Kautz Cleaver 2011

Thanks to Olympic Mountain Rescue for this route condition update. The Kautz Cleaver remains one of Mount Rainier's best but least traveled routes.

We approached via the Comet Falls trailhead at 3,600 feet starting at 2 pm on Friday afternoon, expecting to find very soft snow conditions. However,generally consolidated snow was found, with only a few stretches of shin-deep post-holing through Van Trump Park on our way towards the toe of the Cleaver.
With the late start we chose to make camp on flat terrain at about the 8,000’ level directly below the Cleaver. The clouds had parted above 7,000’ and we were rewarded with nice views and the promise of more good weather to come, backed up by a forecast which predicted calm to lights winds up high over the following 2 days.

After finally stirring and setting out around 7:30 am we decided to take the Middle Success Glacier alternate start. It was a toss-up with the Cleaver itself, since both looked equally filled in and straightforward. We reckoned the more westerly aspect of the Middle Success would provide more sun shade and stay firmer longer. At around 10,000’ the snow ramps merge in with the Kautz Cleaver. Firm snow conditions held out until around noon when things began to rapidly loosen up. We decided to dig in a camp at 11,500’ directly on the Cleaver in the early afternoon and have an early go at it the next morning. The views from this perch of the Kautz Glacier and Icefall are superb especially since we had another evening of gentle winds and clear skies. The location afforded a direct view of the Kautz Glacier just to the east, where we watched 2 parties of 4 descend from the mountain and spend over 2 hours to get down the first, steeper portion of the glacier. All 8 eventually ended up doing controlled glissades down the snow covered ice pitch. These were the only people we saw until reaching Point Success.
Several long pitches of crust over unconsolidated snow around 12,500’ did little to dampen the spirits of climbing higher on such a calm morning. Route-finding was real straightforward as the snow still has a very complete coverage up high. The airy traverse pitches above the Kautz Headwall were easily protected by long pickets. We found only a few short sections up towards 13,000’ of post holing, due primarily to leeward accumulations of wind-blown snow. The first sign of any wind was seen shortly afterwards by light spindrift coming off the rockbands higher above. The rockbands above 12,000’ were covered in rime ice. At 13,400’ we traversed westward around the rockbands above the South Tahoma headwall to reach a ramp leading to Point Success around 10:30 am.

We crossed to the main summit over a thick layer of loose dry snow carved into patterns by the summit winds. We began our descent of the DC route around 3 pm, which was by then loosened up by the long day’s full sun exposure. Following the wands was uneventful. The DC was particularly sloppy, and we noted that a couple pickets placed by the guide services for their fixed lines were quite loose.

We dropped down to Paradise at 8:30 the following (Monday) morning, where we checked in with rangers.