Disappointment Cleaver 2009

Disappointment Cleaver - October 7th

This route has not seen much traffic over the past two weeks. The guide companies have stopped running trips and are no longer doing route maintenance. With all of the fixed lines and ladders removed, the DC will have a little more adventure value. Getting on to the cleaver may be exposed, consider rockfall danger when choosing whether or no tot belay here. Some belays may be justified at the top of the cleaver and gaining the Emmons shoulder. Have fun, be safe and enjoy the solitude.

Disappointment Cleaver-September 28th

While climbers have been summitting via the DC regularly over the last few days it should be noted that the guide services are today removing all wands, hand lines and other accoutrements in place on the route. This will certainly bump up the skill level and tenacity required to make a safe and 'independent' summit climb.

While most of the route is normally free from artificial aid the traverse at the top of the Cleaver over to the Emmons is still the crux of the route and climbers have been using a ladder to move across one large crevasse at the end of the traverse. It should also be noted that more than one climber has slipped and fallen getting onto the traverse despite the use of hand lines. As of today those hand lines, ladders and pickets will be removed.

With poor weather forecast for the bulk of the week it remains to be seen if the DC will recover with new snow in the future or if it will remain in poor conditions. But for now rest assured it will be an adventure for the next few days.

Disappointment Cleaver - September 26th

The DC stills goes. Although not getting much traffic this late in the season, it's still a decent outing. At this time the main concern is rockfall, especially while traversing from Camp Muir to Cathedral Gap and on the lower part of the Disappointment Cleaver.

High winds have helped the upper mountain resist the recent warm weather and conditions up high have stayed in good shape. Traversing from the top of the cleaver to the Emmons shoulder climbers will find a hand line with chopped steps and a ladder crossing; both improvements were installed by the guide companies. The snow from the early September storm has helped fill in the crevasses up high, and a little route finding and judgment will help you get to the top.

Many climbers report the crux of the route to be gaining the cleaver. The route approaches the cleaver on a fin of icy snow and then traverses along fine glacial silt on a steep slope as one transitions onto the cleaver. This is a hard section to belay out because of the rockfall hazard above - climbers should be moving safely, but fast through this section. Come prepared for a little exposure.

Disappointment Cleaver - September 12th

After a frustrating few days the Cleaver route was pushed through, allowing multiple parties to summit beginning last Thursday. The route has been re-established towards the Emmons shoulder and with new cross-loaded snow filling in most major crevasses, it felt like mid-June conditions this weekend.

Warm temps helped stabilize the new snow-old snow interface reducing the risk of avalanche on the route and already the Cleaver itself has melted back to a 50/50 mix of rock and snow. Conditions were excellent over the weekend with a cool breeze keeping the snow firm and clear skies allowing for outstanding visibility with views all the way to Mt. Jefferson.

The most notable hazard as of Saturday was the amount of rockfall coming through the "bowling alley" where climbers traverse from the Ingraham to the base of the Cleaver. The freeze-thaw cycle has resulted in a steady stream of rocks coming through that area and helmets, swift climbing and good timing are strongly encouraged. Even so, the route from the top of the Cleaver to climbers right out onto the Emmons is in great shape with no need for ladder crossing at this time.

Looking for one last shot at the mountain? Come on up; with cool temps, clear skies and blueberries everywhere its a great time of year for mountaineering and the lack of crowds on the DC can't be beat!!

Disappointment Cleaver - September 9th

After the first real storm of late season, conditions have
improved slightly. The cleaver itself is much easier to access because the moat which had made it difficult to gain the cleaver has filled in with snow. The spine of the cleaver itself is now totally snow covered which lessens the rock fall hazard and makes for easier cramponing. The crux is still above the cleaver. Snow can be knee deep and crusty, making for slow climbing, and both routes (going left above the cleaver toward the top of Gibraltar Rock and going right above the cleaver toward the Emmons Glacier) have serious hazards.

