Trip: Mt Rainier - Ptarmigan Ridge
Jeff and I from Somerville, MA climbed Ptarmigan Ridge via the rock variation from July 7 to July 10. We came from sea level and had planned on three days, but had to sit out a massive thunderstorm on the evening of July 8.
To get to high camp, near the south end of the Russell Glacier we went right below a large rock buttress (rather than left, which is probably the more direct/manly way) and skirted the right side of a snow bowl on rock to access the ridge. After this we scrambled super loose rock and rotten snow on top of the ridge to reach high camp.
Rockfall throughout the night of the storm at high camp was pretty significant. But the storm brought some cool air with it, and afterwards things seemed to solidify. I've never been on this side of Rainier before, but overall the wall was pretty active. We watched the snowfield below the route accumulate maybe 3 times as much rock as had been there before during our two day stay at high camp.
Aside from that, the route was in great condition. We woke up at 1:00AM, packed 4L of water each, and left high camp at 2:20AM. We moved quickly through the ice talus, and reached the bergschrund at 2:30. The snow wasn't quite neve, but it was still pretty great. On the lower snow slope, we were able to dig and get six or so screw placements. The leader dragged the lead line behind him, and when he had a piece, the second clipped to the end. This worked pretty well until the traverse on 60 degree snow, when the leader ran out of pickets. After we finished the traverse, ice became more easy to come by. A nice 70 degree ice pitch formed below the second saddle higher on the route, maybe 80 feet long.
The rock chimney was about 5.8 when we found it, the right side covered in trickling water and not-quite-good-enough-for-sticks verglas. We found a piton at the belay below and left, and slung a block. We clipped another pin just under the rock crux.
We were able to finish the technical difficulties at 7:15, and began the real difficulties of unacclimatized snow slogging. Conditions were beautiful, couldn't have asked for better snow. Just below Liberty Cap, we used the last of our fuel to get 3 liters of water each. No trouble with crevasses going from Liberty Cap to the summit. We summitted around 11:50AM.
The descent down the Emmons was almost straightforward, but we encountered what looked like a dead end in the icefall at around 10,500 feet. We went right, went left, punched through a snowbridge, and decided to wait for a guided party to help us find the way down. They traversed left where we wouldn't have thought to go, across the top of a serac, and down easy, stepped-out 60 degree snow to the bootpack. Apparently a snowbridge had collapsed a day or two ago, altering the route. We sheepishly followed them to Camp Shurman, chatted with Dave Gottlieb who assured us Ptarmigan was not that difficult, and glissaded down the Interglacier. Reached the car at about 6:00PM I think. We had one clif bar and three gus, no fuel, and no water left, but we weren't thirsty or hungry when we got back to the car. Felt great to finish like that.
This was my first time up Rainier and my partner's second, and it was very satisfying to finally climb the mountain by a reasonably challenging route. My partner has done Liberty Ridge, and commented that Ptarmigan was much harder due to the long slog after the technical difficulties. (That said, when he did Liberty, he had just come down from Denali two weeks prior, so he was way fit.)
^ route from the approach
^ route from camp
^ snow traverse midway through route
^ rock chimney
Gotta give thanks to the below trip report in particular that we found super helpful in our planning:
two MSR two-foot pickets, 3 13cm screws, 2 16cm screws. no rock gear. 4L of water each to start the summit day. one sleeping bag, light is right!
From White River Campground to Curtis Ridge day one, Ptarmigan high camp day two.