Kautz Glacier Route – 10-15 July 2010
Team: Ken Cragin (Leader), Matt Chan (Co-leader), Laura Alexander, Ben Steel, Greg Bergen, Yaro Levchenko
Our team’s attempt at climbing Mt. Rainier (14,410 ft) via the Kautz Glacier Route was a great success! All six of the team made it to the top!! Everyone arrived in Seattle on Saturday, 10 July. We picked up groceries and other misc. supplies on Sunday, then drove out to Paradise Inn. Having the afternoon off, the team took a walk around the snowfields near the Inn. Cloud cover started dropping in in the late afternoon.
On Monday (12 Jul), we started our climb at about 7 am from Paradise Inn (5,400 ft). The clouds were low in the valley in the morning and we started our climb in white out conditions.
The wind forecast for that day was 50+ mph. A few skiers coming down the hill stopped to tell us how bad it was at the top. One guy said he camped at 8,600 ft. and his tent blew apart. Another couple said they camped higher, over 10,000 ft, and winds the previous night were 70 mph, from all directions. We thanked them for the reports. Fortunately, we never experienced the high wind on our climb up, but the wind did pick up as we climbed. Since we had the next day to continue moving up, we camped around 9,200 ft to avoid potentially higher winds that night that may occur at higher elevations.
On our second day we moved our camp up to 10,800 ft. What was really great upon arriving were the excellent tent platforms, with really high sidewalls, that were waiting and unoccupied at the site, saving us an hour or more of work. As Laura Alexander, Ken Cragin and Greg raised their tent, a wind gust caught it and sent it sailing, as Laura Alexander and Greg hung onto it by the guidelines. It ripped a guideline off the tent, but the three wrestled it back to the ground; Minor disaster avoided!
After setting up tents, Greg was watching the Ice Cliff in the chute on the Kautz when a large section avalanched. We heard from some folks that were actually climbing in the chute, above the cliff, when it happened that the avalanche rolled into a crevasse below and filled it up. Matt managed to get some pictures of the snow dust rising from the avalanche (see trip photos).
The rest of afternoon we rested, hydrated and reduced our packs to essential gear for the summit. We tried to sleep early in evening, arising at 11:30 pm to pack. We started climbing at 1 am.
Due to amount of snow still on the route, we were able to climb the first technical section in the ice chute in just over an hour. (It took us 3 hrs last year to climb that same section!). In the steeper second section (~60 degree slope), Ken Cragin set three snow picket anchors as he led the first team over, just as a precaution. After that, the remaining obstacles were climbing through some steep terrain, crossing/climbing over a few big crevasses, watching for any ice/rock fall and dealing with the higher altitude as we made our way to the top.
Without any major problems, everyone made it to the top, around 6:45 am. The team celebrated with photos, took a few minutes to enjoy the view, then headed back down to camp to avoid soft snow conditions that would occur as the sun warmed the snow throughout the morning. On the way down, Ken set an anchor at the top of the ice chute, and the team rappelled down the top steep pitch.
Overall, we made it back to camp, roundtrip, in 10 hours (less than the 12+ hr we had imagined it may be). We spent the day relaxing, chatting, drinking water (!), taking photographs and eating or napping. At high camp it was about 55F temp in the sun, during both days, and comfortable enough for some of us to hang out in shorts. The weather was great and there were great views throughout the trip. At high camp the clouds generally formed a wicked undercast in valley below us.
The next day we descended the mountain, and were tired but happy when we arrived back at Paradise. On our way back to Seattle we stopped at the Whittaker shop and grabbed some food and drink while we talked over our recent adventure. After we showered, we enjoyed a great seafood dinner together in Seattle on the waterfront at Elliott’s Oyster House.
The trip was a wonderful experience. We made new climbing friends and climbed with existing friends, worked hard to achieve our goal (made it!), and got along really well. We much appreciated our luck with the weather, and the great leadership of Ken.