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Author Topic: May 30, 2008, Mt Rainier, Kautz Glacier via DC  (Read 14509 times)
Amar Andalkar
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May 30, 2008, Mt Rainier, Kautz Glacier via DC
« on: 06/01/08, 05:13 PM »

Summary: We skied the Kautz Glacier from Columbia Crest after ascending via Disappointment Cleaver in a one-day overnight push, surprisingly in near-perfect weather and with excellent snow conditions. The DC route is in great shape, with extensive snow coverage on the Cleaver and a very direct path to the crater rim above it, with no crevasse problems yet. Snow conditions on the summit dome are excellent now, with lots of recent snow which has consolidated and is corning up on southerly aspects. The upper Kautz is in great shape too, smooth and fast, and the Kautz Chute is still in very good shape for skiing, but getting thin at the top with only a few inches of snow atop glacial ice. The route back via the Turtle, Wilson, and Nisqually Glaciers is in fine shape too, with almost no crevasse navigation issues.

   
View of Mt Rainier and the Kautz Glacier
on May 4, 2008. 
   
View of Mt Rainier and the Kautz Glacier
on May 30, 2008, after our ski descent.

Details: The Kautz Glacier has been on my mind for a long time, and perhaps even becoming a bit of a monkey on my back after a failed ascent on foot in August 1999 and another failed ski attempt in July 2007 (see TR), along with numerous other planned attempts which never left town. Then this spring, having several of my friends successfully ski it while I was out of town (see April 12, 2008 - Gib Ledges and Kautz Glacier and May 17, 2008 Mount Rainier, Kautz Glacier) only added fuel to the fire. When I got an email from Monika on Wednesday afternoon, asking about skiing on Friday and wanting to do the Kautz, I was totally psyched.

But the lingering upper-level low pressure system which has plagued the western United States for 10 days since before Memorial Day Weekend has provided few opportunities for big trips, while producing ongoing headaches both for the NWS forecasters and for those trying to interpret and use the forecasts (such as us skiers). Weather conditions over the weekend turned out much better than forecast, but then deteriorated during the first part of the week. But by Wednesday afternoon when Monika and I exchanged emails, the forecast began to hint that weather conditions might improve Thursday and overnight into Friday, providing a brief window for a one-day push to the summit: "THURSDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 7500 FEET. FRIDAY...PARTLY SUNNY. FREEZING LEVEL 8000 FEET." Winds at 10K and 14K were forecast to be quite light, with temps at the summit in the low teens.

Our plans came together by Thursday morning: Oyvind and Dave Z. would be joining us, since they had also long sought to ski the Kautz. We would ascend via the standard Disappointment Cleaver route to save much time and effort, and then ski the Kautz from the summit. We planned to leave early in the evening after work, head uphill from Paradise around 9pm, then nap, rest, melt water at Camp Muir for several hours before heading up towards DC sometime around dawn. Depending on how sunny it would become, with an 8000 ft freezing level the SSW-facing Kautz Chute would be unlikely to soften enough before noon at the earliest, so we'd probably have a few more hours to kill up in the summit crater, depending on how early we left Muir and how fast we ascended.

As usual, the permit situation presented a problem for one-day overnight pushes, since the Jackson Visitor Center closes at 6pm and we needed to register for the climb before then. It looked like we might need to drive up in 2 separate cars in order to get someone there by 6pm, but I decided to call on Thursday morning to see if there was some work-around. Luckily there was: after I explained our dilemma, with assistance from a VERY helpful ranger we were allowed to register by email. I filled out the Climbing Registration Card linked from this page (although that link is usually not working now, luckily I had already downloaded that form last year), emailed it to her, and then printed out a copy to carry with us. What a relief, and a huge savings in gasoline and hassle.

Unfortunately, the trip almost ended in disaster before it even started: we met at Grady Way Park and Ride at 7pm, transferred all the gear to my car, and within minutes of heading down SR 167, we heard and saw a pair of skis fly off the ski rack. I was too stunned to even yell any obscenities. Somehow my ski rack had opened and Dave's 181cm K2 Mt Bakers with Dynafits flew off, landing hard in the HOV lane. We stopped and he retrieved them, but one toepiece pincer had shattered, rendering the binding useless. Understandably, he wanted to just abandon the trip and go back to the park and ride, but I told him he could use my 174cm Bakers with Fritschis (which could adjust to fit his much-larger size 29 boots), and we all convinced him to stay along. So we drove all the way back to my place in Seattle, to pick up the skis and adjust them, then finally made it Paradise by 11pm, over 2 hours later than planned.

We headed up from the parking lot just before midnight on Thursday night, on firm and mostly frozen snow. Clouds and fog partially obscured the sky, but we quickly climbed above them by 6000 ft, and we would enjoy completely clear skies the rest of the trip. Skinning conditions were generally good despite the frozen snow, although we did boot up a long section from Pan Face all the way up above the Pebble Creek rolls before skinning the rest of the Muir Snowfield. We reached Camp Muir before 3am, just after the crescent moon rose to the east, and set our two Jetboil stoves to work inside the hut, melting several liters of water for each of us. The hut was completely deserted, except for the sleeping gear of a half-dozen departed climbers, and we enjoyed a very quiet and restful snooze until our 6am alarm.


