Saturday, July 31, 2021

DC Route Update 7/31

A dense layer of high clouds rolled in last night and settled above the mountain. The cloud layer trapped the heat and blocked longwave radiation, so the glaciers up high did not go through radiational cooling overnight. As a result, guides were reporting that conditions on their climb were softer than they were during the heat dome, when we had 18,000 foot freezing levels with clear skies.  When conditions are warm there’s typically more rapid change to the route.  Note that crevasse crossings and ladders can become unsafe in warm weather - be prepared to find an alternative route down the mountain if you’re up high when things change!

Dark clouds and rain above high camps on Mount Rainier. 

Last night, while some groups were up higher on the mountain, the ice fin that was being used to access the Disappointment Cleaver was taken out by rock fall. Parties were able to get off the Cleaver (going down), but getting on it (going up) adds an extra challenge.  

The ladder at 13,500' elevation has been melting out rapidly and sometimes left unanchored.  Be cautious if you choose to use the ladder. 

It's always good to remember to not simply cross a bridge or ladder just because many people have before you. Rainier offers a very dynamic environment and right now it is changing rapidly - did we mention that already?  Changing routes is the name of the game when ascending glaciated terrain in August.  Keep some extra in reserve in case you have to find an alternative route!  See you on the mountain.  

Friday, July 30, 2021

Inter Glacier and Emmons Winthrop Conditions July 29

The Emmons Glacier on a moonlit night                                

 The difficulties of the Emmons/Winthrop route start a bit lower this year. The seasonal snow has gone from the majority of the Inter Glacier (approach to Camp Schurman) and this has exposed crevasses and steep, icy slopes. The E/W route itself remains climbable and parties have been having success with the clear and calm weather conditions.

A cinnamon colored black bear near Glacier Basin

APPROACH  TO GLACIER BASIN - The trail to Glacier Basin is in great shape. Expect day hikers and backpackers on the trail. An early start is recommended if you're heading all the way to Camp Schurman in a single push. If you're camping at Glacier Basin, be bear-aware, as there are black bears out and about near the camp. 

GLACIER BASIN TO THE TOP OF INTER GLACIER: From here you head up for approximately one mile to the toe of the glacier. Once on the glacier, you encounter firm snow and icy conditions. Crampons are necessary on the inter glacier. Toward the top of the Inter Glacier large crevasses need to be negotiated and roping up here seems like the best move. The Emmons glacier from Camp Curtis to Camp Schurman is quite broken and roping up is recommended here as well. 

Firm snow on the Inter Glacier
Climbers negotiating crevasses on the Inter glacier

CLIMBING ROUTE - Heading up from Camp Schurman, climbers will encounter many crevasses immediately when stepping onto the glacier. Expect icy conditions as most of the winter snow has melted off leaving glacial ice exposed. Dynamic moves might be required to cross some of the cracks up high on the corridor.

From the top of the Corridor the route ascends to the climbers left and then makes a series of traverses to end-run several large crevasses. The route parallels many steep slopes and large crevasses from 11,500' to 12,700' and many teams are employing running belays or belaying short sections. 

Sunrise at 12,300'

Above 12,700' the route is physically demanding as you must straddle a line of penitentes (snow pinnacles) requiring big steps and little room for poor footwork. At ~13,400' there is a steep crevasse crossing that requires swinging your ice tool and pulling yourself up onto an ice plug. This is followed by ten feet of traversing using your ice tool in the same fashion. Most teams are belaying each other up and down this section.

After that crossing more penitentes, and big step straddling, lead you to the bergschrund. The route traverses climbers right, underneath a giant ice wall that forms the bergschrund. Once the wall tapers down the route climbs up and over the 'schrund and the rocks of the crater rim are in view. 

All in All the route is still very climbable, with any luck the conditions will hold up until late in the season. 

Be careful, be bear courteous, and climb safe!

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

DC Route Update 7/27

Sunrise behind Little Tahoma from Cathedral Gap

It's been a busy weekend at Camp Muir and on the upper mountain. Warm temperatures, clear skies, and light winds have made for excellent climbing conditions. Most parties have been starting pretty early for their summit attempts. Rangers found that returning to Camp Muir before 10 am allowed parties to beat the heat and not get too dehydrated.

