Success Cleaver 2012

July 18 

Here is a great conditions update sent to us by Scott Seitz. Looks like they climbed around July 8th, apologies for the delay.

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Conditions were near perfect last weekend when my buddy, Bob Toney, and I climbed up and over Success Cleaver and down to Muir. Friday was several hours of casual day hiking from the Westside Road (2,880) to the 6,500 foot saddle at Pyramid Peak. We noticed the improved trail along the river. It is very nice and a lot flatter that it used to be. (Thank you to whoever worked on the ‘unmaintained trail’.)
Saturday was your standard snow slog to high camp around 10,200. We kicked steps in good snow most of the way but did spend some quality time on the ridge itself. Climbing on the rock ridge was spectacular. Great day of climbing; very casual.
Well, mostly casual until Bob ran into the ‘puffy-white snow’ on our last traverse before camp. The sun was working its magic on the snow and, when he was crossing, a few inches of the ‘puffy-white’ snow broke off and slid around him. Nothing to write home about but it was his first ‘slide’ and spooked him enough that he avoided the puffy-white snow the rest of the trip. ‘Bob’, I asked after the final rock band on summit morning, ‘why did you choose to climb up the rocks instead of taking the snow?’ ‘Well, to be honest; I saw the puffy-white snow. Did not want to chance it.’
At high camp, it was next to impossible to sleep with the sun pounding down on us but we managed to get a few hours of quality sleep. Left at midnight. The moon cast enough light to avoid using the headlamp most of the time. Freezing level was around 13,500 and we knew it! The first two hours were tedious and to be frank: It was ugly. We post-holed up past our thighs in a lot of places. We flounder on the rock when we move back to the ridge. There was no way we could sustain this pace and make it up. I express this obvious fact to Bob. He suggested we should give it another hour and see where we were then. Plus, he argued, you cannot turn around at two in the morning! He had a good point. Indeed after an hour, we found better snow and fell into a great climbing rhythm.
High on the route the exposure was great but the snow was excellent. Add in a few pickets we brought made the climbing relaxed.
The best parts of this climb are all of the choices needed with the route finding. Do we stick to the ridge; do we go around this rock band or up and over? Most of the time we could not see the right choice. Many times I hoped we would not be trapped and need to down climb. Nevertheless, all choices were perfect, especially the exit move to the summit cap: Straight up the first weakness in the rock band was the answer. We considered rolling around to our left but that looked too easy and way too long. Since we were being greeted by a forming lenticular, around 13k, it was prudent to put on more clothes, head straight up and pick up the pace a little.
Our decent was your standard slog down to Muir. We took a straight, diagonal, line down to the established DC route from the saddle between Success and Columbia summits without a crevasse in sight.
The route is in great shape. Consider jumping on it now, if it is on your list of routes to do this year. And yes, Gauthier’s time line in his guide book (Mt Rainier, a Climbing Guide) is real: Summit day is 8 – 10 hours from high camp. With our first two hours of ugliness, it took every bit of 11 hours to summit.