Mt Rainier (14411 ft)
Kautz Glacier Ski Descent
June 9-10, 2013
Adam and I had just returned from a successful expedition to Denali last week so our friend, Day, called us up to see if we'd be interested in climbing and skiing Mt Rainier. "Heck yeah!", was our reply. There's nothing like being acclimated to 17,000' and then climbing a 14,000' mountain! It's almost cheating, but we had certainly put our work in over the last two weeks, carrying heavy loads up and down Denali.
We met at my house Sunday morning around 10am and loaded up Day's truck. We had planned to go light, so we made all our gear fit in 28-35 liter back packs.
The Paradise parking lot was very full Sunday afternoon and we were fortunate to find a parking spot. We walked over to the Climbing Ranger Station in that old RMI Guide House and registered for the climb. Initially we were thinking of climbing the Dissappointment Cleaver Route or possibly the Gibralter Ledges, but in the end we wrote down "Fuhrer Finger" for our intended ascent and descent.
once we were all geared up we started skinning up from the parking lot when I remembered that I didn't have a lighter or matches for the MSR Reactor stove I had brought. Fortunately we hadn't gone very far so I just skied back down and borrowed a lighter from one of the Guest Services employees in the Inn.
Disaster averted, we continued on our way up around Alta Vista and almost to Glacier Vista where we saw a wand and skied down a moderate slope to the moraine bordering the Nisqually Glacier. We met three parties coming out after a day of crevasse rescue practice. We left the moraine and skied across and up the otherside of the glacier. Soon we were following a ridge up towards the Fuher Finger and Kautz Glacier routes. We could see many wet slides down below and crowns from avalanches that happened after last weeks' snows. Around 9000' we met two climbers outside their tent who told us about the high winds the night before. They told us that another party who had been camped higher up had their tent ripped apart because of the powerful winds and they had helmets and other gear blown out of their tent in the middle of the night.
We were more than a little concerned since we had only brought my ultralight Black Diamond Mega Mid Light (a floorless tent supported by only one pole). We continued up the ridge to several tent sites that had been leveled in the snow behind a large rock outcropping. Day, Adam and I all agreed that this location offered the best protection against any prevaling winds from the west.
With our light packs we were able to cruise up to our bivy site in about two hours. It was great traveling on skis! The crevasses were covered up for the most part so we kept the rope in Adam's pack for the duration of the trip. Thanks, Adam! It was the best we could do to try to slow him down. And for not having been acclimated or having the benefit of climbing everyday for the past two weeks, Day did great to keep up the pace Adam set.
Day and Adam set up the MegaMid while I broke out the Reactor stove and started melting snow for us. From our elevation we had a great view to the south with Mt Adams, Mt St Helens, Goat Rocks, Mt Hood, and even Mt Jefferson far off in the distance.
Once we had camp set up we ate our deli sandwiches that we picked up in Eatonville and I enjoyed a Mountain House Beef Stroganoff and Noodles dinner that I had left over from Alaska. With full bellies we crawled into our sleeping bags, set our alarms for 3:30am and fell asleep.
I didn't think I slept very well, but the next thing I remember was Day's phone alarm going off. Being in the middle, I carefully put on my boots, stepped over Adam and went outside the tent to retrieve the Reactor. I was suprised to see the morning light beginning to appear in the east. Adam joked that he wasn't used to this "darkness thing". Having spent 17 days in northern Alaska where the sun never sets this time of year, I could understand his point. I nearly forgot to pack my headlamp for this trip!
After two cups of coffee and the rest of my deli sandwich, we put on our boots, lashed our skis to our packs, strapped on our crampons and started kicking steps up the steep snow slopes. We secured our pads and sleeping bags inside the MegaMid just in case the strong winds returned. The night before we had a few gusts that shook the tent but it held just fine.
We made our way up the slopes to the "turtle" and crossed under and to the left of it. I mistakenly lead us straight up a rocky section rather than skirting underneath and to the left of a rocky buttress. From down below it appeared that the route left would take us through some pretty broken up glacier but in hindsight, that was the way we should have gone. By going the way I chose, we had to ascend the rocky ridge to under the icefall, then quickly downclimb steep, avalanche debris. Not wanting more of the icefall to come down on us, we moved fast to get out from underneath the looming seracs.
This lead us to the bottom of a steep snow face the climbed up to the left of the broken up icefall. We talked about roping up but with only three icescrews between us and no pickets, we chose to remain unroped and continue soloing up the route.
The steep slope eventually eased back and we were able to gain a rocky shoulder above the Upper Nisqually Icefall. I was a little bit ahead of Adam and Day, so I waited here in the shelter of some rocks to get out of the cold, strong, wind. We were above 12,000' and Day began feeling the altitude.
We regrouped and took a short break then continued to kick steps up and to the right. Here we crossed a few large crevasses to where we could see the rocks along the crater rim. We were very close now! I had pulled ahead again and dropped into the crater rim and skinned across to the true summit. While it was still clear, the winds had picked up considerably and were steady and no longere gusts. I didn't stay long on the summit before I got cold and skied back across and down to Day and Adam where they had stopped a couple hundred yards below.
They had eaten something that didn't agree with their stomachs and had stopped. So we decided to ski back down the route. The first few thousand feet was pretty firm and crusty but once we got to the steep, narrow section, the snow turned to beautiful spring corn and we had a blast skiing back down to our camp in the sunshine!
Once back down at our camp site, we all took short naps and filled our water bottles back up. It didn't take long to break down the tent and roll up our pads and sleeping bags. Soon we were shredding the corn back down the ridge to the Nisqually and up the otherside to the Alta Vista area.
It was great to finally have the experience of not only climbing the Kautz Glacier route but also skiing off the summit! Thanks Day and Adam for another great day in the mountains!