Disappointment Cleaver 2013

September 28
 A tougher than tough Canadian climber soloed the DC all the way to the summit (not recommended)  along with a guided group during an unusually fair weather day last week.  Climbers were taking a direct route from the top of the cleaver straight toward the top of Gibraltar Rock.  From there the route is straight forward and direct to the summit crater's south side.  

At this time the route is in full-winter conditions - this means:
- weather can be much more extreme than in the summer
- avalanche danger changes much more rapidly
- no other climbers on route

Guides have finished up for the season, and rangers are also no longer staffing high camps - Muir and Schurman.  The only facilities still open are toilets and the public shelter.  Please remember to close and latch the doors to these buildings after use.  The doors hinges will be destroyed if the doors don't get latched =(  

Thanks for a great summer on the route this season.  Even during frustratingly long waits at bottle-necks on the route, most climbers were still having a good time, and kept the positive vibes going!  Thanks!  See ya'll next year!

September 24

The mountain has been putting on its winter coat over the past few days. There has been substantial snowfall from approximately 6,000 feet all the way up the mountain. 

The Disappointment Cleaver has not seen any successful summit attempts for several days due to stormy and snowy weather. Camp Muir received almost a foot of fresh snow, and the boot track leading out of camp was entirely covered over. Climbers coming up should expect route finding and winter like conditions. With all the fresh snow climbers should also come prepared for avalanche conditions, especially leading above Cathedral Gap through Dunn's roll. 

Despite the stormy weather and substantial new snow, the route remains in good shape for this time of year, and largely unchanged from the previous posts. It is not too late to come up for an autumn climb with the improving weather forecast for later this week. Come say good bye to the climbing rangers for the winter. All climbing ranger staffing of high camps will be done for the season as of September 30th.

-691

September 15

The below post is still very accurate and the DC route is in as good a shape as anyone can expect for late September. Many climbers have had successful summit bids in the past few days and rangers found the route to be a very pleasant climb. Below are some route pictures from 9/14. 






September 10

With a couple of days of route work and some strategic ladders, there have been successful climbs up a variation of the DC once again. The current version resembles a route that existed earlier this season, going through Camp Comfort near Gibralter Rock.

From the top of the Cleaver, the route traverses climber's left. You will see the old boot pack going straight up, but the new route goes left under some obvious seracs. Keep your eye on  the terrain above you and don't needlessly spend extra time below these hazards. When you get near Gibralter Rock, there is a ladder that moves past some vertical rock. Above that the route takes a direct line of switchbacks up the shoulder between the Ingraham and Nisqually glaciers to the crater rim.

This is a very direct route for this time of year so come on out and enjoy!


Above photo shows a closeup of the end of the traverse, below photo shows the broad view of the traverse from above the cleaver.



Climbing rangers did not go up the new route today because we were busy doing fall flights out of Camp Muir and Camp Schurman. Flying human waste, garbage, and other materials out of the high camps is done several times a season and is one use of the funds generated by the climbing fee. 


Photo above is of the park's contract helicopter which we use for rescues as well as project work.  


September 8

The DC continues to be quite challenging and broken above the Cleaver. A series of ladders and steep steps had been the intended route, although no one has summitted via this route in nearly two weeks. Today the guide services removed the ladder spanning the largest crack (~25 feet) leaving the route in very difficult condition indeed. We hesitate to ever say a route is completely "out" but this is pretty close. See photo below for a look at the ladder which is no longer there. 



The guide services are working hard to find an alternative, and we will keep the information flowing as things develop.

Keep in mind that there are other routes that are still viable options, the Emmons being the 2nd most frequented route. Also know that at this point in the season, the climbing ranger presence is dwindling, with coverage becoming minimal at Camp Schurman from this point on.



