Disappointment Cleaver - 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 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.

Mowich Face - 2008

Mowich Face Route Conditions - July 20th

"Looking for solitude?"

With the long awaited opening of the Mowich Lake Road, so comes a long awaited route update for the Mowich Face... as well as a clo
se-up look at the other seldom scene west facing routes of Mt. Rainier. The overall synopsis for the outing is basically that all the routes on this side of the mountain have sadly gone out of shape, with the exception of the Central Mowich Face...which still gets four out of five stars! Read on for more details.

Approaching from Mowich Lake, the trail to
Spray Park was mostly clear of snow and trees which made for fast hiking. Somewhat hard to believe with the several feet of snow still lingering around the lake but nonetheless cruiser conditions to Spray Park. Once at Spray Park, you are back on the snow with little reason to even try to continue following the trail as the path of least resistance is simply up and left to Observation Rock and the lower portion of Ptarmagin Ridge.


From Observation Rock you can either continue up the final sub-ridge and make the descent to the Mowich Glacier, continuing on with the approach, or find several pristine and dry camping options above Observation Rock. Making the descent to the North Mowich Glacier from here is a bit of a chore but once on the glacier itself the route finding and crevasse negotiation was very straightforward all the way to high camp at 9600ft.

From high camp, depending on your plans for descent, it is reasonable to leave a little later in the morning than you might otherwise on the mountain as the sun doesn't begin to touch the upper reaches of the route until around 10am. There is some minor crevasse hopping and detours before gaining the lower portion of the Mowich Face from camp...which is best done by exiting the Mowich Glacier left just before the bergschrund and making the short but chossy 5th class move through the rock band and on up to the snowfield.


Once on the lower snowfield you will begin adding stars to the route with fast climbing on only partially sun-cupped neve snow. Gaining altitude around 12,500ft. you get a really cool view of what may be Mt. Rainier's only natural arch? More importantly, however, what you will probably be more focused on is that this is also where the ice on the route begins. Here there are two options...one is to climb straight up the ice sheet and go for the real calf burn or you can trend left to the base of the upper cliff band and then traverse back right underneath it traveling more on snow than ice.



On the upper portion of the route, the exit left through the cliff band as described in the guidebook looked to be completely out of shape or at least very dicey at best. Continuing out to the right and around the cliff band yielded only one steeper pitch of water ice and seemed to provide a much more aesthetic and direct line to the top of the face.

All together, we found the route to be in surprisingly good shape for this time of year. It's hard to say how much longer it will last, but if you are looking for the solitude only the mountains can offer and to spice up your climbing a bit, then this route is probably for you. Get it while it lasts.

See you on the mountain.

~ Kevin Hammonds & Sam Wick

Mowich Face Route Conditions - May 19th

We don't have any trip or route reports yet, but we did get an aerial photo of the Mowich Face routes.

Let's hope for more snow, or these routes may melt out fast. Photo by Stefan Lofgren.

Check out our archived conditions on the Mowich Face.

Little Tahoma - 2008

Little Tahoma Route Conditions - July 16th

Climbers are ascending Little Tahoma. The approach from Fryingpan Creek is fine. There is good snowcover up to Meany Crest and from the crest up to the peak, making for straightforward stepkicking.

An NPS team climbed Little T on July 16th from Camp Muir. Crossing the Cowlitz and Ingraham Glaciers was easy with no significant hazards. No rockfall was encountered while climbing the snowslopes of the upper Whitman Glacier (see photo). The snowfield just beneath the summit was all the way melted out leaving a rocky slope to ascend. Overall the route was in great shape and made for a highly enjoyable day. But without a doubt, the best part of the trip was the amazing boot glissade coming down the Whitman--well over a thousand vertical feet of uninterrupted sliding!

-Brian Scheele and Thomas Payne, NPS
For more archived information on Little Tahoma, see our 2006 reports.

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.

