Monday, August 31, 2020

General "Late-Season" Route Update - August 31st

It's already the LAST day in August!  Where did the summer go?  There's already a hint of autumn in the air and it felt like the first of many winter storms just passed through last night.  The next week's forecast looks to be unseasonably hot - freezing levels jumping from 10,500 feet back to 16,500 feet - but, as September rolls around please come prepared for both the summer heat and the inevitable start to stormier winter weather.  

Late-season conditions: broken glaciers, rocky peaks, and lingering clouds.
As we move into the late-season here on the mountain, registration changes will occur; check the park's permit website for the latest, but here's the gist: 

Effective Tuesday 9/8/20 for the remainder of September 2020, climbers can self-register on WEEKDAYS (M, Tu, W, Th) outside the Paradise, Longmire, or White River WICs. Climbers who wish to climb on WEEKENDS (F, Sa, Su), including single-push climbers, must submit a reservation application at least 2 DAYS prior to their trip start date and receive their permit via email. ALL climbers must still pay the annual climbing fee. All climbing permits after Sunday 9/27/20 will be by self-registration.

Here's a run down of the common routes being climbed right now:

DC - In general the Disappointment Cleaver Route has continued to be well-maintained with the hard work all the guide services have been putting in.  The route has been climbed by both guided and independent parties in the last couple days and the route remains in the same general location as the track log posted in the August 6th update.  Be cautious both on the ascent to Camp Muir and in the camp itself with crevasses starting to open.  There's some large cracks in camp and on the snowfield that are easy to avoid, but could cause serious injuries if one were to fall in them.  

E/W - This route has been much less popular in the last two weeks with many parties turning around due to the circuitous nature of the route and the high consequence crevasse crossings melting out.  An experienced team made it to the summit last week, but this route should be considered "out of season" as a standard route.  

Kautz - Not many parties have climbed this route in the last couple weeks, but the most recent blog post from August 21st is still accurate.  The ice pitches will continue to grow in length and the crevasses above the Wapowety Cleaver will continue to become more complicated to cross.  The approach up the Comet Falls Trail to this route is the preferred method - crossing over the lower Nisqually Glacier has become very difficult.  

See you in September!

Friday, August 21, 2020

Kautz Glacier Route 2020 Update

The Kautz glacier route is in good climbing condition. The approach for the climbing route can be started from two different locations. The the most common approach starts from Paradise and crosses the Nisqually and Wilson glaciers. The alternate approach starts downhill from paradise at the Comet Falls trailhead. The Comet Falls approach is longer with more elevating gain starting at an elevation of 3,700'. Comet falls is the preferred late season approach with its well developed trail and ample water access that is snow free up to 7,600'. Trail runners instead of clunky mountain boots for this section of the approach can be a bonus if you don't mind carrying them later once you switch out footwear.

Climber on the approach trail with Comet Falls in the background.

The snowfield starting at 7,600 to the castle at 9,300' is covered with large sun-cups. These "cups" will continue to be more pronounced as the summer wears on. Be prepared for slower travel up these slopes with lots of mini zigzags to navigate the terrain. Regardless of what time of day you hit the snow-line you should plan on using your climbing boots. The slopes become steep enough that you will need to kick-in steps. If it is late in the day and the snow is beginning to firm up then crampons will be necessary also. 

View of upper Van Trump with the Castle visible along the right hand skyline. 

The Castle has many good bivy options and running water sources. This is a reasonable location to start an upper mountain climb from, but realized that it is still 2,000' below Camp Hazard. The Turtle snowfield located between the Castle and Camp Hazard is sun-cupped with mostly firm snow and glacier ice. Having an ice tool in-hand along this section could come in useful. Camp Hazard at 11,300 has many good bivy locations as well, but water is scarce this time of year and you may have to spend some time searching. 
Sunrise on the Turtle snowfield with sun-cups visible along the snow

The fixed rappel lines leaving the Wapowety cleaver at 11,300' are in reasonable condition. Using the fixed ropes, climbing teams should be able to either rappel or down-climb off the cleaver onto the transition slopes that lead out to the Kautz glacier. Please remember that fixed soft goods are always subject to damage and should be assessed for safety before using. 

View from the rock step and transition slopes at 11,300' 

The transition slops leading out to the glacier are comprised of rock scree and ice. The glacier that extends above these transition slopes holds a large active ice fall that can catch you off guard and send you running. Many parties manage this section by not roping up until they are clear of this deposition zone. Once you reach the main climbing slopes of the Kautz glacier you will find the first 200' of the route to be low angle ice. This lower ice section can be climbed using various techniques with a minimum number of ice screws. The transition zone between the lower and upper ice pitches is firm snow and is walkable. 

