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DonnV

[TR] Rainier- Sunset Ridge 6/18-20/2004

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Climb: Rainier-Sunset Ridge

 

Date of Climb: 6/18-20/2004

 

Trip Report:

This past weekend I climbed Sunset Ridge on Rainier with partners Matt, Seth (swaterfall) and Chad (vw4ever). Matt and Chad left at 3 AM from PDX and picked me up north of Vancouver at 3:45. We met Seth at Paradise just before the ranger station opened at 7. We were able to get the permit we needed for the surprisingly heavily booked west side, grabbed breakfast at the Inn, left Seth's truck at Paradise and drove to the start of the approach at the end of the West Side Road. We noticed at the Inn that what had been a near-perfect weather forecast now mentioned "isolated afternoon thunderstorms."

 

Hiking 4 miles of road and another 4+ of trail put us above timberline at St. Andrews Park. Along the way two guys who had just done the route gave us both some helpful route info and a warning about soft afternoon snow. At St Andrews we started slogging up Puyallup Cleaver, benefiting from previous steps, looking ahead at a mostly clear mountain while nervously looking over our shoulders at the dark thunderheads not too far to the west. We stopped for the day at about 7600' and set up camp just above Tokaloo Spire. The storm clouds continued to build throughout the afternoon, there was plenty of thunder, a few less threatening clouds drifted around the upper elevations of the mountain, and it was clearly raining a few miles away, but we escaped unscathed. By sunset the skies were clear.

 

Our plan was to set up a higher camp on the ridge itself, and we were moving by 7 AM. Just above our camp we roped up and started the gently rising traverse of the Puyallup Glacier on perfect neve, right next to the deep postholes left the previous afternoon by parties retreating from Tahoma Glacier attempts. We stopped briefly at the toe of Sunset Ridge at about 8300', then turned the corner and headed up the 40-45 degree slopes toward the first bivy option at 10,200', the one Mike G calls a "sensational tiny bivy ledge." Well, it was that, but it was pretty small, and it was only about 11 AM, so we hung out for a while in the sun and then continued on up the slightly steepening slopes to a spot where I had spent a night on a previous stormed-out attempt (that was 25 years ago, but I remembered it like it was only 20 wink.gif ). In less than an hour we arrived there, a roomier spot on the north side of the broad ridge at about 11,100'. More snow there than the last time I was there, but that allowed us to dig out a pretty comfy site for our one small tent and two bivy sacks.

 

As forecast, the stormclouds began building in the afternoon, and soon enough we were getting some wind, hearing lots of thunder, getting occasionally engulfed by cloud, and then it started snowing. We kept telling ourselves that it was just the same afternoon pattern as the day before, but we were definitely more in the thick of things now and we were soon all crammed in the tent. After an hour or so Seth and Chad headed for their bivy sacks during a break and we all spent a few hours sacked out while the snow and wind continued. As unpleasant as it was where we were, we could see this was very isolated weather. We could look down and see our entire day's approach and we could see Puget Sound basking in sun. By about 7 PM the snow stopped, it began to clear and, like the day before, skies were clear by sunset.

 

High winds and spindrift didn't let any of us get much sleep by the time alarms went off at 2 AM. It was cold enough that our pots of water for the morning required some serious ice chipping and it was still windy, but skies looked clear as we packed up. We were moving just before 3:30, and by that time had noticed very light clouds over the summit. We started up slopes that were probably mostly 45 degrees, maybe 50 in spots, and excellent cramponing. As we ascended, those light clouds up high thickened, and we could see that there were high winds from the other side of the mountain. We were clearly going to be climbing up into a cloud cap, and the winds picked up considerably, but visibility remained good. At about 12,800', we left the ridge and traversed on steep bad snow out onto the upper section of the Edmunds Headwall. The angle bumps up here to a pretty consistent 50-55 for about 500', where the gradient eases for the still long slog up to Liberty Cap. By now we were getting up into the lenticular, really getting pounded by the wind, and visibility was in and out, but we could still see occasional bright spots and it still looked like a thin cloud cover. We topped Liberty Cap at about 7 and kept right on moving. Visibility was poor but we were now helped by quite a few old tracks, probably from Liberty Ridge climbers.

 

As we dropped into the gap between Liberty Cap and Columbia Crest we were also dropping out of what was now a very thin cloud cap on LC. Down in the gap we found ourselves taking break in our first sun of the day, searching our packs for water that wasn't frozen, and watching a small horde of climbers topping out on the Emmons. The cloud cap still over the summit was fighting a losing battle, we slogged the last slopes to the top under clear skies, and Chad was able to celebrate his birthday with his second ascent of Rainier.

