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 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.
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.
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!
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!
"Nothing disappointing about the Disappointment Cleaver"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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 mitigated...as 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
Look here for more archived conditions on Disappointment Cleaver.