Wilson Headwall - 2009

June 13-15th Mike Porosky, Joseph Bonn, Max Wakefield and I climbed the Wilson Headwall in favorable weather and route conditions. On Saturday we followed the seam between the Nisqually and Wilson Glaciers to the base of the Wilson Cleaver, where we trended climber's left, crossed below Fuhrer's Finger and Thumb, and set camp at 9,500' on the Wilson. We camped as low as possible while still remaining within striking distance of the upper mountain and on somewhat level terrain. This site is subject to avy and icefall hazard; all factors considered, we felt it was a reasonable place to camp and had zero issues.On Sunday we got off to a late start, leaving camp at 4:15 a.m. From camp, you can go climber's left (traversing a moderately steep slope above several crevasses), middle (maximum ice/rock/avy exposure), or right. We began far climber's right, quickly crossing the rock/ice/avy debris path with one running belay (picket) and ascending towards climber's left in the headwall. In general, we stayed climber's left, not in the center, and resisting the temptation to climb to extreme climber's left, which would have taken us too high and just below the Kautz Icecliff. This time of the season this year there was one clear spot to cross from left to center headwall above a cliff band. I didn't record the elevation, but the picture should show it well. From here we zig-zagged between cliff bands, notably taking a ramp up high on climber's left. Near the top of the headwall we wrapped around climber's right, emerging at the top of Wapowety Cleaver. From here, we took a nice direct line to the crater rim, topping out around 1:15 p.m. The descent provided four options which we considered. The Kautz is a known quantity, but it requires some technical work that can slow things down, and it required a circuitous route back to our camp on the Wilson. We could have walked back down the Wilson Headwall, which in retrospect may have been an okay option, but we were concerned about rock- and icefall (or people-fall down the slightly steep slope), especially during the warm time of the day. We wanted to descend the gut of the upper Nisqually Glacier, above the Nisqually Icefall, but were concerned that crevasses may block our access to the area above Fuhrer's Finger. We opted for a descent from the top of Wapowety Cleaver down the ridge, angling towards the top of Fuhrer's Finger. This option proved a little tricky, with very hollow snow slowing our progress. We eventually made our way to Fuhrer's Finger, and cruised down it no problem. In retrospect, the Nisqually option would have likely been by far the fastest, easiest, and safest descent route. Summary: The Wilson Headwall is a nice, accessible, intermediate-level climb for those looking to try a different route on Rainier with a tolerance for some hazard exposure. It is a walk-up that requires comfort cramponing up steep-ish (38-45 degree-) slopes, occasionally using the pick of the ax in dagger position for security. We did not use our second tools or ice screws, though with different conditions and comfort levels they may be needed. There was surprisingly little rockfall when we were on the route. All in all, this route is a nice early season intermediate climb but may be the most fun as a winter or early season ski.- Liam O'Sullivan