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Natalie Afonina

[TR] Mt. Rainier - Kautz Route 07/25/2020

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Posted (edited)

Trip: Mt. Rainier - Kautz Route

Trip Date: 07/25/2020

Trip Report:

 

Bare Bones

 

Cross-posting this from where I keep my trip reports, so if format is wonky below it's cause I'm lazy to reupload photos/format: https://www.natexploring.com/tripreports/kautz-route-mt-rainier

Route: AI2-3 Grade II-III; Ice, Alpine, 9000 ft*

Ascent via the Kautz Route. Carry over and descent via the DC.

*According to Mountain Project/Summit Post

Length: Two days with an overnight at Camp Hazard at 11,200’

Dates: July 24-25th, 2020

Climbing Gear:

Here’s my regular PSA that just because someone on the internet used a certain rack (or lack thereof) does not mean it’s the right rack for you.

  • Air Tech Light Crampons (yes, they’re aluminum and light. Aluminum is known for bouncing off hard ice, so either be very comfortable reusing axe pick holes for feet or bring something steel)

  • Grivel Ghost Evo Axe with trigger (great to have one of these for the approach since it’s also aluminum & therefore light/a good plunge-stepping and self-arresting tool, but I was glad I brought the tech machine as a second ‘real’ tool)

  • Carbon Tech Machine

  • 4x screws ranging from 13-17cm

  • 5 draws; 2x double-lengths

  • 60m Beal Opera 8.5mm dry-treated rope

  • 1 picket (not used, but I’m told real Cascades climbers always bring one 🤷‍♀️)

 

The Details

Deb and I left the parking lot around 9:30am ish. Who doesn’t like to start up a route in a complete ping-pong ball whiteout?

 

The first 4500’ vertical feet looked like this. It felt like we were climbing a never-ending snow slope with surprise crevasses that would sneak up on us (not hard since we could barely see 10 feet in front of us). Being able to read a topo map was essential for navigation and we got to the base of The Fan no issues.

There are two main approaches, we crossed the Nisqually Glacier on a flat traverse at 6,300 feet to the base of a large gully called The Fan. It wasn’t really ‘in’ per say, and there was a lot of rockfall everywhere, so we moved fast and up this gully to reach the bench at 7,400’. I think other parties have been taking the Wilson Glacier approach because I saw no bootpack at all the whole way (only some goat tracks), even in very narrow snow constrictions.

Eventually we broke out of the cloud soup to blue skies and a view of Rainier.

PSX_20200726_094141.jpg
IMG_0019.jpg
 

No more ping-ponging through clouds. That’s cause to celebrate

We slogged pretty uneventfully up to our camp at 11,200’ and were very lucky to have running water up there, meaning that I was carrying a lot of extra fuel. Better safe than sorry. We left the parking lot ~9:30 am-ish and were up at camp before 5pm. For the whiteout navigation in the morning, and us taking it slow, it was a good pace.

Drinking a 30cal packet of miso soup and standing on clouds with views of Mt. Adams

Drinking a 30cal packet of miso soup and standing on clouds with views of Mt. Adams

Altitude and I don’t mix very well. Above 11k, my appetite disappears entirely. I had a packet of miso and 15cal of electrolytes mixed with hot water for dinner and that was all I could stomach for the evening. Not great if you’re planning to go up and over a giant mountain the next morning.

IMG_0055_2_exported_0_1595783046177.jpg
 

You know what time is? 7:30pm, also known as alpine bedtime. Using my rope as a pillow and my stuffed puffy as a cuddle toy

 

7 hours later the alarm woke us up at 4am. Sleep did miracles for me. I woke up fresh, having actually slept (which never usually happens for me at altitude), and interested in some food. So I made the cup-o-noodle that was supposed to be half of my dinner the night before.

After ramen (which would prove to be the only food I ate for pretty much the rest of the day not counting 1 clifshot blok and 6 dates), we packed up our tent, sleeping bags, pads, stove, fuel, and everything else. We were coming down the other side of Rainier via a different route, so no chance at leaving our gear behind to grab it later.

At 5:30am we set off and rapped down the rock step. We didn’t really need headlamps at this point. I love non-super-alpine starts. The sleep definitely helped me feel fresh for the technical ice pitches.

IMG_20200725_051508-01.jpg

Soloing the bottom ice steps that aren’t really ice steps and more frozen giant waves. Super fun ‘ice scrambling’.

IMG_0062~2_exported_10507_1595769801036-01.jpg
Rainier’s shadow at dawn with St. Helens off to the left

Rainier’s shadow at dawn with St. Helens off to the left

No pics of the actual ice climbing section above the lower half since I was focused on climbing with my aluminum crampons + 1 aluminum tool/tech machine combo and the 35lb pack on my back, and my partner was focused on not getting pelted with ice and was being a vigilant belayer.

I linked together all the ice until it was walkable with no tools. I think it was about 90m of climbing since we simul-ed the first 30m. Placed 2 screws along the way and felt fine with that since the ice was super mellow (albeit a bit dinner-platey)

I linked together all the ice until it was walkable with no tools. I think it was about 90m of climbing since we simul-ed the first 30m. Placed 2 screws along the way and felt fine with that since the ice was super mellow (albeit a bit dinner-platey)

Above the ice. Now a long 2000’ snow slog to get up and over.

Above the ice. Now a long 2000’ snow slog to get up and over.

IMG_20200725_093521.jpg
 

Crevasses that could swallow a semi-truck. These behemoths we had to traverse many hundreds of feet to find a snowbridge crossing

Up and over and down the DC route, which is a popular ascent and was marked with wands and had a very nice bootpack (the first of our trip). We cruised down, excited to drop some altitude and have the increased hydrostatic pressure get more oxygen into our bloodstreams.

Seracs on the DC descent route

Seracs on the DC descent route

VID_20200725_173505_exported_3946_1595782901022.jpg
 

Back at the parking lot with enough food and fuel to have lasted us another 2 or 3 days on the mountain (no, really. I had two giant sandwiches, 8 bars, 1 cup-o-noodle and a full ziplock of granola left over). But altitude made everything unappealing until we got back to the car.

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We ran into Porter McMichael (a guide on Rainier for IMG ) on our way down at Muir and he suggested we catch up over pizza and burgers. YES. No better way to end two days in the mountains.

We had great weather on day 2, hardly any wind and the crevasse navigation was relatively simple. It was definitely a long walk to get on some ice, but the camping views and being the only ones on-route were worth it.

Did I mention that this was Deb’s FIRST CAMPING TRIP EVER?! Aren’t you glad you read till the bottom of this trip report to find out? Deb is a fantastic car2car partner and is wicked fast, competent and also excited about ice climbing. But this was literally her first time sleeping in a tent outside. Ever. Or carrying a heavy pack with more than a day’s worth of anything. I’m not joking. She was a total champ and only asked me once how to inflate/deflate a sleeping pad or stuff a sleeping bag. If you get the chance to climb with Deb, she’s great, although you’ll probably have better luck getting her on a day c2c trip than anything overnight. I don’t think this trip convinced her that overnighting is for her :)

Gear Notes:
Air Tech Light Crampons, Grivel Ghost Evo Axe with trigger, Carbon Tech Machine, 4x screws ranging from 13-17cm; 5 draws; 2x double-lengths; 60m Beal Opera 8.5mm dry-treated rope

Approach Notes:
The Fan

Edited by Natalie Afonina

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