September 7
Well, it was good while it lasted. The DC route has taken many forms this season, gone places we haven't seen in a while, and provided a beautiful path to the crater rim for thousands of climbers this year. However, things have changed once again, and it may be a very difficult route for the rest of this climbing season.
The broken section above the Cleaver, starting around 12,500, has become more broken and the cracks have gotten wider. The ladders that were in place have shifted and are no longer viable options. The guide services are poking around to look for other new options, but to climb the route as it has gone for the last month or so would currently involve significant objective hazards, and true ice climbing skills. 
The good news: The approach up the Muir snowfield is still in great shape. There is some bare ice exposed between 9,200 and 9,800, but it is easily avoided to the climbers left. The recent snow has draped the mountain in a beautiful fresh white. The weather forecast for the next week looks stellar! The route to the top of the Cleaver is still in great shape, and gets you higher than any other point in Washington. It would be a worthy objective in it's own right as a training climb, or just to see the sights in the crisp fall air. 

Climbers should also consider the Emmons route, as it is still in excellent shape for this time of year. Look for a blog post on the Emmons in the next few days. 
We will keep the blog updated if an alternate route develops, in the meantime, come on up in the fine fall weather and develop your skills however you can!

-692


August 28

Its Labor Day weekend, and climbing on the DC is still in full swing. After a week of poor weather and winter like conditions, with fresh snow up high the Disappointment Cleaver is still in fine climbing shape.

Last week brought very winter like conditions to Mt. Rainier, which has helped with climbing conditions. The cool weather and fresh snow has helped slow the melting and opening of crevasses on the upper mountain. The DC route remains largely unchanged, with 3 ladders still in place at approximately 12,700 feet. However, the crevasses that these ladders bridge are growing wider, and more unstable. Please keep the interval between climbers on your rope short, and move through this section as efficiently as possible. There is also a ladder in place now above Ingraham Flats, as you approach the cleaver itself. 

The approach to Camp Muir and the snowfield are in typical late season form, with many wild flowers still in bloom, and no snow until Pebble Creek. From Pebble Creek the snowfield is melting out quickly, but there is still no crevasses, or ice showing yet.

With the changing season remember, bring your winter clothing, GPS with extra batteries, and be prepared for any and all weather conditions. The fall at Mt. Rainier is a beautiful time, but the weather becomes more variable, and can change in a matter of hours from hot sun, to a full snow storm. Come prepared, and come get a climb before the awesome summer we've had fades into fall!

-691


August 14

Climbing season is still in full swing here on the Disappointment Cleaver route! Many people are reaching the summit daily and the route remains in great shape. 

The approach from Paradise is beautiful right now, with several varieties of wild flowers in bloom and plenty of wildlife. The trail is melted out up to the Pebble Creek crossing. 

The section up the Muir snowfield is in fine condition, with no crevasses or glacial ice present as of yet. The beach is in full effect at Camp Muir, with plenty of nice spots to lounge while you rest up for your climb.

The route is in normal August condition. The lower half of the Cleaver is melted out (look for wands in the rocks to save your team from wandering off the most efficient path). The upper half of the Cleaver involves a couple of switchbacks up snow slopes.

Shortly above the Cleaver, around 12,600' (see arrow in image of track log) there is a section that involves three ladder crossings. This can be a bit of a bottleneck, but it doesn't have to be! The most efficient and safe way to move through this section is to continue to move as a rope team, with appropriate spacing so not more than one person is moving across the ladder at once. There may be pickets in place that one can use as running protection (each team member unclips and reclips the rope as you move by, the last person leaving the picket in place). There may also be fixed lines in this region. These lines are intended to be used to aid in your balance, not to attach yourself to or to directly ascend. The guide services who maintain this equipment are asking that independent parties either start a few hours ahead of them, or ascend directly behind them. Make sure and thank them for their work. This has helped to reduce the bottleneck issues.
 
Above the ladder section the route is in fantastic shape. It traverses towards the Emmons shoulder and then ascends quite directly to the crater rim.
If you are camping at Ingraham Flats please bring plenty of blue bags and carry them back down to Muir so the pristine environment can be maintained up there. Beat the August heat and come up where the air is crisp, the meteors are flying, and the vibe is positive!
-692/691



 

 

August 8

Here are a few photos of the route rangers were able to take from the air the other day. Stay tuned for a more detailed update on the route and advice. 




