Spring and summer climbing season of 2017 has focused particularly on 2 skillsets: carryover and mental fortitude. The fact that our climbs have been centered around these 2 aspects is not an accident; it was intentional training in preparation for our summer project: Kautz Glacier. Most people climb Mt Rainier with a base camp on the popular Emmons or DC Routes. These routes are more or less like a maintained trail going up a glacier. Any danger is mitigated by guides upholding a track steering climbers away for trouble. The only real issue to contend with on these standard routes is altitude. The Kautz is different. This route has two technical alpine ice walls, no tracks, yawning crevasses to navigate, extremely steep slopes and, of course, altitude. It is commonly done carryover style with a descent of the DC route since descending Kautz is time consuming and often dangerous. Additionally, this year the recommended start of the route was Comet Falls TH at 3,600 feet due to the mangled mess of crevasses on the lower Nisqually. Normally the start of the route is from Paradise at 5420 ft.

I picked up our permit on a sweltering Thursday evening. The air was thick with smoke from the wildfires torching British Columbia and the mountain was just barely visible through the haze. I hoped that we would be well above the smoke layer on the climb. I did a combination of wandering around Paradise, reading and attempting to sleep while I waited for Damien to drive in from Seattle. Five hours later after totally missing each other several times in the parking lot, Damien and I finally reunited. Leaving Damien’s car at Paradise, we piled our gear into my SUV and drove to the Comet Falls TH hoping to get an acceptable amount of sleep before venturing out for the approach.

At 2:30am we swung our heavy packs onto our backs and followed the beam of our headlamps down up the Comet Falls Trail. Our alpine start reasons were triple fold: we had to gain 5800 feet, we wanted to arrive at camp early so we could nap all afternoon and once the sun came up it was supposed be another day of unbearable heat. The trail gained relatively slowly until arriving at Comet Falls. The falls seemed to glow in the moonlight and we paused to admire them before continuing up the now steep switchbacks to Van Trump Park.

The soft early morning light illuminated glorious wildflower meadows of Van Trump Park as we broke out of the trees and entered the alpine zone. Behind us the Tatoosh Range looked like a pastel drawing, softly cloaked in a haze of smoke far below. Ahead of. us looking rather intimidating, was Mount Rainier unobstructed with smoke and radiating with its pure immensity. We could see Camp Hazard and the upper ice wall from our vantage point… everything looked so far away! We followed the trail through the sprawling meadow venturing passed the sign reading “end of maintained trail”. The trail never felt unmaintained, however, until we reached a rocky ridge. Damien chose to scramble through the talus while I opted to stay on the snow just beside the rocks. To my delight, my trail runners seemed to have great traction! We continued up the steep terrain for several hundred feet until the rocks ended and a vast snowfield laid in front of us. It was an easy grade at first, but then in reared up sharply.  The full strength of the sun’s rays was beginning to bare down on us as we begrudgingly began the final 1000 foot ascent in the scorching heat and softening softening snow.

We reached the Castle at 11am. The Castle is the lowest section of Turtle Snowfield at 9400 feet. However, it’s has running water and nice built up bivy/tent sites on the rock island. There was a single tent that had been collapsed in one of these sites. There was also a team of three at the end of the Island getting ready to ascend to Camp Hazard at 11,600 feet. We read in our beta that Camp Hazard is aptly named and not suggested as a camp. It is right beneath the Kautz Ice Cliff and it’s not unheard of for chunks of ice to comes hurling through camp.

We set up our modest camp overlooking the Muir Snowfield, Camp Muir, The Nisqually Glacier and Tatoosh Range. We had an ultra-light tarp at 8oz, summer sleeping bags and z-pads. The rest of the afternoon was spent attempting to escape the sun very unsuccessfully while we napped. We had dinner in the early evening wondering when the climbers would return to their tent. They showed up at 6:30 exhausted from the Kautz and the tedious descent of the ice walls. The packed up and moved their camp further down. The sun finally dipped below the horizon and the cool evening air we’d been waiting for finally arrived. Time to catch a few short hours of quality sleep before our next alpine start!

It seemed like I had only been asleep for 15 minutes when my alarm jolted me awake at 11:30pm. Damien and I broke down camp and began stuffing our packs for the carryover. Of course, Damien boiled some water for coffee as well. By 12:30am we began our very long walk uphill using only the moon as a source of light; tt was so bright we didn’t need to switch on our headlamps. The frozen snow softly crunched beneath our crampons as we journeyed up Turtle Snowfield. Other than that, it was silent and pristine. The slope grew steeper as we continued up and we switched from poles to ice axes. The sun cups made the ascent seem like walking up steep stairs at times and with my short, little legs this grew tiresome. Still we plodded on.

At 11,300 feet, we reached Camp Hazard. There is running water here as well and some rock bivy sites. Of course, hanging directly above was the Kautz Icecliff looking very precarious. At the edge of the camp we tied into our 37-meter rope. From here we descended 300 feet down the other side of Camp Hazard through a precarious ice fall zone, moving quickly to mitigate the danger. I have heard of folks rapping from Camp Hazard into this icefall chute, but it was a very easy downclimbed. Finally, we were out of the danger zone and at the base of the first ice wall. The wall at this point in the season was still all snow, but it was frozen solid in the darkness. It featured very large sun-cups and, at the sharp grade, it resembled a massive wall of very steep and tall steps. Damien led up. The features were interesting through I was forced to clamber up some of the steps with my knees since they were so tall! It felt like a stair master 10 Billion! No protection was placed as we simual-climbed since the snow wouldn’t effectively take screws and it was too solid to bang in a picket. I’m not sure we would have placed anything even if we could. There were some narrow crevasses easily seen and stepped over.

