We were worthless and weak, thus...
So, Greg and I wimped out of Sufferfest 2009 – with an epic carry-over up the Emmons, down the DC, traverse to the Kautz, up the Kautz and down the Emmons (http://alaskarobb.blogspot.com/2009/07/mt-rainier-2009-climb-1.html)– instead deciding that pizza and beer sounded much more appetizing than carrying large packs up and over the peak twice. Therefore, it was time to make up for it and do a car-to-car climb of the Kautz Glacier, descending via the Disappointment Cleaver. After resting for two days at my Aunt and Uncles house overlooking Lake Washington in Seattle – eating copious amounts of cheesecake and blaring classic rock over their speaker system (we had scared them off to their cabin up north, and had the house to ourselves), we headed back to Mt. Rainier; this time to the crowded Paradise trailhead instead of White River.
Arriving at the ranger station, we registered for our climb the following day – and found to our amusement that the rangers were still trying to figure out how to enter “through climbers” (those not stopping to camp anywhere) into their system, so they ended up registering us for summit camp – a place we sure didn’t want to end up staying at considering a weather system was due to come in Sunday afternoon and it was going to be quite cold and windy up there (We were starting the climb in the wee hours of Sunday AM).
In a day you ask? Well, it’s not uncommon for people to go ahead and climb Rainier in a day – though most ascents are 2-3 day trips. We kind of figure why camp and carry a tent though if you don’t have to! I'd be lying if I said there isn't a trick – “what is it?” you might be thinking? Well, I think everyone has their own little tricks. Some train hard, get acclimated, sleep and eat healthy, but I’ve got a little trick that I’m going to share about big car to car days. What is it? Simple… Cheesecake. Deep dark double-chocolate cheesecake (DDDCC). Greg unfortunately had to rely on the standard training methods for success as he is rather lactose intolerant (don’t get caught sleeping in the back of the same car or tent with him after he’s ingested dairy products), but I made sure to ingest a healthy dose of DDDCC after a parking lot pasta dinner, and another first thing in the morning at 2AM when we woke up for our alpine start. Let me tell you – there’s nothing better to start off an alpine day than DDDCC.
Hitting the trail (5400’) right at 3AM, we saw that our nearly full moon was in inconveniently in the process of setting a couple hours before sunrise. Luckily though, I’d been on the beginning of the trail the year prior in similar snow coverage, and so we quickly made our way to the approximate area of the branch-off where we would head across the lower Nisqually glacier to “the fan”. As we crossed the Nisqually, the sky began to slowly gain some hues of brightness, and the mountain began to take shape in front of us. Behind, Mt. Adams dominated the pink and blue horizon, highlighting a beautiful panorama. Greg and I had lost a little time finding our way off the main Muir trail and onto the Nisqually in the dark, but quickly gained pace as we headed up “the fan” and above – going from only gaining about 1500 feet in the first 2 hours, to averaging 1500+ feet an hour when moving up to the turtle and the Kautz.
Around 4500’ up the route, we encountered a few tents of people camping on the route, and a little higher up as we approached Camp Hazard (~11,300’) we passed some people coming down the route having camped the night before up higher (and maybe having summitted that morning?). Near Camp Hazard there was a fixed line rappel down a small cliff to keep from having to hike up to the ice cliffs and then back down (saving those who used it about 200 vertical feet of scrambling), but detesting fixed lines, and hoping to find some black barrels for our morning “blue bags”, we continued hiking through Camp Hazard to the ice cliffs (sans finding a place to deposit the morning’s business, thus requiring a shitty carryover), hiked down a couple hundred feet below the ice-cliffs, and then traversed over to the ice-pitches of the route.
The two ice pitches of the route were the “money pitches” – the best part of the whole thing. Varying between 50-60 degrees of slightly rotten, but safe, ice, the pitches were not difficult by any means, but were a lot of fun to literally run up using all four spiked appendages, and simul-climb with Greg. Having only a 100’ rope and 6 ice screws, I ran it out about 45-50’ between screw placements trying to keep from having to re-stock gear as much as possible on each “pitch”. Along the sides of the pitches were moderate to huge ice pillars, giant neve penitentes, lining the route and giving it a surreal atmosphere. They also were handy rappel anchors for those descending the route. It was beautiful. On the second pitch we encountered a party rappelling down, and to keep from receiving too much ice-fall from them I went ahead and climbed as fast as I could to get to their side and out of the firing range. Greg and I even managed to climb the entire pitch, with one anchor built to re-supply me with ice-screws, in the time it took them to set-up and do one rappel down the face. We were moving quick, and it felt GREAT.
At the top of the ice section, the climb tapered back off to ~2400’ of slogging up sun-cupped snow. We followed the intermittent tracks working their way up towards the top, and as we crested a rock formation around 13000’ were greeted by some amazingly beautiful, waste to chest high, thin ice flakes which we basically slalomed through to get back on the snow field continuing up the glacier towards the summit. At this point we were maintaining about 1700’ feet per hour as our climbing pace and decided to do our best to reach the summit sub 9 hours. We could feel our legs burning and lungs working hard in the slightly thinner atmosphere, but kept pushing, receiving a boost from the increasing winds at times (luckily travelling up hill), to reach the top in about 9 hours and 18 minutes – not bad for two guys just out for a days fun!
We hung around at the top (14, 410’) briefly as we were getting blown sideways and frozen solid by 80-90 mph winds (the winds on the summit and crater rim were much higher than those just down the slope a bit which were probably only 20-30 mph), got a couple pictures, grabbed another layer, and started descending towards the Disappointment Cleaver.
The Cleaver was really interesting this year in that large seracs, and a huge single crevasse caused the route to be strongly diverted to the climber’s right directly above the cleaver. Last year at a similar time when I was on the route it was able to go straight up the face through where these obstacles now sat. It made for beautiful scenery though, which we admired on our way down to Muir. Lower down where we dropped into Cathedral Gap within site of camp Muir, the winds blasted us like with scree like a sandblaster. This made me jealous of Greg’s goggles, but he needed them much more than I, as I was traveling directly in front of him and kicking up more rocks and dirt for him to be blasted with.
Arriving at Muir, we finally deposited our blue bags, and had originally planned on making water since we had never added to the 2 liters a piece we started the day with, but feeling lazy we just lounged around for about 30-40 minutes chatting with the climbing ranger and snacking. Finally, we started moving down the Muir snow field, boot skiing as we went, and about an hour later were back at the car with a total car to car (or should I say truck to truck) time of 13 hrs flat. What a great day! Then it was back to Seattle, where we cooked up a steak dinner and drank martinis with my Aunt, Uncle and cousin to finish up. It was, well…. Brilliant. A 9000’ day on ice and snow, and a steak dinner. What more could a guy ask for?!
(Originally posted at alaskarobb.blogspot.com for climbers and non-climbers alike, so my apologize for the simplified explanations and style. I've posted it on summitpost as well by request of a friend.)