP ~ beware of rock and icefall from large ice cliffs above.

May 19th

An off duty ranger (S. Lofgren) took this image of the Kautz Glacier and Success Cleaver. Things seem slim for this time of year. Let's hope for more snow.

May 17th

A few climbers took on the Kautz Glacier for a "day trip" to Point Success. To speed things up, they skied down. Sky Sjue sent these notes along, but his esteemed ski buddy Jason Hummel, wrote an outstanding trip report with killer photos. It's posted over on his website

We climbed and skied Kautz Glacier. We were happy to find that radiative cooling gave everything a good surface freeze. Coverage on the Nisqually and Wilson Glaciers is excellent. The snow from halfway up the Turtle to Point Success was perfect: solid freeze for good climbing and never got sloppy enough for the snow to clump on the crampons. The ice chute on the Kautz was in great conditions, easy to climb with one ax. We took a direct finish to Point Success. The steep turns on the upper Kautz Glacier from Point Success featured fabulous snow, plenty soft but no sluffing. The ice chute had a coating of corn that allowed for continuous arcs directly through it. The real crux of the day was descending to Nisqually flats from Wapowety Cleaver. We cut two rather large wet slides on the rollers down the Wilson, then followed the path they had cleared, which skied quite well. Slaying dragons is fun.

For more route reports on the Kautz Glacier,
check out our archives.

Liberty Ridge Archive - 2008

Liberty Ridge Route Conditions - June 15th

Below is a very detailed and informative TR from Dmtiry Freitor.

We started from the White River RS about 9:30 am on June 12. It was mostly soft snow up to the camp site on Curtis Ridge. We've been told that a day or two earlier an RMI group turned back because of high avalanche danger on the Carbon (?), so we hoped to be able to follow their tracks. But the tracks were not much help, as we still post-holed through them.

The next morning we started at 5:20 am, the snow was a little better, but still soft. We had to break our own trail through the Carbon Glacier. The glacier was in good shape, we were able to tread pretty much straight for the steep ramp in the middle part of the glacier. On our last year's attempt, I remember all of us feeling totally heart-broken when we dropped onto Carbon and saw the great distance we had to cross to the ridge and the altitude we had to re-gain to get to Thumb Rock. But this year it did not seem too bad, and in fact we managed this part relatively quickly. To get to the ridge we had to go across some ice scree left by what must have been a huge serac falling down from the Liberty Wall few days ago. But since it seemed to have indeed been a few days, we opted for this quick pass through to the ridge, rather than trying to skirt it through lower seracs. In fact, we have not seen anything more falling down from the Liberty Wall for most of the day until we were well settled in our camp site at Thumb Rock. This came as a big surprise, as last year both Liberty and Willis walls had constant serac avalanches (and that was some 3 weeks earlier!).

We gained the ridge by the second short snow slope from the West. Last year we followed the ridge mostly below the exposed rock bands, where rockfall was quite a bit of concern. This path also deposited us low on the big snow slope leading directly to Thumb Rock, where again we were constantly bombarded with rocks and ice. So, this year we wanted to try and keep close to the crest of the ridge, as some route descriptions suggested. We have not, however, found this possible and ended up following almost the same path as last year. After two tries, I do not know how one can keep to the crest of that ridge, I think that's fiction. What was truly surprising, again, that this time there were no rockfall anywhere along our way. So, I think that under the right conditions the best way up to Thumb Rock is to continue on the glacier right up to the last big snow slope (staying close to the ridge seems to be fairly free from both rocks from the ridge and ice from the Liberty Wall), and ascend that all the way up.

We got to Thumb Rock in perfect weather, and I was very much surprised that we were the only party on the route. Later in the day we saw another team following our tracks across the Carbon, but somehow they never made it to Thumb Rock. We were hoping to climb the upper ridge the next day. But in the afternoon the wind started to pick up, and by 7 pm or so was blowing quite hard. The strong wind continued all through the night and when we woke up at 3 am, going up did not seem like a good choice. The wind seemed to die down around 6 am, but by that time we decided it was too late, as we were trying to avoid bivouacking higher on the route. In fact the strong wind picked up again a little later.

At 1:30 pm we were joined by another duo from Seattle, though they were not the same team we spotted yesterday. These guys complained about a lot of rocks coming down the big snow slope; we also heard the ice falling down from the Liberty Wall about every 30 minutes. So, I guess we got very-very lucky with conditions on the day before.

We found the gully through the middle of the rock band above Thumb Rock mostly devoid of any ice/snow. There were tracks going below the rock band all the way to the ice/snow field to the right. But it seemed that taking the left gully should provide a much quicker access to the upper ridge. So Oleg and I went to take a look, and we decided that this is the way we will take tomorrow. We also eye-marked the spot where we would cross to the East side of the ridge.