The grade eased and, as the run rose, we crossed more sun-cup terrain to the second ice wall. This wall appears more daunting and large at a distance that it truly is once you get up close. There is a narrow line of grey ice right through the center. Damien did not wait for a belay and began climbing up the W2/3 alpine ice. He placed 3 screws before building an anchor with our final 2. This belay would not have been necessary if we had some additional screws (we had 5 total), but its worth the extra weight. As I ascended the grey ice I was struck by how poorly the picks of my sumtecs were sticking. It was horrific! Luckily, I was wearing mono-point crampons and they seemed to be sticking well. Thus, I climbed relying very heavily on feet. Lots of dinner plating action too! Damien also was having issues with his picks, although his swings are stronger and thus he could make it work better. Therefore, we decided that he would lead the second section. When the rope grew tight I removed the anchor and continued up following Damien to the top of the ice wall and into the most impressive world of penitents I have ever seen.

Penitents, or spires of glacial snow, that can range in size from a foot high to over your head engulfed us above the grey ice.  They were big, mostly around shoulder height. We wove our way through the formations doing our best to keep the rope from getting snagged. Nestled within these spires were, of course, crevasses. There was no trail. There was nothing to show us the way. This was true mountaineering and it was the first time we had to rely 100% on ourselves to problem solve. And there were a lot of navigation problems! The crevasses were long and sweeping. Sometimes we could step or jump over. More often we had to traverse the edges and find a way around them which took time. The penitents seemed to form fences around the crevasses though creating a nifty border as we walked along the edges. During our route-finding extravaganza, we switched leads due to all the wandering.

Finally, I found myself on the edge of the most massive crevasse I have ever encountered. At first it looked like I could go around it to the left, but it soon became clear that the penitents concealed part of the crevasse and it stretched out clear across the glacier. We turned and went the other way walking toward the rock formation called Wapowety Cleaver. We had to follow the cleaver to its terminus anyway at the Nisqually Glacier. Hopefully, near the rock we could cross the monstrous crevasse.

Somewhere along the line we switched leads again and made a, to our displeasure, descending traverse along the edge in search of passage. After dropping about 200 feet we saw that the crevasse curved just before it reached the rock so we had no direct access to the cleaver. However, there seemed to be a bridge/cave in, that we could cross. Carefully, we picked our way across the bridge and made it to the other side.

We continued upward on the glacier alongside the cleaver. As we ascended the penitents grew shorter before finally morphing into sun-cups. Near the top of the cleaver we stepped onto the rock to avoid a crevasse. Once back on the snow we continued to the end of the Wapowety and discovered some bivys in the rock at 13,100~ feet.  We took this opportunity to take a long break. The terrain ahead looked easier, but now we would start to feel the effects of altitude. Damien and I looked up again from the rocks and marveled at how far the summit still seemed to be! Far below us we could see the faint images of distant mountain ssubmerged in a thick, grey sheet of smoke. We were high above the smog, but breathing would still be difficult.

Rehydrated and fed, we stood and pondered the obstacle blocking us from entry onto the upper Nisqually. We were faced with another enormous crevasse stemming out of impressive, towering seracs on our left. We would need to move quickly through here, but how should be cross the crevasse? Damien walked along the edge (again going down) and stumbled upon a bridge. It was not a walk across bridge though. It was a taller, knife-edge bridge. To cross we would need to do an exposed ice climbing style traverse along the side of the bridge over hundreds of feet of air.  With no way to place and anchor I prepared to arrest if the bridge collapsed as Damien began to cross. He placed a picket midway through. Once the ice axe traverse eased into a normal bridge for the last 3-4 feet he crawled to spread his weight as things looked thin. Then it was my turn. It was overwhelmingly thrilling to me on that bridge aa look down into the blue abyss that is a bottomless crevasse. I was clinging on a snow bridge in the middle of a sea of nothing. The crossing was not hard, just exceedingly airy. I did not crawl the final section, I leaped instead.

The ice climbing bridge marked the end of spicy crevasse crossings. From there we continued upward on a very long walk aiming for the tiny bit of rock high above marking the edge of the crater. At altitude, each step became increasing taxing and my body began to panic in its struggle for oxygen. I recognized this symptom for 3 years ago on Rainier and knew it was normal. I sat down a let a few tears flow. When I can’t breathe my body reacts by crying sometimes. It’s very strange, but after a few minutes I feel somewhat relieved and can continue up the endless snow and ice. None of this is from fear, emotion or pain. I guess it’s by body’s way of releasing the physical stress. No idea. I always feel like  nothing had even happened when I get up.

We came across crevasses. These were easy to step over or go around. There was one that required crossing a bridge/collapsed ice, but it wasn’t sketch. Damien did opt to crawl the last few thin feet again. I ran.

It seemed like an eternity, but we finally crested the dusty, rocky crater rim at 3:30 pm. Breathing heavy we set our packs down and eagerly got off our feet. A member of the Glacier Cave Explorers came over to greet us. The explorers are a group of scientists who are studying glacial caves on Mt Rainier and other volcanos. They had a basecamp in the summit crater. He chatted with us about Kautz and pointed to where we could find the descent route down the DC. Descending… that did not sound appealing.

We still needed to visit Columbia Crest, the true summit along the rim, but our conversation kept turning to something else… should be just camp on the rim? We were tired and the thought of going down to Camp Muir did not sound all too great, especially in the heat of the day. This was an amazing opportunity. There was little wind, descent temps, there would be a full moon and we had overnight gear. The only trouble might be the altitude headaches we had gotten in the past after spending too much time above 13k. However, after 45 minutes we only  light headaches at best. The decision was made: we would camp on the summit.

