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bargainhunter

[TR] Mt. Rainier - Eastern Success Couloir 8/11/2017

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Went with 2 friends visiting from out of town up Mt. Rainier's Eastern Success Couloir last week. Hiked in from the Westside Rd up the old Tahoma Creek Trail, past Mirror Lake and Pyramid Peak, then camped at 7k' on approach slopes just south of the Success Cleaver and again the next night at 9k' on a ridge between the Pyramid and Success Glaciers. This acclimatized us perfectly as none of us had the slightest hint of altitude sickness during the climb.

 

From our 9k' high camp, we roped up across the Success Glacier to the bergschrund. Route finding was straightforward, slope angle was low and the glacier was hard snow, punctuated by significant rockfall in places. Crevasses were easily visible and avoidable.

 

We placed 2 pickets crossing the 'schrund. A snow bridge delivered us to a small amount of slightly sketchy scrambling on a wet, gravely, down-sloping ledge above the 'schrund, but otherwise accessing the upper couloir snowfield was largely uneventful. We unroped above the 'schrund as the slope angle was mellow and heavily sun-cupped, and more importantly, devoid of crevasses.

 

The Eastern Success Couloir was straightforward up to and beyond the first rock band, and we punched through the second rock band directly with a brief 20' section of roped climbing with a single move of 5.6 or so (this could be bypassed by climbers right, but we were impatient). Concerning signs of significant rockfall were omnipresent, and looming unstable rock cliffs surrounded us the entire climb.

 

Above the second rock band, we alternated between patches of rocky slopes and sun-cupped snow which transformed into hurdles of increasingly large penitentes as we ascended higher. We bypassed more cliff bands via the most straightforward way, at times unsure if we were following the best route.

 

At ~13,500' we cut climber's left through a ridge notch, and traversed/ascended a left leaning steep snow-free talus/scree slope under scary cliffs that appeared ready to obliterate us arbitrarily with sharp rockfall. We merrily popped out on the summit plateau and rested on a dry pumice/gravel patch about 50' lower than nearby Point Success. Point Success proper appeared to be a corniced-over crevasse (or bergshrund?), guarded by endless 4' tall penitentes and soft deep post-holey snow. I melted snow on our pumice patch as my pards briefly napped.

 

Fatigue from our 5k' ascent and our recent experience with the penitentes immediately squelched further thoughts of slogging through the endless penitentes to Columbia Crest, as this drudgery would have taken hours. We didn't even bother venturing a few hundred feet over to the true summit of Pt. Success due to similar malaise.

 

Upon returning to high camp, the temperature dropped and winds picked up, rattling our tent. Heavy rainfall pelted us and thunder boomed periodically. I was concerned enough about lightning to move the ice axes and snow stakes away from the tent. In the AM, lenticular clouds covered the summit.

 

On the hike out, Kaleem wore only one semi-functional boot as the soles on both boots had delaminated on the approach. His valiant attempts to hold them in place first with bungy cords, then super glue, and finally extra shoe laces, prusik cord, and cloth tape, had ultimately failed. His discomfort while descending barefooted through miles of sharp glacier rocks and rocky trail must have been offset by the comfort he had received from his 5 pound memory foam pillow which he had carried to high camp. Stoic, he did not complain once. Burly.

 

Back at the trailhead, jonesing for hot showers, we drove 18 miles from the Westside Rd. to Paradise under the erroneous and outdated advice of an old edition of Mike Gauthier's guidebook which indicated public showers were available at the visitor's center ("Bring quarters. It's worth it," stated the 1999 edition). Wrong. Showers were removed when the visitor center was rebuilt in 2008. For post climb showers, you can drive to the Alder Lake park and curse the crappy intermittent coin-op showers and end up jumping in the lake out of frustration as I did.

 

The ridiculous weekend traffic and human zoo at Paradise was offset marginally by our grandiose delusions as honed alpine gods slumming it among pathetically deconditioned hoi polloi. The impressively stunning view of Rainier from Paradise was a more palatable reason for us to keep our noses in the air. Our route was just visible along the left skyline.

 

Conclusion: Eastern Success Couloir was an uncommon route with a remote appeal and relatively long but enjoyable approach through varied and beautiful alpine terrain. I think we timed it a little late in the season however, as the rockfall was significantly dangerous at times and lack of snow made the rocky slopes less aesthetic. Weather was hot and running water was found gushing even up to 14k feet; our beloved Rainier was melting out. Still we had the entire side of the mountain to ourselves and didn't even see a party on the Kautz route despite perfect summer climbing weather.

 

Gear: standard mountaineering or lightweight ice axe (e.g. Camp Corsa), 'pons, 2 pickets for the 'schrund, helmet, rope. We took 2 Petzl Quarks in addition but used only one to hammer the snow stakes at the 'schrund crossing, thus I suggest you leave them, along with ice screws, at home (though they did look cool on our packs). 5 lb memory foam pillow optional.

 

Captions appear on individual photos when viewed in the gallery. All photos copyright 2017 Charlie Wolf

 

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Edited by bargainhunter

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Yowza. Glad you survived! Now you know why the rest of us leave the volcanoes alone after mid-July.

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