Mount Rainier - Nisqually Ice Cliff
I’d been interested in trying to climb Rainier solo for a while but I’d not done much about it until last week when I finally took the time to fill the solo climb request form and send it to Stefan Lofgren for approval. Thanks to Stefan’s prompt approval I was able to take advantage of the good weather last weekend.
Inspired by a trip report from 2006 when Hannah Carrigan climbed the Nisqually Ice Cliff solo my plan was to have a look at the same route on the way to Muir and climb one of the Gib routes if I didn’t like the look of it. From a distance the route is very intimidating and I was not sure. I also saw ice fall right above the top of the Gib Chute so I scratched that route too. To make the final decision I went to Nisqually Basin in the afternoon for a closer look. The closer you get the more doable the route appears. I took pictures of various sections of the route and using zoom I was able to make out a reasonable passage around the edge of the ice cliff.
It was very windy on Saturday and Sunday was not supposed to look any better. Despite that, two teams summited on Saturday, one via the Nisqually Icefall and another via the Gib Ledges. This fact helped me to leave Camp Muir in the morning at 4 am in 40 mph winds. I started climbing in stages. The first was to get to the Nisqually Basin and see if it’s protected from the wind. It was, as is generally the case for the routes left of Gibraltar Rock.
Next stage was to get to the bergschrund at the start of the ramp. I made a mistake in the dark and instead of walking directly towards the ramp I ended up too far left below the rock cliffs of the Nisqually Cleaver. This mistake put me in more danger than was necessary. I didn’t see or hear any ice fall during my time on or near the ice cliff. Still this stage was mentally the hardest since I saw two large ice falls from the cliff.
I felt in relative safety on the ramp and took a break right below the bergschrund. I decided not to move until I had enough light to climb without my headlamp. After about 20 minutes I started up the ramp. The bergschrund didn’t represent a problem as it had a nice solid bridge over it. Halfway up the ramp came the technical crux of the climb. It was some exposed rock with hard ice here and there. First I tried to traverse left through this section but it became too thin. I spotted fatter ice to my right and eventually negotiated this section that way. This was the last time I asked myself whether I really wanted to do this. I did have a 20 m rope with me that I could use to get down this section if I decided to bail later.
The third stage was to get on the shelf. When I popped out I found it in a shape better than I expected. It was not as steep as it appeared from below and was covered with nice styrofoam-like snow. At the top of the ramp the route splits into 3 routes – Nisqually Cleaver, Nisqually Cleaver right variation and the edge of the ice cliff. The "cleaver right variation" looked the easiest with least objective hazard. It crossed my mind changing my plan but at that point I was very intrigued by the cliff route so I set off along the cliff edge with the cleaver variation being my backup. A few times the route put me close to the edge enough to see down the cliff. It was more amazing than scary. I really started enjoying the climbing. There was probably one or two places where I had to swing my tools otherwise it was climbing on solid snow. Soon I was on the other side on open glacier slopes with no ice fall to worry about.
At this point I was still protected from the wind. I went to the top of Gibraltar Rock to see how bad the wind was. An option was to skip the slog to the summit and go straight down the ledges. I’ve been to the summit before and didn’t expect to find anything new up there. It felt as if the wind died down a little bit and I had plenty of time, having been climbing for only four hours so far. So I decided to keep going up. This was probably my windiest Rainier climb and it was not easy going. In some hour and a half I was at the rim greeting with the only other two climbers that got that far that day. They were already on the way down so I had the whole crater for myself. I wish it was less windy to enjoy it. I didn’t have to cross any open crevasses except a few small cracks. I remember having to jump a few crevasses last year in March.
My tracks on the ice cliff.
I descended the Gib Ledges, which not surprisingly were in awesome shape as well, actually the best shape I’ve seen. There were nice steps, which allowed for fast moving and it took me only 2 hours from the summit to Muir.
For more information, Jiri has posted pictures on picasa, click here.
Posted by Stefan Lofgren