We began to follow the Crater Rim looking for a protected area. As it turns out we stumbled upon the entrance to one of the glacial caves. The entrance was protected by snow walls and had a gravel floor. From the mouth of the cave steam released in plumes, but there were no fumes to alarm us. Perfect. We went to work setting up our tarp and melting snow for water. Some scientists came over to make sure we weren’t causing trouble with the cave. They told us there was a giant lake under the ice and assured us that the steam was not poisonous. We took some vitamin I and laid our weary bodies down for an hour before rising to make dinner. Then we swiftly fell back asleep setting our alarm for 7:30 so we could head off Columbia Crest to watch the sunset.

Seeing the sunrise on the summit of Rainier is a common experience for many climbers of the volcano. However, not many people have the chance to experience a Columbia Crest Sunset. We followed the rim which was mostly rock and dust as the light began to dim. It was about a half mile walk from our camp. From the snowy, penitent decorated hump that is Columbia Crest we stood in the same place where Damien proposed to me just over a year ago. The shadow of the massive mountain made a dark silhouette in the smoky horizon and a bright moon glowed just above distant Mt Adams poking out of the grey haze. Just behind Point Success the sun began to sink painting the sky with pastel hues of blue, pink and purple. The glaciers reflected pink and yellow and the wind was just a whisper on the largest volcano in Washington. We stood entranced watching the sun dip below the horizon and melting away into the smoke in brilliant display of fiery yellows and orange. We were alone of the summit fully enveloped in the supremacy of the mountain. It was an honor and a privilege to view that sunset and experience the mountain in way few others do.

Feeling serene, Damien and I continued along the rim passing some steaming ground. When we touched the earth, it radiated with searing heat, evidence that this volcano is very much alive. We signed the summit register and descended into the trench, or trail through the center of the crater. Here the penitents were above my head, though they grew shorter as we journeyed to the other side toward our camp. In the fluorescent moonlight, we huddled into our 30 degree sleeping bags and fell almost instantly into a deep sleep.

The alarm rang signaling our third alpine start at 12:30am. Under the starry sky we broke down camp and began the process of packing our bags one final time. Ahead of us laid the grueling descent of Disappointment Cleaver Route. Normally, elevation loss clocks out at 8991 feet. However, this year the DC was not following its normal route on the mountain. Due to some breakups on the glacier, the DC route strays from its normal track. At the top of Disappointment Cleaver, the path descends 600 feet before regaining the lost elevation and making some sweeping traverse switchbacks to join up with the Emmons Route. This meant our elevation loss would be 9591 ft. and we would have to go up 600 feet too! The distance to Camp Muir at 10,188 feet is currently 3.8 miles.

Damien and I crossed the crater and roped up at the edge of the glacier. As per our usual routine, I led down the mountain. A deep trail was cut into the towering penitents as we journeyed down in a silent, windless night. After Kautz, the DC/Emmons felt like a simple hiking trail that happened to be very steep. About 200 feet down we encountered a hand line which assisted in descending a steep section and crossing a hanging crevasse. It was strange to suddenly have help! At 13,800 feet, we reached the junction where Emmons and DC spit. We turned right following the flagging that conveniently read “Camp Muir”. However, rangers have reported climbers ending up at camp Sherman by accident! That was not a mistake we wanted to make!

We encountered the first team heading up at 13000 feet. They were well ahead of the hoards and part of the cave expedition. About 20 minutes layer we began to run into the rest of the teams heading up. Some of the guided groups were easily 20 people large. We stepped aside and let them pass us. The private teams seemed to all be in one cluster. They all offered to let us pass, eager for an excuse to catch their breathe. As suddenly as all the headlamps had appeared, they all vanished behind us. Now we stood at the base of the 600 foot ascent to the top of Disappointment Cleaver. I made quick work of the first few hundred feet, but then I abruptly hit a wall. I could feel my body protesting upward motion. My stomach suddenly felt tight and it churned aggressively, begging me for food (I was nearly out). My muscles did not want to take another step. I gritted my teeth and trudged on, though my pace slowed considerably.

We crossed a single ladder over a crevasse, but the clever never did get any closer. My feet felt heavy. The walk seemed infinite. I needed to eat, but I wanted to get to the rock. After and eternity, we arrived at the top of the cleaver. Normally the rock section is not far away, but this year the trail stayed on the snow until only 700 feet above Ingraham. This was great because the volcano crud is horrible to descend, bad because that meant my break was further away.

Finally, we stepped on volcanic rock. I collapsed and summoned the energy to dig out my food and water. I almost immediately felt rejuvenated. We admired the now illuminated world of ice reflecting tones of pink, orange and yellow as the rays from the sun finally touched the glacier. Rainier is truly enchanted no matter where you are on the mountain. Smoke still lingered below, but it was thinner than the days before. Little Tacoma stood just off to our left looking very small in the shadow of Rainier.

Refreshed we stood and continued the thankfully short descent of the cleaver and back onto the glacier ice. It was a quick saunter to Ingraham Flats Camp where there were surprisingly few tents. Back on volcanic crud we descended Cathedral Gap to Cowlitz Glacier. Camp Muir laid not to far off on the opposite side the glacial expanse. I hurried toward it stepping over a few tame crevasses.

Camp Muir was quiet this early in the morning as most dayhikers don’t make it up until afternoon. We dropped our packs on the gravel and began the tedious process of un-roping and packing up our technical climbing gear. Some climbers planning on making the ascent the following night came over confused as to how we had gotten down so early. Easy: we summited yesterday afternoon! We lingered at Muir and took a quick nap to rest our knees for the second half of the descent. At 9:30 we were walking again.

We did a combination of glissades and walking down the snowfield to Pebble Creek. Unfortunately, the snow was softening fast, so I couldn’t glissade as much as I would have liked. At Pebble Creek, we switched our mountaineering boots for trail runners and entered the world of visitors wearing jeans and other forms of cotton. It’s always strange returning to civilization after an intense climb.

Damien paused just after we passed the last switchback to Panorama Point. He gestured to the guided group sitting just off the trail behind us listening to their leader describe the history of the mountain. “That’s Melissa Arnot!”