Looking back across the Cowlitz Glacier at Camp Muir,
with Goat Rocks, Mt Adams, and Mt Hood in the distance.


We ascended on foot without crampons across the Cowlitz Glacier and via Cathedral Gap (snowfree for almost 300 vertical feet) to Ingraham Flats, took a brief break, and donned crampons for the rest of the ascent up the well-trodden DC route. We chose to stay unroped from Camp Muir to the top of the Cleaver at 12300 ft but then roped up as a pair of two-person teams, each on 8mm x 37m ropes and carrying 40-ft coils at the ends. The route across the Cowlitz and Ingraham Glaciers has no crevasse issues at all yet, and even above the Cleaver, the route takes a very direct path to the crater rim with minimal zigzagging and only a single currently-marked crevasse crossing near 13000 ft.


Panorama of the Ingraham Glacier and Disappointment Cleaver.

As an aside, it is still possible to make a continuous ski descent from the summit all the way down to Paradise via the DC route, but probably not for long unless more snow covers the upper mountain above 10K. Although the current bootpack crosses bare ground occasionally along the crest of the Cleaver, there is continuous snow on the skier's right side of the Cleaver and all along the fixed-line traverse at the Nose (getting very thin though) to reach Ingraham Flats. Then it appears to be possible to ski via the edge of Cadaver Gap and skirting a bergschrund onto the Cowlitz Glacier and on to Camp Muir.

   
Monika climbing the steepest part of the DC beside
fixed lines, with Little Tahoma far below. 
   
Starting up the Ingraham and Emmons Glaciers
from the top of DC at 12300 ft.

We passed more than a dozen climbers descending on foot, but saw no other skiers, and we reached the crater rim at 14180 ft by 12:40pm. A gusty SW wind of 10-20mph was in our faces above 13K, but not strong enough to be more than an annoyance. As usual, Monika carried the lion's share (and the lioness's too) of the group gear. And then casually remarked that she had never even been breathing hard!?!?! An amazing display of willingness to do whatever is needed to help our team achieve its goal together.


Reaching the crater rim at last.

We spent an hour in the crater relaxing and melting lots of water with the Jetboils, in beautiful sunny conditions, temperature 23 F and mostly protected from the wind. The summit crater is now filled with fresh smooth POWDER, instead of the crust and bare blue ice I saw up there on May 6. Then we skinned over to the true summit, 14411 ft Columbia Crest, with Oyvind and Dave taking the direct path across the crater while Monika and I took the more scenic route along the crater rim. We hung out for a while at the summit and snapped numerous photos, although the wind was a bit too gusty and the hour getting too late to linger overly long.


Composite summit photo.

We skied straight from Columbia Crest at 2:45pm, via the saddle near Point Success, and snow conditions on the summit dome above 14K were FANTASTIC, the best I've ever seen in my ten random summits over ten years. There is lots of smooth powder snow from last weekend's showers, and it is now corning up nicely on southerly aspects. Such a huge improvement up there since the first week of May when the uppermost Nisqually above 13K was a mix of frozen crust, thin powder, and bare glacial ice.


Ski tracks descending from Columbia Crest,
with Mt Adams and Mt St Helens in the distance.


The upper Kautz is in great shape too, smooth and fast, and we arced nice big turns through a mix of corn and carveable windpacked snow. A few steeper rolls on the mostly 40+ degree steep face provided brief pause, as we cautiously scoped out any possible open crevasses below, but overall the face has almost no crevasse issues yet. The Kautz Chute is still in very good shape for skiing, similar to what the other group found 2 weeks ago, but getting thin at the top with only a few inches of snow atop glacial ice. The slope angle does not exceed 50 degrees now, and the Chute was quite mellow and easy in its well-softened mid-afternoon condition. A deep bootpack ascends the Kautz Chute, and continues on above it towards climber's right and the crater rim, evidence of numerous recent ascents of the route. A set of three fresh ski tracks could also be seen just above the Chute, perhaps from this trip by climbing rangers the day before.

   
Looking down the upper Kautz Glacier. 
   
Dave skiing past seracs on the upper Kautz Glacier.
   
Oyvind skiing down the upper Kautz Glacier. 
   
Monica skiing below the Kautz Chute and Ice Cliff.

Below the Kautz Chute and Ice Cliff, the 20 vertical feet of fixed line ascent leading up onto Wapowety Cleaver at 11200 ft was nasty on the exit, especially with skis on the pack and with hard ice partially filling the rock gully. I scraped my shin badly and knocked loose a few rocks with my skis, and the badly frayed condition of one of the two fixed lines does not inspire confidence either. Perhaps it's better to climb up to the other higher exit near Camp Hazard, which may be easier although much more exposed to serac-fall hazard from the Kautz Ice Cliff.