Going left at the top of the cleaver can be done without much crevasse fall danger, but the two larger hazards are the steeper slope and the 'Texas' flake. The wind-loaded Ingraham has obvious signs of avalanche danger (both crowns and debris). Slopes on the Ingraham seem steep enough to slide. The 'Texas' flake which looms directly above the path to the top of Gibraltar Rock adds significant objective danger to the route as well.

Going right at the top of the cleaver, toward the Emmons Glacier, you find large convoluted crevasse openings which can be
complex to cross. At the first crossing (right above the cleaver) there is a rope 'hand' line in place. There are steep angles and corners of serac blocks to climb through with plenty of exposure. No one has been to the second crossing for the past week. There were ladders in place (two strapped together), but a climbing ranger, the last person to be up there, noted the ends of the ladders weren't touching the sides of the crevasses, but just hanging there by their picket anchors, and seemed to be in poor shape. After this storm cycle the ladders probably aren't in any better condition, if they're still there at all.

Though the route has complex difficulties right now, the changing of the seasons can be a rewarding time to be on the mountain. The route has much less rockfall and fewer icy sections, not to mention the mountain itself looking awesome with a fresh coat of snow. Fewer climbers attempt the route this time of year making solitude on the standard route possible. Bring a strong partner and have fun!

September 4th

Conditions on the mountain continue to change rapidly. The route description from Sept. 2nd still holds true. However there are a few new factors. The route onto the cleaver collasped this morning (Sep. 5th), turning around a commercial party. Climbers may have difficulty gaining the cleaver. It is currently snowing heavily at Camp Muir, and the forecast calls for up to two feet of snow. This new snow will of course completely erase all signs of the "trail" . With the current meandering nature of the route this will make route finding and navigation more difficult.

Disappointment Cleaver - September 2nd

The Disappointment Cleaver route has taken a significant turn as the end of the regular climbing season looms ahead. With a lack of precipitation and overall warm temperatures here at Mt. Rainier the mountain continues to be dynamic. That said, the guide services, working together, have done an excellent job maintaining the route all the way to the summit.

Yes, the DC still goes, but this time instead of rolling east (climber's right) at the top of the Cleaver the route has been re-directed southwest (climber's left) across the Ingraham Icefall towards the top of Gibralter Rock. It is still a long traverse but the consequences of a slip and fall have lessened with reduced exposure below and only a short ten foot step-up towards Camp Comfort requires the aid of a handline. However, you are exposed to a large serac at the beginning of the traverse. Consider this risk from the top of the Cleaver and move quickly underneath this serac. While not the only objective hazard it is certainly the most intimidating but thankfully the time spent exposed to it is short lived.

After traversing the Ingraham Icefall and intersecting Gib Rock, the route continues traversing southwest towards the upper Nisqually. From Camp Muir you can actually see climbers on the route as they make their way around the large crevasse that was causing such concern at 13,900 ft. The new route circumvents this crevasse and really does provide a more straightforward approach to the summit.

While the route has changed dramatically in the last few weeks do not be discouraged. It has seen plenty of traffic in the last few days and the late season conditions provide a great opportunity to navigate open crevasses on the way to the Cleaver.

August 25th
Despite continued warm weather, the DC route remains in fairly good shape as we move into the late summer climbing season. Continue to evaluate all snow bridges, crevasses crossings, and fixed protection as the stability of each changes radically throughout the day. The two handlines and two ladders are still in place but should be assessed by each party for anchor strength both on the way up the route and again on the way down. The guiding companies are planning on doing some route work in the coming days which may alter the current path and negate the need for these handlines/ladders. Be sure to check in with the climbing rangers at Camp Muir for the most current route condition.

One area to watch out for is the crevasse crossing at approximately 13,900 feet. The current route crosses this crack and has an opening of less than one foot across. However, both sides of this opening are overhanging by at least three feet. Consider placing running protection on both the entry and exit to this feature to protect your team if the undercut snow bridge collapses.