We pressed on, each step jolting our bodies a little be more. The trail turned to pavement and we learned very quickly that trail runners are only good in the dirt. They stick to pavement and shock the body with impact. This was the most painful part of the entire descent. Even worse that the 600 feet up! It wasn’t a long stretch though and we finally emerged out of the meadows and into the Paradise Parking lot 2.5 hours after departing Camp Muir. At that point, I had one thing on my mind: lunch!
It hard to accurately describe the experience of Euphoria after climbing Kautz. It was the ultimate type 2 fun adventure and the most difficult glacier climb I have done. On the climb up I could not understand why I had wanted to attempt such a committing, endless and technical route. Right after I finished lunch at Paradise Inn I felt like I couldn’t get back into the mountains fast enough to do it all again! Amazing climbs have an odd way of playing tricks on your memory. The pain all seems to melt away and you’re just left recalling how freaking awesome it all was. Maybe it is the intensity one feels on a committing, high altitude climbs that that I find so addicting. The senses become heightened to an extreme extent and everything is felt more acutely. It’s like seeing everything in laser focus. Each crystal of snow, each crack in the ice, each (aching) muscle in my body… everything is experienced with such passion and strength.  Maybe that is why I seem to be drawn to peaks over 13k. I long for the intensity and focus these mountains bring to my life.

This ended up being a Plan C trip. Originally we were going to go for Garibaldi, but solar radiation boosted avy danger to considerable on the aspect we planned to climb. So we opted for Reid Headwall on Mt Hood. Avalanche danger was predicted to be moderate and we were excited to get in a technical alpine ice climb after avalanche danger pushed us off so many summit attempts this year. At least avalanche danger was moderate right up until we pulled into the Timberline Parking lot Friday night. We checked the forecast one last time and it had been updated to considerable an hour beforehand. We had our normal discussion and it was decided that Reid Headwall would be fine if we finished the route before any major radiation from the sun hit. However, the climb is more or less a maze through towers of rim ice and route-finding delay was not entirely impossible which could leave us exposed to falling ice once the sun warmed things up. Since we had already driven the 5 hours we settled on the South Spur/Hogsback route. This is the easiest route up Mount Hood and it attracts throngs of people, most of which are inexperienced and minimal climbing knowledge to the point of endangering themselves and others around them. It is normally a conga line of folks trying to get through the bottleneck of the crux of the pearly gates to the summit. However, it seemed like the only safe option and if we were stragicgic we could avoid the circus. Besides, although not the technical Ice climb we were hoping for, it was a climb nonetheless. Plus it meant a higher camp and we really needed to start acclimating for the season.

After spending a chilly night in the car parked in the Timberline parking lot (5800 ft) we began the long approach. Luckily, this was not as arduous for us since we had our skis and skinned up. The route begin as the ski resort and follows the right most cat track up open slopes. Don’t follow the groomers near the lifts unless you want to be stopped by ski a patrol. You’ll know you’re on the right path because the catt4rack is filled up bootprints and usually some semblance of a skin track. The first 1200ft of gain brings you parallel to the Silcox Hut. From here the slope gets a bit steeper until the cat track finally terminates at the top of the highest chair lift (8600 ft). From here there are normally multiples boot paths and a skin track to follow to the crater. The general idea is to stay to the right of Crater Rock and Left of Steel Cliffs aiming for the flat basin area. There is a flattish area at about 9200 feet where most folks camp even though the crater is flatter. However, the crater is a thermal area with fumroles and other aroma releasing formations. However, Damien and I passed this lower camp opting for the less crowded high camp since the smell of sulfur isn’t as issue for us. The final ascent to the crater is pretty steep and at times our skins didn’t catch completely. However, we were pretty overjoyed that with elevation came a breeze. Lower we had been baking in the blazing sun!

We set up camp well away from Devil’s Kitchen thermals in the crater at 10,100 feet. Mt Hood is known for high winds even when it isn’t in the forecast. Therefore, we dug a good sized hole to set up our tent along with a substantial windbreak. From there we had front row seats watching the conga line climb up the Hogsback to the Pearly Gates. We wanted no part of this steady line of people and the hazards of climbing in the throngs. Therefore, our plan was to climb in the dark and reach the summit exactly at sunrise. Hopefully, we would be the first to summit and avoid the bottleneck in the Pearly Gates.

We spent the rest of the day people watching. In the evening the clouds built and we couldn’t see the mountains below. The higher elevation was clear though and we had the rare experience of people the the only people on the upper flanks of the South Side. Not a soul on the Hogsback Route. It was quiet with only the sound of the wind and the pristine evening light. Solitude in a place where you can rarely be alone.

We were moving at 4:20am carrying our skis for the descent. A team of three were coming up from the bottom of the mountain as we walked to the nearby Hogsback, but they stopped to rest in the Crater so we climbed alone. The Hogsback is a spine of windblown snow creating a ridge of sorts from Crater Rock.  The well beat down path traverses the side of the tall spine until reaching the crest where there is a flattish area before the Hogsback rears up rather steeply to the Pearly Gates and towers of rime ice. I found myself front pointing parts of this section using both ice tools.

There was a small flat area stamped put at the base of the Pearly Gates, probably the result of people waiting in line. But in the darkness there was no waiting. The Pearly Gates is a short, steep and narrow chute big enough for climbers of only move in single file up ~60 degree slope. It is borders on either side by high rock towers covered in rim ice making them look like mystical castles. This is the area is possesses a rock and ice-fall hazard making it imperative to move quickly and preferably only in the early morning hours before things warm up. I front pointed and used both tool picks through the Pearly Gates.

