Trip: Mt Rainier - Sunset Ampitheater Headwall Couloir
It seems every Memorial Day weekend, my friend Nate (sweatinoutliquor) and I talk about heading to Rainier. The last time everything fell in place (weather, travel, work, etc) was in 2005.
As the 2009 holiday neared, we began discussing route options. We eventually narrowed the research to the westside of the mountain, as the remoteness was an attraction. Reading Gauthier's book, the Sunset Theater couloir sounded great, and having been first climbed in 2000 made it sound even more interesting. I began monitoring the weather about a week before, and was impressed that the forecast continued to improve with each day. 0% chance of precip in MRNP? Awesome! This year was going to work out.
I headed out of norCal on Thursday afternoon, and met up with Nate in Oregon. We took off the next day after an excellent breakfast that included lots of locally raised bacon. We arrived at the park after surprisingly efficient I-5 travel through Portland and south WA, checking in for permits at Longmire. Unfortunately, we were told that the Westside Road was closed, which meant that we would have another 3 miles of approach added to the trip. Starting at 2100', that also meant that we would have a hefty elevation gain of 12000' to make the top
We gave ourselves 4 days for the route: 2 days for approach, 1 for summit day, and 1 for the descent back to the truck. This worked out well. The actual couloir was in great shape, with mostly good step kicking snow and alpine ice. Icefall and rockfall was minimal until the sun warmed the ampitheater, although I still took a couple hits to the helmet. Snow conditions on the Tahoma Glacier were good in the morning but POOR in the afternoon (unless skiing). On the descent from the summit plateau practically every step balled up in our crampons. This made the straightforward downclimb a bit tedious, all while baking in the sun. I postholed into a crevasse only a few feet from our tent through nearly 4 feet of snow, not ideal.
So, here is a photo-journal of the trip. I must warn you: there are a lot of photos. It was hard to narrow down the selection. You can click on most photos to see a larger version. Half the photos courtesy of sweatinoutliquor.
prepped and ready to hit the road (literally)
Nate nearing the washed out portion of the Westside Road
flood-killed trees along Tahoma Creek
hiking trail sign @ Round Pass
slowly getting closer to the route, with the Sunset Ampitheater couloir visible in between the trees on the left
traversing along Emerald Ridge. The Ridge narrows significantly as you near the Tahoma Glacier.
nearing the end of Emerald Ridge, looking up towards the route. The Tahoma Glacier provided us a direct route to high camp, so we opted to avoid Puyallup Cleaver (left skyline).
Chris on the approach up the Tahoma Glacier. By this point it was starting to get warm on the glacier.
Afternoon avalanche on the Tahoma Glacier, caused by an ice serac breaking off from the obvious ice cliff. In the large version of the photo, you can observe the 2 skiers ascending the Tahoma Glacier route, with the powderblast nearing them.
Skiers descending the Tahoma Glacier towards Nate. They chose to ski down immediately after the avalanche.
High camp on the Tahoma Glacier. The Tahoma Glacier and Tahoma Sickle routes are visible in the background.
Nate dropping down a step in the Tahoma Glacier, after an alpine start @ 0215.
Chris approaching the Sunset Ampitheater and the entrance to the couloir.
Packing up the snowshoes and gearing up for the couloir climb.
Nate entering the couloir. St Andrews Rock in the background.
Nate climbing the steepening lower portion of the couloir.
Chris nearing the right-hand turn in the gully.
Nate finishing up the rockband section.
Nate heading towards the top of the route and Sunset Ridge.
a bomber Cascades belay anchor
looking back at Chris and the Puyallup Glacier below
topping out on Liberty Cap
Nate getting ready to drop down onto the Tahoma Glacier, descent back to high camp. This ended up being the most brutal portion of the climb, as the afternoon sun made this section a true oven. The previous day, we watched a group climb this route in the heat of late afternoon with full packs. The tent is one of the specks below.
Tahoma Glacier ice cliff
Descending the Tahoma Glacier from high camp, early Memorial Day 2009.
sunrise on Mt Adams, during the descent from high camp
Wonderland Trail suspension bridge over Tahoma Creek
Nate descending the Tahoma Creek trail
Hiking the washed out portion of the Tahoma Creek trail, nearing the junction with Westside Road.
Sunset Ampitheater. The couloir is the obvious weakness through the rocks.
Thanks buddy for another great Rainier trip!
5 pickets, couple pieces of rock pro, 60m halfrope, ice axe, ice tool, running belays & munter hitches (frozen rope was not working with our belay devices), glacier rescue gear, snowshoes, tennies for the 3 miles of clear road beyond the gate, wicked homemade trail mix with beer nuts
We used the Emerald Ridge approach, and then took a pretty direct line up the Tahoma Glacier to high camp and the St Andrews saddle. From our viewpoint this was much easier and quicker than trying to ascend Puyallup Cleaver all the way to St Andrews rock. We used the Wonderland Trail and Tahoma Creek trail during the descent – in hindsight this was much more efficient. Tahoma Ck trail is in pretty good shape except for the 1/2 mile washed out at the junction with the Westside Road.