Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Needles Holiday

Luke leads up Atlantis (5.11c).

Two weeks after our previous weekend out at the Needles, Lin and I decided to join a bunch of friends heading back to the Needles for Labor Day. Luke and Lizzie (from were there, as was the "Josh and Josh" show and the rest of the gang. After driving up Friday night, Saturday we headed back out towards the crag with much better weather than a couple weeks prior. As the Needles tower came into full view, I finally started to get truly excited about the weekend's upcoming adventures. We had a list of climbs we wanted to try, but weren't too certain yet about what that would be. Luke and Lin and I talked about our theories on when it is best to try your harder objective - early when you're fresh and ready, or later when you're used to the rock, but maybe not quite as strong. Being one who normally feels he burns out quickly and doesn't have much endurance, I was in favour of just jumping on the hard stuff to start. Lin, on the other hand, definitely believes in warm-up climbs to get the blood flowing, and get used to the rock. Luke... well, it depends on the climb. This all came up as I had aspirations to try the sustained 5.11b climb "Don Juan" on this trip, and was trying to think of when it would be best to try it.

Arriving at the crag, we quickly noticed that there were a lot of people there. Especially on the popular climbs around the "Witch", "Sorcerer" and "Charlatan" walls. We decided not to start directly on Don Juan, and instead headed for Lin's wish - "Fancy Free", a classic 5.10. Unfortunately, arriving at the base we saw there was already a party of 3 on the route, and they were moving SLOW. So, while waiting for them, we looked through the book, and saw another nearby route called "Bad Fortune" which has a 5.11c face crux, or can go at 5.10 A0 by aiding on bolts through the crux. I led up, and actually found that the climb wasn't too bad with my long reach, and enjoyed the first pitch immensely. Unfortunately, while statically looking at the crux moves while at a smearing stance, my foot slipped, and I lost the onsight - too bad, since none of the moves were very hard. Lin followed up, having more problems due to her smaller reach, and then we rapped off the first pitch thinking that the party of 3

Lindsey follows P3 of Fancy Free.

had moved far enough off Fancy Free and we could start climbing that. In the meantime, Luke and Lizzie were making fast progress up another route, 5.11c Atlantis, and it was fun to watch Luke just cruise the pitches on lead. Lin wanted the classic second pitch, so I took the first. A fun pitch, not trivial despite it's 5.9 rating. Lin then took the second pitch, cruising it and running it out a bit at the end to make it to the anchors on a few small pieces far below... anchors unfortunately still occupied by the other group. Soon they had moved on though, and I followed up and led the last pitch - another fun, varying pitch with fingers, off-widthing, diagonal hand jams, and a fun exposed top-out move.

After some lunch (friggin' wasps were ridiculously aggressive at getting their share), we decided we'd traverse in to

Sunset at our Needles camp.

another 5.10 classic, "Airy Interlude" on the witch, and climb the classic pitch of that route before calling it a day. Unfortunately, once we had traversed halfway to it, we realized there was another party hang-dogging their way up it piece-by-piece. Not realizing how long they too would take, we hung around for probably about an hour and half or so until they were far enough along for us to start up. In the meantime though, we were able to watch Josh lead, and Luke follow, up Pyromania (5.13), an impressive line below the Sorcerer. They headed out, and then we finally blasted out our route, myself leading both pitches (Lin had led the upper one 2 weeks prior as part of Igor Unchained), and finishing just in time to reach the packs as darkness hit. A later day than we'd hoped for thanks to our hold-ups, but a lot of fun... so we stashed our gear for the next day, and headed back the 2+ miles to camp by headlamp.

