Kautz Glacier on Mount Rainier

Traversing to the base of the ice step at dawn

Jake and I had originally planned to head up to Washington Pass for the weekend to hit some alpine trad routes on the Early Winters Spires and the Liberty Bell.  Thankfully, our friend Peter from work had a better idea.  The Kautz Glacier on Rainier.

The weather was suspect on the early morning drive down from Seattle on Friday morning, but Jake and I were fueled by coffee, donuts, house music, and a weather report that suggested perfect skies and warm temperatures.  We met Peter and Susan at Longmire after they had picked up the climbing permits and had an awesome, leisurely breakfast.

With our stomachs full, we drove to Paradise, geared up for the carry-over, and started hiking at about 9:30am.  The approach to just below Cap Hazard wasn't technical and only had a few easily spotted glaciers, so we didn't need to rope up.  With light gear and nothing to slow us down, we quickly dropped down and across the Nisqually Glacier, up the Wilson Gully (which looked suspect from far away, but was actually pretty tame up close), up the Wilson Glacier, and to the top of the Turtle on its Western edge.  Before 3pm we were at our phenomenal bivvy site near the top of the Wapowety Cleaver at about 11,000 feet.

With little to do, light winds, and beautiful blue skies, we set up our bivvies and took a nap in the sun.  I couldn't have been more comfortable.  We roused briefly at sunset to eat dinner and appreciate the majesty, then quickly jumped into our cocoons of glory when the sun went away, the temperatures dropped, and the wind kicked up.  I'd set up a bit of a wind barrier out of rocks and was absurdly comfy.  Sleeping until 5am felt more like sleeping in after napping since 3pm.

We quickly broke our minimal camp, packed up all of our gear for the carry-over, and finished up the Wapowety Cleaver, reaching the short rappel down onto the Kautz Glacier at about 5:45am.  I was excited to hit the ice and went across to set up shop for the first pitch.  With 2 groups of 2, we decided the most efficient way to go would be to simul-climb the ice, with me leading and placing screws, Jake following on my rope, then Peter and Susan following as a separate team, taking out the screws.  This worked perfectly and we stayed very close together through the entire climb.  The first pitch was a brief stint of WI 2 followed by huge sun-cupped stair-stepping, then a steep snowfield.  We headed straight up to the bottom of the second real pitch of ice, where we encountered two other teams already on the steeper section.  Both teams were pitching the route out and taking a while, so we decided that I'd thread the needle between them.  The ice was in good shape, but dinner-plated quite a bit, so I spent a bunch of time beating the route out to get good sticks.  I'd never led ice with a mountaineering axe before, so I made sure to beat out good positions for that axe and hang off my tool when placing screws.  At times, the dinner plates were so large that I was able to catch them and fling them away from the rest of the group below me.  We quickly cruised up the upper section of WI 2+, passing the other two groups and reaching the upper Nisqually Glacier where we shortened our ropes up, put away our second tools, and started chugging up toward the true summit to the Northeast of Point Success.

The slog to the summit was a bit painful, but punctuated by enough crevasse crossings that it stayed somewhat interesting.  Thankfully, it was still early enough that the snow was crusty and allowed us to move quickly with crampons.  We didn't post-hole at all until hitting the summit crater.

The wind was blowing pretty hard on the summit and it was pretty cold, so we didn't spend too long up there--just enough time to snap some pictures, jot our names in the summit register, and put the ropes back on.

The slog down the DC route was not awesome.  Slushy, waist-deep troughs cris-crossed their way down the upper glacier.  Thankfully there weren't too many standard route descenders on the path to pass.  A few sections were completely exposed rock, but short enough that it didn't make sense to remove the crampons.  We screeched our way through these parts, around Disappointment Cleaver, and down to Camp Muir.  It was a zoo, with tents and people everywhere.  We heard people talk about traffic jams on their way up that morning and were incredibly glad that we'd taken the road less traveled.

Things were super slushy from Camp Muir down.  Even the glissades were so soft that it was hard to get any speed up.  Nevertheless, the rest of the slog out wasn't terrible and was snow-covered enough to save the knees.  We made it back to the parking lot around 5:30pm, slammed some donuts, and headed to the Copper Creek Inn which served pie, beer, and milkshakes.  The post-climb trifecta if you ask me.

What an incredible weekend.