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dave schultz

[TR] Attempted Rainier Circumnav 8-13 July 2017

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Trip: Success Couloir to Cleaver, Disappointment Cleaver Descent, Little Tahoma, Cowlitz Descent


Date: 8-13 July 2017




In early 2017 I started bouncing emails back and forth with objective locations and ideas. Ken and Andy agreed to join, and we agreed on Rainier. The objective was a Circumnavigation: starting at Paradise, up Success Cleaver, down Tahoma Glacier, up Ptarmigan Ridge, down South Emmons, up Little Tahoma, and finishing at Muir and returning to Paradise. Flights were booked, and the great gear race began. We endlessly debated food and gear options, seeking the most practical and lightest options.


Day 0 - 7 July 2017


Ken and I arrive in Seattle, my flight being last and then delayed. Andy had arrived earlier and made an acclimation trip to Muir for two nights on Wednesday and Thursday night. We stayed in a motel near Longmire and got final night's sleep in a bed.



Day 1 - 8 July 2017


We leave the motel after showers and a breakfast, arriving at the Paradise Climbing Information Center around 10am. We got our permit, and began weighing and packing our gear - questioning every item and comparing weights of all items. Detailed gear selection at the end. We departed Paradise just after noon, packs weighing 56 (with the rope), 55, and 55 lbs. We slogged up with the crowds and parted ways with them around Panorama Point as we crossed the Nisqually and headed up towards the Kautz Glacier Route. We roped up for some this, then un-roped at a flat section and broke left across another rock rib and made a short descent back to the snow. We continued traversing left until we could gain a clear view of following day's route to the Success Cleaver, sighting a heard of goat along the way. We bivyed east side of the Wapowety Cleaver around 7,800 feet. Ken and Andy set up and slept in the Hyperlight Ultamid, I opened bivyed on top of my Brooks Range tarp.


Day 2 - 9 July 2017


We got up around 6am and were moving by 8am. We expected this to be a shorter day, only needing to gain access to the Success Cleaver. We crossed the cleaver then descended on to the lower Kautz Glacier and roped up. We moved across and up the Kautz and then dropped on to the Pyramid Glacier eyeing a potential weakness in the Success Cleaver. Upon gaining the Pyramid Glacier it was clear the weakness was shedding too much rock to safely ascend, and we opted to ascend the Success Couloir instead of descending farther to gain the Success Cleaver. We climbed and gained the Success Glacier and opted to take a gulley climber's left of the proper Success Couloir, this had some more sporty bergschrund crossing and would lead us to the upper section of the Success Cleaver. We had originally wanted to bivy around 10,000 feet, but could not find a suitable bivy until 11,700 feet at 4pm. We bedded down in chopped out individual platforms for a few hours rest before heading up the rest of the route.


Day 3 - 10 July 2017


We woke up at 10pm and were moving by 1115pm. We needed to be at the top to descend Tahoma Glacier during the morning hours to keep out of the afternoon soft snow and shedding cycle. We made relatively fast work up the rest of Success Cleaver to Point Success, climbing in the full-moon illumination with little need for the headlamp. We topped out around 6am or so, and had enough time to descend the Tahoma; but based on pace, our larger-than-expected day two, our overall conditions and the warmth of the mountain we decided to abandon the plan and headed down to Muir to re-think our strategy. We cross the summit and found the trail down the DC, stopping a couple times to rest and brew. We arrived at Muir, spoke with the rangers to modify our permit, and settled in for an early bedtime.


Day 4 - 11 July 2017


We woke up relatively early, for not having a plan. The mountain was so flawless that we had to come up with another plan for our time (we still had four days and three nights of supplies). We spoke to the rangers again and had a plan to go towards Little Tahoma. We refined our glacier travel technique on our way and found the weakness along the SE ridge at 8800 feet to be in full-on sketchy rock conditions, but was passable. We dropped onto the Whitman and headed up to a bivy location on the east side of the SE ridge at around 9300 feet. We made a luxury open bivy platform for three with a common wind wall.


