Mount Rainier: No Disappointment On The Disappointment Cleaver
Mount Rainier (Tahoma)
From July 13 starting at 8:00PM to July 15 ending at 6:00 PM, 2010
60M Dry-proof Dynamic Climbing rope (1)
Personal Anchors (3)
2-way radios (3)
Snow Shovel (1)
Jetboil Stoves (2) with extra fuel
Top Ramen (plenty)
Compasses and maps (2 shared)
Three Person Tent (1)
One Person Bivy (1)
Duct Tape (plenty)
Same as per listed on the SummitPost Mount Rainier page
Starting Elevation: 5,560'
Highest Elevation: 14,411'
Elevation Difference: 8,851'
Total Elevation Gain: 9,000'
Distance Traveled: ~20 Miles roundtrip (switchbacks included – standard is 14)
Route: Disappointment Cleaver
Brief Description of route:
We wanted to summit via the Ingraham Direct route, but Park Rangers and RMI discourage using this route, as large crevasses have begun to form. An aluminum ladder that was spanning a 10' wide crevasse was taken down earlier in the week as the crevasse opened up further causing the ladder to lose purchase. It is now considered out of season.
From Camp Muir (10,080') we went to Ingraham Flats (11,200') to sleep. An unusually wet spring and warm summertime temperatures significantly weakened the rock en route to Ingraham Flats. Wet and thawing layers of tephra loosened layers of rock causing rock-fall throughout the day below Gibralter Rock, Cowlitz Cleaver and Disappointment Cleaver. We tried to avoid these aspects when they were receiving direct sunlight. The beginning of the route is very strait-forward. There are a couple fixed lines by RMI to help clients deal with the rock exposure on the Disappointment Cleaver at the start. Once on top the cleaver, at about 12,270', the climber's boot path meanders over to the Ingraham glacier as it connects with the Emmons to form the summit ice cap. There are several crevasses that must be crossed or bypassed. Only a couple of them are particularly impressive. Some are beginning to merge right on the climber's trail, especially around 13,000' so take care to avoid possibly collapsing snow-bridges. (There are no reports of climbers falling into crevasses yet, but don't let that give you a false sense of security; you don’t want to be the first statistic of the season - rope up.) The current path accesses the crater rim from the SSE. Once on the summit crater, there is an obvious boot-path that goes to the North of the USGS marker. You must search the summit crater for the Register as it is not at the highest point, but under a large rock along the rim. I could not find it, so I put a word in to a Park Ranger. It is not buried in snow or ice. We descended via the same route, making slight adjustments as conditions change (navigating opening crevasses, avoiding extremely wet snow or rock-fall).
Josh and I did a little research on the route, current conditions, and weather to avoid any unnecessary surprises. Weather for the week, as predicted by the NOAA database was for clear skies with high/low temps at 10,000’ about 60/20 degrees Fahrenheit and 15/25 degrees at 14,000’. Winds were supposed to be between 17 and 30 MPH. I didn’t quite trust the optimistic forecast model because I saw that their Infrared Satellite feed showed a small trough about 500 miles off the coast in the Northern Pacific Ocean. Given the wind-speed and general Jet-stream direction it appeared it would be coming in within a few days. I was a little nervous about whether or not we would make it in three days before the disturbance arrived. It wouldn’t be too big of an impact so it stayed relatively back in my mind. Regarding the route, Ingraham Direct would have been nice and easy, but reports from MRNPS claimed that aluminum ladders used to span crevasses (one 10 foot crevasse in particular) were beginning to lose purchase from the widening of the gap. RMI had considered it out of season. It would be too risky, so we tossed that route out. It was looking like the Disappointment Cleaver would be our route. I have heard from others that have summited Rainier that the cleaver has some exposure and YDS Class II scrambling. Fortunately, this year there are some fixed ropes strung up on the most exposed sections of the rock, taking a lot of the edge out of the climb. Now it is no more than a boot-path up the entire cleaver with very few places where you actually have to use your hands. Unless you clip into the line with a caribbeaner, though, the danger of fall is still lethal. Altitude can make even an easy maneuver become difficult. We would be going without a guide; without a leader who had been up Rainier before, so we wanted to make sure things went smoothly. For the previous weeks we practiced Z-pulley and went on some good hikes/climbs for training (Mount Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Lyman Lakes, Sahale). I knew that I would need to go as prepared as possible but still cut weight where it is unnecessary. (I think I’m starting to get it dialed down, but I’m still not comfortable with the weight on the descent) We took the Metro bus from Snohomish county line to University Street in Seattle to connect to Sound Transit to Tacoma Station. Bill Rogers picked us up in his awesome Odyssey van and we went to Paradise to meet up with Adam Anderson and car camp.
