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[TR] RAINIER - Mowich Face 8/1/2012

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Trip: RAINIER - Mowich Face


Date: 8/1/2012


Trip Report:

There is something about the sunless nordwand Rainier that keeps calling my attention, rejecting my ass and then extending its hostile invitation over again. And again, for some bizarre reason, I drag myself up there to enjoy its ruggedness, its creepy giant icefalls and sickening rock.







In early July, we were turned around by a massive rock fall after reaching the aid crack on the upper headwall of the Curtis Ridge, one of the exposed and my favorite Rainier ridges.


Upper Curtis Ridge:



Starry night over Curtis Ridge:



Disintegrating Russell Cliffs threatening to kill us next morning:




Which prompted our 2000’ “crafty descent” of the east aspect of Will It Kill Me Wall down on Carbon glacier. Yes, that Willis Wall everyone talks about…:





Having survived the “descent”, I was looking forward to go back. Mark however left for Cali, the Curtis ridge got badly out of shape, and it is already freaking August which does not leave you with much of the choice. Kaskadsky Kazak kindly suggested that I would probably enjoy something on Mowich Face. First I was skeptical because Central Mowich face is normally a steep ski route, but this is what we ended up climbing in the current difficult and boney conditions – the largest ice face I ever climbed. If you ever contemplated of skiing it in August, forget it. You WILL die.


So, I talked my friend Lance (aka “Skoolsukz”) into taking advantage of the high pressure nicely setting over Rainier to do a carryover of Mowich Face (or Mowich Headwall – we were flexible with options) via Liberty Cap and DC. Arranging the car shuttle between Paradise and Mowich Lake took as long as getting to Rainier from PDX, and included the obligatory visit to Carbonado. FYI, Carbonado is a black hole, every time I am passing through it, something happens. A few years ago, it was the car transmission that died, this time I crashed my car into a ditch and almost killed myself on a way back.



Day 1. Mowich Lake —> Ptarmigan Ridge

We started at Mowich lake at 10.45 a.m.:



The beautiful approach on Wonderland trail through Spray Park is now snow free.


Spray Park:



Lance on the approach:



Our objective from Wonderland trail is looking good:



Flett glacier morains:




After a refill with running water at the base of Observation rock, we headed up to the col at the crest of Ptarmigan Ridge in the intermittent clouds and followed the crest until we reached an amazing bivy @8600’ at the junction of two smaller ribs merging higher up.


Getting on PR at the col by Observation Rock:



Following the PR crest on the obvious trail:



Looking down at the lower PR and Observation Rock obscured by clouds:



Our luxurious bivy site @8600’ and nordwand ambience:




North Mowich Glacier carbonizing down below (where we will drop next morning):





Day 2. Ptarmigan Ridge —> North Mowich Glacier —> Mowich Headwall

The red line was our approach on day 2 from PR to Mowich Headwall:




Getting down on the North Mowich Glacier was hmmm… lets just forget it. Each rock on that descent was a project by itself. When various sources for the Mowich approach specifically tell you to descend the PR crest to 8200’ and THEN look for a mellow ramp down to the said glacier, go and find that mellow ramp like smart people do! We did not, and instead went straight down from 8500’. That sucked, really sucked. J-burg I just got off a day before Rainier was still fresh in my memory and seemed to be a blessing in comparison.


And of course, once down on the North Mowich Gl., we spotted the correct snow ramp:




Lance digesting the experience:




We talked about how nice PR would be with more snow on it and Lance pointed to his old ski tracks off the top of the Edmunds headwall in July which was a 2 day trip for him :tup: :



There were no other tracks on this part of the mountain and we did not come across a single human being during the 2 days we were up there.


Crossing the North Mowich Glacier was uneventful except for a couple of ice avalanches, a couple of shrunds to navigate and one moat to deal with:






We have casually made it to the base of the North Mowich Icefall – the route I was curious about - it is supposed to have the best class 5 rock on Rainier. But do not look for that awesome class 5 rock – it is no longer there. The route had annihilated itself in the massive rock avalanche just before we showed up there:




Rainier can do better than that but we were not in luck this time. So we continued slogging higher up to the base of the Mowich Headwall and pitched in the tent at the ledge @10000’ to the left of the main shrund by the headwall entrance. Do yourself a favor and camp low when the temps are above freezing. We had helmets on all night to survive the continuous rockfall:





We decided that we really want to go home once we climb this. “This” is a rather vague term here. My recon of the North Mowich Headwall that afternoon left nothing to be desired. I was never good in kayaking waterfalls and I counted at least two in the lower rock band:



Getting to that rock band would not have been that pleasant as we could tell from the expanding every minute horror show of fallen rock below the main shrund.




Day 3. Mowich Headwall —> Central Mowich Face —> Liberty Cap —> Columbia Crest Saddle

Here we go again. We descended to the toe of the headwall @9500’ that separates Central Mowich Face:




and went around and up to the main shrund connecting Central Mowich Face and Edmunds Headwall. At a first glance, it seemed crappy and wall-to-wall:



Sunrise at Mowich Face:



Where do we go?


