3 Days on Mt Rainier

Bluebird skies on Mt Rainier

After two stellar days on Mt Hood, Dima and I headed north towards Rainier.  A quick resupply and a clear forecast had us rethinking our plans of a rest day before getting up high.  Coming from sea level, we decided that it would be better to spend time acclimating at Camp Muir rather than wasting a day at lower elevation.

Dima looking tiny on the Muir Snowfield with Mt Adams in the distance.

A leisurely day packing and getting the required climbing permits lined up had us arriving at Muir just before sunset.  With the climbing season not yet in full swing, there was only one other group of two staying in the bunkhouse.

Crossing onto the Ingraham Glacier. Disappointment Cleaver is the rock ridge just below the horizon on the right.

For the fourth day in a row the skies were clear and the temperatures warm.  Our plan for the day was to get higher on the mountain to acclimate and do some skiing on the Ingraham Glacier.  A late start and navigating some large crevasses on the Ingraham had us near the base of the headwall at 12400 ft.  We found a safe spot well away from avalanche and icefall danger for a short lunch break.  While enjoying the view, a large chunk of ice broke free from the glacier and crashed into the monster crevasse above emitting a white cloud from the abyss.  A nice reminder that the mountains are alive.  After lunch and lots of UV, we skied the Ingraham back to Camp Muir to fuel up for a summit attempt.

Talking with the rangers that evening, it looked like the weather wouldn’t be cooperating as much as it had the previous two days.  That night the wind picked up and you could feal the wind rattling the hut throughout the night.  The guides had put in fixed ropes on Disappointment Cleaver and with firm conditions for climbing it was decided that this would be our ascent route.

Dima and I departed just after 5 AM to start our climb.  The wind was blowing steadily with clouds above as we crossed Cathedral Gap to witness a stunning sunrise and rope up.

Sunrise on Little Tahoma Peak

While on DC we were sheltered from the wind and had the route to ourselves.  We stopped at the top of the cleaver to snack and put on another layer as the wind was really starting to pick up.  We crossed paths with a few guided parties on their descent and were warned of the high winds.  We continued upward for another hour and 45 minutes into the brutal wind.  I just put my head down and followed the boot track that zigzagged its way up the glacier to the summit crater.  Once in the crater, we were somewhat out of the wind and able to put skis on to cruise up to the Columbia Crest at 14,411 ft.  Out of the crater the wind was easily gusting past 50 mph making it nearly impossible to stand on skis.  A few pictures on the summit and we quickly dipped back into the protection of the crater.

Dima getting ready to descend through the crater.

The high winds kept the snow very firm with a few pockets of drifted snow that was slightly more edgeable.  Calculated and controlled turns for 2000 vertical ft had us back on Disappointment Cleaver.  The snow was still rock hard and we down-climbed most of the cleaver.  Had we been more familiar with the route, it would have been possible to ski this section.  An obvious ski route that deviates slightly from the main climbing route can be seen in one of the prior photos.  The firm snow conditions combined with the exposure of the route were the main detractors.

Lenticular cloud forming over the summit

Back on the Ingraham we were able to zip down to Muir to load up our overnight gear.  Even on the upper section of the Muir Snowfield the snow had not softened as the winds were overpowering the effects of the sun.  Once the tide turned the skiing was almost effortless in the perfectly softened snow, even with a heavy pack.  From Pan Point to the overnight parking lot the snow was heavy and grabbing at my skis.

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