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mtngrrrl

TR: DC Route, highs and lows

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On August 18, three of us climbed Rainier via the DC route. It was our second attempt; we got weathered off the first time in June. Since I’m new to the area and this was my first time up the mountain, I thought I’d share some of my impressions with other PNW newbies out there.

 

We drove from Seattle early Saturday for the walk up to Camp Muir. Thankfully the weather was slightly overcast, so the snowfield wasn’t as baking hot as I have experienced before. Interesting note for those who do not know, the Muir Snowfield is indeed a glacier, a fact I confirmed with a ranger. I saw two open crevasses on it, one that I had to jump on the way down. They aren’t deep or scary crevasses, but they exist nonetheless.

 

At Muir two of our party had intended to tent, while the third person intended to stay in the hut. While we tenters were scoping a good spot, the wind started kicking up pretty fiercely. Eventually the area felt like it was in the middle of a dust storm and was mighty unpleasant. We helped catch a runaway tent for one group and decided that staying in the hut might be the better option.

 

We found a tiny, slightly less windy corner outside to cook our dinner (fresh pasta rules!) away from the maddening crowd inside the hut. After a visit with the ranger, we felt good about the route and weather, so we hit the sleeping bags sometime after 7 for a 12:00 wake up. Unfortunately three guys squeezed like hamsters into a 2-person spot next to me. In the middle of the night, I woke up with one guy sleeping on my arm. Ewww! Hut life.

 

The hamster trio got up at 11, then most of the rest of the hut got up at midnight. Our group made tracks to get in front of three 3-person teams of Mountaineers. They were nice folks, but we didn’t want to get tangled in their group of nine. It was good motivation to get moving. Crossing the Cowlitz, we could see a few parties well ahead of us, and LOTS of parties behind us. Again, good motivation to keep moving.

 

Crossing the Ingraham Glacier was spooky. Gazing up at the shadowy seracs, I could feel the tension of walking underneath an active, but quiet for the moment, icefall. Once on the Cleaver, we shortened the rope to travel closer for safety. The Cleaver is very well wanded, but it is possible to lose the wands in the dark. We briefly got off route and too far right before realizing just how well wanded it was. After that, it was easy to find the way up the scree. Rockfall wasn’t much of a problem, probably because the other parties were far enough ahead. Part way up, the route traverses left onto a snowfield with much easier going than working up the rock in crampons. The sky showed the palest indications of dawn as we took a break on top of the Cleaver. We could see the line of headlamps working up the route, and we fell in line with them.

 

Sometime after this, my lack of acclimatizing combined with my middling fitness level and lack of sleep kicked in. I was pushing hard, but I was going sooooo slowly. We were doing the rest step, which was a huge savior. All the while I had an overwhelming urge to lay down and take a nap.

 

Dawn eventually broke. Spectacularly. Onward we pressed. We gingerly crossed crevasses and wound our way towards the top. I felt so tired. So emotionally drained. I wanted to be there already. I was digging deep to continue, knowing I couldn’t let my partners down. I knew I was the slowest of the three, and I had to push push push to keep going. Even though a lot of parties were still behind us, I knew we were going slow enough that conditions would be mushy during the descent. Finally, I couldn’t see anything past the line of climbers going up the route, so I croaked out "Do you think that’s the top?" "No," came the response. OK. Dig deeper still.

 

Finally, really! We made it to the crater rim. People were shouting and laughing. I looked across the crater, and my friend said "That’s where the actual summit is." My god, I thought, will this mountain never end!! But really, I was very happy to have made it. I hadn’t quite hit rock bottom, so we made our way across the crater to the top for a few photos and handshakes. The crater was broiling hot, time was nigh, so we started on the descent.

 

As predicted conditions were quite soft and damn, was it hot! I know you’re supposed to "dress for the crevasse," but I was far too hot to do that. Some crevasses had certainly widened since the ascent, and we jumped 4 or 5 of them on the way down. Exciting stuff! The Cleaver was much more prone to rock fall this time of day as well. We just about sprinted across the Ingraham Glacier with another party right on our tail. Not a nice place to linger.

 

The rest of the descent was smooth. Back at the hut we ate and napped before glissading back to Paradise. I am grateful that I had two strong partners who also were forgiving of the fact that I was slow. (Hey, someone’s got to come in third!!)

 

The Disappointment Cleaver route is a fantastic route, in my opinion. I enjoyed crossing multiple glaciers and working up rocky sections. The diversity of the route makes it interesting. That said, I don’t think I could have done the DC this year if RMI wasn’t guiding thousands of people up it each season. The route has become a technical path that is very well marked. The element of route-finding is pretty much removed, which wouldn’t happen if RMI wasn’t there. I have mixed feelings about that. While my group was prepared to perform rescues and bivvy if need be, I hope that other parties don't get a false sense of security because the route is so beaten down.

 

That's it. I'm glad that it's over and everything went smoothly.

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congratulations. [smile] sounds like a neat experience. that very sleepy feeling that you described--wanting very badly to lay down and go to sleep--is an altitiude symptom that i have experienced quite a few times... i understand what you mean about being 3rd, thats usually me, and i too have been grateful for the good mtneering partners i have had that are supportive of slow but steadiness.

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I've gotten the sleepies so bad before I've fallen asleep while walking. [smile]

 

If I could make a suggestion to beginners doing the DC route: please take a break at Ingraham Flats, whether you think you need one or not, chow down a power bar and guzzle some Gatorade. Otherwise you'll hit a wall in the middle of the Cleaver and cause the infamous backup in the middle. Thank you - drive through.

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I would even add that quick food and water breaks every hour are a good idea. I keep energy bars in the knee pocket of my pants where they're easy to get to for quick stops without removing the pack.

 

Speaking of the sleepies, I think I did doze of for a minute when one partner stopped to take some photos. I kinda leaned on the wall of the trough that was the route and had a 30 second dream. Nice, but disconcerting all the same. Made me think "Oh, this is how people lay down and die..." [Eek!] Not a good idea.

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quote:

Originally posted by mtngrrrl:

The Disappointment Cleaver route is a fantastic route, in my opinion. I enjoyed crossing multiple glaciers and working up rocky sections. The diversity of the route makes it interesting. That said, I don’t think I could have done the DC this year if RMI wasn’t guiding thousands of people up it each season. The route has become a technical path that is very well marked. The element of route-finding is pretty much removed, which wouldn’t happen if RMI wasn’t there. I have mixed feelings about that.


Congratulations. The DC in late season is certainly a different animal than in early season. The biggest objective (and maddening) hazard to me is the crowds. I think this route is an excellent and reasonably safe way to introduce yourself to the mountain and get a sense of the scale and effort required to summit. But I don't know why people repeat it except on a carryover descent. You might consider the Turtle approaches for your next ascent. Much more interesting (in my book) than the other intermediate and popular routes on the Emmons side. We did a Fuhrer Finger-Kautz loop on 7/16 and saw NO ONE on either route all morning. [Cool]

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