We woke up around sunrise and organized gear for the climb. We originally planned on making this a three day climb, which should have been quite comfortable for us first timers (guided climbs of Rainier usually last 2 days). Adam, being used to scaling 14,000’ peaks in Colorado in only a day, thought it was overkill and had already made plans for the weekend with someone else on Mount Baker (he even suggested that it was possible to climb it in a day if one went very light – I explained how that case was usually with experienced RMI guides and Park Ranger legends who held ascent records; that we were mere mortals). We discussed this difference of opinion and decided to see how we would handle the climb up to Ingraham Flats and make decisions as conditions changed.
At the registration lodge, a message board indicated the weather, temperature and winds for the next three days. Friday was predicted to become windier (30-40 MPH) and clouds would move in. It wouldn’t be significant but might have a negative effect on our summit prospects. If we used the next day to acclimatize, there was a possibility that summit day would be too windy. Adam was nervous because he had attempted to climb Mount Adams the day prior and had to turn around due to the intense winds. I assured him that if the NPS forecast at Muir showed deteriorating conditions, that we would make our climb on Thursday instead. Bill was a little apprehensive because he would be our senior in the group. He was not sure how he’d handle ascending so fast. I must admit that I was a little worried myself. In June I had climbed Mount Shasta in California with EastKing and some of his associates, which was a bittersweet experience. We camped at Lake Helen, which is 10,400’, to acclimatize for a day. One of EK’s friends gave me a Diamox tablet to help me cope with a headache and the next day I was strong enough to tackle the mountain. The associates, however, weren’t able to finish the climb. I wasn’t sure how much of that success was from the pill, so for Rainier I knew I would be pacing very slow. It would be harder to do if I only had two days to summit. As we made our way up to Camp Muir I tried to maintain good cheer and stayed back with Bill to monitor his pace and keep restraint on mine.
The snow was packed firmly (which was a pleasant surprise) and began pretty much right away. We had a particularly wet spring so I expected to be in snow almost every step of the way. The weather was perfect and we had dozens and dozens of fellow climbers for company. We met two RMI guided groups, a First Ascent guided climb and a group from OSAT (One Step At a Time – an AA recovery group). There were also a few small groups like ourselves. It was a comfort to know there were others that we could share the mountain with and that could possibly help us out if trouble struck. We made it a point to stay close to them as we travelled to our camp. Originally we were going to camp at Muir, but when I mentioned it to Adam, he felt it would be more useful with our time to head over to Ingraham Flats. I knew the extra stress would slow Bill and might hurt his chances of making the summit, but as long as he had the extra day to rest, I would agree to it. Another factor to consider was the exposure on Cathedral Gap. There was a constant rockfall that would become detrimental to the group's safety if we couldn't keep a uniform pace. We would have to pass through quickly. Most of the guided groups headed up in the morning, but I was pretty sure that for us, being a smaller group, that had the potential to be more dangerous. During the morning that we would be climbing (12:00 – 2:00 AM) there was a possibility that it would be icy and the prospect didn’t sit well with me. We would be avoiding some of the rock-fall potential becaus it would be frozen in place but it didn't completely eliminate the danger. Bill and I were far behind Josh and Adam because of our slower pace so they ended up waiting at Camp Muir for a while.
When Bill and I got there we had to break and it was obvious that Bill was not handling the altitude so well. We became concerned that he may not actually summit. Adam, Josh and I discussed our options and asked Bill what he thought. If we stayed at Ingraham an extra day, Bill might acclimatize and have the strength to go for the summit, but the weather could also turn and ruin the summit for all of us. If we tried to push for it the very next day, it would be difficult for us, and I thought that Bill and I might not summit. I was also worried about leaving Bill unattended if he had to stop and turn around. It eventually came down to weather, endurance and company. If we went the next day, there would be three professional guide services and NPS rangers available to help if anything happened (although they would be a little pissed) and good weather. If we went the day after there was a possibility for bad weather and we might be alone; which were not good prospects. We confirmed this at Ingraham Flats. A group coming down had told us they left a couple snow pits for us, which was very generous and helpful.