Liberty Ridge - 2008

Liberty Ridge Route Conditions - July 10th

Just returned from an interesting few days on "the ridge". Overall, the route seemed to be in less than desirable shape with the exception of the upper snowfield leading to Liberty Cap, which was stellar. The crux of the route was definitely found on Day 2 moving from Curtis Ridge to Thumb Rock which involved some real "A" game glacier travel and crevasse negotiation followed by an abundance of chaucey rock scrambling and persistent rockfall from above. With this stated, however, any day in the mountains is a good day and if you are looking for a more challenging version of Liberty Ridge than perhaps these conditions are for you. Below is a more detailed account from day to day.
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Day 1 - 7/7/08

The approach from White River T.H. to the Curtis Ridge Camp was straight forward enough with mostly snow covered terrain to St. Elmo Pass and minimal crevasse negotiation on the Winthrop. This portion of the route took about 5 hours.

The photos to the right were taken from Glacier Basin looking toward St. Elmo Pass and from Curtis Ridge looking back at the Winthrop Glacier traverse.

Day 2 - 7/8/08

Moving from Curtis Ridge onto the Carbon followed the standard line descending into the moat and follwing it up and onto the compression zone below the ice fall. From here, it appears that you can still travel either up and left or down and right. We went for the up and left approach which took some persistence in our route finding as we got crevassed out a couple of times before putting together a reasonable line. The down and right option looked like it may have been more technical at the first ice fall but may have been more direct in the end.

Once above the lower Carbon ice fall, the route traversed across the rock and ice runout debris pile from Liberty Wall which is actually what the "cloud" in the top photo is. Not a good place to spend too much time. From here, we had planned to ascend the the snowfield straight off the Carbon Glacier to Thumb Rock, but the over hanging bergschrund at the bottom combined with rock fall detoured us to gain the ridge crest at the toe and ascend the rock bands to a higher point of the lower snowfield.
After moving back onto the snowfield the climbing was mostly straightforward on firm snow and ice that required the use of both ice tools and vigilance in keeping an eye upslope for persistent softball size rockfall. At one point on this lower portion of the route we both had to shield ourselves with our packs and move quickly from one point of cover to another as if we were under fire in Lhadok. Eventually we found ourselves able to relax once we arrived at Thumb Rock in what seemed like a long 4 hours.
Current conditions at Thumb Rock high camp.
Helmets on?

Day 3 - 7/9/08

We left Thumb Rock around 2 am as we wanted to avoid any more rockfall and get on and off the route before it got too warm. Here, we opted for the rightward traverse on very dirty water ice as the left option looked chaucy and exposed with water running through the middle of the access point to the upper cliff bands. Once around and to the right of lower rock buttress we stair stepped up a series of bergschrunds and crevasses with some steep ice moves. Above the buttress the climbing turned to more dirty ice until able to trend left and around onto the lower portion of the upper ramp. This section contained a lot of steep tool swinging into dirt and rock covered ice which at various times made me cringe a little bit every time I saw the sparks fly off the tips of my tools.
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Moving onto the lower ramp with the sun rising we both sighed a sound of relief as we knew we should have more picturesque climbing conditions from here to the top. The conditions on the ramp went back and forth between firm neve snow and ice providing solid tool placements and excellent cramponing.
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Topping out at the end of the ramp we were then confronted with the negotiation of the upper bergshrund and some more steep ice to Liberty Cap. There appeared to be two options of ascent at this point. One, a meandering and exposed line to the left or a more technical line to the right. We opted to go right and found some very high quality ice moves over a slight bulge that led to the grand finale of ice climbing on some very funky multi-layered ice to the top. I found it prudent on the last pitch of climbing to to double check every tool placement to assure that you were sunk into the good ice below the layered rotten ice on top. With the last crux behind us we were finally able to stand upright for the first time all morning and make the gentle walk to Liberty Cap and then down the Emmons. The ascent to Liberty Cap from Thumb Rock took about 6 hours traveling mostly un-roped and only stopping for a packet of GU every now and again.
As I said before, the conditions on the route were definitely not perfect and not at all like the photos you see in the guidebooks. But any day spent climbing on Mt. Rainier is always a good day in my opinion.

Climbing Rangers ~ Kevin Hammonds/Phil Edmonds

July 8th

This update provided by John Stanfield,

We went to the left of the rock buttress just above Thumb Rock and it was straight forward snow climbing, no sketchy dirty ice and the rock fall was at least visible. (See photo)

We took the blue line drawn on the last photo in the day 3 group of the June 30th route condition blog. It was a great set of connected ice and snow ramps that put us at the base of a large, icy bowl.