Back the next morning, we had one main mission for the day, and that was "Thin Ice" (5.10b) on the Sorcerer... and I still had hopes for Don Juan (5.11b), which shared the same start. We got to the base a little late again, but racked up and headed to Thin Ice. Talking with others, it sounded like Lin would be the

Lindsey leads P2 of Thin Ice.

strongest for the second pitch, so I led up the first pitch to the base of the OW section. Quickly upon starting up the very steep route, I realized I was actually a bit tired and sore from the day before, and today was not going to be the day for Don Juan. Leading clean, I still rested whenever a good foot allowed and took way too long to lead the first pitch. While belaying Lin up, I had a great view of Luke and Lizzie on sport book, and now would really like to go back and do that climb. Lin followed in good style, and soon she was at the base and ready for pitch 2... a 60-70M rope stretcher (depending on what tree you belay from) to the top. She really made me proud working up through the crux start OW with a hand-ish crack in the back, and then ran it out at the top (all while wishing she had another #2 camalot). A proud lead. I followed, blowing my foot right at the beginning, but catching myself on a finger jam... as usual, my well-scarred hands cracked and were torn open, and I painted the rest of the jams on the OW a nice crimson red. Then up to the top, to finish another awesome climb, before meeting some really kind Aussie's who were about to rappel off the top at the same time. That was it for that day though, and then we headed off to camp - still light out this time, but still rather late by the time we'd socialized and had lunch.

Monday - the last day of the trip. We thought about getting an early start, but again failed at that venture. So, arriving at the crag a bit late again after the nice hike in, we arrived at our gear only to look up and see Josh making a proud onsight of the sporty sport route Scirocco (5.12), which has some long run-outs at the top. The Aussie's had also gotten an early start on Don Juan, and were cruising it while taking pics of Josh. It was really inspirational to watch him work his way up the climb, and I loved watching the determination with which he made each hard move. Luke ran down to TR it after him, and so Lin and I also headed down, but with plans of taking a mellow day and climbing Innersanctum (5.9), another Needles classic. On the way down, however, I really started to wonder about possibly leading Atlantis, a classic 5.11c with

Lindsey coils rope while admiring the Needles.

short cruxes. I didn't think I'd be strong enough after already climbing 2 days, but headed to the base just to check it out anyhow.

Arriving at the base, I looked carefully at the climb - taking a long time to finally decide that it just looked too pumpy for my tired condition. In the end though, I took too long and as we continued to descent toward Innersanctum, we noticed two Italians hanging out at the base. "Allura ragazzi, cos'e' vorreste fare" I asked them. "Il 5.9" they told.. the 5.9... the route we were planning on, and not it's neighbor "Spook Book". That left us one choice... Atlantis.

Back up to Atlantis, and a Lin a little flustered at delays having cost us the route, I borrowed a water bottle from Josh M., and thin nuts from Josh H., and up to the route we headed. I was nervous, I'd never led a proper 5.11+ before (supposedly a 5.11/5.12 PG13 mixed route in red rocks, but I swear it's graded wrong), and scared I was going to pump out and take a whipper in an inconvenient location. Lin helped me get psyched and get my head together though, and up the first pitch (5.10c) I went, hurrying through the pumpy lieback, then slowing down to take it one move at a time and properly warm up the rest of the way up. By the time I'd finished leading that pitch, I'd finally gotten my lead head back on, and was ready for the next 5.10 pitch. That pitch was a little awkward off the start, but after pulling on a couple thin flakes, I merged with my previous lead from "Thin Ice", and then traversed over to our stance at the base of the crux pitch.

Josh leads up Scirocco (5.12).

As I belayed Lin up, I eyed the crux pitch and was a little nervous about it. Basically it goes something like this: traverse 8 feet to the right, place 2-purple, or a purple and blue TCU a little over head high from the ledge you're standing on, then start some strenuous tips lie-backing until you're 10 or so feet above your pieces. Try not to fall, as you'll take a ride, and possibly straddle your rope on the way down.

Lin was soon up at the stance though, having cruised the 5.10 pitch, and soon it was my turn to head up the hard stuff. Am I on? Alright... traverse over, place two pieces, look up and cringe, return to wider part of ledge and wimper. Repeat, 1, 2, 3 times or more, mixing in a half-hearted attempt at starting once or twice. Finally I got over there though, and knew it was time to rock. 1, 2, 3 moves and above the gear. Keep moving. Wind, shizer, I'm barn-dooring, hold-on... close the door, continue up. Yey, a jug! Shizer, I'm too pumped to place gear without a decent foot. Don't want to pitch off. Keep climbing to a better stance. Ikes, those going to take a ride if I pitch now. Alright, I can place gear from this stance. Place two pieces, still pumped, keep moving...