Climber approaching the upper ice pitches on the Kautz glacier

The main ice climbing headwall is 300' tall and can be climbed easily in two pitches with a 60m rope. Simul-climbing would be a good option for skilled parties that want to move quickly through this section. The climbing at it's steepest point is approximately 50 degrees. Six to eight ice screws with draws would be a reasonable number of pieces of protection for this section of ice climbing.  The ice slopes hold shade for most of the morning hours, but there is running water along these icy slopes so keep an eye out for opportunities as you climb. The ice climbing tops out at 12,000' with a view of Point Success and the upper Wapowety cleaver. 

Climber topping out on the ice climbing pitches.

Glacier travel across the upper Kautz alpine bowl to the upper Wapowety is covered with numerous crevasses. Many of the cracks leading out above the ice climbing are small enough to step across without much end running. As you approach the scree slopes of the Wapowety the crevasses get larger and end running will be necessary. Climbers can expect to encounter moats along the rock slopes of the Wapowety where the cleaver meets the glacier.  

Climber crossing a snow bridge over the bergschrund near the crater rim.

From the top of the Wapowety at 13,000' you can see the crater rim on a clear day. Crossing the upper slopes of the Nisqually teams will encounter more crevasses, trail breaking through knee high penitentes,  and a large bergschrund near the top. The schrund can be end run in either direction. This route is a true mountain experience and should not be missed. Have fun, be safe, climb smart!

Thursday, August 20, 2020

DC Conditions Update 8/20/2020

 The DC route is due for a change and the guides are busy working on a re-route.

The current track has held up well, but the recent spell of warm weather has caused many of the crevasses to open significantly and for the Ingraham/Cleaver transition (the Bowling Alley) to become more difficult.

Looking at the Bowling Alley from the Ingraham Glacier, ~11,400'
Looking at the Bowling Alley from the Ingraham Glacier, ~11,400'
Getting off the glacier and onto the rock requires some scrambling in loose blocks with overhead hazard. Move through this area as quickly and safely as possible and don't let your rope get caught up in the rocks.

We expect a transition to the classic late-season line from the top of the cleaver out to the Emmons Shoulder but the guides may find a more direct option. Either way, expect them to keep the route established but be aware of dynamic events such as snow bridge collapses and ice fall that may necessitate your own route finding.

Several parties climbed into clouds on the upper mountain in the last week so we'd also like you to please keep in mind that navigating through a heavily crevassed, high elevation glacier in a white-out is a risky endeavor at best.

Climb safe!

Emmons Winthrop & The Inter Glacier Approach - August 17th

Both the Inter Glacier and the Emmons are becoming harder to navigate as we move into late August.  The Inter Glacier approach has a fair amount of ablated ice exposed and warrants the use of crampons, ice-axe, climbing helmets, ropes and crevasse rescue equipment.  Due to late season conditions, be anticipating a more complex ascent to Steamboat Prow or Camp Curtis.

The Emmons route generally follows the route described in the previous post, with the addition of more thinly bridged crevasse crossings & plugs.  Be cautious while maneuvering these features and be anticipating the need for implementing belays to cross them.

The climbing route up the Emmons has been more involved as we transition into late season.  With this being said, anticipate your climb taking longer than it typically would early season.  This coupled with the elevated freezing levels, leaves the possibility for climbing parties in a position to find themselves on the upper mountain late in the afternoon in rapidly warming snow conditions and decompensating snow bridges.  Try to employ the use of a strict turn around, and do your best to stick to your itinerary.

Climb safe!

Looking down onto the Inter Glacier from Ruth Ridge

Looking at the Emmons-Winthrop from the top of Steamboat Prow

The view of crossing from the Corridor to the Alpine Meadows

Crossing from the Upper Alpine Meadows to Liberty Saddle

Looking from Liberty Saddle down towards
the Emmons and the Alpine Meadows

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Emmons/Winthrop Update - 8/12/2020

The Emmons/Winthrop route is largely unchanged from the last post from August 4th.  There have been many successful summits on the route in the past week.  However, climbers were reporting thinning bridges.  The large plug in between the Corridor and the Alpine Meadow is surely getting spicier (that is, more unstable) so be sure to assess what you are stepping on as you move up the route.  As always, an old boot pack DOES NOT guarantee you are on the safest line up the glacier.  Stay engaged on the way up, as well as the way down, as glaciers are always changing.  

The number of climbers is decreasing as we move through August, making for a quiet route and camp.  At Camp Schurman,  crevasses are invading the usual tent sites on the Winthrop.  Make sure to assess your camp carefully and probe for crevasses.  There is running water on the glacier surface above the helipad on most afternoons right now.  And near constant rockfall off of Curtis Ridge makes for great alpine entertainment.  Come up and enjoy the last remaining days of summer on the mountain.  It's a lovely time to be in the Park. 

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Disappointment Cleaver Update 8/6/2020

Crevasses starting to open and show historic snow layers.