After the chute it is basically a long gradual climb to horizon which never seems to get closer. It look to be just a few yards away, but really you need to ascend about another 250 feet. Eventually, we did indeed crest over the South Side and stand on the summit just in time to admire the fiery colors of sunrise. The wind was wicked and gusting at probably 30 mph, but we put on our down parkas and stayed plenty warm enjoying the perfect moment of solitude. We were the first to summit that day. We watch the sky go from bright pink to fluorescence orange as the sun finally peaked over the horizon and bathed the mountain snow soft corral glow. The perfect morning and we didn’t want to leave, but we had seen the headlamp coming up the mountain when we left camp we didn’t want to get stuck in the throngs. We passed the team of three as we descended to the Pearly Gates and front pointed down the chute. Only one climber was at the base of the gates politely waiting for us to descend. However, the Hogsback was getting crowded. We had timed things perfectly.

We down-climbed to the flat area of the Hogsback and from there skied back to camp. The Summit was looking pretty cloudy and once again we were pleased at our luck. We went back to sleep or tried to. The winds picked up and whistled around the tent waking us up. When we finally started to pack up the winds were worst in the Crater than they had been on the summit. Another bit of good fortune as I imagine summit winds were 40+ at that point.

We snapped back into our skis for the long run down. This is when I really appreciate being able to ski. The slog down the mountain on foot is excruciating, but on skis the descent of 4300ft from the crater is a highlight!

Two O’Clock Falls is not located in the high mountains or shady canyons. It’s actually in the grasslands of Kootenay Plains! In the lowlands were is a heavy shadded area in the Hills that harbors a huge waterfall with W2-3 ice offering 4 pitches on a variety of lines.  This is where Damien and I ended up after discovering that Melt Out W3 along the Icefield Parkway in Jasper NP was under a wind slab that looked ready to avalanche. We parked by a gate on the side of Hwy 11 labeled 2 O’Clock Creek. We  were a bit confused by the book directions and just parked near where we could see the falls from the rd. We followed a dirt road beyond the gate into a campground and onto the trail. However, after followed the trail through tree and realizing we were not turning toward the falls we decided to just travel cross country. We were looking for a meadow that we were supposed to walk alongside. The area is sacred to the First Nations and it was important that we stayed on the side of this meadow since it was part of their ceremonial grounds. As we wandered the forest looking for the meadow and heading for the falls we came across lots of trees wrapped in cloth. This had something to do with ceremonies. We eventually stumbled across another road and followed it to the meadow we were looked for complete with First Nation structures. We stayed to the right on the road, but turned into the forest and traveled cross country to the falls hoping to find the trail we were supposed to be on. We eventually found it and followed it to the base of the falls.

The ice was pretty wet even in the cold shade. Damien racked up to take the first lead. Like Lousie Falls, the ice was damaged by heat and insecure. With the swing of an axe 2×2 ft sections of ice would go white. Massive dinner plates shattered from the route and it took up to ten swings to get a descent stick. Damien finished the lead. It was W3 what the ice quality made thing very spicy. I tested several areas to lead up pitch 2, but found the ice to be very questionable, possibly more so than the first pitch. When I put in screwed the surrounding ice turned white causing me to question if they would hold at all. In the end i decided to down climb  the pitch and bail after one to many sections of ice went white with swings or tools. we rapped off of two V threads. Nothing too prove. The conditions were just not good.

We followed the trail out and discovered the gate we should have entered into from Hwy 11 was actually unsigned and 1.5 km down the road from where we parked. We know for our return!

Lousie Falls is located in the last place you’d expected to see dirtbag climbers. The approach requires pass a posh resort : Lake Lousie Chateau. It felt kind of odd after wearing the same clothes for 6 days to walk through the wealthy masses observing ice carving and skating the the lake. Who needs laundry!? In any case, approaching the falls in about a 2.4 Km walk around the shoreline of Lake Lousie. The falls can be see though fro the Chateau. Our Plan was to only climb the bottom 1 or 2 pitches. The rest of the route is W4-5. Beyond our current level and it was late the the day anyway. The trail beside the lake leads to the bottom of an open slope about 50-60 meters below the falls. We left he main trail and followed the boot-pack up to the base. It is important to be cautious and wear a helmet as you approach. Climbers from above drop massive ice chunks down from the upper pitches. Staying to the right is crucial to avoid being hit and obtain protection from overhanging rock.

We racked up on the far right side of the falls. The first pitch to the first set of bolted anchors looked straight forward and doable. However, as Damien began to lead he discovered from ice quality issues. The sun and warm temps had damaged the ice quite a bit. It was insecure no matter how many times he kicked into the wall. Getting an ice axe to stick took about ten swings due in insane dinner-plating. And once the axe did stick it was often almost impossible to remove. Damien got up the first tier to a small ledge. The conditions were too dicy for his comfort, so I lowered him and took over the lead. The ice was as bad as he reported. I was able to ascend just under a meter. I had insecure feet but two good ice axe hooks. I’m not sure how since i was pressed down hard the the hooks, but one of my axes popped and I took a lead fall. By other axe held and the umbilical caught me oddly enough. All in all i fell about a meter back onto the ledge. The only damage came from my hammer hitting me in the mouth and slightly chipping my tooth and bruising my lip. I got lucky.

After that we decided to call it a day and packed tings up. I guess I’m truely a climber no since after 5 years I finally took a lead fall. 🙂

Johnston Canyon Upper Falls is just how I remembered it. Spectacular and HUGE! We walked through the canyon before daylight making it feel e3ven more majestic and reached he bottom of the Upper Falls (turn right at the 2nd junction) just as the sun rose. Accessing the ice is a bit tricky. We have to climb over the boardwalk, step down onto on icy boulder and then slide down said boulder to the frozen river. The wall of ice is in great shape thought he pillars have broken in the heat. The ice on the far right is W2 and as you move left the wall steepest and the grade gets more difficult. We opted for a W3 Line in the center. The ice can be climbed in a single pitch and wrapped with a 70 meter rope. But it is easy to use a 60 meter and climb the routes in 2 pitches due to a huge platform about 1/3 of the way up. Damien led the lower pitch which is pretty much W2 for all routes. This was the first pitch of ice I ever led about 3 year ago. I led the second pitch of W3 and set up an anchor from 2 trees. PLEASE always check the cord and webbing left behind by previous parties before using them. There was already an anchor there and I ended up building my own since I could not trust any of the knots.