In the final "bowl" we stayed left and climbed fairly solid ice to the Cap. (See photo) We were very fortunate with the weather and had blue sky the entire time on mountain.

We had a 30m rope, 4 screws and 4 pickets. This seemed to be enough gear, but it would have been a little faster if we had 2 more screws and a longer rope. We ended up pitching out more than we had anticipated. We left TR at 6:30am, were on the Cap by 4pm and to our car at White River by 9:30pm.

June 30th


This report was provided by Joe Steinmetz and Bryan Cowger.

It took about 8 hours to get to our camp on Curtis Ridge. Snow conditions in Glacier Basin and on the Winthrop weren't too bad considering the temperature and the lack of overnight freezing. All obvious crevasses were easily avoided. There were good tracks up until Curtis Ridge. We kept to about 7500 feet as we traversed the expansive ridge to the edge of the Carbon Glacier. We established our camp in a nice sandy area just below the point were one descends onto the Carbon Glacier. Another team of two were camped farther down the ridge. They had the same plan to head to Thumb Rock in the morning.

The camp site was fantastic - spectacular views of the Carbon and its ice falls, as well as the entire Liberty Ridge route. There was, however, no silence, as the Willis and Liberty Walls continually emitted rock, ice and water.

Day 2: Curtis Ridge to Thumb Rock (5 hours)

We descended to the Carbon at about 5am and were on the Glacier just as the sun illuminated the upper slopes of the mountain. It wasn't fun because of all the loose rock under our feet. Eventually we reached a snow ramp that took us onto the Carbon.

It only took about 20 minutes to traverse over the opposite side where one starts to head toward Liberty Ridge. Again, there were good tracks to follow and the snow conditions were okay considering temperatures. No issues with crevasses.

The path up to the bergshrund that protects the West side of Liberty Ridge crosses rock, ice and avalanche debris fields. We tried to move quickly through these areas as we fully expected Liberty Wall to launch seracs into our path. Luckily we did not encounter any serious rock or ice avalanches.

We decided to gain the snow slopes leading to Thumb Rock on the far left side of the bergshrund. This involved about 20 feet of class 3-4 rock. The route up to Thumb Rock from here was 30-40 degree snow slopes, and other than skirting obvious rock fall areas, we didn't encounter any issues getting to camp.

We arrived at Thumb Rock and had our pick of sites. We setup our Bibler for what would be a very long day of seeking shelter from the sun. Shortly after we arrived, we were joined by the other climbers. And about an hour later 2 more climbers from Vancouver, BC arrived. Afternoon entertainment was watching ice dropping off Liberty Wall with background noise of rock fall from Willis Wall.

After sorting equipment, eating and making a few phone calls to spouses (AT&T wireless coverage works just fine from Thumb Rock) we all settled into our bags for some sleep.

Day 3 - Part I: Thumb Rock to Liberty Cap (12 hours)

The camp awakened at about 3:30am. The first team left camp at 4:30am followed by the 2nd 15 minutes later, with us in the rear. The day started with the first team deciding to go to the right of the rock outcropping that protects Thumb Rock. This seemed like the right thing to do (we all discussed it the night before), however it wasn't fun. When we traversed out to the edge we had to pass under a very active rock fall area. We then went over some weak ice covered with dirt, before finding some reasonable ice/snow that lead to the upper snow slopes. Just as the first rope team started to go up the first slope a large serac let loose - it was loud and way too close for comfort. Luckily it missed everyone and dumped onto the lower slopes of Liberty Ridge. In hindsight, it may have been worth exploring the route to the left of
the rocks above TR.

The climbing up to the Pyramid was uneventful and relaxing (so long as constant exposure isn't a problem). The views were wonderful as we gained the upper slopes of the ridge. The lower slopes just to the left of the Pyramid were snow. However, going higher there was harder ice - some which could be avoided by climbing close to the actual ridge line. There was great exposure and enjoyable climbing from here up to the bergshrund protecting Liberty Cap.