Lets get into the nuts and bolts of the route above Camp Muir:


Camp Muir to Ingraham Flats

The route heads across the Cowlitz glacier and up Cathedral Gap in a steady, obvious boot pack. On the other side of Cathedral Gap, gaining the Ingraham glacier is icy with lots of rock rubble. Look for wands that will help guide you through this section and onto a good boot track leading you into Ingraham Flats.

Ingraham Flats to Disappointment Cleaver

Follow the trail towards high crack. Here, guides recently put in a handline to aid in crossing a narrow snow bridge. Traverse quickly across the Ingraham glacier towards the cleaver to minimize exposure to objective hazards above. This traverse can become an area of congestion as climbers often slow down as they negotiate leaving the glacier and climbing onto the rock. Take note of climbing parties in front of you and try to allow ample spacing so that you can move efficiently and avoid needing to wait. Another hand line exists where the trail gains the cleaver. Remember, this is only meant as something to hold onto, not something to prusik or clip the rope into. 

Ingraham Flats from Disappointment Cleaver

Disappointment Cleaver

The cleaver is all rock. Look for wands marking the route. Loose rock is most prevalent on the lower one third of the cleaver, and care should be taken to tread lightly. Look for parties above and below you and take care to not dislodge any rocks. The upper two thirds of the cleaver is more straightforward. Remember to shorten the rope interval between climbers on the cleaver, so that you don't dislodge rocks onto parties below you.

The cleaver from Ingraham Flats

Upper Mountain

Above the cleaver, the route ascends quite efficiently towards the summit. The boot pack switchbacks steadily amongst sun cups and penitentes. In several places, the trail is very troughed out, making it difficult to pass other parties or step off the trail. Remember that uphill parties have the right of way. If you are descending, step out of the trail to let other parties pass. 

The ladder at 13,000 feet

There is a ladder at 13,000 feet over a crevasse. The ladder is at a 50 degree angle, and spans about 8 feet. It is well anchored and has handlines to aid in crossing. Most parties have negotiated the ladder easily using the handlines. If needed, a running belay is possible here. Note that the ladder can create a bottleneck on busy weekend days, leading to long wait times. The best strategy is to communicate with other parties in camp and agree to spread out your start times in the morning. Rangers, guides, and the public have been working together to improve everyone's climbing experience and avoid bottleneck situations. If possible, plan your climb for midweek when the route is less crowded.

Looking up the route from the top of the cleaver

Descent from the Summit to Camp Muir

Save plenty of energy for the descent. Warm daytime temperatures have sapped the strength of numerous parties. If your team brings a stove, you can stop and quickly melt more drinking water on the way down. Getting back to camp by mid morning will make the descent more tolerable.

The boot pack has become a deep trough in some places above 12,000 feet

Don't forget to bring a shovel with you up to Camp Muir. There are lots of flat spots on the snow around camp that become quite comfortable after a little shovel work. Also, snow pickets are deemed required equipment for glacier travel on Mt. Rainier this time of year. The snow is too firm to plunge an ice axe into the snow for an anchor. Practice crevasse rescue with your team before the climb to allow yourselves time to enjoy the alpine scenery around camp. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

DC Route Conditions - July 19th

The Disappointment Cleaver route as seen a few minor changes, though the overall flavor remains quite similar to the previous DC post.  There is still only one ladder, which crosses a crevasse at 13,000'.  The orientation is off vertical, and the ladder about eight feet tall - see the photo at the end of this post.

The transition from ice to rock while gaining the bottom of the cleaver has been more "sporty" as the glacier recedes from the rock.  The plug/fin of snow that climbers use to access the cleaver crosses a deep moat.  This area is prone to rockfall from above so climbers should move quickly, but it's also a place where climbers do not want to trip or fall due to the deep moat.  Efficient and sure-footed travel is advised.

The wind over the weekend was especially strong.  Remember to secure tents and equipment while out climbing.  Better yet, drop the tent poles and flatten your tent in order to reduce the profile during these larger wind events.  Its a real drag to get back to camp and find out your tent took sail and has nested in the depths of a crevasse.

Rockfall tends to increase during periods of heavy winds.  While traveling along the rocky sections of the route such as the cleaver and Cathedral Gap, remember to keep your head on a swivel and keep a lookout for falling rock.  In addition to keeping your eyes peeled, do your best to avoid knocking rocks down while climbing or descending, especially if there are climbers below you on the route.

