Kautz Glacier - 2008

Kautz Glacier Direct - Route Conditions - September 7

For those climbers looking for a different route OTHER than the DC, here is a report from a team that just summitted via Kautz Glacier - Enjoy!

My partner and I climbed the Kautz last weekend, leaving Paradise at 3:30pm on the 6th and returning at 1:30pm on the 7th. We found the route to be in excellent condition. The ice pitches were very brittle, but we were able to simul-climb both using 3-4 screws for protection. We were happy to find the previously reported penitentes filled in on the upper portion of the route. We descended the DC, and were pleased with that choice- its in great shape overall despite most of the Cleaver being snow-free. We had the Kautz to ourselves, which made for an exceptional climbing experience.

August 16th

This route hasn't seen considerable amounts of travel lately as climbers have been taking advantage of the great summer conditions on the Disappointment Cleaver Route. However, those more experienced climbers looking for a challenging route may find the following trip report and complimenting pictures pretty interesting. Although the recent storms that rolled through the park, dropping enough snow on the upper flanks to coat the Mountain in a beautiful white coat once again, are bound to change the conditions a bit, this route may just be that challenge you're looking for. Some advice...take a good dose of patience, a GPS and don't forget to carry-out your waste. Blue-bags are still required on the Kautz Route and the receptacles for these are located at Camp Muir and at Paradise. Mom isn't here to pick-up after you, and either are the rangers, guide services or other philanthropic climbers.

Saturday 16th - Visitors Center to 10800' (below camp Hazard), 9 hrs.
We left at 10am with sunny, warm weather and a nice breeze to keep us from sweating. Crossing the Nisqually was straight forward - the fan was about half-snow, half-boulder hopping, above the fan, the climb to the ridge was solid snow with the start of a crevasse poking out here or there - snow was firm and easy for travel. We stayed on the snow until the crevasse came over to meet the rock, then climbed scree and rock on the ridge until the base of the Turtle. The Turtle was mixed ice and snow and full of large suncups about the size of trash can lids. They were tipped so each step was about a knee high stair - our pace slowed. We reached our high camp at about 10800' at approximately 7pm. Shortly before we turned in for the night a party of 2 came down from the Kautz route, they had attempted Fuhrer Finger and found it full of waterfalls, which took too long to complete their summit. Their camp was near the base of the Turtle where we passed their friend earlier who must have been concerned about their 18hr day. The sound of thunderstorms off to the west rocked us to sleep.

Sunday 17th - 10800' to Pt Success, 9hrs & Pt Success to 10800', 5 hrs.
We woke to a high, partial cloud deck above the summit and thunderstorms down low, but otherwise clear with a constant light wind. The night before we watched the storms develop, rain for a bit, then disappear just as fast as they started. We were ready to head out at 3am when one of the storms appeared and rained for about half an hour. It was 4am before we left camp for the base of the cliff. At the base of the ice tongue we roped up and began the ice pitches. We wove our rope between the natural ice bollards or placed screws on the less featured ice for protection. The two ice pitches were our favorite part of the climb; the twilight, ominous storms in the distance and beautiful perfect teal blue ice to climb! At the top of the ice pitches, we were greeted by a snowfield of penitentes. While beautiful and amazing they posed a couple problems; you could walk on them or between them (they were only knee tall) until randomly you fell through to your thigh in powdery unconsolidated snow and couldn't find a bottom. We weren't sure if we were over crevasses or just a pile of soft snow, but it was tough on the nerves falling through without warning...often. Secondly, they blocked all views of gaping crevasses from below. We would dead end into one all of a sudden and have to find a way across. These two things together forced us to walk zig-zag across the glacier a huge distance and ate up a considerable amount of time. About half the way up the snowfield the bergschrund against the rock on our right (east) ended and we were able to get on the ridge. At this point, a thunderstorm rolled through and as we gained the ridge we found shelter on the lee side of a giant rock to wait out the rain. With the pick-up in wind, lower temperatures and stronger storm presence up high, we layered on extra gear and started up again as the storm left as predicted about 30 minutes later. Our summit goal was Point Success. With the field of penitentes the entire way in that direction we opted for the ridge directly to the face of the ice cliffs above. We hugged the cliffs, enjoying again the security and predictability of the ice. The summit was a short hike away as the ice ended into gradually inclining, firm snow. On the return to high camp, we down climbed the ice as snow blew upwards in the wind. The field of penitentes again ate time and patience as our GPS track was too tightly zig-zagged to follow, causing us find a new route down. The ice pitches were also a challenge to down climb (we didn't rappel). Back at camp, after eating and drinking, while getting ready for a well deserved sleep, a large flash and huge clap of thunder startled us to our senses. The lightning had been avoiding the mountain all weekend, but this storm decided to head right towards us. As it finally moved east and away we fell fast asleep.

