Kautz Glacier Up & Over Down DC
The Kautz Glacier route on Mount Rainier is a highly sought after route for mountaineers and alpinists alike. For worthy reasons having now experienced it myself! I was obsessed about this line for a few years after first learning about it.
Three amigos planned to head back to Washington to make a go for it in 2021. We planned a carry over from camp hazard down the DC route and back to Paradise. Returning with a smaller group we were more confident than the first time we thought we might try it with a group of nine.
Originally our timeline was more aggressive, but one of our team members struggled with face pace and altitude so we broke the trip up by taking an extra day to rest at high camp. I mean the views were incredible and it was worth sitting around soaking them up for an extra day!
After our leisurely rest day we packed up and prepped for an early night to start at 1 am well before the guided groups were awake and moving. Looking back my only regret is not actually seeing the ice pitches in person at first light as we were already above them. Don’t get me wrong, I stared at them all day at camp but up close is another story!
We had a splendid morning and topped out above the shutes in time for sunrise. Our reward being a shadow of the mountain below us. Mount Rainier showing off as she does! The remainder of the ascent was steep and exposed below seracs traversing left until we topped out above the slope.
We took a fair amount of time switchbacking up the steep slope above the chutes until we reached the ridge crest and crater rim. We stopped for a snack and to take in the views before romping over to the summit proper.
Our early start paid off as we never saw the guided groups below us and had the route entirely to ourselves. The terrain is gentle and mild over the crater to the final hump of the ridge crest where you scamper off to the summit. We greeted a party of climbers and congratulated one another on the route. They had done a car-to-car up DC from paradise and saw our headlamps on the ascent!
We dropped packs and the rope on the dirt and walked over to the summit to take photos, hug each other and bask in the summit views. We sent inReach updates to our community and admired the vapor caves from afar while taking in the views of other distant volcanoes.
Not wasting too much time we headed back to the dirt ridge and loaded up to rope up and descend DC to Camp Muir and back to Paradise. The descent was down the established switchbacks from the guides. The historic heat wave incoming behind us would destroy this route just days later.
We navigated snowy switchbacks and ladder crossing until we got to the treacherous loose steep rock that is the Disappointment Cleaver. This was the least enjoyable chunk of route and the heat wave made the melting mud and scree much worse than when it is dry.
Once to the exit point we were greeted with the house-eating crevasse directly in front of us filled with fallen serac debris. Immediately after rounding the corner to the right of this crevasse we witnessed a sketchy snow bridge on the verge of melt out. This preceded a runout zone below huge seracs directly above us to the right. We narrowly missed a potential bad situation after crossing the snow bridge and moving quickly under the overhanging seracs we witnessed a large serac break and fall.
Luckily the debris fell into a crevasse directly below and fortunately out of our direct path. We rushed after seeing that and didn’t waste time taking in the view. Once beyond most of the difficulties we cruised down Ingraham Glacier and made our way to the rock scramble.
We lost the trail and missed the proper descent mark so the rock took a little longer than normal as we ended up in a steeper and looser section. After that we practically ran to Camp Muir where we all stripped down to our underwear rolling in the snow. It was so hot, the hottest I’ve been on snow and on a glacier with the heat wave gaining intensity.
Once cooled off we resituated gear and layers, packed up the rope and radios before heading down toward Paradise. We took glissade opportunities and enjoyed a number of butt paths to expedite our arrival back to the car. Once back at the car we found out someone stole our hidden beers! But luckily we had extras as backup. We threw the warm alternatives into the stream to cool them off to enjoy as a celebration. Then we were off to turn in the permit and checkout before driving back to Seattle. Such a memorable trip with one of our really good friends and climbing partners!