 

August 1st  

July has been a busy month on Mt Rainier. With around 1,000 registered climbers per week, the DC route has been seeing some traffic!  This past weekend there were over 200 climbers heading up to the summit each day. During the week we are seeing much fewer folks, come climb during the week if you can!

Unfortunately this past weekend climbers were turning around due to a several hour bottleneck on the “ice step”. The Step is a few hundred feet above Disappointment Cleaver.  The route steepens up to a 20-foot headwall with a 50-degree pitch. Above the step, there is a large crevasse with a ladder. The route is heavily crevassed in this area and the guiding services have put up a hand line for their clients. If you are going to use this route and hand line, be respectful of guided groups and be familiar with the appropriate tactics for protecting this section.  Most climbers have not needed to actually belay through the 'Step' - instead, consider clipping the hand-line anchors as running protection for security if appropriate and climb smart.  If a belay is necessary, please have a plan, and recognize that there may be a lot of climbers waiting behind you.  Not only will it benefit your climbing party but everyone else on the mountain as well. 
      
As we move into August and fall approaches, we are starting to see unsettled weather move back in.  Don’t be surprised to see lightning, hear thunder and get pounded by rain, snow, hail and fierce wind.  Keep a close eye on the weather as the date of your climb draws close and come up prepared with appropriate gear! 

After all the hot weather of July, there are several fires raging in Washington and Oregon.  Heavy smoke was in the air this morning on the mountain. Real-time air quality index readings can be found here.
 
693


July 30
Near the bottom of the ice step

The warm weather lately has led to some interesting route changes as the glaciers display some later season flair, the yellow brick road is getting a bit more interesting.

This past weekend brought fine weather and many people to the mountain. The DC however experienced some extreme alpine style gridlock (several hours, eek!) above the cleaver at the "ice step" and ladder crossing.
There is a hand line going both up the step and across the ladder. You need to be comfortable using the front points of your crampons and traveling on hard icy terrain to move through this area in a safe and efficient manner. Please be patient and enjoy the view if you find your team waiting.

Please also remember that the "fixed lines" are to be used as hand lines only, do not prusik, clip into or otherwise attach yourself to the lines.

-682 



July 24
Crowding on Ice Step

Hot weather and sunny skies have continued for the past week with freezing levels well above 14,000 ft. Lots of climbers have been taking advantage of the conditions with the past weekend being our busiest weekend yet this year. If you are planning on climbing on the weekend through July and August expect the crowds.

The DC route has also been in flux the past few days and has been the focus of a lot of discussion at Camp Muir. The Left Variation to Camp Comfort and up the Nisqually is out after a serac fall and opening crevasses. Climbers are now all taking the Right Variation out to the Emmons shoulder and up. Several features of this right hand route have sparked interest in the climbing public, so to find out what is really going on a team of three rangers made a climb to assess conditions a check out the, "ice cliff", and the collapsed snow bridge that, "closed the route" on Friday.  Here is the real story.

The Right Variation of the DC to the Emmons shoulder is a great climb right now, but it is more technical than many parties are expecting. This is causing a serious bottleneck just above the Cleaver at about 12,500ft. Here the route travels through an icy section to access the upper mountain. The route scales a 40ft tall, 45 degree ice step. If you are not familiar with steep snow and ice climbing, this will present a challenge for your group. Moving quickly and efficiently through this area is key for your party's enjoyment and climbing safety  Currently delays of over an hour have been common - while novice party members struggle either ascending or descending this icy step. Please communicate and be respectful of other climbers. Everyone is out there to enjoy the mountain - and this is the most popular route AND the most popular time of year to climb.


Ice Step
Please do not clip or prussik onto the fixed lines that hang over the ice step, instead use these lines as hand lines for extra stability (or don't use them at all).  Remember that descending the icy step is more difficult that ascending it.  From the top of the ice step the route traverses for a bit onto the Emmons Glacier Shoulder.

We have been experiencing very warm weather and the route is in a state of constant change with many crevasses opening up and bridges thinning. Please use your own judgement at all times and don't assume that any route is completely safe. Make sure that your team is up to date and skilled in team and partner crevasse rescue skills.