We set up camp, ate lots of Top Ramen and boiled water for the next day. The other climbers at the flats had set up their prussics and rope for the climb ahead of time. I admired the idea, but it seemed time consuming given how much sleep we would get if we tried it. We planned on waking up a little later than most climbs (about 3:00 AM) to allow us more rest. It seemed like a prudent thing to do as most guided clients would take at least an hour to get up to Cathedral Gap and then they would probably do a gear check at the flats. Adam and I had this strategy that we would stay close to the front or rear of the guides to help us set pace and act as a security blanket. We tried to get in front of both groups but didn’t finish preparing our stuff for the climb (on a summit day you usually just carry a down, raingear, water, first-aid and a little food) until the first group began up the route. We squeezed in between the two RMI groups and started up towards the Disappointment Cleaver. The fixed ropes took out a lot of what little punch the cleaver might have had in it. It still required a few moves that necessitated use of hands for balance but they were few. It is still very snow-covered so most of the route is actually a low angle (less than 40 degrees) switch-backing snow-climb. At the top of Disappointment Cleaver Bill called his bid. He gave it his best shot. There were about five other people and he would descend with them to camp (they had also gotten as far as they were willing to go.) We turned on our two way radios giving one to Bill and kept two others (he periodically called in for our position). We arranged the rope for three (Josh, Adam and I) and started up the climber’s boot-path to the summit. The air was thinning and each step became something that I had to carefully calculate. Walking on a glacier with 10 spikes on each foot, roped between two people going up hill, even though there was an obvious path is not as simple as it sounds. Adam was accustomed to the 14,000’ air and he was leading but was not accustomed to travelling on a glacier with apartment sized seracs and crevasses that could swallow a Nimitz class destroyer whole. There’s much caution that goes into each step and one must constantly gage and adjust slack and the angle of the rope especially when maneuvering around crevasses. It’s not the physical difficulty but the importance of each move. Not to say that it wasn’t difficult for myself; I was pushing my endurance with each step. We got to 13,000’ around sunrise and took a break off the trail to take in the view and some water. I snapped a few photos of Little Tahoma, Mount Adams, Adam and Josh.
I could tell they both had a good deal of energy and coordination. I knew that I couldn’t quite match their pace but as long as I didn’t get a headache, I continued to push on. I could tell that if I pushed too hard I would get sick as each breath I drew was a very deliberate and conscious effort. I was a little past my comfort zone, but without that bit of hardship, the climb would have been way too easy. My body had the energy, but the mountain wasn’t about to give me the oxygen to use it. I consider mountains like this a success when you overcome something. For some it’s a mental burden such as work or their marriage. For others it’s challenges from the mountain such as weather, crevasses, or technical challenges on ice. For me, it was my exercise induced asthma. Without it, and with such prime conditions, the mountain may not have been something to which I could accurately challenge myself. We met many groups going up. Passed and then got passed. At one point I was certain we were only 900 feet from the summit then 300 feet later as we passed around a serac I was stunned to find out we had another 1,000 feet to go to the crater. The distance was an illusion. It is impossible to properly judge distances in these mountains. There is absolutely no good measure for scale up there. A seasonal layer of ice that would be inches at 5,000 feet that is exposed on the edge of a serac becomes several feet thick at 14,000 feet. When someone descended from the crater rim, it became obvious that it was much closer. I don’t recall an amount of time passing; it felt like eternity. It must have been quick though, because when we arrived at the summit crater, there was still a golden alpine glow lighting up Columbia Crest.
A quarter mile away, I knew that at sea-level I could close the gap in 90 seconds. But up here in this oxygen poor environment, it would be at least 12-15 minutes before I got to the rim. I hear that some people call it quits here. I cannot imagine why someone would do that! Short of AMS, HAPE, broken legs or bad weather, there seems no reason for going this far and quitting. The crater is usually not crevassed and winds are calm inside. We walked the final couple hundred feet much the same as a car-crash victim coming out of physical rehab. Then, for some reason, within 25 feet of the summit, Josh and I sprint as fast as we can to what could be the highest point in the state (I knew that I would collapse, and expected to enjoy the much wanted rest). After a minute of panting we both got up and took a few pictures.
