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Paradise after

Ice fall, Winds and Beautiful Blue Skies on Mt. Rainier

Our group of most­ly long time Moun­tain Mad­ness climbers Matthias, David, Krista and Krista all met at Sec­ond Ascent the morn­ing of July 8th. There had been some last minute changes to our Mt. Rainier trip ros­ter and repeat Moun­tain Mad­ness clients David and Matthias joined the trip only a few weeks pri­or to the climb. How­ev­er hav­ing climbed with MM before, their skills and excite­ment were more than ade­quate for the trip. We com­plet­ed our gear check, packed up and began the dri­ve south to Par­adise, our jump­ing off point for the five day climb.

Mt. Rainier. Moun­tain Mad­ness photo

After a lit­tle bit of a run-around try­ing to check in we were set and ready to begin our hike under a cloud­less blue sky. As many know, the first mile is almost always crowd­ed with day hik­ers and tourists and this day was no dif­fer­ent. But soon we would hard­ly see anoth­er team, except in pass­ing or in the dis­tance. After a lit­tle more than an hour after leav­ing the crowd­ed trail to Camp Muir we turned down a steep snow slope which required a belayed glis­sade, down to the still snow-cov­ered lat­er­al moraine of the Nisqually Glac­i­er. We crossed onto the cen­ter of the glac­i­er and set up our camp with all of Mt. Rainier tow­er­ing above us.

Krista and Krista at our first camp on the Nisqually Glac­i­er . Ian Nichol­son photo

The next morn­ing we awoke to anoth­er day of beau­ti­ful blue skies and we set off towards our next camp, The Cas­tle’. The nor­mal Fan” approach to gain the Wil­son glac­i­er was melt­ed out so we found a route fur­ther to the right which involved some steep­er snow climb­ing next to the mas­sive Nisqually ice fall. Along the way on the low­er Wapowe­ty Cleaver we stopped for some ice climb­ing train­ing in a spec­tac­u­lar crevasse.

David prac­tic­ing ice climb­ing tech­niques on the Wil­son Glac­i­er. Ian Nichol­son photo

After a few hours of refin­ing tech­niques and skills need­ed for the infa­mous ice wall on the upper Kautz we con­tin­ued up anoth­er hour and a half to our camp for the night. The Cas­tle Camp is a spec­tac­u­lar camp perched at 9,200ft on the Wapowe­ty, and we enjoyed a din­ner of deep dish piz­za along with fan­tas­tic views of Mt, Adams, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood and even Mt. Jef­fer­son, which is over 100 miles away.

The next day we awoke and packed up camp in strong winds and began our climb up the unre­lent­ing­ly steep Tur­tle” snow­field whose name derives from its slight resem­blance to a Tur­tle shell when viewed from afar. Above 10,000ft most of the climbers on our team real­ly start­ed to feel the alti­tude and the Tur­tles stren­u­ous nature. At the top of the Tur­tle we reached our high camp at 10,800ft, unof­fi­cial­ly named The New Camp Haz­ard’. The old Camp Haz­ard which is no longer used is a few hun­dred feet high­er but heav­i­ly threat­ened by ice­fall and ser­acs. By mid-day when we arrived at camp, the wind had real­ly start­ed to blow with steady 40 – 50mph winds and occa­sion­al stronger gusts. The wind was extreme­ly vio­lent and even the sim­plest tasks became involved endeav­ors. We began set­ting up camp and improv­ing the exist­ing tent-high rock walls to try and buffer our tents from the wind, but ulti­mate­ly we would suf­fer two bro­ken tent poles. Even light­ing the stoves was an ardu­ous task. Our group tried to go to bed but dur­ing the night the tents flapped inces­sant­ly and I don’t think any­one was able to sleep much. For­tu­nate­ly, the fore­cast for the fol­low­ing day indi­cat­ed that the winds for the next day were sup­posed to die down. Going to sleep that night every­one was ner­vous but excit­ed to make a push for the sum­mit despite the winds, so we thought we would go and give it our best shot.

Sum­mit morn­ing. Krista Wasser­mann photo

Upon aris­ing at 3:30am, the winds had not died down in the least, but the group was will­ing to give it a good try. In the dark we start­ed mak­ing our way up the hill out of camp. We passed anoth­er par­ty, still in tents who were hold­ing due to radio calls from the oth­er side of the moun­tain inform­ing them how bad the winds were.

Our tents get­ting ham­mered by winds at the new Camp Haz­ard at 10,800ft. Ian Nichol­son photo

At 11,200ft we made the tra­verse over the rock step at the top of the Wapowe­ty and tra­versed below the mas­sive Katuz ice cliff. Right before we crossed below the gul­ley to gain the step, sud­den­ly piles of ice blocks came crash­ing down right in front of us giv­ing the group a strong adren­a­line rush. After the ice blocks ceased falling we ran across the gul­ley, exposed to ice fall but keep­ing an eye out for any more activ­i­ty up high. Once below the ice wall we began our climb up two full length pitch­es of awe­some alpine ice to gain the hang­ing bench between the steps.

The group on the first ice step on the Katuz ice cliff. Ian Nichol­son photo

After mov­ing togeth­er we reached the base of the sec­ond and crux ice step. Stretch­ing 350 feet above us this tow­er­ing ice cliff is an impres­sive site to behold. The group quick­ly dis­patched it with their new­ly found ice climb­ing skills, rel­ish­ing in the thud…thud….kick….kick” move­ments of ice climbing.

Krista and Krista on the crux sec­ond ice step of the Kautz cliff. Ian Nichol­son photo

Once past the ice wall we made our way up com­plex glac­i­er trav­el, wind­ing around gap­ing crevass­es. At this point the wind was dying down to a more man­age­able 25 – 35mph. Above 13,000ft there were sev­er­al excit­ing crevasse bridges and it appeared we had the moun­tain to our­selves; no oth­er peo­ple in sight. After near­ly 12 hours of hard fought ter­rain we pulled into the sum­mit crater, crossed the sum­mit rim and took the final steep steps up the Colum­bia Crest and the sum­mit of Mt. Rainier!!!!

The group on the sum­mit of Mt. Rainier 14,411ft! Ian Nichol­son photo

Because of the late hour we did­n’t spend much time on the sum­mit. We snapped a few sum­mit pho­tos, signed the sum­mit reg­is­ter and down we went. We made fast progress down the upper glac­i­er and after a few dou­ble rope length low­ers we were below the ice cliff, over the rock step in Wapowe­ty cleaver and back in camp just before dark. The wind had now almost com­plete­ly stopped, mak­ing camp infi­nite­ly nicer. We ate din­ner, melt­ed some water and went to bed. The next day we woke up to light snow falling and our first over­cast skies of the trip. 

The group back in Par­adise after a suc­cess­ful sum­mit! Ian Nichol­son photo

After break­ing camp we walked down the tur­tle snow­field and crossed the Wil­son and Nisqually glac­i­ers, climb­ing back up the lat­er­al moraine to Glac­i­er Vista. Short­ly after that we were back to our start­ing place, Par­adise, com­plete­ly elat­ed that all of the group had achieved a life-long goal of climb­ing Mt. Rainier.

~ MM Guide Ian Nicholson