Obviously, through the ice avy debris field to the only weakness on the left – the rock band… I was looking for waterfalls too but in vain :)



The lack of waterfalls was probably a good sign, because soon I found the ramp system in the rock band connecting to the ice ledge above the shrund:



Lance then took over and we simul soloed through the next rock band:




And then simul climbed through yet another one:




And reached the infamous Arch Buttress at about 12000’:




Things were looking good with lots of good ice and some not so good but luckily, frozen in place rock:



It was nice to be in the refreshing shade:






The only miserable moment was getting hit by the spindrifts of ice pellets coming down from the upper Ice Cliff connecting the Upper Ptarmigan Ridge and Mowich face.


We obviously skipped looking for the exit ramp in the upper rock band below the upper Ice Cliff which was supposed to lead to the summit ridge. Instead we went for the ice arête exit variation (grade 4) to the right:





Our toes were trashed by continuous front pointing for almost 4500’. Wow. What a route.


Finally, we arrived at the summit ridge @14000’. I have a bad history of becoming retarded at this elevation and higher:




After melting snow and eating, we continued to the Liberty Cap. Well, Lance continued at the proper pace (he was well acclimatized after Denali, Lib Ridge and Edmunds Headwall) while I was slowly dragging far behind.


On the Liberty Cap in the refreshing for my brain 25F (and the dreadful 95F in Longmire that day :) ):




By the time we reached the saddle, I had really slowed down to the point that hiking another 800’ to the actual summit would have taken me freaking forever and the chance of getting to the car the same day was very slim.


We pitched in the tent on the summit saddle, so that I could deal with my health problems. 250 mg of Diamox was consumed (in my case it works with the onset) and 15 min later my life got its meaning again. I was happy not to be throwing up.


Camping out at the Columbia Crest saddle:




Day 4. Columbia Crest —> Paradise

After sleeping in at the saddle and getting to the summit, it was really weird to see people.


Nice day and great views:




The summit register:




On our way down the DC at 11400’, we run into a 6 year old Peter who was registered by NPS to climb DC with his dad and they both had reached the summit at 5 a.m. next day:




Here is the full story:

That mountain climber is how old?



After stopping at Camp Muir, the rangers reminded us that we are running a little late and that we also are the fourth party to climb Mowich Face this year.


Now You Can Haz Cheezeburger (PB&J):



Thanks to Lance for being solid and motivated partner!





Gear Notes:

4 screws, 1 Spectre, 2 pickets, small alpine rack


Approach Notes:

Carbonado, Mowich Lake, Spray park

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adventure! :rawk:


slow down now, chick, you're gonna run out of rainier routes to do :)

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Cool report! Nice work on a rarely visited side of the mountain. We happened to be in the same neighborhood about 4 days prior...but went up through the rock band instead of the right hand ice variation just short of 13k. Also enjoyable.


Didn't see anyone for the entire trip either. Pretty cool after the crowds on the other side.


Beta comment: Dropping in at 8,200 off PR worked about as well for us as it could have considering the other gullies available.

Edited by jonathan schrock

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Very nice work, Nastia and Lance! Got to start looking for longer and harder "V-faces" :)

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this series of TRs with no epics is getting boring

indeed! is old girl done turned over a new leaf, or just building up for the mother of all epics? :)

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this time I crashed my car into a ditch and almost killed myself on a way back.


This part sounds relatively epical...



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Congrats on what looks like an awesome climb. Nice meeting you guys on the way down the DC (me = solo climber headed up to the crater to camp).

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Yocum, I think I saw you when you got to Muir and were at the Ranger hut. Wasn't sure though so I didn't come over and introduce myself... That and it was really far away (50 feet) LOL. Awesome work, I enjoy reading your TR and pictures.


Luke, I ran into you just above the top of the cleaver when you were coming down.

Edited by yellowlab03

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If you don't mind me asking what may be your favorite route on rainier? Explain too if you can:)

Thank you!

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I really have not climbed that much on Rainier, but there are people on this board who have and, way more, including Willis Wall, may be they will chime in as well...


Although we only got to the aid crack at 11200', Curtis Ridge is a winner for me. Intricate knife edge climbing with 2000' exposure on either side, thought-provoking routefinding around gendarmes, breathtaking views of Willis Wall and Liberty Ridge to the west and Russel Cliffs and Winthrop seracs to the east. For the best effect, do it early in the season in cold temps and with some snow cover.


The runner-up is Ptarmigan ridge (right variation). Not technically difficult, it is still sustained, with varied climbing on ice and rock and interesting, always changing terrain. The approach from Spray Park is the most legit in that you are actually climbing the ridge from the start rather than short-cutting from White River and Carbon gl. straight to the high camp below the ice cliff.

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Yes! It was a shame tht you had to turn back on Curtis ridge. The trip report was awesome! You'll get that ridge someday! Both of your ptarmigan ridge reports were awesome! Makes me want to go and do those routes someday. Hard indeed but I wouldn't mind trying them out. Thanks again your reports are inspiring!

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