Stay safe, stay courteous and happy climbing!

Looking towards Ingraham Flats from the "Nose" of the Cleaver

A busy route just downhill from the 13,000' ladder.
The hollowing fin of snow at the base of the cleaver.
The hand line crossing "High Crack" and the track leading towards the base of the cleaver.

Ladder at 13,000'. This is the only ladder currently in use on the DC route.

Friday, July 16, 2021

DC Conditions Report July 15th, 2021

Sunrise from the Disappointment Cleaver. Always a sight to behold. 

DC Conditions Report

Rangers, guided parties, and independent climbers have been summiting the Disappointment Cleaver regularly via what is being called a "fast route". While not as straight up the mountain as the route was in early July, the current route is relatively straightforward and in good shape. Rangers climbed the route on 7/14 and noted these conditions. 

Camp Muir

Crevasses are starting to open up in the main camping area, so take a moment upon arrival to figure out where they are.  They are sometimes hard to discern due to the numerous bootprints across them, however, they do pose a hazard to unsuspecting climbers.

Camp Muir to Ingraham Flats: 

Leaving Camp Muir and crossing the Cowlitz Glacier follows a standard path. While trending east towards the rocks of Cathedral Gap there is an encroaching crack that is likely to push the boot pack higher on the Cowlitz. The late season crevasse that normally forms in a line around 10,400 and angles from the Cathedral Gap trail toward the Beehive is beginning to sag and show signs of opening soon. Rangers noted active rockfall all around the upper Cowlitz Glacier and across the last portion of the glacier before gaining the rock trail on Cathedral Gap. Further, while trending down the scree onto the Ingraham Glacier, the trail takes a low path onto an icy, watery, gravely mix of firma before getting onto the snowy bootpack.  Keep your headlight on a swivel through this section as well due to significant rockfall hazard from above. 

Camping areas and route on the Cowlitz Glacier as seen from the helipad, Camp Muir (7/10)

Ingraham Flats to Disappointment Cleaver: 

Once onto the Ingraham Glacier, the route follows a typical path heading up fall line towards the icy seracs of the Ingraham. Rangers found it appropriate to take a quick break around 11,200' to adjust before entering the objectively risky traverse from high crack to the cleaver. As the route reaches its high point on the Ingraham Glacier an icy snow bridge allows climbers to cross "high crack" and begin their traverse to the trail up the cleaver. Solid footwork and focus here are key. Having your team ready to arrest a fall or to belay across this could be a good choice for your group. On the high side of the crossing there is an anchor point that can be used as a running belay on the way down and it is advisable to take advantage of during the descent. The traverse to the rocks follows the usual route and, as always, is subject to ice and then rock fall. There have been reports of teams stopping to take breaks in this zone on the way down recently and we want to remind climbers this is an area to be efficient, if not quick, to move through as the objective risk is high here - especially as  as the day progresses. 

The upper Ingraham Glacier traverse from high crack to the cleaver. 

The Disappointment Cleaver

The path of least resistance up the cleaver takes you to the "Nose".  High on the Nose you will traverse climbers-left to a couple portions of deep boot pack through the snow and back onto the rocks toward the top. As always, heightened awareness under headlamp will keep you on route, on the best rock, and ease the travel for this portion of the route (its never harder than third class scrambling). Staying on route here diminishes the chances of creating rockfall caused by climbers inadvertently on the more exposed terrain or off-route. Rangers have noticed some parties remained spaced out on their rope teams through the cleaver, and we want to remind climbers to shorten your spacing through the rocky portions of the DC route to minimize the chance of your rope creating rockfall or getting damaged. 

Top of the Cleaver to the Summit

Above the cleaver, the route follows an angling left, then trending middle right line winding between areas of serac and crevasse-complexity. The number of switchbacks have increased since our last DC blog update, but the route does not take any circuitous jogs to end-run cracks as of this post. Around 13,100' a large crevasse is crossed using a fixed ladder section set at approximately a 70 degree angle. There are ropes on both sides which can be used as handlines to increase security. The boot pack on the upper mountain is becoming a deep and narrow trench in some sections. Rangers found it helpful to step out of the trench at times to ease travel and avoid snagging a crampon. 

Alpenglow on the upper mountain. From the top of the cleaver 7/14.

