Success Cleaver Route Conditions - June 28-29
Here is an update on Kautz Headwall. Kautz Headwall lies directly east, and next to Success Cleaver. Both routes top out at Point Success. Kautz Headwall doesn't see too many ascents, so we placed the TR in this column because of proximity.
Kautz Headwall Route conditions: Solid, not icy at all, should be in for at least three more weeks. Be wary of rockfall/icefall; the guidebooks say it, believe it. Start early!
Gear: ice axe + ice tool per person, four ice screws and two pickets per team. No gear placed, no ice tool ever used, but that could change in the next few weeks with the warming trend.
We queried the rangers at Longmire Wilderness Info Center about West Side approaches, and they noted that there was still snow at Round Pass (almost always snow free by late June), and snow on the trail for almost the entirety of the approach. And with Monday's forecast looking a bit inclement (isolated thunderstorms), we thought it best to switch to a two-day trip, and Liam had the perfect suggestion in the Kautz Headwall (grade III). After jockeying cars/plans/gear, the four of us ended up leaving the Comet Falls trailhead at 12:30pm, and encountered snow within 1/4 mile - amazing, since this very weekend last year it was snow-free almost to Van Trump Park. We continued up the trail with occasional route-finding issues, marveling at the serenity of Comet Falls. From Mildred Point (a spectacular view of the entire Rainier southwest aspect), it was very pleasant travel (marked by occasional crusty, unconsolidated, and mind-numbing punching through, and scree) and finally to our 10,000' camp, on the west side of Wapowety Cleaver. Excellent dry bivy spot, just large enough for four bivy sacks, and water source close by. The heat, which we expected to be intolerable, had not been too intense the entirety of the day. It was 7:30pm , and we had gained 6,400' in seven hours, and still not much time to rest and acclimatize before Sunday's attempt.
Rose at 3am, off by 4am. Scree bashed down to the lower Kautz Glacier, where we stopped to rope up and put on crampons. We passed the bergshrund on the extreme left, and began the long rising traverse right. With the headwall directly in front of us, we noted strong rays of light illuminating the upper headwall - definitely not good, making me wish for an hour earlier start. There were many options as we continued up the increasingly steep slopes (45-50 degrees), including some exciting ice pillars 30-40' high, which we checked out and dismissed, with the freezing level about 13,500' or higher, and the lower pillar rotten. Very solid climbing, never placed pro or even got out the second tool, and took a break under a well-protected rock buttress. We got very lightly showered on by meltwater as we continued up and left, working past the most serious rockfall hazards, around 12,500'. I was basically 10' behind my partner, Liam, with both of us keeping the rope Kiwi-coiled, and he was a step kicking monster, working through the spotty unsolidated snow, which went at times knee high. We continued weaving through some rock bands, quite enjoyable travel, even as I began to slowly die from keeping pace with Liam.
We finally reached the upper end of Success Cleaver, where Liam and I peered over to the Puyallup Cleaver; it looked much like early May conditions on the Tahoma Glacier route, with an unusual amount of snow still blanketing St. Andrew's Rocks. Liam spotted a very fun and short 30' rock pitch (with only one sketchy move off the deck, requiring camming action with crampons) to gain the upper slopes. I was already breathing hard and feeling quite low on energy, and it was 13,200'. It was a straight shot to Point Success (14,153') which we reached by 10am after six hours of climbing with just a few breaks. The other two were far enough behind that we thought it best to wait and ascend Columbia Crest together. At high noon we began the long descent on the Kautz Glacier. Liam set a two ice screw belay and lowered us down the steep pitch on the Chute, and then it was down toward Camp Hazard (which included a short, 25' rock pitch that I hadn't done before). We continued the descent to our camp, and easily spotted our 10,000' camp, with an easy traverse. It was almost 3pm, and we had descended quickly.
There we roasted in the hot sun, with nary a shadow for protection. None of us felt like eating or, oddly enough, even drinking much. After a dazed 1-1/2 hours of wondering how much hotter it could get, Tom finally suggested packing up and leaving - and as much as we wanted to just lie and rest, that was trumped by the desire to get the hell out of the heat. So we packed up and began the descent at 4:45pm, enjoying an almost unbelievable 2500' of nearly continuous glissading back, a far better glissade than Inter Glacier, which I had always considered to be the premier terrain for such activity. Back to the cars (parked at Comet Falls trailhead) at 8pm - and just as I had almost completely changed, a bonafide torrenial downpour began, making us quite thankful we weren't huddled in our bivy sacks at camp. We dropped off the completed permit to the Longmire WIC, and then drove madly to the Copper Creek Inn (before closing) for an amazing Copper burger and salad with blackberry vinaigrette, and back home at midnight. After I unpacked, it was 1am, and as I smoked a celebration Marlboro Light (hey, I am from Kentucky) on the front porch, the most gentle rain came down for about two minutes - and I could only wonder what it was doing on Rainier.
~ Len Kannapell
Here's a quick synopsis of the route up to about 9400', generously provided by one of our independent climbers.
Since the west side road is still not open, the approach is long. It is made longer by the fact that there are several miles of traverse starting at 5000' in sun baked snow that gets very soft in the afternoon. I think much could be gained by crossing this section in the very early morning hours. However, once the Cleaver is reached the going is pleasant overall and did not seem to really soften up until early afternoon. At 7500' there is a rather large slab avalache (approx. 1' shear) well to the right of the route. I must say it was beautiful to look at, but had me questioning the snow conditions. Further up near the 9000' level I encountered what I condidered significant settling of the snow slab. Complete with the rather audible "whoomph", as well as the disconcerting sinking feeling. Aside from this, there appears to be ample snow to climb on for most of the rest of the route, although this is only a guess since I have never completed the route.
We don't have any reports, but we did get a photo of the route. If things keep up, climbing this route will be a rubble heap come mid July. Let's hope for more snow.
Check out the archived information on the Success Cleaver route.