-681 & 695



 


July 15


Hot weather, sunny skies and a great climb is what climbers have been getting on the DC of late. Despite the hot weather, the route has been holding up well. Currently there are two variations of the DC.

One route, is going left from the top of the cleaver, and this is the route that has been going for about a month now. However, there is currently a large bridged crevasse at approximately 12,800 feet which is growing wider and deeper daily. The guide services are no longer travelling this way, but many independent parties have been successfully climbing this variation. Climbers choosing to go this way should use caution when approaching and crossing this crevasse, and be dialed on their crevasse rescue skills.


Early this morning several guides took a variation to the right from the top of the cleaver and placed fixed lines and did quite a bit of route work, tell them thanks for their hard work when you see them! The right hand route travels up a steep slope, over a fixed wooden plank before traversing over to the Emmons Glacier shoulder at approximately 13,000 feet. From here the route switchbacks quite directly up to the crater rim with very few crevasse crossings.

Both routes are a great options currently, however, the route leading to the left from the cleaver may soon go out. Come on up and check out the route and enjoy the sunshine!

-691



July 7

Here are a couple of photos of the DC from over the weekend. Refer to previous posts for specific route information. - 696



Ingraham Glacier and Disappointment Cleaver


Busy Route! 



July 4


The DC remains in excellent shape as we move into July. As mentioned in the previous posts, the route is still crossing the Ingraham glacier from the top of the cleaver and out toward the Camp Comfort area. From there it takes a very direct line to the crater rim.

From Camp Comfort, the route provides good views of Gibraltar Ledges and the Nisqually glacier basin.  As you continue your climb, be aware that snow bridges that were solid a few days ago may no longer be. The trail that people follow does not change as fast as conditions on the mountain do. Don't blindly follow a bootpack and assume it's safe. Always make your own assessments. 

July is usually a very busy time on the DC and good situational awareness is crucial for everyone's safety while climbing. Climbers need to be aware of objective hazards and avoid going slow, stopping, and creating backups in these areas. The area we see the most congestion is where the route crosses beneath the Ingraham icefall and goes onto the cleaver. Climbers need to move through this area and not stop until they are well onto the spine of the cleaver and safely off the climbers trail. Once on the cleaver climbers are encouraged to take in coils and short rope their team until they are onto glacier again above the cleaver. 

As the high pressure in July continues and the snow bridges get thinner, consider climbing the mountain as a rope team of three and practice your crevasse rescue skills before heading onto the upper mountain.

Have fun and climb safe.
693/696



June 30


The DC is holding strong despite our current heat wave. As mentioned in the post from June 23, the route gains the top of the cleaver, then rises slightly before traversing climbers left. This traverse is mellow and well marked, but does traverse below some looming seracs, so do not linger in this area.


After a short traverse, the route heads straight up the Ingraham headwall before traversing left again on top of a narrow, exposed fin. There is a fixed hand line here, please move quickly through this area, as it can become a bottle neck, and is not a great place to linger.

Once the route gains the top of Gibralter rock, and Camp Comfort, it begins to switch back directly to the crater rim. From approximately 13,000 feet to the rim it is direct, and in great shape. Come on up and enjoy the summer heat wave, but don't forget your sunscreen and sunglasses, its like a beach up here!

-691


June 23



The newly established traverse from the top of the cleaver over to Gibraltar rock has both great climbing and nice views! As the traverse leaves the top of the cleaver it is relatively flat before descending below some seracs, and broken terrain. Please take a moment with your group to do a quick check before passing through this area to prevent equipment problems or unnecessary lingering.

After passing below the seracs, the route climbs up the Ingraham through some switchbacks to the base of a large crevasse. As the route traverses along the lower lip of the crevasse you will find a fixed hand line. Please do not prussik onto this line. This section is narrow with no room to pass and can become a bottleneck if climbing parties are moving slow here.

Overall  this new section of the DC is fun and refreshing with a good boot pack trail to follow. It is well wanded and on par with the rest of the route in difficulty.

