After taking High Altitude Mountaineering School (HAMS) with the CMC we had the opportunity to join a group to organize a “graduation” climb with a glacier objective of our choice. We were lucky enough to take the class with a close group of friends and climbing partners that made the journey that much more rewarding. We also chose a more aggressive objective, Kautz Glacier up and over the DC route, since we were more familiar with one another.
Being newer to glacier travel and alpine ice this was a stiff goal for all of us and a lofty undertaking with a group of 9. Guided groups often take large parties up this route, but I would not prefer that over a small group. The potential of ice and serac fall are high at camp not to mention on route and then there’s the avalanche danger and other factors with 9 people.
Our original dream trip somewhat unraveled near the start of our expedition causing us to pivot at the last minute as one of our team members injured themselves the weekend prior to departure. We had agreed not to hike anything gnarly the weekend before and instead opted for a rest weekend, well some of us at least. Fidgets won and unfortunately he was in a significant accident but fortunately survived without serious repercussions. The injury, sadly, did bring his participation in the Washington trip to a halt though.
Some spirits dropped with the last minute blow and changed to team dynamics, but we carried on. Team dynamics make or break trips and often get overlooked when planning these expeditions. Nevertheless spirits were up again once we were on our journey from Colorado to Washington. That is until we caught the weather report!
High winds basically our entire stay would deter us from our original objective. Kautz is a steep line of glacier ice and snow on an exposed slope angle. This is not somewhere to be with sustained high winds that can rip climbers off the mountain.
So we adapted again on the fly in the van. We decided to attempt the Disappointment Cleaver route up past Camp Muir. Not our top pick of a route but we were still hoping for a summit window and thought it was our best shot at Rainier.
We had a great hike up to Camp Muir where we hastily set up camp and found out just how long it really takes to boil snow and make water for three people sharing a stove and small pot. We chowed down dinner and were off to bed well before dark without getting much sleep thanks to the chaos that is Camp Muir with rowdy neighbors partying at camp.
11 pm came quickly as we woke to quickly grab a bite, get dressed and gear up to tie into our rope teams and start moving. Walking roped together to other people on a glacier is slow moving but it’s therapeutic movement in pitch dark below the moon and stars.
The weather started taking a turn early and the wind howled as it started picking up. Once we topped out above the cleaver we made a team call. Unfortunately due to the break in the cold high winds and temps above the cleaver and a teammate having altitude issues we made the decision to turn around.
Always a tough call, but the appropriate one to make and proper move to be a good teammate. We slowly made our way down enjoying the sunrise views and eventually warm light on our faces. Once back down safe to Camp Muir we dove into our tents for a quick nap. I relished the views we missed in the dark.
Once rested we ate some snacks and packed up camp to head back down to Paradise parking lot. Until next time!