After the tips lie back, you get an uncomfortable stance to cool your forearms for a few seconds before continuing up some 5.11b diaganol up and right traverses on thin gear. Make the moves, the end of the hard stuff is near. I see a ledge, YES! Reach up and... what? Sloper! F-it, I'm not going to pitch, mantle up, and hooray! I'm on a big ledge! Bummer, my arms are so pumped I'm not even sure I can do the easy 5.9 lower angle hand crack in front of me. Place a piece, clip the fixed gear, and go...

Robb, starting up Atlantis (5.11c).

Finally arriving at the stance after the fun crux pitch, it took me a few seconds before I could even get up the energy to belay Lin up. She followed up though, having some troubles in the lie-backing, but doing great... fingers frozen from being in the windy shade and all. Then, it was time to shake out and do the next crux, some funky 5.11b lie-backing on funky pro before getting a fixed nut, and eventually a nice #2 C4 before pulling what I thought was the really insecure move. Up some 5.easy to the last 5.11a dihedral (an awesome finish... don't cheat yourself and do the 5.10a finish), and viola'! Atlantis onsight! Although not sustained, I was pretty stoked to lead it onsight for my hardest trad lead yet, and on the last day of the trip. Lin followed up in great style, cruising it after a hang to get my wedged #2 out, and back to San Diego. What an awesome end to the weekend, and thanks Luke and Lizzie for your company! Check out their site at for more pictures, and info on their sends, as well as Josh's proud leads.

For the next trip? Hopefully Innersanctum, Spook Book, and Don Juan.

At the crux on Atlantis.

At the crux on Atlantis.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Whitney - Russell Weekend

As the heat hit San Diego a couple weekends ago, Lin and I decided to escape and head up to the Sierra. Our plan was to give Russell's Mithril Dihedra a second go (snow had kept us from getting to the climb until too late in the day back in May), and to try the rarely climbed direct east face of Whitney. Leaving San Diego Friday evening, we arrived in the Whitney Portal and hit the trail around 11:45, hiking through the night to get to basecamp at Iceberg lake while avoiding the rangers who insist you have a permit (but which quotas make hard to obtain).
Despite complaining about being out of shape from spending the last few months studying for the MCAT, Lin kept up and pulled her share, and we made good time up the trail. While traversing the cliffs below Lower Boyscout Lake, we picked up a straggler who had gotten lost amongst the ledges, and then managed to get ourselves lost right above the lake (as usual), and it took a mild amount of bushwacking to re-obtain the trail. We were both tired after a long week of work, and coming from sea-level to a start-height of 8,200' in a few hours didn't help, but despite that, our weekend packs, and a little unintentional detour along the way, we made it to the cliffs below Iceberg lake by about 4.45 AM and bivied behind a rock to block the wind.

Although we both stayed pretty warm during the night, when I woke at 6.30 needing to use the bathroom, it was COLD! The wind seemed to take all body-heat away instantly, but still I couldn't help but stare at the beautiful east face of Mt. Whitney and the Keeler Needle burning in the pink morning light. It was gorgeous (though I'm not sure how I managed to get a decent picture considering how much I was shivering as I took them!). I was also awed by the look of the direct east face, and couldn't wait until Sunday when we would attempt it.

We both woke again and got moving around 7.15, and the chill that still permeated made me wonder if I'd made a mistake in leaving my poofy jacket at the car in interest of saving weight. As we got moving though, and the sun began to truly shine, we quickly warmed up and about 20 minutes after breaking camp we were at Iceberg lake. Here, we dropped all our camping gear, hung our food away from the marmots, and grabbed our climbing gear for the Mithril dihedral on Russell. Unfortunately, in the process, I managed to misplace the topo maps for the route, but we decided to go for it anyhow since there were other parties headed there in front of us, and since it's such a straight-up obvious line.

