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[TR] Rainier - Kautz Car to Car (Fixed...I hope)

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It's been a while since I've gotten around to writing up a trip report but this was a very cool route and definitely worth sharing. There's plenty of good beta out there so this is just a quick bit about our experience and the (quickly deteriorating) conditions on parts of the route.




Timmy "Permacrux" (PC for short) and I did the Kautz Glacier from Paradise, car to car, descending the very nicely maintained DC route. It's been a few weeks since we had a heinous sufferfest together and the warm summer rock has been making us soft, so we hatched this hair brained idea and it actually worked!


We left the parking lot at 11pm Saturday night and made our way down to the Nisqually. The lower glacier at night is a very strange place this time of year with pools and currents of black looking water winding through glass-smooth ice. We were a little dismayed at having to rope up so early but we crossed several crevasses that were not trivial. One required a couple-step down climb and a few vertical sticks up the other side.


The bottom of the fan was completely dry and we had a little anxiety about the scree slog and exposure as we had heard it described when there's no snow. To the contrary, we thought the exposure to rock fall was pretty minimal (it's not that steep) and the scramble up the creek bed was mellow and secure.


From the top of the fan, we headed up the roughly 5k ft slog toward Camp Hazard. As the moon set, we watched the tail end of the Perseid meteor shower tear orange and blue slashes through an ink black sky over the mountain. It was quite a show.


As planned, we reached the rappel just as it got light enough to see that there was no sign of recent activity from the ice cliff. After a quick chat with a climber camped nearby (thanks for the great pictures Mike) we rapped down, racked up, and set off up the first ice step.


Looking back at Mike above the rap DSC003003.JPG


PC lead up brittle and strange ice through the first step which we simuled on 4 screws. The angle was relatively low, but the ice plated and shattered. It was very secure, but definitely took some getting used to. The shape of the flow compresses the glacial ice in the middle making it incredibly dense. Every placement was bomber. Higher up on the step, a bus sized chunk of ice made a rather alarming sound when it settled a few inches under Timmy's weight. I was pretty stoked that he didn't have a screw in that thing!


Timmy leading the first step. Photo by Michael Nied DSC00533_ARW.jpg


I took over at the base of the second step, which we also simuled on 4 screws. The angle picked up to about 60 degrees, and the ice took on the dark grey of the sea after a storm. Though not difficult, the pitch was quite sustained for volcano ice with no rests for the first couple hundred feet. After treating PC to an ice massage below me, we wound up our simul block in a sun cup of black ice that seemed to be custom sculpted for the perfect meat belay; C'est alpin!


Belay at the top of the second step DSC003052.jpg


Just above the ice steps the angle eases 13901582_10208474316989826_7966196643485364166_n.jpg


As the morning warmed, we both new rapping the ice pitches on a 40m 7.8mm rope would be far from ideal. We quickly brewed up at the top of the second ice pitch and rigged ourselves for the glacier. Having been warned that the Nisqually cut over was probably out for the year, we were worried about having to climb all the way up to Point Success (which from there appears to be at the approximate elevation of the moon - not to mention the maze of crevasses barring the way). So we slogged up to the cleaver between the upper Kautz and the Nisqually, and crossed at about 13k. What we saw on the other side was a bit discouraging. At least it was to me, because Timmy promptly fell asleep mid-sentence as I voiced my concerns.


Passed out on the cleaver DSC003072.jpg


The massive crevasses that arch across the upper Nisqually create a perfect defense for the summit crater. It looked like one or two of the bridges might still go, but we knew how deceiving they tend to look from below. The immediate problem however, was figuring out how to get through the ice nightmare that separated the cleaver from Nisqually glacier. The gnarled crevasse runs the whole length of the cleaver and varied from 20-80+ feet wide! It was a monster. Lucky for us, the remnants of the melted out snow bridge usually used for the cutover were just enough for us to piece together.


Staring up the gun barrel at the detached house-sized serac directly above us was motivation enough not to ponder too much, so I set off traversing the vertical downhill side of one of the larger chunks. With some groveling and butt scootching, I was able to stem out with one foot to the next chunk, trying not to vomit into the void below. Luckily, the snice was a little more solid on this one and I got a decent stick on it and was able to climb across and up. Next came a little cowboy action and I straddled the crumbling ice fin for a few feet before climbing up and over, and then doing one more step across and stem sequence to safety. Needless to say, I'm going to propose that the cut over will likely be out for the year in the near future (like maybe, a week ago).


Racked by the effort and sapped by the adrenaline let down, I came on hard times a little above 13k as we started the soul destroying slog up the never ending summit slopes. Fresh off his 4 minute nap, PC dragged me up to the summit like a cantankerous wheezing haul bag. He later admitted that he thought the tugging on his harness was the rope getting caught on the snow when in reality, it was his climbing partner flopping around in a failed attempt to keep up. I was ashamed.


Just after 1pm, we had the summit to ourselves without a breath of wind. We snapped the obligatory photo for Timmy (this being his first ascent of the big old girl) and shuffled down the DC. Having been on the route a couple months ago, I was shocked at how much it has changed. The crevasses truly are awe-inspiring and some of the crossings were pretty serious. I tip my hat to the guides working the route right now.


Timmy on top DSC003081.JPG


Out of water (of course) and too lazy to brew, we stopped briefly at the top of the cleaver to lick our wounds and ditch the rope and crampons. I think I remember having a chat with a squirrel, or a marmot, or...huh. The descent was as uneventful as it was unpleasant, but it was a perfect beautiful day and we made our way back to the car by 6:45.




Gear and Notes: We took 5 screws, a Photon 40m 7.8mm half rope, two hacksawed pickets, 6 runners, and a couple beaners and tibs for the glaciers. Two tools each (I would not want to do this route in these conditions with one) and Dartwins (aluminum alpine crampons would have been a nightmare on the ice). We started with 3.5 liters of water and melted a couple more.


The Nisqually cut over at the top is pretty much toast. The route will still go, but I imagine anyone wanting to climb it will need to head up to Point Success before cutting over to the crater.


We took 19 hours 45 minutes car to car. I was definitely off my game a little, but we still felt like we were pretty efficient given our abilities and the conditions. The complexity of the dozens of crevasse crossings added many hours to the climb. I'm sure a fit team could do this in under 10 hours given good conditions and better skills than ours. That said, we were happy to pull it off. It's a magnificent route: complex, moderate, and big. I can't recommend it enough and it will definitely be one I remember for a long time. Put it on your list and start planning!

Edited by mgetlin

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lovely - remember trying to do that in a day once many moons ago and get mighty unmotivated after we hit the upper dome :)

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I took over at the base of the second step, which we also simuled on 4 screws. The angle picked up to about 60 degrees


Nice work ... but ya gotta learn to measure the slope angle better. No way was it was that steep unless you off to the side banging on the penitents.

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Could be less. I actually didn't look too closely but given that I usually have to remind myself to keep my heels down to get decent feet on stuff less than about 60 (which I didn't have to do) that's my best guess. Maybe it steepened with warmer weather or warmer seasons back to back. Maybe I'm just soft as hell! The point being, if anyone is planning to do the route, I would recommend two tools :)

Edited by mgetlin

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The snow bridge on to the Nisqually seemed impassable on the afternoon of 8/16. We ended up slogging up towards Point Success - the crevasses aren't too bad after the first half, but will certainly open up in coming weeks.


Ice on the second pitch felt less than 60 degrees to me...but it was my first ice climb and inexperience certainly plays a part in that judgement! We only placed a single screw and threaded through a few penitents after realising we'd sewn up the first pitch.

Edited by 0x6E62

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