 

As planned, we descended the DC rather than the longer trip down the Tahoma. Not too crowded on the route but got very hot. Seth got his first look at Muir. Being a sunny Sunday at the solstice, both Muir and Paradise were zoos. The beers we had left in Seth's truck weren't cold, but Matt filled the cooler with snowmelt water and by the time we got back to my car on the West Side Road they were chilled to perfection. A few miles outside the park we grabbed a quick meal, Seth headed north to home, we headed south.

 

Nice route in a great position on the mountain, and one I had been wanting to get back to for a long time. The weather proved to be just a complication and not a problem, and snow conditions were mostly excellent. Great group for what was largely a cc.com blind date. Even though Matt and Chad had never met before Friday, and none of us had met Seth before then, we all had great chemistry from the start. Lots of stories, lots of laughs, lots of song lyrics I didn't know. Good times!

 

Chad on the approach with dark clouds looming behind.

664ChadClouds-med.JPG

 

 

Sunset Ridge and Sunset Amphitheatre from our first camp. Route goes up the snowfields on the left. Our next bivy is on the left skyline just left of photo's center, where it looks slightly lower angle.

664SunsetRoute-med.JPG

 

 

It's better to travel when the snow is hard! Crossing the Puyallup Glacier.

664CrossingPuyallup-med.JPG

 

 

Low on Sunset Ridge, approaching 10K.

664SunsetLow-med.JPG

 

 

Moving from the rejected 10K bivy to one about 1000 feet higher.

664Bivy2Bivy-med.JPG

 

 

The bivy at 11K after the snow ended. The surrounding rocks had been bare and dry when we arrived.

664Bivy11k-med.JPG

 

 

Donn starting out on the last steep section of the upper Edmunds Headwall. Route goes up and right of the large rock and into the worst of the wind, then another 1000' to Liberty Cap. Bright spots like to the left kept us optimistic that the cloud cap was thin.

664Donn_on_Mowich_Face.JPG

 

 

Chad and Seth on the upper Edmunds Headwall.

664Chad_and_Seth_on_Mowich_Face.JPG

 

 

Between Liberty Cap and Columbia Crest. The first time we've been in the sun that day.

664FirstSun-med.JPG

 

 

Birthday Boy Chad and Seth arriving at the summit.

664ChadSummit-med.JPG

 

 

Gear Notes:

1 60m half rope

2 pickets and 4 screws - not used.

2nd tools - not necessary but used 'em cause we had 'em

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hell yes! great TR and photos! Ive always been interested in doing a route on that side of the mountain.

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Nice thumbs_up.gifthumbs_up.gif

I was on the mountain saturday too and those storms sure looked scary, but they missed us for the most part.

TTT

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Full congratulations! Obviously a long-to-be-remembered trip for all of you. Fine line you walked weather-wise; good decisions made; summit; safe return.....not bad for an old codger!

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Nice write up Donn! Thanks again for putting the climb together. I don't want to hear anymore that you are "getting too old for this sh!t."

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Great photos! I did that route in '87 and also went down the DC. We were luckier in that the W. Side road was then open to the Monument. That is a nice route if you want to be alone on a seldom visited area..

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Great TR & Photos! we talked to you at your first camp as we were coming out from our tahoma attempt. Glad the weather worked for you.

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ok now though

 

664Bivy2Bivy-med.JPG

 

4 climbers roped together...no pro between... if you fall you can take out all 4 of you!

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Didn't you write this...

 

"A samurai makes his decision in the space of seven breaths. Once you have decided to kill a man, it is best not to take a long, roundabout way of doing it, but to dash in headlong. The way of the samurai is one of immediacy."

 

Sitting at the base of the vertical wall I took 7 breaths, put my rock shoes on and started climbing. After climbing only about 15 feet I was incredibly scared, I had just broken a foothold, and I knew there was no way I was going to be able to solo this. In fact if I had been on a rope I would still have been sketched. So I managed to downclimb VERY CAREFULLY back to the ledge and spent some time shaking and cursing.

 

about soloing on this?

 

357ass1-med.JPG

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yeah but i don't like to tie myself to someone else when i'm soloing! i guess it all depends on the snow though.

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ok now though

 

664Bivy2Bivy-med.JPG

 

4 climbers roped together...no pro between... if you fall you can take out all 4 of you!

nice work catbirdseat. the free body diagram of the forces involved easily determines appropriate picket spacing based on relative density of the snowpack in these circumstances.

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that looks like an incredible ski right there though.

 

flukes? please....do I need to break out the comprehensive ITRS snow anchor analysis briefings on climbs around the summer solstice? the slow pull test suites clearly place flukes in the backwaters of utility.

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Thanks for the great TR, Donn. Accurate as could be had.

 

Dru, I understand your point, but the angle there, combined with the snow conditions, were more than conducive to self arrest/team arrest. No pro needed. Guess you had to have been there.

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great TR, thanks! I am inspired to climb this route.

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