When we approached the Mithril, we saw there was already one group on the route, and another waiting to go. Now the Mithril tends to be a rather chilly route, and the second group mentioned that they were waiting for the sun to come around and warm it up before they started. This made us fear that it'd be too late by the time we got started after them, but Lin's off-hand remark about us maybe starting before got us started up the route beforehand while it was still chilly. Lin led the first pitch in good style, cruising up the 5.8 cracks, and linking up a couple pitches so that she arrived at stance while the other group ahead of us was still there. I followed up, then we waited for the other guys to move before bumping up our anchor a few feet to a more comfortable stance. From there I had the classic next pitch of a beautiful 5.9/5.10 crack up a corner. I led up the beautiful crack, which rotated between fingers, hands and a little OW, and it was amazing. Going about 200' up before I reached a nice ledge to belay from, I took the majority of the "money" pitch, and couldn't believe how lucky I was. Unfortunately, although normally a better crack climber than I, Lin had some troubles on the route due to our heavy pack (we'd both worn boots, and put those heavy things in there), and was suffering pretty good by the time she arrived at the stance. In good form though, she led up the next pitch, which involved an exciting step-over/traverse to the belay ledge. Our friends that let us cut in front of them followed-up right behind us, and after a few pitches of 4th class to 5.6ish terrain, we arrived at the summit - utterly exhausted from hiking all night and barely sleeping. Back to Iceberg...

Sunday morning we woke up late... too late, and it would cost us that day. As we packed up camp, our buddy Josh and his girlfriend Sheila stopped by on their car-2-car trip of Whitney's East Buttress (they had climbed the regular route up the 3rd pillar of Mt. Dana two days before too), and then we went our different ways as Lin and I headed down toward the very bottom of the east face, and they continued up to the base of the buttress. Arriving at the buttress at about 9AM, we began to realize that prospects for doing the route were dismal due to our late start. Regardless, we decided to see how quickly we could go. I led up the 5.6 R/X first pitch, but by the time I'd done that and belayed Lin up it was nearly 10 - too late when we still had 14 pitches to go, including one of 5.10d off-width. So Lin let over to a spot that looked promising to bail, and two nervous raps on nuts behind cracked flakes later, we were back on the ground.

Both bummed, we slowly packed up when I remembered I'd see some blue off to the side in the rocks, and decided to go see what it was... a size large Mountain Hardwear poofy jacket! Sunfaded, but still in good condition, I threw it in the pack and we headed back to our camp. On the way, we debated about what to do with the rest of the day... go down and climb in the portal, or do something else up Whitney since neither of us had been to the top yet. In the end, we decided to just hike the mountaineers route, and after an hour and fifty minutes later (and after passing Josh and Sheila on their way down), we were at the top of Whitney! It was a gorgeous day, and we were both glad we'd decided to hike up in the end... though were appalled by the looks of the hikers trail in the distance. The endless zig-zags just didn't look appealing in the least, and I was glad that wasn't our way back down. Lin took time to make friends with a Mike, the begging marmot (well, maybe not the best of friends since she wouldn't give him any of our awesome banana bread and nutella sandwiches), and then we were on our way back down. We descended back to Iceberg Lake, grabbed the rest of our gear, and chased the sun on the way down as it settled behind Whitney to our backs. Another fun and gorgeous weekend in the Whitney portal... and another route to return to with hopes of completion.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


So, Linnie and I headed out to the Needles a couple weekends ago when the Sierra weather kept us from playing in the Whitney area. What an amazing place! The weather was funky on Saturday, and we drove from about 9PM-4AM Friday night to get there (a last minute change of plans since the Sierra weather was so bad), but Sunday was gorgeous, Margee's cookies at the fire-tower were great, and we had a blast. Routes climbed were Igor Unchained (5.9), Slight of Hand (5.10a), Spooky (5.9), and Our Lady of the Needles (5.7 summit block). What a fun weekend! It was so great that we went back this last weekend too, so stand by for a more complete post on the happenings there...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mt. Rainier 2009, Climb 2 - Kautz Glacier in a day

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 – instead deciding that pizza 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.