With that said, the route does continue to hold as the August temperatures seem to rise each day. The high pressure systems that have been gracing the mountain have led to a great summit success rate this season. We are crossing our fingers that these current conditions will stick around for at least the next month. Camp Muir has not been filling to capacity in the last couple weeks and the numbers seem to be less and less each night. Come on out and enjoy the terrific sunny days and a less crowded climbing route than we see in the high volume months of June and July.

Disappointment Cleaver - August 21st
The warm weather is back and the route is once again changing daily. Care should be taken, as always, to evaluate snow bridges and crevasse crossings. In addition to the hand lines the guide companies have placed two ladders on the route above the cleaver to cross two open crevasses. The cleaver itself is still bare of all snow and climbers are traveling close to the "spine".

Disappointment Cleaver - August 13th
The backside of this storm has brought better climbing conditions to the DC. T-shirts are back in fashion at Camp Muir (after you pass through the clouds at Paradise). Weather's looking better for the weekend - come on out!

Disappointment Cleaver - August 12th
Late summer weather and climbing conditions have been prevailing themes on Rainier recently. This has made for a high summit success rate and even some t-shirts on top of the peak! Rockfall and melting snow bridges are the two primary risk management concerns affecting the route currently.

The cleaver has completely melted out and all travel is now on rock. As you travel along the cleaver, aim for the spine and slightly left of the spine for the most efficient and least exposed route. This route is wanded but the flags can be difficult to see under headlamp before the sun rises each morning. Be mindful of those travelling above and below you. Avoid kicking rocks or snagging them with your ropes as you move up and down the path. If you happen to dislodge a rock, alert others immediately by yelling ROCK!

The recent string of hot, bluebird days have affected the mountain's snowpack drastically. Crevasses have been observed opening up by a foot or more in the span of a day during the warmest stretches of weather. Snow bridges are becoming very weak and the trail is becoming extremely narrow in places. The two fixed lines on the route, below and above the cleaver, have paths that are at most six inches wide. These thin routes require careful footwork with crampons to avoid accidental spike snags in gaitors and pant legs. The intense daytime sun has been weakening the picket placements that support the fixed lines. Be sure to test any gear that is in place on the route as its strength will vary widely throughout the day. The end of the traverse over onto the Emmons shoulder is beginning to break apart and requires running protection at this time.

With all of that said, the route is still pretty direct and generally in good shape as we near mid-August. Weekends continue to be near capacity up at Camp Muir and Ingraham Flats but the weekdays have been seeing much less traffic. Hopefully the weather fronts this week will bring some new snow and colder temps to help preserve the route for a while longer this season.

Disappointment Cleaver - August 3rd
The warm weather continues, with freezing levels above 14,000 feet. Wind has been the variable de jour. At the summit, winds have been calm on some days and blowing to 60+ mph on others. Recently at Camp Muir, half a dozen tents were blown over during the early morning hours. Plan for these changing conditions... and bring some good snow anchors for your tents!

About the route...

- While the Cowlitz traverse and Cathedral Gap are in fairly typical conditions, the lower section of the Ingraham (below the Flats) is full of cracks and rockfall here has been significant. While we sometimes see groups heading to the Flats casually, we strongly urge you to rope up here and travelling without a helmet is... well, just don't do it.

- Beyond the Flats, take a moment to assess the traffic on the route. A narrow 'one-lane' road, there is only enough room for one party to move at a time on the final ~100' before you get onto the Cleaver. A few suggestions for moving through this terrain: 1) Time your travel with other parties. If you need to wait a few minutes, find a safe spot to do so. 2) As you move, use the hand-line, but do not prussik into it, as this will further slow down an already bottlenecked area. 3) You may want to consider shortening the distance between members of your rope team to improve communication and to move more efficiently.

- For many climbers, the lower Cleaver is the routefinding crux of the route. There are a few wands to help you find your way, but be prepared to make decisions about how to move up the rock. Eventually you'll want to be on climber's left side of the spine of the Cleaver to pick up the switchbacks on snow for the upper section. As always, there is a chance of rockfall through this section. Keep your helmets on and be mindful of where you stop to take breaks.