Day 5 - 12 July 2017


We had another casual wake up and packed for the day, leaving most of our stuff at the bivy site protected by my tarp. We booted to the top of the Whitman, and accessed the rock and scrambled to the summit. With a nearly windless and flawless summit, we knew we made the right decision to continue the trip instead of just heading back to Paradise. We opted to make one rappel near the lower portion of the rock, and then descended the Whitman, continuing to refine the descent skills, including one big crevasse jump for fun. We re-packed headed back down around to the weakness in the SE ridge. We chopped all six pounds of webbing from the rappel station and removed the single hollow ring and left two cords with two biners. The rappel was easy and soon enough we were back on the Ingraham and decided that we did not want to continue into the night and that chopping some platforms while the snow was soft was the best plan. There is a deep snow drift around 8550 feet, where you are protected from the ice and snow from above as well as from the rockfall from the ridge, but there was the constant sound of rockfall. We each made our own platform and settled in for the night.


Day 6 - 13 July 2017


We once again got up relatively casually and made quick work of crossing the Ingraham and gained the Cowlitz at 8500 feet. We descended the Cowlitz, utilizing a small rock island on skier's left at 8200 feet. We had an exciting moat jump, and then continued down on snow and ice before traversing skiers right at 7500 feet aiming for the Cowlitz Rock Col. At 7200 feet it didn't make sense to continue to the Col, so we climbed up and over the ridge to 7500 feet where we gained the Paradise Glacier. From here it was an easy shot down the Paradise Glacier, to Edith Creek Basin and then to Paradise. We arrived at the Climber Information Center just after 4pm.


Group Gear:


Brooks Range Guide Tarp (small, single person)

Hyperlight Ultamid (pyramid style, weighed just about one pound, used once)

Two Jetboil 1.0 liter stoves / burners

Two shovels (one had a short shaft, and SUCKED)

One Probe (not used, but would have probably been helpful descending the Tahoma and traversing towards Ptarmigan Ridge)

One Brooks Range 35cm Igloo Saw

First Aid Kit (lots of meds, bandages, etc)

Small Repair Kit (trekking pole repair, utility knife, fabric repair)

Sat Phone

16 oz thermos

Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Panel

1600g of canister fuel

Canister punch (to puncture and then flatten)

Spare pair of warm gloves

Spare pair of glacier glasses

3 pins

5 nuts

0.5, 0.75, 1, 2 BD Ultralight Cams (never placed, but were racked for the SE ridge weakness)

12 ice screws (2 racked for glacier travel, remaining never used - planned for use on Ptarmigan Ridge)

2 x 24-inch pickets

3 x Yates Cable Picket

1 x SMC deadman

60m 8.5mm half rope


Personal Gear:

Two technical tools (Cobra, Viper, Quark)

Longer Axe (73cm, 60cm, 66cm)

Trekking Pole

Steel horizontal front point crampons (all)

La Sportiva Trango Ice Cube (all, perfect for this trip)

Everyone had a microtraxion, 2 double runners, 4 single runners, and a cordollete

We all had hardshell pants and wore them for the entire trip, next-to-skin tights were normally worn underneath the pants to allow the pants to be fully vented without allowing sunburn to occur.

We all had hardshell jackets, but only wore them during the night climbing up Success.

Andy and Ken used a combination of long sleeve, short sleeve, and wind shirts throughout most of the trip. I used a hooded Patagonia Sun Shirt for the entire trip, except for the night climbing up Success.

Ken and Andy used a full length NeoAir Xtherm, I used a half length Xtherm

Ken and Andy used 30- to 35-degree WM bags, I used a 45 degree Brooks Range quilt

5,000 - 10,000 mA of rechargeable battery capacity, augmentable with the solar.

Oven bag liners between inner sock and outer sock - created a frictionless interface to prevent blisters and keep the outer sock dry, meaning you can get by with fewer socks and just rotate two pairs of inner socks.


Final Thoughts and Notes:

We used 105g of fuel per person per day.