The next morning we started at 3:30. Our tracks from yesterday proved to be very useful. We ascended snow of various degree of softness all the way to the Black Pyramid. There things got interesting. The entire slope was covered by a sheet of 40-50 degree ice. We were hoping to be able to simul-climb through this section. But due to the state of the ice (sort of like waterfall ice on a very cold day: hard and brittle on top, coming out in big chunks with every swing of our ice tools, leaving soft crumbly mess underneath) we ended up using our five screws more often, so Oleg had to stop and bring me up each time he reached the end of our 30 m rope. We stayed on the very right edge of the slope, almost on the border with the serac, this afforded occasional good stance on packed snow and enabled us to only climb less than 200 feet of ice. Going through the middle of the slope would probably yield some solid 300 feet of pure ice climbing.

From the top of the ice we had no problems until we got to the bergshrund. At first it seemed that we could easily cross it on the far right end. To get to the bergshrund we had to climb some snow which was quite steep, quite soft, and quite unreliable. Basically, you kick a very deep step, stand up on your foot and until the very last moment you're not sure if it's going to hold your weight. Then repeat with your other foot. And again and again. Here we again belayed, using our pickets and ice tools, though neither of us wanted to try weighing our "anchors". What we thought would be an easy long step over on the far right end of the bergshrund, turned out to be a very large gap. So, we traced our way some 100 feet back left to the infamous "vertical step".

The "vertical step" is more of that semi-packed snow under your feet, good glacial ice from your waist up, and nothing in between. So, the ice is forming a sort of a roof above the snow. The ice is excellent for placing tools, but the screws do not bond that well, I ended up placing one screw under the leap of the "roof". Right under the "roof" the snow formed a little step, which allowed me to simply raise my left foot as high as I could and, pulling a little on my ice tools, shift my weight over and bring up the right foot. But as I stepped on the snow "step", the snow compressed and the step became smaller, and yet smaller after Oleg did the same. So, I do not know what will become of this section after two more parties go over. Further ascends may require finding a pass on the very right edge of the bergshrund, few hundred feet from where we crossed it. All together it took us about an hour to negotiate the bergshrund.

What looked like some pleasant snow above the bergshrund turned out to be more ice, very hard on the bottom and very soft and rotten on the top. Our 16 cm screws were mostly for piece of mind, but we placed them nonetheless. From the "vertical step" we traversed some 100 feet to the left. From there we could either follow the 30-40 degree slope straight up, or take the ramp through seracs to the right. We opted for the ramp, where again we found more rotten ice and unreliable snow. Finally, around 10:30 am we reached the gentler snow slopes leading to the Liberty Cap.

When we reached the top of Liberty Cap we were both utterly tired and in various degrees suffering from the altitude. The weather was still very fine, with not a single cloud all day and somewhat mild wind. Yet, we decided to forego climbing another 400 feet to Columbia Crest and instead try to find the trail down the Emmons Glacier. We never did find the trail, despite quite a number of people apparently ascending the route on that day. Shortly after 6 pm we made it to Camp Schurman and the next morning back to the trailhead.

June 13-18th

Here is a report from one memeber of the Seattle duo, also mentioned in the route report above.
We left the trailhead at White River CG at 11am. The Glacier Basin trail was still in disrepair from the November 2006 floods. There was a lot of snow and the trail followed the winter route along the river for the last mile or so. Snow conditions up to St Elmo's Pass were soft with some sluffing evident, but not too bad kicking steps. No problems crossing the Winthrop Glacier towards Curtis Ridge. We reached camp at 5:30pm on the east side of lower Curtis Ridge at about 6800', on dry/level ground with running water nearby.

On Saturday we left camp at 5am. We took too high a line following a track across the remaining lobe of the Winthrop Glacier, getting to 7800' before realizing that we had to descend to 7300' to drop onto the Carbon Glacier. We followed the obvious route up the Carbon Glacier to the west side of Liberty Ridge. We simul-climbed steep snow slopes directly to Thumb Rock, protecting with pickets. We encountered frequent rock fall, and quickly learned to look up whenever the wind gusted. I was hit on the shoulder with a fist-sized rock while belaying Brian, but luckily no injury. We reached Thumb Rock at 1pm where we found another pair of climbers, waiting for good summit conditions. They were excited to hear that the forecast for Sunday called for lower winds on the summit.

On Sunday we left Thumb Rock at 4am, about 30 minutes after the other climbing party. We climbed to the east (left) of the buttress immediately above Thumb Rock and then gained the ridge crest. We ascended towards the Black Pyramid, first a bit left of the ridge crest and then right of the crest, ultimately traversing left under the Black Pyramid to reach a steep snow slope. Above the Black Pyramid this slope turned into several hundred feet of 40 degree smooth hard alpine ice, which we skirted by staying to the right. At this point I first had problems placing ice screws, an issue that would continue to plague me. We continued up steep snow slopes towards the bergschrund. We followed the tracks of the other climbers and crossed the bergschrund at the far right, which involved climbing steep unconsolidated snow and then a committing move. More steep snow led to the final crux pitch - a full rope-length that combined sections of steep ice and steep unconsolidated snow over ice. From there it was an easy slog to the Liberty Cap summit, which we reached at 6pm. We decided to camp at 7pm at the col between Liberty Cap and Columbia Crest. Winds were moderate but it was cold during the night - we both wore all our clothing inside our sleeping bags.

