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[TR] Mt Rainier - Kautz Glacier Climb / Sunset Rid

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Trip: Mt Rainier - Kautz Glacier Climb / Sunset Ridge Ski Descent


Date: 5/31/2007


Trip Report:

Hannah and Casey attempted to climb Sunset Ridge with me two weeks ago. We made it to the 12,500 ft high point adjacent to the Mowich Face, then retreated due to a combination of time constraint and the intimidating, tortuous terrain remaining between us and Liberty Cap. Keeping the "play it safe" theme, we downclimbed until we were below some icy, steep bulges circa 12k and skied from there.


Two insights emerged from this trip:

1. Sunset Ridge is a kick-ass route and

2. The approach via West Side Road and Tahoma Creek Trail is in terrible shape and I don't want to do it again.


I convinced myself that I knew enough to ski the route without climbing it. New plan: up and over from Paradise, don't forget your tennis shoes for the hike to West Side Road.


Between incubating and hatching this rotten scheme, I decided that it would be good style to climb via a route new to me and tag all three summits en route to Liberty Cap. It's not fair to just start from Paradise and make it easy, now is it?


Phil met me at Paradise at 2 am yesterday morning. We were going to cross Nisqually and Wilson Glaciers together. Tennis shoes safely stashed in the bottom of my pack, we skinned to Glacier Vista.


For a moment I entertained the notion of climbing one of the Success Couloirs with Phil, but then I decided against it. All that extra traversing might be the straw to bust my hump (I don't want to use "camel" because certain persons already call me that.). I would climb the more direct Kautz Glacier. We went our separate ways at half past five.



Later Phil: a shot for the cc.com fashion police.


I really took my time on the way to Camp Hazard, in the interest of conserving energy. The warm sun was really pleasant when I got there. I drank a Perrier, dropped my derriere, and took a nice nap. Shortly after nine it seemed like time to move.



The Kautz Glacier from Camp Hazard



The ice chute was fun climbing.


The ice chute was short and sweet: some of the funnest climbing I've done on Rainier, while it lasted. Higher, I stayed left for a direct line up the Kautz Glacier to Point Success. Snow was balling on my crampons terribly, which was frustrating and decelerating. I finally reached Point Success at two in the afternoon.



Liberty Cap looks so far.


I felt really great, which was encouraging. But I was quite concerned about my plan. The three-summit traverse consists of almost two miles and 1,000 ft of extra climbing, all between 13,600 ft and 14,400 ft. I hoped that my sea-level dweller's resilience would withstand the excursion and leave me in good enough shape for an engaging descent. Also, dropping in blind on the Mowich Face? WTF!?


Having seen the Mowich Face, apparently in good shape two weeks prior, was my justification. But looks can be deceiving. And I expected powder on the Park Headwall just Monday, but found very hard, icy snow.


Don't let your fear control you. Go look. Maybe I could scout the Mowich Face in climber mode, then ski it after verifying its viability.


I found myself on Liberty Cap almost two hours later. Joel, an RMI guide who had just led a party up Liberty Ridge, was nice enough to take my picture. I drank another Perrier - French beverage for good extreme skiing luck - and prepared to ski.



On Liberty Cap: That's Sunset Ridge in the background.


I clicked into my skis and schussed toward the Mowich Face once again. The snow was very soft on the ridge. I veered onto the Edmunds Headwall a bit and found that it was quite icy just under the surface. I returned to the refuge of the ridge, but soon reached its end.


The exposure was incredible. From 13,300 ft on Sunset Ridge, to the one side was over 3,000 ft of exposure on the Mowich Face, to the other side an 800 ft cliff above a steep glacier slope in Sunset Amphitheater.


I was so scared. By myself, with all that exposure, not knowing exactly what I would find below me. There was soft, steep snow between rockbands hugging the ridge, so I skied there ever so slowly. I gained confidence methodically working my way through steep lips and tight gullies. The snow stayed soft near the rocks of the ridge.


Top of the Mowich Face: Sunset Ridge is directly ahead. I skied between the rocks where the ridge drops directly ahead.


Around 12,700 ft, starting to feel confident and making more turns, I was on another steep lip after which only an open slope remained between me and our previous high point. I was assiduously assessing the best way onto the open slope, when I noticed a blue sheen glowing through the white snow. I finally found a reasonable way off the lip. I gave the blue-sheened snow a whack with my pole, while still in deeper fresh snow just below the lip. The slope featured only a centimeter of fresh snow over bumpy, blue glacier ice. Yuck.


I changed into crampons to cross the ice. Then I had an argument with myself.

"You could traverse through that." All right, I put my skis back on.

I stepped onto the ice with only one ski and I really didn't like the feel of it.

"Shut up." I changed into crampons again. I would need them to climb the high point on the crest of Sunset Ridge at 12,500 ft anyway.


I began by downclimbing on my front points, but I really didn't need to downclimb. I needed to traverse. But I was too gripped by fear to stroll across the ice with good technique. Finally, I took a deep breath, retrieved the pick of my ax from the ice and put the ax in a cane position, and strolled across the slope pied à plat.