13,100' Ladder crossing. 


As a reminder, the heat dome of early July produced unprecedented effects on the mountain. While the route is getting climbed regularly, teams have been starting early to increase their safety on the descent. Snow bridges failing, crevasses opening, ice and rockfall are all standard hazards encountered on the DC route. With freezing levels above the summit for weeks now (following record high temps), these hazards only increase with exposure to the heat of the day. Have fun out there, Start early and Climb On!

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Emmons-Winthrop Holding Steady

The Emmons-Winthrop route continues to provide consistent access to the summit of Mount Rainier. Route conditions have begun to stabilize a bit after the rapid change experienced during our historical "heat dome" in June. Freezing levels have remained slightly above average (14,500-15,500ft) but clear skies have been providing a decent refreeze overnight. Light to moderate west/southwest winds have been staving off diurnal thawing until around mid-morning where snow conditions begin to become soft and punchy. 

 The Inter Glacier has melted out severely. As of writing this, climbers were still able to piece together their ascent via snow but a large portion has melted down to bare glacial ice. The crevasses on the upper reaches have begun to sag and open up. As the Inter Glacier continues to melt out expect the overhead hazard to increase as well. The cliffs and rock features along the flanks shed rock frequently and without a seasonal snowpack to help slow their progression, rockfall events will begin to make it farther down the glacier. Think about safe places to break and consider moving effeciently through the lower portions to avoid exposure.
The red line indicates the route we ascended. The purple and yellow lines are older variations that are still viable but likely encounter more difficult terrain.

From Camp Schurman, the route ascends directly before gaining the corridor around 10,200ft. Much of the corridor has melted down to glacial ice but the route avoids these areas by staying climbers left. From the top of the corridor, more glacial ice is encountered and the route trends climbers left again and ascends a snowfield before cutting back climbers right at around 11,800ft. From here there still remain several ways to gain the upper mountain and each variation is equally as kicked in as the other so it's a bit difficult to decipher which is the more traveled way. Fortunately, each variation has been allowing climbers access to the upper snowfields at 13,000ft. The older variations take a more direct route through broken glacier and includes a mix of glacial ice and snow. The more recent variation, and the one we used during our ascent, takes a long traverse to the North towards the Winthrop Shoulder before crossing a large crevasse bridge at 12,600ft and then traversing back South, gaining a snowfield at 12,800ft. 

Some exposure is found on the traverse South after the 12,600ft crossing. A climbing team descends an older variation in the background. 

At 13,200ft the technical crux of the route is encountered. A crevasse crossing here requires about a body length of steep climbing to gain the upper side. There are currently two places to achieve this, an upper crossing which appeared more difficult or located about 100ft downhill, a second crossing that we found to be easier. Climbing parties have been using both with success. After this obstacle, the route ascends towards the bergschrund at 13,800ft and follows its ice cliff climber's right providing easy access to the summit crater. 

The 13,200ft technical crux. The upper crossing (Blue) requires a bit more climbing through steep terrain. The lower crossing (Red) provided easier access over the crevasse. 

All things considered, the route is in pretty good condition. With several variations available make sure to evaluate terrain carefully and choose the best option suited for you and your team's experience and ability. As the season progresses the route is taking longer and longer to ascend and descend as reroutes  avoid obstacles. Plan accordingly and allow you and your team plenty of time. Consider having a pre-determined turn around time to help mitigate this concern. It's important to manage fatigue within the group and remember that getting back down still requires a great deal of energy. It's been a great time to climb the Emmons recently with good route conditions and fantastic weather. Stay safe out there, have a great climb, and we'll see you up there!

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Emmons/Winthrop Route Conditions

The record breaking heat has subsided and temperatures in the shade are returning to a more normal-summer-hot. Freezing levels have dropped to around 15,000' and when coupled with clear nights have been allowing surface snow to refreeze each evening. This has slowed the deterioration of the route, stabilized some of the snow and ice, and allowed climbers to access the summit regularly. A small system moving in Tuesday evening should bring freezing levels down even further and aid in locking up the ice and snow on the mountain for a bit.

Yellow route is seeing the most traffic currently with the exception of the final bergschrund, where climbers are following the green route around to climbers' right. Orange is the most traveled route through the top of the Corridor. 