-697



June 21

The Disappointment Cleaver route has recently undergone some changes. A quickly changing crevasse bridge led to the route being moved to a different location for the upper (above the Cleaver) portion. Once you gain the top of the cleaver (approximately 12,200'), start looking for the wanded route to head hard climber's left across the upper Ingraham Glacier to Gibraltar Rock. The route passes through Camp Comfort on shoulder between the Ingraham and the Nisqually and follows switchbacks to the crater rim from there.

A note on the weather: despite ominous forecasts this week there has been decent weather above 9,000' most days. As always, use your best judgment as every day is different. However, a little optimism in the parking lot this time of year can pay off!

-692


June 15


 The mountain is continuing to see lots of successful climbs as the weather and snow conditions are making for great climbing. Travel from camp muir to Ingraham flats is still straightforward with rock fall increasing in the afternoons as the sun melts out the rock faces above the trail. The traverse to the cleaver is still mostly flat with some pockets of thin snow and crevasses opening up near the trail. There is a handline along the base of the cleaver and up the lower nose. The ridge of the cleaver is melting quickly but is still mostly snow. There are two obstacles above the cleaver that are easily passable but will require long legs and/or good footwork.

The first is a crack that requires a big step over and up. Currently it is about 2' wide and tall but could grow bigger. The second is the ladder around 13,000. There is now a narrow board that you have to walk across to get to the ladder. A hand line was put in yesterday by the guide services, but do not clip into this. It is not anchored to hold a fall, rather is there just for balance. The rest of the route to the top is still fairly direct with a couple of small sections rerouted to avoid crevasses. Get out here while the gettin is good!

-697









June 10



Avalanche conditions have settled out and climbers have been making daily ascents of the DC for the past week. A beautiful stretch of weather this past weekend brought out a bunch of climbers and skiers to Rainier. The forecasts of very high winds never really materialized except for some strong gusts on occasion and some blustery periods high on the route close to the crater rim. Just goes to show that actually getting on the mountain is the best way to observe the weather and also usually leads to a higher success rate.


The route from Muir is in great shape right now. The walk across the Cowlitz, up Cathedral Gap and on to Ingraham Flats is very straightforward. Climbers should be aware of rockfall hazards in the short section between the Cowlitz and Cathedral Gap and move fast through this area. Above the camp at Ingraham Flats the route takes a mostly level traverse underneath the Ingraham Icefall and onto the toe of the Disappointment Cleaver. This section is usually the biggest objective hazard on the entire route and climbers should move through this area quickly and efficiently to minimize their exposure. Moving quickly through this area and onto the spine of the cleaver also minimizes traffic jams and forcing other climbers to spend more time in this hazardous area.

Once on the cleaver climbers are encouraged to take in coils and short rope until they are at the top of the cleaver around 12,300'. This makes climbing easier for everyone and again minimizes congestion on what can be a busy area. The cleaver is still about 90% snow covered so climbers should find straightforward climbing all the way through this section.


The Infamous Ladder
Above the cleaver the route takes a fairly direct and well wanded line to the summit. There are a few switchbacks and short traverses to avoid a few big gaping crevasses, but that's to be expected on a glacier. Between 12,500' and 14,000' there are about 4 or 5 large crevasses that have good solid bridges over them for the time being. On one crevasse the guide services have installed a ladder to assist in the crossing. If climbers feel any of these crossings are not solid we encourage the use of belays until all climbers are on the appropriate side of the crevasse. The route tops out in the usual spot on the east crater rim and a short stroll across the crater leads to the true summit of Columbia Crest.

We always encourage climbers to use their own judgement when climbing this route. There are lots of "trails" and footprints to follow, not all of which should be. Don't blindly follow someone else's route. Conditions on the mountain change daily and what was safe for a team the day before might not be for your climb.



May 29th

On Sunday, May 26th, both a guided party and a strong independent party from East Canada pushed up to 12,700 feet above the Disappointment Cleaver and reported fairly decent snow conditions.  A rapidly moving storm came in and forced both teams back, but the cleaver itself was reportedly in great shape.  All of the new snow will help keep the route in great condition later in the season.