Damien and I ran some laps on the upper Pitch and the W4/W3+ pitch on the left for the rest of the morning. We rappelled the second pitch with a V thread. Note that this is a big tourist destination so folks will be watching and taking pictures the whole time. I wanted to put out a top jar for the climbers!

 

We were told by two climbers yesterday that Crystal Tears was in and awesome. However, because of the warming trend the climb would probably only be in for one more day. Damien and I headed out from Canmore, Alberta to Grotto Canyon before daylight hoping to get the route first since its narrow in places. We followed the main canyon to His and Hers at the headwall and then took a left turn and continued down the canyon. After about 30 minutes there was a junction on the right. The Climbers from the day before said that they hard marked the turn off on the right with a ribbon. We didn’t see a ribbon and though we ventures a bit further down the canyon we could no find one elsewhere. So we assumed someone had removed the ribbon and turn right. This was obviously a climbers trail. It switchbacked very steeply through the trees  for almost 300 meters before reaching screes. We followed a clear boot path to the left and into a gully were this was a thin melting waterfall.

Damien too the first lead. The ice didn’t look great and when he hit in the sound was hollow. the ice was pretty much detached from the rock and there would be some mixed moves. Damien hooked the top of the ice and ended up taking down about 1 meter of the ice route! We examined mixed climbing options but saw no simple way to gain the upper pitches. We decided to bail. Back at the bottom of the canyon we ended up locating the Ribbon several meters further down the canyon. We followed a set a boot prints we hadn’t noticed in the earlier darkness and discovered that we had climbed the walk down earlier. We also discovered several climbers bailing from the route due to the melted out, ripped off portion. The warm weather definitely has taken this route out, at least for now.

Grotto Falls was in great form and fat this week even with the warm weather. Damien and I ventured into Grotto Canyon for our first ice cimbing venture in Alberta on Tuesday. The canyon walk definitely requires spikes. Some portion of the frozen river a extremely slushy/water though so be prepared to get wet to wear gaitors! The bottom of the route has several good places to put your packs that are dry. The ice was melting on the sides of the falls pretty fervently, but away from the edges things we dryer (as fall as ice goes). However, as the day wore on the ice began to melt pretty much everywhere and things get very wet indeed. The ice had formed in such a way that the route gets steeper and slightly longer the further left you go. Everything is pretty much a W3 on the first pitch though. There are two bolt anchors (one left and one slightly higher on the right) on top of the second Tier of the falls. The Third and final tier is short. It ranges from W3+ on the left to W2 on the right. On top of the 2nd Pitch there are normally bolt anchors but the ice flow had covered them. There are many trees and Damien and I set up a red rap station/anchor on the big tree to the left.

Damien and I spent the day taking turns leading and running some laps. It was my first W3 lead so I was pretty stoked! Today we ended up returning to climb the route several times again after discovering that Crystal Tears of was out. Grotto is definitely getting a lot of action right now and the route is getting a bit picked out.

Damien and I drove out to Lilooet in BC, Canada through the night arriving in the wee hours of the early morning in time to set up camp and take a quick nap before searching for ice. It took a few drives up an down Hwy 99 until we figured out where the pullout for Rambles was. The guidebook mentions a snowmobile bridge, but we could not find it. It basically about 4 miles South of Cinnamon Creek across the street from talus slope. We followed a descent bootback up the steep hill for about 45 minutes and arrived at the base of Rambles Centre. We didn’t know for sure it was rambles at that point. Just that it was a large W3. But other climbers confirmed at camp later that night that we had found Rambles.

There were 4 total tiers. The first was a 5 move W2 to a platform followed by W3 tiers getting progressively steeper with little or no platforms in between. Damien took the sharp end and led up his first W3 waterfall like he’d been doing it for years. Perfect and efficient movement with just the right amount of screws. I am so proud of him. He sent up a top-rope on a tree which had some slings already on it (we added some). When I lowered him the rope (60m) only reached the the large platform above the W2 tier. We decided to belay from that platform and I simply soloed up the W2 section. We top-roped the rest of the day. The route remained shaded and the weather cold throughout, but as the day wore on the ice softened quit significantly and we found ourselves trusting our picks less and less. Toward the end it was a slushy, dripping, wet mess. Still great times though!

 

Golden Horn is becoming that obscure peak that is always just barely out of reach. My first attempt was in Oct 2014 with Marybeth. We bailed about 25 feet from the summit since the rock was dripping wet and more bad weather seemed to be coming in. My next try was last summer with Damien in July. We had good weather all day until we were 20 feet below the summit block trying to figure out where the route was for about 45 minutes when a cold snap and sudden heavy clouds moved in leaving us both too hypodermic to continue searching for the way up the final few feet. Both attempts of Golden Horn were supposed to be couple with a go at Tower Mountain next door, but the sudden bad weather foiled any attempt at that peak. Thus, we still had unfinished business and decided to give things another try last weekend. Party sunny on Sat and clear skies on Sunday. Not a drop of rain in the forecast and we would bring a bigger puffys in case another cold snap came in.

