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[TR] Mt. Rainier- Ptarmigan Ridge 5/28/2005


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Climb: Mt. Rainier-Ptarmigan Ridge


Date of Climb: 5/28/2005


Trip Report:

this weekend mtnhigh (ornery pete), oleg (the rascal of russia) and meself sojurned up the fantastic ice-clad slopes of ptarmigan ridge and descended the emmons



serendipity favors the foolish - namely meself. i pm'ed a dozen people last week trying to find some sorta mischeif to get into over memorial day and got lucky - pete and oleg already had plans to climb rainier and were interested in a third. it seemed that liberty ridge would likely be a zoo, so we eschewed it in favor of the more mysterious ptarmigan.


excellent call. the approach picture says it all. beats the muir snowfield all to hell.


sat around white river campground for a few hours on friday waiting for pete n' oleg to show - made small-talk w/ an illinios boy who'd been stuck there for days, wanting to solo liberty ridge but not having the cajones to solo the carbon - he was waiting to find a team he could latch onto for the glacier crossing.


setting up the car shuttle was a bitch, but ultimately very cool - that feeling of traversing such a cosmic sized titty was rather satisfying. 'course, the trade-off was getting only 2 hours of sleep at the mowich lake trailhead prior to the kickoff. we wanted to reach the bivi before the forecasted heat fried us, so we departed the trailhead round 230 am.


spray park is fucking fantastic. very cool place - skiiers paradise, i must imagine. soothing glades and magnicent vistas of the austere, "fuck-you-go-away" face of the mountain. the approach up the ridge was made slightly easier by faint footprints left by an earlier party. one of the reasons this approach rocks lies in the continous soul-searching that's the inevitable response of staring strait into the mouth of the beast - the route is right there in your face the whole time - questions w/ no answers.


we bivied right at 10k. watching a pair working their way up the mid portion of the route, looking like they weren't enjoying life much in the bright, bright heat of late morning. the going looked very slow and we could only surmise that they were going to bivi mid-route (the beckey guide mentioned a spot on the right variation)




we reached the bivy by 1030 - it was already hot as hell. luckily there was enough exposed rock on the ridge to set up a camp off the snow. we had no tents and did a thoroughly mediocre job of fashioning shade with a tarp, so mostly we just sat around melting snow, bullshitting and attempting to nap while sweating profusely. i was feeling the altitude and had developed an annoying cough on the approach.


we were all asleep by dark, though the sleep was poor - for some reason the ominious ice-cliffs become much more active in the dark, and frequent fear-of-god thunderslides combined w/ a paranoid conviction that the rock retaining wall i had fashioned was going to fail and send me hurtling down onto the mowich in my sleeping bag so as to make slumber uneasy at best.


up and off at 3 am. we traversed across the glacier, mostly following the tracks laid down the day before - still the snow was very soft and slow going - we could only imagine the misery of having broken that trail in the daylight the day before - MADMEN! crossed the 'shrund and started trending back to the left. we did all this early part roped, but placing no pro as the angle is easy and the snow very secure.


looking down the lower portion of the route




traversing left across the spur towards the snow apron below the top rock cliff


the money shot - ptarmigan ridge at dawn - like the quick flick of a snake-tongue, a lightening fast moment of fear as the thought of those clouds rising and choking the entire mountain, but the stayed low all day and the paranois was overwhelmed by the sense of commitment and pleasure of intruding in an alien land.


just below the huge rock cliff that begins aroudn 11.5k and tops around 12.5k, we traversed sharp left, then strait up through 50 degree snow to the base of the cliff (here the routes splits and our mysterious friend's tracks headed off right) - we went flat left to an ice gully, leading up 50-60 degree ice/snow to the base of the upper ice-cliffs.





turning the corner and heading up to the ice gully


your friend and humble narrator following pete up the iciest portion of the route, just below the upper cliff


looking down on the traverse under the ice cliff


the illustrious ivan on a fun ice-bouldering move while approaching the weakness in the upper ice-cliff (actually involved some sweating and cursing while trying to retrieve my lower tool - "suxa!")



aroudn 12k we reached a difficult point, requiring a biiig step over a crevasse to climb a much higher lip on the other side - oleg dispatched this one w/ style after excavating a foot of soft snow to get good sticks in the glacial ice. i shoulda led it - being 6'7" i motored right through w/ two good sticks and one big step. note the ridicilious radio antenna on my pack and the strong breeze (managed to do the whole ascent w/ a balaclava and jacket on - the heat of the previous day was gone, replaced by a strong wind that kept the body cool)


from there the route becomes a monotonous soul-shattering grind up to the top of liberty cap - easy angle but soft snow, heavy pack, and altitude-induced neo-cro-magnoism (uhh, that is, i felt really stupid and tired)



another money shot, very close to the topout on liberty cap (which, despite it's rather roundish name, is actually quite pointy - currently featuring a dramatic crevasse bifurcating its crown) - if pete looks grumpy and cantankerous here, that's no mistake - he and oleg spent the next hour playing tug of war w/ me as the middle-man in the rope (i'm everybody's suxa!)



the descent was uneventful. we eschewed the true summit, sticking to the very well beaten trail from all the liberty-ridge-hop-heads, winding our way out across the emmons. as we descended the snow became abysmally deep. at one point it became icy and w/ crampons off i wussed a bit getting over a steep section above a thinly concealed crevasse - my burgeoning fear being that, with a large thunderhead forming to the west and frequent lightening flashes, i would fall into the crevasse and be electructed along w/ my compadres after zues had discovered our act of alpine defilement - benjamin franklin style.


in the end the storm fizzle away off to the south. we entered gumby-dom and threw down on the front porch of city-hall



we grubbed up, took care of certain gastro-intestinal necesseties, and headed off. the climb back up the top of the interglaicer was discouraging, and then it was one high-speed romantical burn down to the car. the lush greenery of the forrest summoned feelings of magic in me and my spirits soared - we had seen everything that day, the whole damn mountain, and emerged unscathed - i had unlimited energy and found myself fighting the urge to stop at every stream and wash my hair, gather flowers, and marvel at the recent memories


)all in all, if you're still reading, a fucking fantastic voyage. a challenging route, but certainly not terribly difficult. an exotic bivy. mostly soft snow. good company. go get it.


Gear Notes:

4 picketts, 4 screws, no rock pro (none needed); very light bivi gear - brought a down jacket but didn't use it.


food: caffeine goo-shots rock! but how the fuck do i keep the inevitable goo dribbles from besmirching my pack/pockets ala john holmes style?


Approach Notes:

dirt, snow, rock

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i was certainly shit-hammered for that last slog to the top - the man on the sharp end was determined to do it all at top speed though, so as a result i felt kinda like the dog in "national lampon's vacation" - tied to the bumper of a car running at 30 mph!

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the center gully would certainly be climbable and very entertaining (one of the guide books mentioned it was climbed very early on in the route's history) but the objective risk would be too high for my taste - there's evidence of a good amount of debris below the gully as ice chunks from the cliff do come down through there. still, it had a large amount of near vertical water-ice and would no doubt get the heart pumping.

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