The Disappointment Cleaver route is now in "normal" August conditions. That means there are many large crevasses that must be end-run and significant rockfall hazard. This is nothing out of the ordinary for a DC climb at this time of year however.

From Camp Muir the route ascends into Cathedral Gap with just a few crevasses to mind. Rockfall potential does increase as the route nears the snow/rock transition, so we do not recommend parties stop when under the cliffs of Cathedral Rocks - both on the Cowlitz AND Ingraham transitions.
Climber admiring the "Canine Tooth" serac, just above the Cleaver.

The ascent of Cathedral Gap is all rock so make sure to shorten the interval between climbers and pick the rope up out of the rocks. From the top of the Gap the route continues on rock for a few hundred meters and then transitions to the Ingraham Glacier and on into Ingraham Flats.

Above the Flats there is a single ladder installed at approximately 11,300’ (known as "high crack"). After crossing the ladder you’ll descend slightly before entering the Icebox and Bowling Alley area. Here there is significant overhead hazard and we recommend moving through this area as efficiently as possible.
Rope teams traversing out below the "Wisdom Tooth" right around 13,000'.

Once your team has completely left the snow it’s best to either quickly shorten the rope interval between climbers or move quickly to the crest of the ridge and reset the rope there. Either way your goal here is to ascend the lower third of the Cleaver without dislodging rocks on climbers below and staying on route.

The Cleaver is marked with wands and after navigating the labyrinth of the lower third the route regains the ridge crest and the climbing becomes more straightforward. The top of the Cleaver will be the last rocks you encounter before the Crater Rim.

From the top of the Cleaver to the summit the route end-runs several massive crevasses and even descends around them in a few places. The guides have placed fixed protection for running belays in several places so familiarize yourselves with using this technique before you encounter them on the route.  Tooth-like seracs are looming over the route in certain places - don't linger below these detached icy features!
Most recent track log of the DC Route.

Other than a few steep sections the climbing on this part of the route is quite pleasant and not too long, distance-wise, for August.
Always remember to leave early and keep plenty of gas in the tank for the descent. Descending on a warm summer day can be extremely hot and fatiguing and many climbers have mentioned that they wish they got an earlier start upon returning to Camp Muir.
Upper mountain photo taken from the top of the Cleaver.

Above all, be safe and have fun!

Emmons-Winthrop Route Update 8/4/2020

Camp Schurman has been busy. Warm temperatures and sunny skies have made for pleasant climbing conditions this week. As August begins, climbers are noting rapidly changing conditions on the route.

From Camp Schurman to the Emmons Flats: Open crevasses running in all directions are beginning to make travel more circuitous. At Emmons Flats there is still enough room on the glaicier to pitch your tent, but you'll be a stone's throw from open crevasses.

Emmons Flats to the Corridor: straightforward, with multiple options for gaining the Corridor.

The Corridor: open crevasses crisscross the corridor in many places. Climbers should evaluate the strength of crevasse bridges as they cross them; especially during the heat of the day. Overall, travel on the corridor is quite good for early August.

Looking into the depression at 11,500 ft.

The Corridor to Winthrop Shoulder: just beyond the Corridor at 11,500 feet lies an interesting feature. A huge depression has formed where the ice between two crevasses has sunken into the glacier. This feature, also known as a plug, is where climbers have been travelling to access the alpine meadow. The uphill portion of the plug is unsupported below and showing signs of instability evidenced by stress cracks cutting through it. Below is a photo of this feature from above; the route cuts right through the center of the cavity. 

The 11,500 ft depression from above. Note the detached upper edge of the snow bridge.

Rangers noted the cracks in the bridge had widened significantly in the few hours it took to climb to the summit and descend back across the feature. Consider using running belays or belaying party members across unstable features bridging crevasses. 

Around 11,800 feet, the old boot pack trends climber's left towards another crevasse with a small unstable bridge. Luckily, this can be avoided by travelling climber's right and slowly descending to a much better crossing at 11,700 feet. After crossing this crevasse, straightforward climbing leads up the Winthrop shoulder.

Winthrop Shoulder to Liberty Saddle: switchbacks meander up the shoulder until 13,000 feet. Here, the boot pack heads climber's right towards Liberty Saddle. The travel here is obvious and gradual.

The route towards Liberty Saddle from 13,400 ft.

Liberty Saddle to Summit: textured snow and penitentes guard the last 800 vertical feet to the crater rim. Some large crevasses near Liberty Saddle are easily crossed on large snow bridges.

The final pitch from Liberty Saddle to the Crater.

Inter Glacier Update: Snow has been melting fast from the Inter. Several crevasses have opened up as well. Crampons might be necessary in some places, and roping up may be a good idea too. Remember to take care while descending or glissading to check blind roll overs for open crevasses lurking below.

Upper Inter Glacier from Mt. Ruth.