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. Adam 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 S)(*&y 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. The 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 snow-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 to admire on our way down to Muir. Lower down where we dropped into Cathedral Gap within site of camp Muir, the winds which were howling on the upper mountain blasted us like with scree like a sandblaster which made me jealous of Greg’s goggles, but he needed them much more than I as I was travelling 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?!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Mt. Rainier 2009, Climb 1

After picking up food for a few days on the mountain, Baby Greg (aka “the Kid” aka “the Animal”) and I headed towards Mt. Rainier Tuesday afternoon. Arriving at the ranger station at White River campground, we spoke with the ranger about conditions on Liberty Ridge – the route we had come to the mountain from San Diego to climb. The ranger mentioned that a party had just finished the route, but reported significant rockfall hazard below thumb rock and thin ice/snow conditions up high – typical poor late season route conditions. Talking it over, Greg and I decided that since we had a week around the area and the weather forecast was good, we would go ahead and jaunt over to check out the route for ourselves. Having not been on this side of the mountain before, we weren’t very certain of approach times, but looking over the map we figured we could make Thumb Rock pretty easily in 1 day if conditions on the route were climbable, and so checked in for Thumb Rock camping on night one (the following night 7/1), climbing the rest of the route the next day, with a possible stop at Camp Shurman the following day (7/2) on the way out if it was getting late. Our goal was for a 2-day climb, but we logged in an extra couple days in case we took longer so that the rangers wouldn’t feel obligated to start search efforts due to our over ambitious planning should we fall behind and not return in time.
Getting up at 0300 on Wednesday (7/1), we finished packing our gear, threw down some food, and headed up from the trailhead (4400’) around 0420. We purposely started slow, letting our muscles warm up for what would hopefully be a long couple days ahead, working our way up the maintained ~3.2 mile trail to Glacier Camp. As we hiked up the trail, the sun began painting the peak in a pink mountain glow as it rose above the horizon. This beautiful mountain glow excited both of us with the trip ahead, and moving up the trail calmed our nerves about the climb ahead. Around 0545-0600ish we arrived at Glacier Camp, and as we rounded the corner into camp, a “trail runner” came bounding down the trail from the toilets above us. We were both confused to see a “trail runner” at that hour of the morning, but stopped at the entrance to the camp so I could go off to use the toilets in hopes of avoiding the infamous “blue bag” carry out system. I ambled the 1/8 mile to the open-air toilets (with side by side seating even for those so inclined to have bathroom buddies), and proceeded to do the morning duties – on the way back, however, I noticed there was a medium-large black bear not far off the trail below. I watched him waddle through the brush for a little while, and then proceeded back to Greg. We re-saddled our packs, and continued through Glacier camp where we encountered the “trail runner” – turns out he had also recently enjoyed doing the morning duties, only to have his session interrupted by a wet bear nose sniffing (and touching) his backside! He took off, slowly at first, and as the bear continued to follow him, he started sprinting down the trail away from said bear. An interesting start to the morning none-the-less, and I was glad I hadn’t been a few minutes earlier to the bathroom facilities.
Greg and I continued to work our way up out of Glacier Camp, up Glacier Basin and to St. Elmo pass. At this point we were starting to cover ground pretty quickly, made our way over the pass to the Winthrop Glacier, tied in, and crossed the glacier using footprints made a day or two prior to show us the way. The Winthrop was in great shape, with a nearly straight shot across it, and we continued to traverse it at around 7400’, then traversed the slopes between is and the Carbon Glacier. Arriving within site of the Carbon, we took a long break to nap, refuel, and watch the goat families walking around the snow fields before continuing on towards the Carbon. Still around 7500’, we encountered a group coming towards us. They were coming straight from the base of Liberty and making their way towards the Emmons route. They had started up two days prior, spending one night at Glacier Camp, and the previous night at the Carbon, and had earlier in the current day tried to attain Liberty Ridge via the melted out rock ridge at its base, and via an ice chute just to the right side, only to be turned back by serious rock and ice-fall hazard. They continued on towards the Emmons, and Greg and I watched the ridge and pondered for a while how “intelligent” we were feeling. In the end though, after listening to repeated rockfall and icefall along the surrounding faces, and thinking to the climbing reports, we decided to head back to the trailhead and try another route later on. Liberty Ridge will continue to be there, but we wouldn’t be if we caught that rockfall head-on - so, it will have to wait until next year…