We each brought about 2,800 to 3,000 calories of food per day.

The only item that we did not ever use was the probe, and it may have been useful on the northern side of the Mountain.

The Ultamid was a pain to put together, but if we needed the shelter we could have erected it and protected it from the wind. We never needed it.

Next time, I would bring only 2,000 - 3,000 mA of capacity and rely on the solar panel.

Even though our sleep systems and layering systems were all quite different, we each liked ours own and each worked well.

1 oz of sunscreen (full small tube) would have been enough per person for this duration, we brought one 3 oz extra tube.

1 full tube of lip balm / sunscreen per person was more than enough.

Ken and Andy used their phone to navigate and learned a lot about navigating on a phone, I used a dedicated GPS unit.


Protection from the sun cannot be overstated. We adequately covered and applied copious SPF to our only exposed skin of mouth, face, and nose. Starting the trip, we might have been a little behind in protection as Ken and I had minor sun burn blisters / chapping on the bottom lip the healed during the week after. Next time I might carry a 1oz of 70SPF specifically for this area, and 1oz of 30 SPF for any other exposed skin.

Edited by dave schultz

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Tease! To get around the gallery error, click on your name, scroll down and click on "view photos" to get into the gallery, then you can add pics etc.


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Day One


Packing in the parking lot.



View from just after dropping off from the trail to Muir.



Ken and Andy crossing our first rock rib.



Looking back across the Van Trump Glacier.



Mountain Goats.



Andy posing for the camera.



Me posing for the camera.



Looking across the Kautz Glacier: with the Kautz Route on the upper right and the Success Cleaver on the left skyline.



Evening, me in my open bivy and Ken in the Ultamid.



Cool view with the rope and the Ultamid tent.



Day Two


Crossing the lower Kautz Glacier.



Crossing the Success Glacier.



Ken and Andy working their way up the Success Couloir to gain the Success Cleaver.



Me scouting for a bivy spot along the Success Cleaver around 11,700 feet.



Ken and I perched on our spot for the short rest before continuing up the Cleaver.



Ken all wrapped up for the evening.



Day Three


Night, long-exposure shot of Ken and Andy moving along the upper portion of the Success Cleaver.



Another night, long-exposure shot of Ken and Andy moving along the upper portion of the Success Cleaver.



Andy motoring across the to the DC from below Point Success, Columbia Crest on the left.




Day Four


Andy flattening a used fuel canister at Muir.



Andy and Ken looking across the Ingraham Glacier.



Looking up the DC route from the middle of the Ingraham crossing at 8,500 feet.



Me booting up the snow ramp to gain the weakness along the SE ridge at 8,600 feet.



Andy belaying for the rock pitch.



Me working on a pin.



Me making it through the lower section of the rock pitch.



Shadow of our team along the Whitman Glacier.



Ken on the Whitman Glacier.



Andy and I starting to prep our bivy area.




Day Five


Sunrise from our bivy.



Morning light on our bivy with the moon in the background.



Andy and Ken working their way to the middle section of rock on Little Tahoma.



Ken and Andy working their way up to the top of Little Tahoma, Emmons Glacier in the background.



Andy making the last moves to the top of Little Tahoma.



Andy and I at the tippy top of Little Tahoma.



Andy waiting for Ken and I to descend the rock section of Little Tahoma.



Looking down towards our previous bivy spot.




Day Six


Bivy site in the morning shade.



Morning light hitting the DC from our bivy.



Andy belaying me across a crevasse to scout our route down the Cowlitz Glacier.



Me jumping the moat on the lower Cowlitz Glacier.



Andy and I moving down the Cowlitz.



Ken and Andy moving down the Cowlitz.



Looking back at the lower Cowlitz Glacier.



Andy and Ken working across to gain the Edith Creek Drainage.



Me looking down the Edith Creek Drainage.



Group shot at the end.



Back at the car, gear exploded again.


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Nice tour of the Big R Dave! Thanks for the detail, looks like you guys had a good trip regardless of the original plan.

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