Curtis Ridge 2015

August 30, 2015

It's getting to be that time of year where the non standard routes (routes other than the highly traveled DC and Emmons) are seeing substantially less climbing traffic.  Upper mountain terrain is becoming very featured and broken which results in substantially difficult terrain navigation and route finding.  As we move into the fall months, these routes are becoming much more dangerous from objective hazard such as rock fall, ice fall, unstable snow bridges, decompensating plugs, and long deep crevasses that are difficult to navigate around.  It is highly recommended to wait until next climbing season to attempt these routes and allow the winter months to heal the current upper mountain conditions.

May 27th 2015

Central Bowl Russell Cliffs

Winthrop Glacier into a sea of clouds

Traversing the Winthrop at 11,300'
The approach to Russell Cliffs from Camp Schurman is approx. 1.75 miles. Wind loading of the Winthrop glacier created difficult travel with knee deep snow. The lower snow levels this season minimized the amount and location of access. The guide book describes making a traverse across the Winthrop at 12,000' to 12,500' A lower traverse was encountered at 11,300 with minimal crevasses.

Ascending the lower snow slopes of Russell Cliffs

  Ice Serac on the Winthrop

Where the Winthrop meets Curtis Ridge the glacier is very broken. Large ice serac and ice fall zones guard the access to the base of the ridge. Good route finding skills and good decision making are necessary to navigate this terrain safely and efficiently.
At the base of the Curtis Ridge after crossing this ice fall zone, there were several moat crossings encountered before reaching 45 degree snow slopes along the lower rock buttress.

Russell Cliffs, Mount Rainier National Park

Lower Rock Band

Above 12,300' the snow slope increasingly steepens to aprox. 60 degrees until reaching the cliffs.
There are two rock bands that have to be climbed to exit through the cliffs. Mixed conditions with frozen rock and ice were encountered at both rock bands.

The lower rock band was approx. 60' tall with good snow above to build an anchor. Rock and ice protection was minimal. Leaving the lower rock band and making a rising traverse to the climbers left will get you to the top rock band where you can exit the cliffs. Route finding along this traverse to the upper band is minimal. With good visibility most of the traverse is in view. The upper rock band wax approx. 10' tall with some dry tooling in easy terrain. After exiting the rock good ice for an anchor is approx. 60' up.

View after exiting the upper rock band with blue ice in the background
Upper Ice Pitch with crevasse crossings in snow patches, Russell Cliffs

Russell Cliffs as seen from the Emmons
The ice climbing above the cliffs is moderately angled with 30-40 degree slopes on solid blue ice. This ice section is approx. 400' with patches of drifted snow and a few hidden crevasses. This ice can be simul climbed or pitched depending on comfort and abilities.
The ice was very hard in brittle. Sharp tools and crampons made for easier climbing through this section.
The last 400' to the ridge summit of 13,800' Russell Cliffs is mostly wind scoured snow.