We pulled slightly ahead of the other two teams at this point - not sure if this was by design or not. We headed up to the bergshrund (trying to remember all the beta from the blog) and looked for tracks. We decided to go far to the right side to start our attack (see yellow line in image below). It later became obvious to us that the far left side would also work, likely with less effort (see blue line in image below). Everything looked so easy from a distance, but as we got closer, things got bigger and angles got steeper. The ice ledges leading up to the bergshrund were covered with crusted powder that was about 2 feet thick. Finding ice took some patience, but without too much effort, we eventually led ourselves to the edge of the upper bergshrund slope. This last section was definitely made possible through pure adrenaline and pressure of 5 other climbers watching with patience and anticipation of following the same route. It wasn't pretty, but we made it the upper ice slopes that lead to the Cap. We offered to top rope the other teams and they all accepted. Within 20 minutes, 6 climbers stood just below Liberty Cap spying the final route to the top of the route.

The experienced ice climbers chose direct elegant lines that led to the Cap. The rest of us chose to follow the ice ramps up to the Cap.

We reached Liberty Cap at about 5pm. Our plan from here was to head to the West Crater rim and setup camp. However, the weather was changing and it looked like thunder and lightning may be a factor.

Day 3 - Part II: Liberty Cap to bivy site. (1 hour)
A classic Rainier weather change ensued over the course of the next 20 minutes, and we quickly found ourselves in high winds, white-out conditions, and needed to pull out all our warm clothing and Goretex. We dropped down off the cap toward the summit crater, but realized that we weren’t going to make it to our planned camp site. Instead, however, we found a crevasse just above the top of Willis Wall with one side, the leeward side, about 5’ below the other. This conveniently dropped us out of the wind and we dug a flat spot large enough for our tent plus two bivy spots. Getting out of the wind allowed us to get the stoves going, top up our water bottles, and make some hot dinner. We went to sleep with ¼” hale pounding the tent, the wind whipping the sides, and an electrical storm that far exceeded anything we’d ever encountered – brilliant flashes of light every 5-10 seconds that seemed to consume the entire sky.

Day 4: Bivy site to Summit to Camp Schurman via Emmons and then out to White River Trail Head (10 hours)

We woke up Monday morning to a beautiful sunrise and calm conditions. Hail and snow had buried most of our gear. We coaxed the stove into action, got some hot breakfast, and then made for the summit. It was a relatively easy trek across to the summit, where it was windy and cold, but with good visibility. From there we headed back to the north side of the crater where we found the route down the Emmons well marked. The down climb was typically slow and tedious with heavy balling conditions while our crampons were on. We ended up removing them as often as the route allowed, making much faster progress with just boots. We got to Camp Schurman in about 4 hours from the summit, had lunch, then over to the Inter Glacier for a 2000’ glissade down. Out to the car by 5pm and home.

Gear: 4 - 24" Pickets (only needed 3), 7 ice screws (only needed 4).


June 20th

This is a two part report. The first section is from Mark Bryan.

Day 1: White River to St Elmo's Pass - The trail had a lot of avalanche debris on it, but by the time we walked out, the Park Service had mostly cleared it from the trail. In another week, I imagine it will be totally clear.

Day 2: St Elmo's Pass to Thumb Rock - Mainly just a long slog. The snow conditions were good, if a bit soft in the afternoon. No crevasse problems until we hit the Carbon, and those were easy enough to see. I only remember needing to leap one crevasse. There was also a huge avalanche debris field, which we had to cross, but it caused no difficulties - in fact it might have actually helped.

We ran into another party, consisting of a man and woman, around Curtis Ridge, with whom we traveled through the majority of the Carbon. One of the pair, the man, said he had been to Thumb Rock previously and said the right side of the ridge was "out" due to a big bergschrund. We followed him, rather than our own good sense, around the left side of the ridge. DON'T MAKE THAT MISTAKE. There were several vertical bands of snow and rock to traverse. The "rock" was the worst stuff I've climbed, but we kept going, hoping that the next snow ramp would lead to a good traverse over to the west side of the ridge. We finally got over the crest to the west side, and began making some progress towards the snow ramp below TR. A few minutes later, the woman from the other party was hit by a falling rock (there was PLENTY of it), and thought she broke her arm. They said they would descend on their own, and wished us good luck. We spent the next hour traversing, snow climbing and dodging falling rocks, mostly small, but some big enough. There was a short, fun ice pitch below TR, which could probably be avoided to the right.