To the South we saw what looked like it could be a higher point. I suggested that the top would have a USGS marker so we might not be on the top yet. We casually walked to the last visible high-point and sure enough there was a marker on bare rock. I looked around it for the summit register for a few minutes but to no avail. I thought to myself, “I guess this climb will have to be unrecorded,” which for me was only a little upsetting. Adam snapped our picture on the summit and said he was getting cold. I would have loved to stay for a couple hours more, but Adam and Josh probably would’ve protested so we descended the way we came up. Temperatures warmed as the day moved on and I found myself peeling down to my undergarments at 14,000’. The snow had begun to thaw out and I ended up slipping quite a bit which made it hard to maintain proper distance on the rope. It also made me worry about the snow-bridges we would have to re-cross on the way down. Luckily there was no incident and we made it back to camp without having to rig a pulley. Bill was taking a nap and awoke to help us break down camp. We ate, talked and packed up. We all seemed to be in agreement that the trip turned out the best that it could have; that we tested our measure to its fullest and got as far as we safely could. Everyone was in good spirits (at least on the outside). Adam had to go early to check back with plans to meet his friend at Mount Baker. We shook hands and he was on his way while we took down our tent and talked a little with Bill. Bill will be back, and I know I will be as well (summit register and photo for cataloging.) We went down to Paradise at our own paces and took in the view on our way out. On the way I over heard some people say how they were amazed at how nice the folks were high up on the mountain. I considered this for a moment. It seems that for common survival, people are generous out of necessity up here. I slapped on the sunscreen like no tomorrow and took a particularly long rest at Pebble Creek. I felt like I was missing something. I took the quiet time to ask myself some deeply personal questions about my life and motives for climbing. Often I do not know why I climb; I only know that I feel more alive when I do it - other than that, no answers. Before wasting an hour, I headed back to the parking lot. It was amazing how many people were down there (hundreds) compared with the day before. I didn’t know it was that packed even on a weekday. I was surprised to see Adam, Bill and Josh were all conversing by Bill’s van about the tourists who visit Rainier. How curious, that these people come all this way, only just to play at the parking lot.
Info Table (approximation of conditions en route; it may not code properly… I will fix this later.)
Location(s): Elevation Day/Time arrived/departed Conditions Weather
Paradise Parking Lot 5,560' July 13th, 8:00 PM/July 14th, 8:45 AM Mostly Dry; Icy 32*F Partly Cloudy -warmed to 45*F
Paradise Information Center 5,600' July 14th, 9:00 AM/9:20 AM Patchy Snow 45*F Sunny; calm
Panorama Point 7,250' 10:00 AM Wet Corn Snow; 4" Post 60*F Sunny; calm
Moon Rocks 8,170' 12:30 AM Wet Corn Snow; 3" Post 55*F Sunny; calm
Camp Muir 10,080' 3:30 PM/5:30 PM Mostly Dry; Patchy Snow 45*F Sunny; calm
Ingraham Flats 11,200' July 14th, 7:00 PM/July 15th, 2:30 AM Solid Firn; 2" Post 40*F Sunny; calm -chilled to 20*F
Disappointment Cleaver (top) 12,270' July 15th, 4:00 AM Solid Firn; 2" Post 15*F Clear Skies; wind NE 17-25 MPH
Ingraham Glacier 12,500' 4:30 AM Solid Firn; 2" Post 20*F Clear Skies; wind N 17 MPH
Summit Icecap 13,000' 6:00 AM Thawing Firn; 3" Post 23*F Sunny; winds light and variable
Crater Rim 14,100' 7:00 AM Solid Firn; 2" Post 25*F Sunny; no wind inside crater
Rainier Summit 14,411' 7:30 AM Firn and Rime 15*F Sunny; wind W 30-40 MPH (-5*F chill)
Ingraham Flats " " 10:00 AM/12:00 PM Wet Corn Snow; 4" Post 45*F Sunny; wind WNW 15 MPH
Camp Muir " " 12:30 PM/1:30 PM " " 50*F Sunny; calm
Pebble Creek 6,900' 2:00 PM/3:30 PM Wet Corn Snow; 5" Post 60*F Sunny; calm
Paradise Visitor Center 5,560' 5:00 PM/5:30 PM Dry 70*F Sunny; calm
(still need to fix that table)
I did not have the same religious/epiphany/euphoric end experience I asumed automatically came from climbing Rainier. But perhaps that's because it was something that I drew gradually while on the mountain. Perhaps I do not yet fully understand the gravity of my accomplishment. In any case, I'd like to thank all the people who have helped me make this experience possible. Thankyou to EastKing and Gimpilator for your valuable training in z-pulley crevasse rescue technique, winter snow-climbs and inspiration to push the endurance while maintaining the most important aspect of climbing: putting personal safety above all else. Thankyou to Bill Rogers for making the effort to carpool us out to Rainier, lending food and good humor to our trip. You gave it your best shot and showed good character. Thanks to Adam Anderson for coming thousands of miles to join our team. Without your Colorado endurance we might not have made it up. You put up with my slow pace and helped push us when we needed it on the summit icecap. You were more than patient with us and didn't seem bothered by our quirks. Thanks for taking the time to review some glacier travel safety measures. They may not have seemed necessary at the time but they will serve you well in the future. She probably won't read this, but thanks to my mother, Annetta. You helped fund our trip and let us earn your confidence. Summitpost and all its members: you are a valulable asset to all my climbs. Thank you for your support.