- Above the Cleaver, another fixed hand line will help you begin your traverse right toward the Emmons Glacier. As with the section below the Cleaver, this is a 'one-lane road' with exposure and no means to pass. Use similar strategies as with the lower traverse (shortened ropes, use the hand-line without prussiking into it, time your travel with other parties to avoid congestion).

- Beyond the hand-line, the route becomes less exposed as it traverses to and eventually climbs the shoulder of the Emmons Glacier. There are several spots with open crevasses. Use good communication and crevasse travel belay techniques as the terrain requires (e.g., a boot axe belay) as you make your way up to the summit crater.

Thanks to the guide services for their hard work on the route - finding safe passages through the ever-changing conditions and providing the fixed gear to assist with our ascents!

Looking forward to seeing you on the mountain!

Disappointment Cleaver - July 22nd
The route continues to be good climbing and is still relatively quick overall (e.g., several guided parties are making the trip from Muir to the summit in just over 5 hours).

The summer weather is having a significant effect on the route by melting out snow quickly, particularly on the cleaver itself. The guide services are working regularly to keep the route safe and accessible. Currently, there is a ladder in place to assist with crossing the largest gap, about 50 m above the cleaver.

The warm temps have also encouraged folks to get up earlier and earlier (i.e., some folks are leaving Muir before midnight) to avoid climbing in the heat of the day. Sunrise on the summit, anyone? A sunset climb (e.g., often done by leaving the Flats midafternoon) is also a popular choice on crowded days.

Lastly, weekends have been crowded. Last weekend, Ingraham Flats, Muir, and the Muir Snowfield were all sold out from Thursday night through Sunday. While this is typically a busy time for the mountain, the weather seems to contribute to a full house.

We love to see you here, but we encourage you to call ahead and make reservations if your schedule doesn't have flexibility (see the Reservations information here on the blog for more information). Or, better yet, have you checked out conditions on some of the other routes? Maybe this could be your year to branch out from the DC to explore a new part of the mountain.

Disappointment Cleaver - July 14th

Its a good day to be alive! For the first time in two days the clouds blew away and the mountain is calling. Rangers at Camp Muir have been climbing the DC almost daily and with a few route corrections worked-out by the Big 3 Guide Services the climbing is smooth for everyone. Starting at Camp Muir, cruise across the Cowlitz with ropes on, short-roping on the rocks so as to avoid kicking them down below while on your way up to Cathedral Gap. Next is an easy trip by Ingraham Flats and end-running one crevasse before heading over to the the base of the Cleaver itself. The Cleaver is simple to access and in no time you'll be upon its spine and switching back along its shoulder until you can access the upper glaciers. A quarter-mile traverse North out to the shoulder of the Emmons Glacier, a turn towards the summit and a bit of a climb are all that's between you and the crater rim. Good rope management, communication between rope teams, wicked situational awareness and responsible climbing have aided great climbers to be out here climbing--come join em'. Be safe, wear your helmet, bring your sunscreen, your common sense and your sense of humor. Let's climb!

Disappointment Cleaver - July 4th

With the warm temps here on the mountain, rockfall is a significant hazard, particularly on the lower section of the cleaver itself. Keep your 'brain buckets' on!

Disappointment Cleaver - June 23

The DC is now the preferred standard route from Camp Muir. All the wands and ladders have been pulled off the Ingraham Direct. The Cleaver is beginning to melt out, but is still mostly snow-covered. Atop the Cleaver, the route traverses under broken seracs northward onto the Emmons (see photo of the traverse on the right).
Watch out for areas of potential ice fall on the traverse and try to minimize time there. There's one less stable crevasse crossing on the traverse, but after the traverse the route seems solid all the way to the crater rim. [ed. note: avid Mount Rainier blog readers will recall that the speed record from Paradise to the summit and back was broken, rebroken, and rebroken again during the summer of 2008. The DC route was much more straightforward last summer, which should make record attempts considerably harder in years such as this one with a more devious route. Think safety first and foremost!]