Lately, snow-stability tests on the east side of Cathedral Rocks (approx. 11,000 feet) have been giving concerning results.  Guides have been choosing to not cross this slope and instead return to Camp Muir for better conditions.

Climbing rangers are staffing Camp Muir every day and we make rounds between 17:30 and 18:30 to give a updated weather and route condition report.  See you in Camp!




May 20th
The DC is in great shape! Currently nearly all climbing traffic from Camp Muir is utilizing the Disappointment Cleaver route. The guide companies have begun running trips on a daily basis up the route. From Muir the route is wanded all the way to the crater rim.



There are very few obstacles right now other than a few cracks starting to show through. There is a wood plank crevasse crossing at approximately 12,900 feet. The crossing is over a wooden 2x4 with a solid hand line, and with one to two steps climbers are across the plank. A few hundred vertical feet above the plank there is a ladder crossing over a suspicious crevasse bridge, but currently the ladder is very firm and stable. Above this the route is direct and straight forward all the way to the crater rim. The cleaver itself remains 99% snow, with fixed lines on the traverse to gain the spine of the cleaver, and a fixed line up the initial steep slope.

Come on up and get on the route while it is in such great shape. As always remember your 10 essentials, and prepare for varying spring time weather.



May 14

The DC is currently the route of choice out of Camp Muir. The Ingraham is very broken and Gib Ledges is melting out making each of those routes less than ideal. The DC is in good shape right now, almost all snow on the cleaver itself. Guides have been putting fixed lines into the base of the cleaver to help their clients out. If you feel you need to use the lines for assistance please note they are not maintained by the NPS and you use them at your own risk.


Climbers should pay attention to other parties above and below them, especially on the cleaver and avoid sending chunks of ice or rock onto other climbers. Taking in coils and short roping on the cleaver is standard practice, please do not climb with your rope fully extended on this section as it causes massive delays and problems and is actually more dangerous.

Warm temperatures have led to some very soft and gloppy snow conditions mid-day so climbers are encouraged to climb early and be back in camp before the major heat of the day comes on. Otherwise the DC is in really good early season shape with no huge obstacles. Talk to rangers at Muir for the latest conditions.

Mowich Face 2013

July 11

If your looking to get off the beaten path for some solitude and great climbing. The Mowich face might be for you. The Central Mowich face is in great condition. There is a growing bergschrund at the base of the climb, but it can be easily bypassed on the far left over some low angle rock outcroppings. The rest of the climb is snow covered with a few rock outcroppings low on the face to navigate around. Access to the glacier from Mowich lake is a picturesque hike. The forest hike from Mowich lake to Spray park is comfortable and cool. Spray park is filled with lots of little snow melt streams and wildflowers. The drainage leading leading up to the base of the North Mowich glacier is full of massive glacial melt waterfalls. Despite the views, the hike in is long and arduous, so be prepared for a full day and start early. There is some excellent snow camping at approx. 9,200' on the glacier just below the central face. There was running water and nice flat rocks for cooking up a meal! -697

Below is a recent trip report from a group who climbed the Central Mowich Face over the July 4th weekend. Thanks for the update guys! -691
Over the July 4th weekend Carolyn, Jerome, and Ed successfully climbed the Central Mowich Face route- starting from Mowich Lake and carrying over to White River via the summit & Emmons Glacier.

We awoke just before first light and easily ascended to the base of the climbing route.  The bergshrund is open across the base of the face - with three potential crossing points on the left and a couple on the right; we opted for the left side to minimize our exposure above the bergshrund once across.  The face was hard snow and ice on a consistent 45-degree exposed slope; conditions were firm and made for good climbing while the slope was in shade.  Once the sun lit the slopes (around 11am), the snow quality turned quite soft and concerning in places; there are signs of recent avalanche slides on the center of the face, and the snow pack appeared to be roughly 8” of snow over a 3-4” ice layer over 12”+ soft snow beneath.  We found patches of hard snow/ water ice around rocks which took ice screws well.  In general we were not comfortable on the center portion of the slope, and climbed more towards the right side of the face staying near rocks and harder/ icier conditions.  We were interested in attempting the proper route up climbers left at 12,500’, but the access point appeared to have little to no snow, and water ice on the 40’ rock step; we were tired at this point, and opted to continue up the variation on climbers right.  Our progress up to this point was slow as we placed more protection than we normally might have; after 16 hours it was getting late - so we decided to bivy before the sun set among the rock band around 12,800’, on a ledge we carved out of the snow and ice.  This was the first time all of us slept in harnesses tied to ice screws, with a 5,000’airy view down to the glacier below.