The Emmons/Winthrop Route is still climbable. The route outlined in the previous update remains the standard thoroughfare with some minor amendments. The first is a climbers' left traverse below the 11,400' crack at the top of the corridor. After the traverse climbers have been ascending a small snowfield then turning back climbers' right to regain the route. The second amendment is a climbers' right traverse at the final bergschrund. This will bring climbers to a broad ramp that accesses the final stretch to the summit. 

As our seasonal snow continues to melt and the glaciers keep flowing down mountain, the route is going to keep changing. Those changes could very well happen while you're on the route. This becomes especially problematic when the route you took up is no longer viable for the way down. To prepare for this, make sure you have plenty of gas in the tank to problem solve on the way down. This may mean you have to turn around short of the summit so that you have the energy to climb out of a dead end. Another strategy is to establish a hard cutoff turn around time and stick to it.  Regardless of your strategy, remember to stick together as a team and keep a critical eye out for options as you ascend.  

Come on up and enjoy the peaceful leeward side of the mountain!  

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

DC Prime Time - July 6th

The freezing levels have been high - staying above the mountain for most of the last week, but convective cooling, light breezes, and long days have been making for optimal conditions on the Disappointment Cleaver Route.  Almost all of the guided parties and many of the independent climbers have had successful summit attempts.  And, with the route still being fairly direct, faster than normal times have been reported.  

View from the top of Disappointment Cleaver.  The route still climbs almost straight to the Crater Rim without any major traverses.

Parties have been getting early starts to be off the upper mountain before the heat of the day.  Many using 6:00 AM as their turn-around-time.  This last holiday weekend felt busier, but not completely full.  If you're on the fence about whether or not you'd get a walk-up permit, chances are extremely likely that you will.  We didn't turn anyone away last weekend - which has historically been one of the busiest. 

View of the Disappointment Cleaver and the camp at Ingraham Flats.  Note the spine of the cleaver is almost completely rock.

The traverse on to the cleaver remains one of the most objectively hazardous places on the route.  Remember to move deliberately and efficiently through this section.  Don't get caught in a slowdown behind another team right here, don't rush or trip over your crampons right here, and definitely don't stop for a photo or water right here.  Do keep the rope taught, keep your head up watching for rocks, and watch your footing when traversing onto the cleaver.  

A close up of the traverse on to Disappointment Cleaver.

There are some ladders on the route and the amount has varied depending on where the route has been routed to.  So far the ladders have just been for expediency.  They cross crevasses that can be end-run one way or another, but using the ladder can make it faster to get around the crevasse.  Don't trust any adjunct on the mountain in these hots temps.  Inspect any handline, picket, or ladder you intend to use - they melt out quickly in these temperatures.  

Come on up and enjoy some of the best conditions and most stable weather we've had all season!  See you on the mountain!

Thursday, July 01, 2021

DC Route Conditions 07/01/2021 - After the heat wave!

Sunrise from 13,000' on June 28, 2021

It has been a wild week across the state with all-time record temps in many locations. The weather station at Paradise recorded multiple days in the upper 80s and low 90s while Camp Muir peaked at 66.5 deg F on June 29 at 1:00PM.

As you may imagine, this has had a pronounced effect on climbing conditions on the upper mountain. Rangers climbed via the DC on Monday 6/28/2021 along with several independent climbing teams and guided groups.

Conditions were quite good although they more closely match an early August climb rather than a late June one. There were two ladders on the route, one at 11,200' and another at 13,500'. Both were well anchored and relatively easy to cross. The Cleaver was almost entirely rock and will definitely be 100% rock, top-to-bottom, by the time this post is published.

Above the Cleaver the route was very direct with several rising traverses, switch backs and crevasse end-runs. There were also several large snow bridges to cross. Many of them had boot sized holes punched in them.

Looking towards the summit from the top of the Cleaver

After the 28th, and the hottest of the temps, subsequent climbing parties found several of the snow bridges had collapsed and rockfall had increased significantly. The guides have judged the route to be too risky for them for the past few days and most independent climbers have made the same calculation.

The upper mountain has not been freezing overnight and the result has been the increase in rockfall and soft/collapsing snow bridges. Once we get back into a colder weather regime and the mountain begins to freeze overnight we should see a rapid improvement in conditions.

The guides continue to make attempts at the summit daily and we expect the route to be re-opened in the next few days.