Enjoy long, early summer days on the mountain!

June 11th

With the Ingraham Direct becoming more and more broken up a few climbers have elected to start climbing the DC. The DC is still mostly snow covered. This makes for easier access to the upper mountain because there's no walking on loose rock with crampons. Even Cathedral Gap (the access point to the Ingraham Glacier from the Cowlitz Glacier) is still mostly snow covered.

The two most objectively hazardous areas on the DC route are Cathedral Gap and the toe of the cleaver. These areas commonly see rock and ice debris falling from above. Two major techniques climbers can use to minimize their exposure to these hazards are climbing quickly and starting early. Don't stop for water, food, or to take off layers in these areas. Begin your climb early enough to avoid being in these areas in the heat of the day on the descent.

The upper mountain route is still direct and straight forward. A crevasse at around 13,100' looks to eventually force climbers further out onto the Emmons, but is currently still passable.

June 5th

As the Ingraham Direct begins to suffer from icefall hazard and opening crevasses, this route is prime to replace it as the 'standard route' to the summit. While less direct, the Disappointment Cleaver route provides a path with fewer objective hazards than the ID and beautiful exposure as it overlooks the Emmons Glacier.

While some independent parties are choosing this route rather than the ID to ascend from Ingraham Flats, guides are also preparing to use this route as standard with their clients by establishing a solid bootpack, setting up wands, and putting in fixed hand lines.

As with previous years, please move quickly as you traverse across the Ingraham Glacier to the base of the Cleaver, as the seracs hanging above you need to take priority over digging that Clif Shot out of your pocket or putting away your headlamp right then and there!

Once to the base of the Cleaver, you'll find a fixed hand line. This line is put in by the guide services to use with their clients. While you are welcome to use it (with your hands), DO NOT attach your prussiks or ascenders to it. This is not the rope's purpose and it brings the pace of the climbing down to a screeching halt.

Once atop the Cleaver at ~12,200 feet, you'll find a pleasant place to look over the Emmons Glacier as you assess the terrain above you. The travel on the upper mountain will require crevasse travel techniques as it rejoins the Ingraham Direct route. Expect to find snow bridges, small gaps, and small steps of climbing (or downclimbing) as you move up the mountain. Suggestion: make use of that down time at Camp Muir to go over crevasse travel and rescue techniques!

Keep your eyes on the weather! Climbing rangers watched the upper mountain become engulfed in cloud cover in only a few minutes yesterday. This cap on the summit can change your climb from a 'walk-up' to an epic in no time flat, as navigation becomes challenging, particularly above the Cleaver where there are no clear natural landmarks to assist with navigation. Your best bet? Bring up that GPS so that you have breadcrumbs or waypoints to follow, should they become necessary.


It's never too late or too early for the DC. But over the years, I've noticed that people often don't know the difference between the DC and the Ingraham Direct or when to climb either.

This time of year (January through May-June), the most commonly climbed route through Camp Muir is the Ingraham Direct. This is because the terrain in less steep than the DC, and snow avalanche danger is slightly less.

However, relatively early in the summer climbing season, the Ingraham Direct becomes too much of an icy-seraky jumbled mess, and the main route transfers over a few hundred yards to the Disappointment Cleaver. This transition happens usually sometime in mid-June.

So right now ( first week of May), if you're planning on climbing Mt. Rainier up the "standard" route, that route is likely to be the Ingraham Direct. However, you'll have to make a "split" decision at Ingraham Flats, the point at which the two routes diverge. As always, the DC is always a go. You can head that way and get off the glacier for a while, or you can go up the Ingraham where it is less steep and slightly more direct.

Climbing conditions are great right now on both routes. Be prepared to make your own snow stability assessments as there are still avalanche conditions on the upper mountain in general, especially after a storm.

There have been quite a few summits over the last few weeks on Ingraham Direct and that is likely to remain the "standard" route until mid-June.