As we traversed back, we could see the other group of 4 about 30-45 minutes ahead of us… and see them as they turned off the original traverse and started to head up towards Camp Schurman for a go at the Emmons Glacier route. As we approached their track, I began wondering about something a little more audacious – instead of decending and driving around the mountain, why not climb up over the Emmons, go down the Disappointment Cleaver (DC) to meet Adam and my SDMRT buddies coming up that route, than traverse to the Kautz Glacier, and climb that back over, down the Emmons, and return to the car that way. We pondered the idea, going back and forth as we headed across the Glacier… arriving at the split in the tracks where we would either head back to St. Elmo pass or up towards Camp Schurman, I turned uphill – with intentions of heading to Camp Schurman and doing our “up and over twice” plan. We camped at Schurman (~9430’), sleeping in late (until about 0530) on the 2nd, and were the last to leave camp at about 0715 that morning. Even carrying our big packs though, we were averaging well over 1000’ per hour of elevation gain. I could tell I wasn’t in quite the shape I hoped to be though, and I started to wonder if my legs had two more days of carrying full packs, especially on the steep terrain of the Kautz. Proceeding up, we started reeling in a few skiers that had left at the time we woke up. At around 13200’ we passed them, with one complaining of altitude problems (they ended up turning around about 700’ below the summit). At 13700’ we encountered the four guys who had also come from Liberty on their way back down (they started around 0330), chatted for a bit, then continued up the last bit of the climb towards the summit.
About 400-500’ below the summit though, we decided that it would be more fun to go back down the Emmons now, rest a day or two, and make a single-day push on the Kautz. This was in part because we weren’t sure how low we would have to go to traverse to the Kautz, and hauling large packs around just for fun just didn’t sound interesting. So we left our packs about 400’ below the summit, and pushed up to the top, arriving at the 14,410’ summit in about 4 hours and 50 minutes to average just a little better than 1000’ per hour, even with our nice social visit at 13,700’ and carrying our large packs most of the way! Not amazing, but we were happy with it none-the-less.
At the summit we met the skier, Amar, who had left Camp Schurman about 20 minutes ahead of us, and with whom we had been maintaining pace with on the way up. We also met Frankie and Scott who were camping directly on the summit… and Frankie had brought his controllable air-foil kite!! Strangely though, there was nearly no wind on the summit (Greg was in only a long sleeve button-up t-shirt), and so the kite flying was unsuccessful, but fun to watch the attempt. We hung out with Amar, Fankie and Scott for about 45 minutes, then headed down to our packs to brew up some water for the descent. After brewing up about 1.5 liters of water, we shouldered our packs, and started hauling down the nearly 5000’ to Camp Schurman. Along the way we passed a couple other groups, including our 4 friends from Liberty Ridge, covering the whole descent from our packs to Schurman in about 52 minutes. Conditions were ideal for descent, with a soft, wet layer of snow allowing us to basically jog/boot ski down the glacier, minding the occasional snow bridge. Changing socks at Schurman to help save our wet, sweaty, feet from destruction, we chatted with IMG guide Andy Polloczek a bit about the mountain, then continued down, moving fast down the soft snow which was in perfect conditions for descent, and arrived at the trailhead 2.5-3 hours later.
Moving fast towards the trailhead as we were both incredibly thirsty, didn’t want to boil water, and my iodine tablets weren’t dissolving for some strange reason, we headed straight towards the trailhead water fountain. Just on the other side of the fountain was a very large group of ~8 skiers heading up. As we approached them I started having the funny feeling that my friend Kelly was with them (she had mentioned she might be on Rainier this week), and low and behold there she was! We chatted for a bit about mountain conditions and trips, wished them well, and continued out of the park to some well deserved pizza and rest - rest for a what we’re hoping will be a one-day push of the Kautz Glacier (slightly less than 9000’ vertical) on Sunday. And a good rest it’s been so far, at my gracious Aunt and Uncles place with a beautiful view of Lake Washington, double chocolate cheesecake, and a bald eagle perched in a tree outside. Ta an saol go maith… Wish us luck!