with Kira, Dustin, Jeff, and Gary
Dustin Shigeno, Kira Misura, Jeff Crowe, Gary Yngve, and I spent 3 days on Mount Rainier and summited on Saturday via the Kautz Glacier route. Dustin and I had climbed Mount Rainier via the Emmons Glacier route in the previous year.
We drove down to Paradise Thursday morning, arriving there at 9.30am. After talking to the rangers and signing in we sorted our gear and were on our way by 10:30am to walk up to near Panorama Point. From there we dropped down to the Nisqually Glacier where we roped up and crossed the glacier. There where only a few hair thin crevasses open and crossing the glacier was straightforward. We then ascended the prominent chute (the "Fan") on the other side. For this we had unroped to reduce party inflicted rock fall danger. On top of the chute we roped up again and continued up the ridge to the foot of the Wilson Glacier and on north along a ridge line. Overly precautious, we where still roped up at this point which made travel a little cumbersome since we sometimes stayed on the ridge but went on snow when the ridge became too difficult to walk on, especially with crampons and plastic boots. However, on the snow we would post hole frequently and then return to the rock. After ascending the Turtle snowfield we arrived around 7pm at an ok camp site at 10.500ft, below Camp Hazard, where we pitched the tent and bivy sacks and started melting snow, eating dinner and going to bed.
The next day, Friday, was our rest day which we spend in camp, melting snow, eating, enjoying the gorgeous views of Adams, St Helens, Hood, and Jefferson, listening to music, reading books, or simply hang out. It was great to have a day where we actually didn't do anything. We could oversee the Muir snow field from Paradise nearly all the way to Camp Muir. It was lined with groups of little black moving dots. On the next day this would change to a continuous line of people traveling to Camp Muir... Jeff surprised us with some delicious Alaska river salmon and bread that he had carried all the way up to 10.500ft! He also found a piece of glass and some metal that seemed to have been part of a helicopter that crashed there a few years ago. Well fed and rested we retired early.
Our planned alpine start for the summit climb was supposed to be 2am in the morning. However, during the night the wind had picked up and nobody felt like leaving there sleeping bags and we postponed until 3am. Since the wind was still pretty strong we postponed again to 4am. Finally, at 5am we were ready to start climbing. This reminded me of a very late start (4am) Dustin and I had from Camp Schurman last year... It was pretty cold so that our water bottles froze in the packs. We reached Camp Hazard just below the Kautz ice cliff at 6:30am. At this point, Jeff decided to turn around since he had fallen in camp and his knees and hands where pretty bashed up.
According to the route description, one descends from Camp Hazard east via a gully that is prone to ice and rock fall in order to gain the snow chute on the left of the ice cliff. We didn't do this. Instead we traversed the gully without dropping down to gain the snow chute. The four of us where tied together and Gary lead out. This method probably saved us at least an hour. The snow in the chute was very nice for step kicking. We placed pickets for running belays for about 2 pitches until the chute flattened out. After gaining the ridge between the Nisqually and Kautz Glaciers we followed a well travelled path to reach the saddle between Point Success and the summit crater at 14.000 ft around 11.15am. On the way, we only saw 2 or 3 crevasses that where open and we had to step over. After taking an extended rest break we gained the crater rim at noon. The weather was still nice with some clouds occasionally blowing in and out. Since it was already pretty late we only spend about 15 minutes on the crater rim to take some pictures before we started heading down. The descent was unspectacular until we reached the step snow chute. Here, we down climbed the steep part which was no fun because our crampons kept bailing up. The procedure took considerable time. When we did the traverse back to Camp Hazard below the ice cliffs some small rocks came raining down. Nothing happened, but everybody was relieved when we finally unroped in Camp Hazard at 3pm. There seems to be a reason that some people recommend being up and down that part before 10am in order to limit the danger of ice and rock fall...
We arrived in camp 15 minutes later to pack our stuff and descend to the trail head. For some reason a little snow storm descended on us (in mid-June) but it went away as quickly as it came. Go figure... We plunge stepped and glissaded our way down the mountain. We also didn't care to rope up for the Nisqually Glacier crossing. Everybody was tired but we still had to climb up 500ft out of the glacier. Arrived at the parking lot after 7pm, battled bad traffic on I-5, and arrived back in town at 10pm.
This was a great climb. The Kautz Glacier route is less travelled than the DC or Emmons Glacier routes. It is an interesting and very scenic route with a bit of everything: glacier crossings, ridges, a cool looking ice cliff, and a fairly step snow chute. The latter makes this a grade II-III route, but the chute is not bad at all. We used 4 pickets and carried a few ice screws but didn't use them. Spending a rest day at high camp was great: Nobody in our team got any altitude related problems to speak of. It was great to not just reach the summit but also being able to enjoy it.