Kautz Glacier 2013

July 28

A ranger patrol got out on the Kautz glacier this past weekend and found great conditions.

We chose to leave from the Comet Falls trail head and go through Van Trump Park. Although is is a longer approach there is no loss in elevation, shady forests, waterfalls and rainbows. We encountered parties approaching  both via Van Trump Park and crossing the Nisqually and Wilson Glaciers. The Fan on the later approach has fallen out of favor due to it's rock fall and bowling alley conditions, and parties are using the Wilson Chute without reported issues.

The Castle is in great shape with many fairly luxurious existing alpine sites complete with running water (as of 7/26). Camp Hazard The upper area directly below the ice fall has numerous established rock rings and running water. Just a bit below the rappel  there is a scattering of other established sites without running water but snow is near.

Just as a reminder for alpine camp use: Please do not construct any new rock rings or formations. There is no shortage of pre-existing well decked out sites.

As we discovered on our patrol there was an impressive amount of trash and human waste scattered around both of the camp areas and in between these areas. Please use blue bags and take them with you when you leave. Feces and tp smeared rocks don't add to camp ambiance or sanitary camps.We picked up and carried over 5lbs of other peoples' waste and trash. Bad mountain karma is not something you want to accrue.

Overall the route is in great shape with two sections of ice and some easily navigable crevasses on the upper Kautz. The rappel to access the Glacier is getting larger. Currently its equipped with a "fixed" anchor, tied to an assortment of surrounding rocks. Please inspect and use at your own risk. Once down the rappel there is a short traverse of snow over to the bottom of the first pitch of ice.

Two pitches of glacial ice exist with compact snow in-between  Both pitches provide good protection with ice screws, and due to the warm weather there is even a little water ice to be found! First section of ice is ~45 degrees and great climbing! Between ice sections there is a ramp of penitentes a few hundred yards long. The second section of ice is a little steeper but good climbing again.

Above the ice chute the upper Kautz Glacier is still easily navigable. Keep to climbers right up to the Wapowtey Cleaver where you can climb either the upper Nisqually or head to Pt. Success. Steep penitente and sun cup stomping heaven from there.

Get out and enjoy the relative solitude and great climbing the Kautz Glacier Route can offer. It wont be in for much longer!

-682 & 681

July 18
It is Kautz season ladies and gentlemen! If you are looking for an escape from the crowds of the Disappointment Cleaver and something a little more challenging, then the Kautz is for you!
Currently the approach to the Kautz route is in fine mid season form and fairly straight forward. However, the crossing of the lower Nisqually is breaking up a bit, and teams should consider roping up through this section. Most teams are choosing to ascend the Wilson Gulley instead of the Fan, as the latter is mostly melted out and subject to substantial rock fall. Above the Wilson Gulley the route gains the ridge to the west of the Wilson Glacier, and is fairly straight forward and easy travel.

Both high camps for the Kautz route are also in excellent shape, with many melted out rock bivy sites. However, please do not build new rock bivy sites, or add to the existing ones. There may even be running water for parties choosing to camp at the Castle on a hot day, but do not count on this water as your only source during your climb.

From Camp Hazard, near 11,200 feet, the rappel, or down climb onto the Kautz Glacier proper is not too melted out currently, and there is a fixed line in place. Many parties are choosing to rappel this section for ease of travel, and to avoid a time consuming down climb. But please inspect any anchors that you did not construct.

From here the route is in excellent shape, with the first pitch being exposed glacier ice, and the second pitch being a mix of ice and firm snow. Those parties feeling more adventurous, can go to the climbers left, or right, of the "chute", to find significantly steeper snow and ice. Above the steeper pitches of the Kautz, the glacier remains in excellent shape, with relatively few crevasses opening up for this time of year. Parties are choosing to ascend all the way to Point Success, and cross the Wapowety Cleaver to access the upper Nisqually Glacier. Depending on your skill level and your team,  both options are exciting and rewarding.
Dust off those ice tools, break out the glacier glasses, and sunscreen and come on up for a great climb that offers a variety of challenges and rewards!

July 8

With a forecast for beautiful weather throughout the week and the promise of lots of people climbing over the July 4th weekend, a climbing ranger team decided to do a patrol up the Kautz Glacier, Mt Rainier's third most popular route.