Monday 18th - 10800' to Visitors Center, 4 hr 45 min.
The rest of the way down the next day was mostly un-eventful except for some whiteout navigation and interesting rain and weather in general.

On a final note....People! Blue bags are so you can carry out your poo, not package it to leave on the mountain. Who do you think will carry down your poo?

~Michael P. and Brett

July 23rd

Alas, a trip to the infamous Kautz Glacier on Mt. Rainier. With the cloud deck sitting at about 7,000ft. for the entire outing, we were treated to superb weather and sublime views from high camp... while I heard it was only 45 degrees at Paradise! Sometimes there is just nothing better than sitting above the clouds.

Anyway, on with the conditions of the route...the approach across the Nisqually glacier is still very straight forward... as long as you have some visibility that is. The direct line up the Wilson glacier remains in and appears as though it should remain to be for quite sometime. This is the route most parties have been taking to gain the lower portion of the cleaver and the high camps at 9,200ft. and above. It should also be noted that there is currently the luxury of running water at all the high camps.

Spending the first night just below Camp Hazard, we left the next day for a variation of the general Kautz route, in which we ascended directly up the Kautz glacier itself to Point Success instead of crossing over the Wapowty cleaver. The lower ice chutes climbed quite nicely with solid water ice most of the way. The 2nd pitch holding the crux with about 30meters of 60-70 degree water ice. The remainder of the "direct" route proved to be much more challenging than it looked from below and was not very user friendly in general. (How does that Pantera song go? Penetentes From Hell?) There were several dicey crevasse crossings and a mess of penetentes ranging from two to three feet tall for the entire ascent above the lower ice chutes.

At about 13,500ft., stalling out our progress only temporarily, was a very close call for two climbers several hundred feet below us who were having crevasse negotiation problems of their own. We heard a distressed call for "HELP" from one climber while the other was about 25ft. deep in a crevasse. The one holding all the weight in self arrest was only five feet or so from the lip and was having trouble getting in a good anchor. After descending to them, we were able to set up a mechanical haul system for extraction using our own rope, as theirs had cut too deep into the lip of the crevasse to be of any use. A few minutes later, we had hauled the fallen climber out of "the ice chest" with no injuries and a reluctant smile...we continued our climb.

Another grueling hour later, we arrived at Point Success and admired the view towards the Sunset Amphitheatre. After another packet of GU we locked it in with the traditional fist pound, and began our descent down the climbers right crest of the Kautz Headwall and back onto the Kautz glacier. Once at the ice chutes, we chose to downclimb but there are several good options for rappelling off the penetente/bollards above the steep section. Soon after, we found ourselves back at high camp with a new and interesting perspective of the Kautz Glacier. Although the direct line may have been a bit steeper than the standard Kautz route, I think they share many of the same obstacles at this point in time...crevasse negotiation and neve penetentes. The penetenes are easy enough to work around but the crevasses sometimes you just can't see coming. An early start and descent from the route can really help mitigate this problem as hopefully most snow bridges will remain frozen. Also, bumping up to the highest camp at 11,000ft. the day before the summit attempt can really help stack the deck in your favor.

See you on the mountain.

~Kevin Hammonds & Sam Wick

Kautz Glacier Route Conditions and approach - July 18-20, 2008

We've recieved quite a few great reports about the route. Here are the two most recent.

Tom Woods of Colorado provided this detailed account of his 5 person team summit cover. Nice job.

This trip report summarizes a climb up the Kautz Route of Mount Rainier, with a carryover to the summit and a descent down the standard DC Route, which our group completed between July 18 and 20. The weather during the climb was fantastic, as the skies were sunny and cloudless and there was little wind and moderate to warm temperatures.

We began our climb on the morning of the 18th by dropping down to the lower Nisqually Glacier from Glacier Vista and crossing the glacier. Although we roped up for the traverse of the Nisqually, we did not detect any crevasse danger during the crossing. We ascended the fan under good snow climbing conditions, and did not encounter any rockfall. From the top of the fan we ascended to the Turtle snowfield via the Wilson Glacier, where we also encountered good snow climbing conditions.