Day 3: Thumb Rock to Summit and Camp Schurman - We woke around 3:00 am, which was just about right. The air was still and cold: perfect. We took the left variation around the rock outcrop, which was just absolutely beautiful, classic snow climbing. Probably some of the most enjoyable climbing I've done. Progress was quick, and we didn't run into any rock or ice fall, though I believe the weather had a lot to do with our luck. Around the black pyramid, we ran into several hundred feet of 40 degree bullet-proof blue ice. It wouldn't have taken screws very well, and definitely didn't give any plunker placements. Sometimes the ice was covered by spindrift or snow, but rarely enough to help. My partner brought one ice axe and one ice tool, rather than two technical tools, and didn't feel comfortable soloing the ice with the ice axe. I didn't think we had time to pitch it out, so I took his axe and gave him one of my tools. At this point, I might suggest that two technical ice tools are highly recommended for the route this year. Even marginal placements took a lot of work with the axe. The ice wasn't really difficult, just awkward and insecure.

Next, the angle backed off, the ice turned to snow, and we came upon the bergshrund. We studied it for quite a while and decided the weaknesses in the left section might go. I lead up a serac, only to realize I could have walked around the back side of it - doh! After that, I traversed left on a wide, angled snow bridge, protecting the traverse by placing screws in the wall. I turned a corner and climbed some WI-2 to the end of our 60m rope, and put in an anchor. The next pitch was the most interesting one. I topped out the WI-2 section, traversed back right on a snow ledge, then tried to find a good way to make it onto the ice ramp above the snow ledge. The ice ramp clearly lead to the (false) summit, but it was kind of tricky getting onto it. The ice ramp was about neck high, and took tools well, but there were no feet. A bit of sketching and belly flopping got me through it. I ran out the rest of the rope and brought Eric up. At this point, all that remained was ~250 feet of easy 40-70 degree ice and snow to the false summit, but we were both tired, and Eric wanted a belay, so we pitched it all out: one pitch up and across the snow/ice ramp and a second up some fun, secure 70 degree ice.

We then found ourselves just below Liberty Cap, where Eric kicked steps to the proper summit. The descent was uneventful, if longer than I expected. We got to Schurman late in the afternoon, brewed, took some analgesics and slept like babies.

Gear:
We took 5 screws, which wasn't enough. I expected one or two pitches of ice, but I don't think you could do it in fewer than 3 (without soloing), so if you want to have reasonable anchors AND have reasonable protection while climbing, bring 7 or so. Did it work with 5? Sure, but it was hair-raising, especially with suspect belay anchors. 8 would make it feel very secure, but might be overkill if you're trying to go light.
Three pickets was fine for us. Some might want more, some might not want any. I was able to use pickets to augment my anemic screw selection on a couple of pitches.
Rope: Take at least a 60m
Tools: bring two technical tools

Routefinding:
Totally straight forward, except for the bergshrund, which might have some good tracks on it now. Also, it should be fairly easy to find the "right" way to the snow ramp below TR, but just stay on the west (right) side of the ridge.


Here is the report from his partner, Eric Cohen.

My partner and I climbed Liberty Ridge June 18-20. The climb was pretty straightforward. Crossing the Carbon was easy with a track to follow, then over avalanche debris to the base of the ridge. We gained the ridge right at the toe via some sketchy rock to the Willis Wall side. Climbed a bit of snow, then over more rock to gain the west side. We contoured over to the long snow slope below Thumb Rock. (There was another party of two on the route with us at this point and one of them was hit by a rock and injured on the arm during this traverse so they went back down.). There was a short stretch of hard ice on this slope below Thumb Rock but other than dodging a few rocks ourselves, there were no issues. We had expected to encounter another party at Thumb Rock as the rangers said there were 3 teams on the route, but never saw them, and we had the rest of the climb to ourselves.

After bivying at Thumb Rock we made quick progress up the left hand snow slopes. We encountered a long stretch of hard ice near the black pyramid that made for awkward climbing as the slopes were not steep, but the ice was very hard and brittle. The bergshrund required a few zig zags and an awkward "pull up" move to overcome (nicely lead by my partner Mark). This was followed by a few more pitches including a short pitch of 70 degree ice to gain the snow slopes below Liberty Cap. We then made the long slog to the Emmons route and descended to Camp Shurman.

For more route conditions reports on Liberty Ridge, check out our archives.