We left the trailhead for the PCT North from Rainy Pass at about 8am. It was a nice, crisp autumn day that felt much more like mid-October than late September. There was heavy mist, but it was slowly lifting and when we reached Cutthroat Pass at five miles most of it had burned off affording us with some brilliant views. We continued on the PCT another 2.5 miles to Granite Pass where we got our first look at Tower and Golden Horn. Clouds were coming and going, but that’s what the weather called for. So far so good. Things looked promising. We continued on our journey admiring the larches that were beginning to turn golden, but not yet in their prime. Another 2.5 miles and we reached an open meadow camp, the unsigned Meathow Pass. Here we turned off the PCT and headed right up the unsigned but very obvious trail to Snowy Lakes about 600ft higher. From Lower Snowy Lake we could see that Tower Mountain had some fresh snow plastered on it. This caused us some concern as a thin layer of snow and wet rock would make things dicey. Another team was just about to head up and passed us as we were setting up camp on the lower lake. We figured we’d get some beta from them when they got back. In the meantime we had another mountain to climb.

We camp set up we departed for Golden Horn at roughly 2pm. It was more cloudy than sunny, but no cause for alarm or concern. We followed the trail to Upper Snow Lake and then turned right and walked cross country to the base of the lower golden scree slopes of Golden Horn. There are various trail going up the scree, but you kind of just go up and hope to eventually stumble across one. We went up to the far right of the mountain and stayed in the trees while slowly working our way left as we ascended to the ridge. We did eventually come across a boot path which helped in the scree.

We reached the ridge and first notch affording a view of the other side of the mountain and a sobering drop off. We followed the obvious boot trail along the ridge heading toward the summit block on the left. A little ways after the second notch with dizzying views down the gully on the other side we climbed up an easy rock formation marked by a carin and then followed more carins around the back of the summit block. There are actually a few big towers and its hard to tell which one is the top. There was some snow here that was up to 2 inches in some places and we had to step carefully. Once we were on the other side of the rock towers we took the first gully up which appeared well traveled to a trio of towers. The one on the right is clearly shorter than the other two. But the others look similar. We kept looking for bolts and the mantle move that marks the route to the top. we even went under a big chockstone to examine options. All the while we were grabbing on snow/icy handholds.

After 45 minutes of looking around and coming up with no route that resembled our description or pictures we were feeling very frustrated. But at least this time we had a big puffies. Once again the temperature was dropping quickly and the wind was picking up. For some reach I scrambled up a class three ledge on the right at the base of the left most tower to make sure we weren’t missing something. Alas, there was another gully which also looked well traveled. had we been in the wrong gully the entire time? We descended down to the base of the first gully and traversed left to the second gully (which we found was marked by a carin). We climbed up this more narrow gully which featured a few class 3/4 moves to the base of what we recognized to be the summit block on the right complete with bolts. However, rime ice was plastered onto the route and snow was piled up as well. Still we roped up and I left over to the mantle move 10 feet from the summit. The snow made things slippery and the rime ice was not making me feel very good about my hand hold… and then i discovered that all the cracks were icy. I was just 3 or four moves away, but I just couldn’t risk it. Once again mountain weather foiled the attempt.

We packed up our gear and descended the route in the fading light reaching the camp just as full darkness fell. We talked to the Tower Mountain climbers by Upper Snowy Lake. They had summited, but described the route as slimy, dripping wet and icy. I don’t really fancy when i route is described in that fashion. Still we planned to make a final decision in the morning. Perhaps the sun predicted for the next day would dry the route off.

No such thing. I;m not sure when it began, but i woke up at night to the sound of rain battering the tent walls. RAIN?! It was supposed to be clear! It pounded on all night and it the morning everything was very misty, wet and cloudy. Tower was shrouded in heavy fog, but we did not need to see the mountain to know it was wet and icy. We didn’t see a reason to take a closer look. Instead we packed up and enjoyed the autumn colors on the way back to the TH. The sun did not show up the entire ten mile walk out. In fact light rain fell most of the time! Welcome to the mountain where anything is possible! still we had a fun weekend. We figured out how to get to the right gully to Golden Horn and made it ten feet closer to the summit. Maybe next time. But until then we’ll enjoy the yellows, red and oranges of fall!

Perfect weather window so why not go on a conditioner to the summit of Mt Rainier? I say conditioner because, well, attempting Rainier was to condition for the high altitude of climbing in the Teton Range in two weeks. So basically Rainier was training this time around, but we also really wanted to not just summit the crater rim this time, but to also get to the very tippy top “Columbia Crest”.

There was computer glitch in the reservation system for Mt Rainier National Park this year so all permits were walk up. At the last second Damien decided that instead of taking a 1/2 day off from work he would take a full day. He wanted to camp outside the Wilderness Office to make sure we had the best chance for getting a permit (and hopefully he would be able to get one without the entire climbing party being present). I would be available to drive over early afternoon just in case there was any issue the rangers issuing a permit to just one party member.  Damien’s Black Friday Technique of sitting outside the office in his camp chair  with his Ipad at 5am and waiting for them to open at 7:00am worked. He secured a permit for Ingraham Flats! I drove out after work to meet him and sleep! We would start our day before the next day technically began. At 10:30pm!

By 11pm we had our packs shouldered and we were walking up the pavement from Paradise. After some star gazers yelled at us for messing up their night vision with our headlamps as we were trying to locate the trail we finally moved away from civilization and onto the dark slopes of Mount Rainier. We like to approach Rainier in the night for two reason. We like to avoid the powerful sun rays that bake the trail and snow slopes to Camp Muir by traveling after sundown. The other reason is so we can arrive to basecamp in the morning and spend the rest of the day sleeping in preparation for an extreme alpine start. We moved surprising well through the night. Normally sleep deprivation gets to me on these star-lite approaches, but for some reason it wasn’t as difficult and although my pack weight upward of 50lbs I didn’t seem to notice that either. I guess training was paying off.

