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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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 CascadeCrusaders.org.

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.