On Monday we left camp at 6:30am and continued traversing to reach the Emmons route. We descended the Emmons Glacier slowly but without difficulty, reaching Camp Schurman at 10:30am. After a long rest break to melt snow and eat (which we didn't do enough at our summit camp), we descended the Inter Glacier reaching Glacier Basin by 1pm and then the trailhead by 3pm.

Gear notes: We brought six pickets and six screws, which was about right for us. We mostly simul-climbed on the ridge, with several belayed pitches. We brought a SPOT satellite messenger
(, which we used to send "OK" signals once or twice a day to family. We brought a GPS w/ waypoints, but we had good visibility the whole trip and didn't really need it.


May 18th

A party of three climbed the ridge in mid-May and gave this report. Since their summit, a couple of other parties have managed to climb it as well, including a guided group. Here is what one member of the party had to say:

We made it, but not without great difficulty. We started from the Carbon Ranger Station, biked the section of road that was closed, and blazed trail all the way to the base of the mountain in very deep powder! The approach took 3 days due to bad weather(rain), the climb 2 days, and the descent took another 2 days. The Carbon offered almost direct access to the base of the ridge; we only had to navigate a few crevasses. We gained the ridge on the west side. The climbing was good and clean in the morning, but as soon as the temperatures rose the hard snow turned to deep slush. It was some of the most terrifying climbing I've ever done. At the Thumb there was a constant showcase of avi's, ice, and rockfall. Summit day was 15 hrs. of exhausting climbing in deep snow and hard alpine ice with a constant attack of falling ice and rock. The upper route was solid until we gained the slope to the left of the BP (Black Pyramid) where the snow became deep and sticky. Every time I pulled my foot out to kick another step, 50lbs of snow stuck in my freakin pons! I had to beat it out on my other foot, which is terribly exhausting. Above the BP the deep snow instantly turned to hard alpine ice for the last 400 ft. or so. We opted to take a more direct and difficult route to gain the cap. The crux was 60 ft. of WI3+, which ate up all 5 screws and a picket. We got to the summit around 7:30 pm (too late to descend), so we dropped down a short distance to find shelter from the fierce winds and bivied at 13900 ft. We woke up to high winds, but we made the decision to pack up and drop down anyway. As soon as we got down below the summit plateau the winds abated and with the exception of a couple route finding mistakes, the descent went well. The Emmons was in great shape except for some pockets of deep snow. Here is the link to the pics....

Gear notes:Snowshoes- need 'em, we wouldn't have made it otherwise. Bikes- use 'em. Screws- for up high, 5 was perfect for the route we took. Pickets- we took 2 for a team of 3, worked well. Helmets- wear 'em.

~Nicholas Seaman

Another access point for this route is from White River and as these climbers go to show, where there's a will, there's a way -- they didn't let a little road closing get in the way of their trip plans.

My partner Victor and I had a great 5 days on the mountain. After catching a ride to the gate at the ski resort to where the snow plows ended, about 2 miles short of White River campground, we made it all the way to Glacier Basin that evening. The trail was washed out, but well marked. The next day we went up over St. Elmo’s pass and across the Winthrop Glacier to Curtis Ridge camp. From this point, we had beautiful views of Willis Wall, Liberty Wall and Liberty Ridge and several avalanches on both these walls. Day 3, we crossed the Carbon in a whiteout and ascended the west side of the ridge to Thumb Rock. This was definitely the most direct route, with 35-40 degree packed snow. We set the tent up in 70 mph winds and used everything we had to stake it out. Day 4, we awoke to clear, calm weather and left camp at 5 a.m. Most of the route was good packed snow. We skirted ice around the Black Pyramid and climbed to the bergschrund. At this point, we put a rope on for a 15 ft. snow wall and 600 ft of simul-climbing. We placed 1 screw and 4 pickets before getting to easy ground below Liberty Cap. Being from the East coast and suffering from the altitude, we dragged ourselves to the top and reached the summit at 5 p.m. for a total of 12 hours of climbing from high camp. Thinking we could make it to Camp Schurman, we started down the Emmons in good conditions, but occasional whiteouts and fatigue forced us to stop short of our goal, setting up camp in a crevasse. In the morning, we continued down to Schurman and caught another ride back to our vehicles ~ Thanks to Dan and Uwe. Overall, conditions were perfect – we didn't need snowshoes and temperatures were low at night (about 32 F), which made for safe and easy travel.

~ Peet Danen

For more information on Liberty Ridge, check out the archived route condtions from previous years.