Paradise had been foggy for the past several days, and that had been discouraging to many climbers. But once you ascended to 8000ft or so you were above the clouds and the weather was wonderful, balmy even. The Kautz climb begins by crossing the Nisqually glacier before ascending up to the Wapowety Cleaver. The two most popular routes to do this are the Fan and the Wilson Glacier.
Though we were not able to see the Fan on our trip an observation from the previous days showed a lot of rockfall activity and therefore we chose to climb the Wilson Glacier.  Climbing up the Wilson was straight forward with no major crevasse hazard and we reached the Castle at 9,200ft in good time. There is still a good water source just above the Castle where  the melt from the Turtle Snow Field  runs over a small cliff band.

Our Camp that night was to be at Camp Hazard, 2000 ft hire, so we pushed on up the turtle snow field, past a lot of ski tracks, and arrived at camp just below the rock step to access the Kautz Glacier.
Camp Hazard is always a inspiring place to be with the looming ice cliff of the Kautz Glacier above you and  sweeping panoramas of the tatoosh, Mt Adams and Mt St. Helens. Currently Camp Hazard still has significant snow cover and not many rock sites are exposed. If you can't find a rock camp site, please don't make a new one and camp on the snow instead. Also, chose your camp wisely, while the camp is named for a early Washington Governor it is a hazardous location with a real ice fall threat.
That evening we walked over to take a look at the Kautz glacier and our route for the next day. We were pleasantly surprised to see only a few patches of ice and the rest looking like a steep snow climb. After a good nights sleep and a respectable ranger start we got underway the next morning. Once over the rock step, which is still easy to manage and not a very large drop, we were out on the Kautz and our observations from the night before proved correct. save for a few patches of glacial ice the climb consisted of climbing on compact snow which provided good cramponing and secure ice ax placements. We climbed the route with a running belay over the two steep sections. Good picket and ice screw placements were plentiful. When we reached the top of the Ice Chute both of us remarked on how good the climbing was! but this will not last forever.

Travel on the upper Kautz was straightforward too. There are several large crevasses opening up but they currently have solid snow plugs to cross or workarounds. We climbed up to the top of the Wapowety cleaver at 13,000ft and chose to take the more gradual assent over the upper Nisqually to the crater rim. Several other parties have been climbing up from the Wapowety cleaver to the shoulder of Point Success. This is also a good route, a bit steeper, but it will get you to the same place. The only issue on the Nisqually is a crevasse at about 14,000 which stretches from Pt. Success several hundred meters to the east. Right now it is still passable but it could make route finding difficult soon.  

We continued up to the summit, took some nice pictures, talked with a few visitors and then continued our trip down to Camp Muir for the night. This Kautz climb was a great trip and my favorite climb yet this year.

-681 Luthy

June 21

Thanks to International Mountain Guides for the following update on the Kautz Glacier route:

The four day climb began with a straightforward crossing of the Nisqually Glacier and ascent of the Fan which has seen numerous small wet slide avalanches and very little rock fall. We ascended to the ridge and a saddle at approximately 8,400 feet for our first camp. Given the forecasted possibility of thundershowers, we set our camp away from high points and just off of the ridge crest on the snow.
On day two we started out from camp early to travel on firm snow up past the Lower and Upper Castles. I was surprised to find running water above the Upper Castle this early in the summer. The Turtle Snowfield had soft snow conditions, but our early start prevented us from having to posthole.

Again, with the forecast calling for thundershowers, we tucked our camp in very close below stable rocks at approximately 11,200 feet. This location also protected us from any icefall that could come off of the Kautz Ice Cliff. The afternoon was spent preparing running belays across the rock step onto the Kautz Glacier. Given the snow pack, a lower or rappel was not necessary, and we were able to place running belays (including two piton placements in solid rock) to facilitate safe access to the glacier. We then kicked in a traverse toward the base of the Ice Chute as the clouds rose and visibility decreased to 500 feet. With no ability to see the objective dangers of ice and rock fall, we turned back to camp. The traverse toward the Chute only had a few crevasses just beginning to open.

After a short sleep, we awoke at 0300 to 20-30 mile per hour winds, blowing snow and 50 feet of visibility. Clearly it was not looking like a summit day.  At 0400 we checked the weather again to find the wind persisting but, stars appearing and visibility improving quickly. After breakfast and gearing up, we departed camp at 0530. This is a late start for the route, but we had a strong group and were willing to give it a shot.

