Saturday, August 05, 2017

Kautz Glacier August 3rd

Climbing rangers finish off the 2nd "ice pitch" on the Kautz.
Although the conditions on the Kautz glacier remain nearly the same as was reported on both July 20th and July 23rd, there are still a few things to note. Climbing rangers set out from the Comet Falls trailhead to take advantage of some shade along the approach and to get a glimpse of the wildflowers that are beginning to peak in the alpine meadows. This is a great option for accessing the Kautz as you don't need to rope up or cross a glacier the entire way to the Castle or the upper 11,000 ft. bivies. However, it's important to keep in mind that you start 2,000 ft. below paradise if you choose this trail. 

The wildflowers in Van Trump made for a nice, although longer
 approach for the Kautz Glacier.
 Rangers were glad to take advantage of the trees and shade for the first few miles of the approach, as the August heat has come on strong this year! We were rewarded with prime wildflowers and multiple mountain goat sightings. Paired with the solitude on the trail, this approach makes for a nice change of pace compared to the standard route approaches. Bugs weren't too bad except for some biting flies near treeline that you only noticed when you stopped for breaks. Please remember that the Van Trump meadows are quite fragile and climbers should take extra care to minimize their impact on the area.

Penitentes adjacent to the Wapowetey Clever.

Once off the ridge and onto the Kautz proper, conditions are still quite suncupped along the route. Although visible ice is starting to present itself on both "pitches", the majority of surface conditions are firm, sun cupped snow. Despite bringing two ice tools for the climb, a 2nd tool almost seemed more awkward than helpful. It was more secure to use one tool and one whippet or trekking pole. That being said, rangers were still able to place solid ice screw protection throughout the route. In the early morning conditions, vertical pickets were not an option in the firm snow. As the summer progresses, the climbing will no doubt become more technical.
Visible bootpack that crosses multiple crevasses
on the upper Nisqually glacier. 

After the slope angle backs off and you transition back to glacial travel mode, the bootpack is quite vague and teams may need to do a bit of route finding to end run some crevasses and cross some narrow (but thick) bridges. In general, the route is straight forward up to the Wapowetey Cleaver. From here, there is a visible boot pack that takes many switchbacks and crosses multiple crevasses before reaching the crater rim. Other teams reported quite a bit of ice fall down the ice pitches in the middle of the day. Due to this, rangers are recommending that parties climb earlier than they would otherwise. Record high temperatures are creating unstable upper mountain conditions later in the afternoon and parties should plan to be off route by a reasonable hour. Climbing up/over the mountain and descending the Emmons or DC is a great option to avoid rappelling the ice pitches late in the day. Be sure to check out the blogs on the Emmons or the DC to get the most current conditions before descending these routes.