The next day we continued up the remainder of the route, which was great fun.  Conditions were hard and there was a lot more ice once above the 12,800’ rock band, and we were able to use more screws on this part of the route than lower down.  We easily topped out on the ridge, with a stunning view of Liberty Cap, Columbia Crest, and Point Success.  It was hard not to stop and stare on this part of the mountain, as well as down onto the Tahoma Glacier and other features rarely accessible to view; it was all quite stunning.  After ascending Liberty Cap, we arrived at the crater for a night on the summit; we were the only ones there that evening and watching the sunset, the stars, and the sunrise from that vantage point is among the highlights of our trip.







Rangers flew past Mowich Face on July 9th and saw favorable conditions.  Access to the face was greatly improved with the opening of the Mowich Lake Road on July 3rd.
Stay tuned for a route report soon.  - 695

For previous year's reports, click here.

Ptarmigan Ridge 2013



July 4

Thanks to Brendan Kehde for sending us this report. Even though they didn't summit they seem to have made really good decisions and stayed within their comfort levels. They also got some great photos and seem to have had a great time. All signs point to experience in the mountains.

It is worth noting that conditions do change rapidly and just because conditions weren't a go for these guys it doesn't mean Ptarmigan isn't a good choice for others. Get out and make your own assessments.

On Wednesday, June 26th with a weather forecast that suggested improving conditions, Patrick Griffin and I started up from the White River trailhead in the rain. Near Glacier Basin we encountered a bear along the trail. After skirting past the bear, we headed up into the clouds to St Elmo pass. A fortuitous and brief parting of the clouds at the top of the pass revealed a clean and relatively firm boot track across the Winthrop Glacier. We followed it across and then made camp on bare ground on the far side of lower Curtis Ridge at approximately 7200 feet elevation. The nearest running water to our campsite was 500 feet elevation down slope. That evening the rain stopped for a while and the cloud level lifted to provide glimpses up to Ptarmigan Ridge and our next planned camp at approximately 10,400 feet. Overnight the temps stayed in the high forties and rain pattered on our tent. 


In the morning when the rain finally stopped we packed up and traversed across the Carbon Glacier toward the steep slopes going up to the Russell Glacier and Ptarmigan Ridge. The snow slopes showed signs of fresh wet snow avalanches and rockfall clacked down from the cliffs. We decided to descend down the Carbon through relatively un-crevassed terrain to approximately 6200 feet elevation and climb up onto the Russell where lower angled snow slopes were more stable and free from rockfall danger. This, however, made for a long, slow, slog up the Russell. Above 7800 feet we were sinking to our knees in soft, isothermal snow and completely enveloped in clouds. We maintained our course despite a maximum visibility of forty yards, following the slope and keeping an eye on our altimeter and compass bearing. Later in the day as we neared the top of the Russell the clouds began to clear, but the wind picked up dramatically. By the time we reached our high camp among some rocks along the ridge the wind gusts were knocking us off balance. The technical section of the Ptarmigan Ridge Route below Liberty Cap was in view but beyond was still obscured by clouds. While looking over this section, we witnessed a barrage of large rocks cut loose from somewhere high up on the cliffs. These funneled right down through the narrow upper sections of the climb and triggered a large snow slide that swept down the face. 


Temperatures that night remained in the high thirties, strong gusty winds continued, and the clouds never lifted to reveal the higher portions of the mountain. Due to our relatively slow pace the previous two days, depleted energy levels, and the weather and route conditions, we felt that attempting to climb any higher would be too committing and unsafe. In the morning on the 28th we reversed our path back out to the White River Trailhead. The terrain we covered and beauty of the mountain was spectacular.