Now I just need to get up there.


Time to regain Sunset Ridge. Originally, I expected to ski the top bit of the Edmunds Headwall, then regain the ridge. I'm glad that my fear kept me from doing that. In retrospect, it would have been a much bigger climb to regain the ridge from the Edmunds Headwall, with much more nastiness, including the same blue sheen coming from all over the Mowich Face. The climb was nasty enough in the first place: Downclimb steep volcanic choss fully exposed to the Mowich Face, then climb steep mixed choss and six-inch-deep rime to the high point.


I made it! From the top of the Mowich Face to the 12,500 ft high point, descending a whopping 800 ft in one hour and fifteen minutes.



So glad to be done with that!


I marked this Mowich Face photo from Mike Gauthier's Mount Rainier blog to show where I skied and where I was in 'poons.


The snow on Sunset Ridge was wonderfully soft. To the victor go the spoils: 4,100 ft consisting of 400 ft of gentle ridge with striking exposure; a steep roll onto the face where the ridge bifurcates; 600 ft of open face; 1,500 ft of a sweet, steep gully; then a final 1,300 ft of open, fall-line skiing.



Point Steeze for the Maggots: The place to be at 6 pm: atop 4,000 ft of steep, creamy goodness.


My exhiliration with the skiing, coupled with my relief from deescalation, gave me one of those highs that keep me doing this retarded skiing stuff. I watched the sluffs, but they were harmless.


I expected the glaciers to be perilously soft, but they were actually firm enough to keep me moving. I made a high traverse off the South Mowich Glacier and continued across the Puyallup Glacier, until I could make an easy descending traverse to a notch onto the Tahoma Glacier.



View from the Puyallup Glacier: Sunset Ridge's goodness on the left skyline from the 12,500 ft high point, the top of the Mowich Face the apparent high point, and Liberty Cap the much snowier high point to the right.



A nice view on the Puyallup Glacier


The south-facing slope onto the Tahoma started sluffing. I'm glad that I was still paying attention. I stayed high and stopped to watch the carnage. A football-field sized wet slide quickly ripped over a cliff. That would have hurt. I skied the slide's path for its relative safety.



I started the big slide above the cliff just to the right of the shade. I used the slide's path as a safety zone to ski.


My memory treated me well and I was off the Tahoma Glacier in no time. The turns were nice. Below Emerald Ridge, I was seriously buzzing from a 10,000 ft descent.


Reality check: It's after 7 pm and it will be an arduous ordeal to reach my car. I quickly lost the trail on skis, then spent half an hour booting through brush and throwing a hissy fit.



Ugh: It's 8:13 pm, my car is at the bottom left of that mountain, and it's not easy going between here and there.


It became dark enough to require a headlamp while I was hopping boulders for the last mile down Tahoma Creek. I was delirious, having imaginary conversations with all kinds of people I know, and not taking a very efficient finish line.


I was so happy to see Hannah at West Side Road when I got there after 10 pm. Thanks for being there! She agreed to come with me to South Hill to get a bite, but I was falling asleep at the wheel too much, so I stopped to take a nap in Eatonville and she headed home. When I finally woke up, I had to stop to take another nap in Puyallup. Then one more nap in some town south of Auburn, the name of which I can't even remember. I finally made it home to be greeted by a very happy dog at 5:30 am this morning. Lots of coffee and a TR - now I better do some work.



Gear Notes:

Loose Screws


Approach Notes:

Didn't do it.

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Great Trip report Sky! You know, I'm always having arguments just like that with myself.



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Nice stokey! But according to the French climbing and skiing rules, isn't it a failure if you don't get back to town before the bars close? Fuck the French, what do they know.

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solid, very solid. I climbed the Kautz a couple of years ago and found it to be a fun climb as well.


Love the point steeze. (I'm a maggot)

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It was hard to imagine a cooler Rainier trip than last year's Kautz Headwall ski. But this one takes the cake. Or does it put the icing on the cake? Powder on the ice? A solo evening descent down to the wild west side. What a true adventure.


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Very good! I especially love the picture "Top of the Mowich Face: Sunset Ridge is directly ahead. I skied between the rocks where the ridge drops directly ahead." Makes me want to go surfing, skiing, and water-skiing at the same time.


I knew you'd be up there somewhere when I didn't see you at the picnic yesterday.

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That's an inspiring trip Sky. Everything about it, including your write-up, screams motivation. Thanks for showing us how it's done.

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Nice stokey! But according to the French climbing and skiing rules, isn't it a failure if you don't get back to town before the bars close? Fuck the French, what do they know.


Actually, he got home in time to shower & hit the bars for first call. Crazy work effort Sky, how long does it take to recover from these endurance fests?

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Liked climbing Sunset a few years back. Very cool that you skied it!

Edited by vw4ever

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Looks like an awesome trip! Great job, there is nothing better than a good death march up and over a mountain!


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