The lower Ice Chute was well textured and allowed for us to utilize short intervals between climbers (approximately 10-15 feet apart, for this section only). The middle section was soft snow and easy climbing. The upper steep section of the Chute had seen recent wet slide activity and had a collapsing crust that made for concern regarding the possibility of slab avalanche. Thus, we traversed to the east side of the Chute onto ice/firm snow and utilized a mix of ice screws and pickets for running belays to the top of the Chute. No pitching out was necessary given the snowy conditions. Above the Chute the glacier is beginning to open up and crevasse bridges are quickly thinning, so we opted to end run many as we climbed to a rest at the top of the Wapowety Cleaver.

Accessing the glacier above is often scary due to large ice plugs and small bridges over large crevasses. However, a stable plug allowed us easy access and should last awhile. The crevasses on the way to the summit were surprisingly open for this time of year and required a lot of attention and even a running belay to increase safety. Two long stretches took us to Columbia Crest at noon where we had a quick celebration and snapped a few photos. Given the late hour and 30 mile per hour summit winds, we kept it short and began our descent. Our group stayed strong and only one full rope length lower was necessary for safely descending the upper Ice Chute. Safely back at camp a hot dinner was in order and the sleeping bags were calling.

Albeit painful, we awakened at 0500 the next morning to make use of firm conditions, much to our benefit. At the Upper Castle, we entered the clouds and light precipitation. Visibility had decreased to approximately 100 feet, so having previously entered waypoints and tracks into my GPS unit was incredibly helpful. We opted to descend directly down onto the Nisqually, bypassing the Fan due to the decreased visibility and inability to see any potential rock fall. Crossing higher on the Nisqually had many more crevasses, but they were easily navigated by end running or stepping over narrow cracks. Safely back at Paradise, we had our true celebration of a safe and successful roundtrip early season climb of one of Rainier’s most classic and scenic routes.


June 13

A team of two climbing rangers sampled the goods that the Kautz Glacier had to offer this Tuesday. So bright and early, 6:30 am, we took off from Paradise on our way. Recent cooler conditions provided for firm snow and good travel without skis or snowshoes.

By around 8am we had traveled across the lower Nisqually, which still has ample snow cover, up The Fan and were traveling up the lower Wapowety Cleaver toward the Castle at 9,400ft. Travel continued to be good with evidence of quite a few skiers enjoying some spring turns on the Turtle Snow Field and Upper Wilson Glacier.

The Castle is the first major camp on the Wapowety Cleaver and has several nice sites which have melted out. Running water is also available in the area, just keep an ear out for it. There are many sites in the area of the Castle and above so please use one of the existing sites. If none are available, camp on the snow.

Camp Hazard
We continued up the Turtle Snow Field to Camp Hazard, an awe inspiring place guarded above by a massive ice cliff. The camps here are still covered by snow so digging a tent platform will be necessary. A small cleft on the cliff above the Kautz Glacier at 11,300ft ( 46deg50'04.98"N, 121deg45'46.98"W) leads to a set of fixed lines over a small step. Currently this is a scramble but will evolve into a rappel later in the season.

Rock Step
Past the small rock step, which takes you off the Wapowety cleaver and on the the Kautz Glacier, travel is again on snow. This early in the season the Kautz Glacier is a mix of snow,  nieve,  ice and any combination of the three. We again found mellow travel up the Kautz and were able to place secure protection with pickets and ice screws through both steep pitches. Currently, the glacier angle does not exceed 40-45 degrees and can be climbed with standard mountaineering equipment.
Kautz Glacier

On top of the Kautz Glacier travel was again, straightforward, to the top of the Wapowety cleaver  with minimal crevasse obstacles. The Wapowety Cleaver is easily crossed at about 13,400 just below the  serac fall leading up the east ridge of Point Success.  From here you are on the upper Nisqually glacier which is also in good condition, and about 800ft from the crater rim.

We traveled down the DC to Camp Muir for the night but heading back down the Kautz to Camp Hazard would not present any major difficulty. A rappel or two may be needed getting through the steeper sections of the Kautz Glacier. Below is a map image of our route.

The Kautz as a whole is in great condition, and with the cooler weather over the next week conditions are likely to remain primo.