The thr sky was painted with pastel colors as the  sun began to rise. We were at 9000ft by then and looking at Camp Muir ahead which never seemed to go closer no matter how much we walked. It always seems to be just right there, but it never is until you’re 100ft away! We did eventually climb up the steps to the alpine basecamp at around 7:00am. Damien immediately settled down for a nap. We han’t stopped much during the climb up. I was pretty hyper so I talked to a RMI client for a bit. Our journey for the day was not yet over though. We still had about another 1000ft to climb.

After Damien woke up we roped up and began to cross the Colwitz Glacier to Cathedral Rock. The crossing was well maintained with an obvious beating trail as usual thanks to the hard work of the guides. There was one step/jump over crevasse, but nothing more exciting than that. The snow level was up pretty high, but the rocky scamper to the top of Cathedral Rock Ridge was still rather tiring and unpleasant. I’m not the biggest fan of scrambling over loose volcano crud in crampons. I don’t think it was more than 600ft though. From the top of the ridge we continued to climb across the Ingraham Glacier. We passed areas were the glacier was broken up pretty good, but one had to step over a few thin cracks until we reached Ingraham Flats: a flat sheet of ice with no crevasses and our basecamp.

It wasn’t very crowded and we found a nice pre-dug platform secluded off to the side and away from the other private climbers and guided teams. We spent some time melting water and eating oatmeal before putting up our tent. By the time we were all done it was about 10:30am. Clearly that is bedtime! The rest of the day was spent napping, filtering water, enjoying the view and snacking. We needed to be ready for our alpine start… and when the alarm rang at 9:45pm we were ready.

We were the first team to leave camp at 10:45pm. We crossed  glacier though some broken up ice and seracs toward the Disappointment Clever. There was only one short ladder more than 3 ft across that had just been set earlier that night. In fact a whole long of route work had been done by the guides earlier and we were the first ones on the freshly shoveled revised route up. The claim was that the DC route was in the best shape its ever been in history, I think the statement is correct. We followed the tread until reaching the base of the Cleaver. We stepped onto the loose volcanic rock and unroped making it easier to scramble up the rockfall hazard of a feature. The trail up is well marked with flagging this year and pretty easy to follow, but its still not fun to climb. Luckily the route doesn’t stay on the spine of the cleaver, but goes off to the side and follows snow up for the final 300 or so feet. That was a nice surprise.

Roped up again we continued to follow the track. Unlike last year when the route traverse seeral miles to the left before going back right to gain the crater rim, this years route pretty much straight up. A good path was cut into the glacier and it zigged zagged directly up and over several huge and very steep slopes. There were 3 different places were clips were available in the snow for a running belay due to the steep grade, but I;m not sure they wee really needed. We were trailed for a bit by a soloist, but we let him pass us. Still no other teams caught up to us. We could see them below though, huge conga lines of guided teams. We took a quick break at 13,000ft, but other than that we pretty much kept moving. Even when we finally crested the Crater Rim  we didn’t pause. Damien  walked straight across the crater. Last year we had stopped climbing at the rim which is considered a summit, but not the technical high point. We had severe altitude fatigue due to breathing in cooking stove fumes in the Muir Hut (no one went outside due to the 80mph winds last year) and the smoky air for the forest fires. This year both of us felt great and getting to Columbia Crest (the true summit) was a big goal for us.

We reached the base of the final climb before sunrise, but a small glint of pink was on the horizon. We unroped and made the final climb over the pumice to the true summit with 3 soloists. We were the first team to summit that morning at about 5:00am! It was windy, about 30mph, but no unbearably so. The expansive crater was just beginning to get illuminated in the blue dawn light and the lights of Seattle twinkled in the distance. We were on top of Washington on the most perfect morning! And then Damien looked at me with an intensity I had never witnessed before. And, well, I knew immediately what was about to happen. There on the mountain that more than any other mountain in WA is a symbol of determination, fortitude, perseverance and shear beauty he proposed. I cannot imagine a more perfect moment in the mountains…and of course I said yes. well what I said was “Damien I would love to marry you” to which he clarified “so is that a yes?”

Newly engaged we retreated from the windy summit to the shelter of the large rocks near the summit register about 40ft below where the soloist we hanging out. The ground was actually warm there from the thermal activity. Columbia Crest is full of smoking fumeroles, but it surprisingly did not smell of sulfur. Huddled together we all watched as the colors of the sky grew more vivid and finally the sun peaked out over the horizon and illuminated the frozen glacial world around us.  We had arrived to the crest at the perfect time.

We stayed until the guided groups arrived and things began to get crowded. Then we roped back up, crossed the crater and began the descent. It a bit annoying trying to pass all the teams going up, but luckily I was so enamored with the view and being engaged that I didn’t bother me much. Last year we hadn’t been able to see much due to all the forest fire smoke. But this time were were able to see far and wide  as far as Jefferson in Oregon! And Little Tacoma which is as big as Mt Hood looked so tiny below us! We were back at camp at about 10:30am. Most folks descend back to Paradise the same day as their climb, but we preferred to stay on the mountain and had a permit for an extra night. We spent the rest of the day visiting with some other climbers, making up for lost calories and napping. The winds had picked up so we secured the tent more our pickets. It held up well, but it always does. No noise and not flapping from the BD Eldorado!

High winds battered the camp throughout the night. Probably 40mph gusts. Teams still began to depart camp at around 11pm. We woke up to watch their headlamp light ascending the Clever. Its always a beautiful sight. It was cold the next morning when we woke up to watch the sunrise. Another display of beautiful colors. We were reluctant to leave, but after some hesitation and procrastination we packed up camp headed back down to Paradise.

The descent was much nicer than last year. We didn’t enter a cloud of smoke this time around and were weren’t totally exhausted. In fact we both felt rather energetic! As it turned out, Mt Rainier was the easiest mountain  we’ve climbed this year. I guess we’re doing something right with our training!