Once above the turtle we established camp just below a rappel station to the left side of a rocky promontory located below the Kautz Glacier icefall at about 11,000’. Only a small trickle of water was available at this bivouac site in a gully located about 200 feet down and to the left (looking down the mountain) from the sculpted tent platforms. A water filter is highly recommended if you decide to camp here. We arrived early enough to scout the rappel station and check out the anchors, which looked serviceable but ratty. Safety mavens will wish to bring their own slings for anchor building at this location.

The next morning we arose at 3:00 a.m. and were at the rappel station by 4:15 a.m. After completing the approximately 50-foot rappel, we set off underneath the icefall for the lower portion of the chute up the Kautz glacier. The first section of climbing up the chute was fairly straightforward and not technically difficult. Nevertheless, conditions on this section of the climb foreshadowed what we were to find all the way up the rest of the Kautz Glacier: hard ice, little to no snow, and penitentes everywhere. Photo: The ice pitches on Kautz Glacier

Further up the chute we came to the steepest section of the climb, which turned out to be about 140 feet of hard black alpine ice, with slopes ranging between about 40 and 60 degrees. Contrary to earlier trip reports we had read, this section of the climb did not feel safe doing with only 1 or 2 ice screws. Ice tool placements were sketchy due to the brittle nature of the ice. Initial ice tool strikes typically caused dinner-plating, release of ice (which rained down on those below), followed by further strikes being required to make an acceptable placement. Overall the ice quality was quite poor; I personally achieved only one good “thunk” with my ice tool over the entire pitch. An ice axe with a head suitable for vertical ice climbing and one ice tool, or better yet two ice tools, are recommended to do this pitch safely under current conditions. We placed about 6 ice screws along this pitch and then built a belay station anchor with 3 more screws at the top. Our 100-foot 8 mm ropes were not long enough to permit this section to be led to the belay station in one go. Instead, a second climber followed the leader with a second rope 100-foot rope and simul-climbed until the belay station was reached. The last three climbers were belayed up this section tied to the rope at 15-foot increments. From the belay station we traversed to climber’s left from beneath an icefall onto a portion of the glacier that was less steep.

The climb from the steep ice pitch to the top required crossing numerous crevasses. Conditions were generally icy and hard, and penitentes had formed atop the glacier all the way to the summit. Several of us punched through hidden crevasses up to our boot-tops or knees on the way to the summit. Careful route finding was required to mitigate the considerable crevasse danger, which was made more difficult by our inability to find or follow tracks left by previous parties, which could not be discerned in the hard ice and snow. We reached the summit at 1:10 p.m. and almost immediately began our descent down the standard Disappointment Cleaver route. Our descent was uneventful except for one of our party nearly being hit by a large rock dislodged by a two-man party following us. Two of our party stopped at Ingraham Flats for the night, while the other three descended all the way to Paradise on the evening of the 19th, arriving at the parking lot at about 8:20 p.m. Photo: Descending the DC.

In conclusion, we believe we climbed the Kautz Glacier Route a little too late in the season, as evidenced by ice pitches being longer and harder, crevasses opening up further, and penitentes covering nearly the entirety of the upper reaches of the Kautz Glacier than perhaps might have been the case just a few weeks earlier in the season. Because we are not local Pacific Northwest climbers, however, we cannot state with certainty that this conclusion is accurate. We were also grateful for our decision to carry our gear over the summit of Rainier, as a descent down the Kautz Route would have been arduous. This decision should also be balanced, however, against the disadvantage of carrying a full load to the summit, which of course slows climbing progress considerably. Needless to say, the climb was very demanding physically. Mount Rainier is a magnificent mountain, and we were lucky to have had such good weather conditions.

The second report from the weekend came from Pete Ray. They climbed and descended the route... Here is their take on conditions.

Available beta on the Mt. Rainier climbing blog told us the Kautz Glacier route was in excellent shape, so we were optimistic of our chances due to solid route reports and a near perfect forecast. Our intent was hike to base camp on Friday, summit Saturday, and hike out on Sunday.

After car camping at Cougar Campground on Thursday night, we got a reasonable start from Paradise at 9 AM. Leaving the trailhead—on snow from the parking lot—we hiked the Skyline trail to Glacier View. We roped up to cross the lower Nisqually Glacier and found the snow bridges in good shape. Instead of ascending The Fan, we traveled further up the Nisqually and ascended the snow ramps onto the Wilson Glacier. We arrived at our camp on the upper edge of Turtle snow field (10,800 ft) around 4pm. At camp we were pleased to find easy access to running water and plenty of good folks including a nice couple from Washington DC and a pair of Oregon climbers who ended up being a great asset for our climb (more on that later). View of the Kautz Ice cliff our camp.

We left camp around 3:00 AM and hiked the climbers trail from camp to the rappel station\descent gully marked by an old fixed line. We rigged our rappel line and descended onto the Kautz Glacier. A brief traverse put us at the base of the first ice pitch. We stayed climbers right and zipped up this easy section while simul-climbing juggy, sun-cupped terrain. People seeking a greater challenge could elect to stay climbers left to find water ice on this section. The second pitch was steeper and more interesting. It had many more features such as horns and bulges to work with. Crampon points stuck solidly in the ice for the most part save for the occasional shattering under strain of pick or crampon strike. However, we found the lower layer(s) solid and offering good purchase. Above the ice pitches we followed moderate, sun cupped slopes traversing NE at ~13,800 to begin the final slog to the crater rim. Mostly good snow bridges provided passage across the crevasses on the Upper Kautz Glacier. Careful travel was required in sections with some opening crevasses, though, so caution is advised. We reached the summit around noon and stayed only a short while before starting our return. My partner took advantage of the beautiful conditions and grabbed a quick nap on the crater rim.

On the descent we found conditions softening quickly and battled fatigue to stay aware of weakening of snow bridges. At the upper ice pitch we teamed up with the aforementioned team from Oregon and constructed an ice bollard backed up with two ice screws. The first three of our combined parties smoothly rapped down the upper pitch. I cleaned the pro and rapped down with full confidence in the ice bollard having seen the previous 3 go before me. At the lower ice pitch both teams simul-climbed down without incident.

The gully leading back up to Camp Hazard was treacherous in the afternoon sun. Loose rock, ash and dirt combined to cover ice which made the going extremely challenging. Not to mention the sun loosening rocks on surrounding walls and sending them raining down from overhead. Not a good feeling in this section. After a too-close for comfort encounter with a softball sized rock from above, we doubled timed it out of the gully and descended to camp around 4 PM.

On Sunday we broke camp and had an uneventful descent to the car. Overall, the route is in great shape and was a fun, fun way to pass a weekend in the mountains.

July 16th

We started at Paradise on Friday July 11th and headed out towards the Nisqually with the plan to climb the Kautz Glacier and ski down the Fuhrer's Finger, which we thought would be in good condition after reading an early blog report. The crossing of the Nisqually was simple and straight forward, so we never felt the need to rope up. (ed.: but be aware of the possibility of hidden crevasses in early to mid season, especially in zones of tension on any active glacier). The fan was easy and simple as well. (This is what we thought to be the fan; it may have been the access point a little higher up, near a large waterfall) The Wilson Glacier is starting to show a few cracks, but nothing that isn't easily avoided. There are great bivy spots with running water both above and below The Turtle right now.

We left our camp at 9,400 below the Turtle at 1:30 AM and found excellent styrofoam snow which gave us quick access to the chute on the Kautz. We went high and traversed/scrambled through a little bit of rock, across a steep snow slope, and then around the ice cliffs and directly into the chute. The upper part of the chute is getting very real, with steep ice (50ish or steeper in spots), but it is only a short pitch about 40-50 feet long, the rest is steep snow, but more ice will be on the way soon. We only used one ice screw here, and simul climbed.

Above the chute crevasses are opening, but are easily avoided. This was the same for the upper Nisqually Glacier once we crossed over the Wapowety Cleaver. We hit the summit a little before 11 AM and were off on our skis at 11:30.

The skiing was very enjoyable until about 12, 500 on the Nisqually. There the conditions changed drastically to slush and we encountered large crevasses. We re-roped there and began down climbing. Many large crevasses are open above the top of the Finger. We had to do 4 rappels, and many belays, and we placed all 3 of our screws several times, and left a picket on the mountain. Once we reached the top of the Finger we found sun cups and dirty rock covered snow, and several large runnels.

The hourglass near the bottom of the Finger will not last much longer, as there is ice showing and visible water underneath it. All in all it was a great climb and the Kautz Glacier is in great shape, but the Finger is almost out, unless someone wants rough skiing and VERY tough route finding and glacier travel to get to it!

Peter Ellis

For more 2008 route reports, check out our archives.