Dave climbing up the fixed line at 11200 ft.

Once we had all safely ascended the fixed line, we took a second lunch break on the sunny rocks before skiing down the Turtle. Even late in the day after 4pm, the steep slopes of the Turtle and Wilson Glacier were in good shape, with some corn and some slush and some deep mush, but no instability or sluffing or severely sticky snow. The route back across the Wilson and Nisqually Glaciers is in fine shape too, with almost no crevasse navigation issues, and we were quickly across to the safety of the moraine by 5pm. A short ascent back to Glacier Vista followed by a quick schuss down the cattle-stampede track brought us back to the cars by 5:30pm, just under 18 hours since our departure.

   
Ski tracks in corn snow on the Turtle snowfield,
with the Kautz Ice Cliff towering far above. 
   
Looking up from 9400 ft where the Turtle meets the Wilson Glacier,
with Wilson Headwall at center and Fuhrer Thumb at right.

It was an absolutely tremendous day on the Mountain, with great weather, snow conditions, and company. A total of about 9200 vertical feet of ascent and ski descent, down a fantastic route in prime shape for skiing. We're all super stoked to have finally skied the Kautz!


Looking back at the Kautz, Wilson, and Nisqually Glaciers.


MOUNT RAINIER RECREATIONAL FORECAST
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SEATTLE WA
505 AM PDT THU MAY 29 2008

SYNOPSIS...AN UPPER LEVEL TROUGH WILL REMAIN OVER THE COASTAL WATERS OVER THE NEXT FEW DAYS.
ONSHORE FLOW WILL BRING CLOUDS INTO WESTERN WASHINGTON WITH SOME SUN BREAKS DURING THE AFTERNOON.
THE UPPER LOW WILL MOVE NORTH INTO BC OVER THE WEEKEND WITH SHOWERS MAINLY ACROSS THE CASCADES.
WETTER WEATHER WILL RETURN TO WESTERN WASHINGTON MONDAY AND TUESDAY AS A FRONT PASSES THROUGH THE AREA.

THURSDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 8000 FEET.
THURSDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 7500 FEET.
FRIDAY...PARTLY SUNNY. FREEZING LEVEL 8000 FEET.
FRIDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY IN THE EVENING THEN BECOMING PARTLY CLOUDY. FREEZING LEVEL 9000 FEET.
SATURDAY...PARTLY SUNNY WITH A CHANCE OF SNOW SHOWERS. A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 8000 FEET.

                       THU    THU    FRI    FRI    SAT 
                            NIGHT         NIGHT       

SUMMIT   (14411 FT)     13     13     12     12     11
                      W  9  SW  5   S 14  SW 17  SW  8

CAMP MUIR(10188 FT)     28     28     28     29     29
                     NW  6   W  7   S  8   S 11   S  7

PARADISE  (5420 FT)     47     41     50     41     49
                      W  8   W  7  SW  3   S  5   N  6

« Last Edit: 06/02/08, 08:31 AM by Amar Andalkar » Logged

Jason_H.
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Re: May 30, 2008, Mt Rainier, Kautz Glacier via DC
« Reply #1 on: 06/01/08, 07:59 PM »

Cool. Almost looks like you got it better than we did! Schweet.
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Oyvind_Henningsen
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Re: May 30, 2008, Mt Rainier, Kautz Glacier via DC
« Reply #2 on: 06/02/08, 09:03 AM »

Big thanks to Amar, Monika, and Dave for a super trip, I had a great time!  Also a big thanks to climbers for leaving Muir so early!  Grin Grin Grin
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Lytt til erfarne fjellfolk!
skykilo
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Re: May 30, 2008, Mt Rainier, Kautz Glacier via DC
« Reply #3 on: 06/02/08, 11:18 AM »

wait wait wait-

I wasn't going to give you any flak about the up-and-over bit, but now I realize that you skied from Columbia Crest to the saddle and didn't hit Point Success.  The Point Success direct is the cherry on the sundae!  Those are some of the best turns, with a steep continuous fall line, directly from the proper high point for the line. 

Guess you'll just have to do it again and get it right.

Wink

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skierguitarist
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Re: May 30, 2008, Mt Rainier, Kautz Glacier via DC
« Reply #4 on: 06/02/08, 11:22 AM »

GOOD JOB!!!!!!!!!
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David_Coleman
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Re: May 30, 2008, Mt Rainier, Kautz Glacier via DC
« Reply #5 on: 06/02/08, 11:26 AM »

Well, the full time ski-mountaineer errant has time to go back & hit it from PS.   Grin
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Lisa
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Re: May 30, 2008, Mt Rainier, Kautz Glacier via DC
« Reply #6 on: 06/03/08, 04:59 PM »

Great TR and photos, congratulations to you all!
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ron j
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Re: May 30, 2008, Mt Rainier, Kautz Glacier via DC
« Reply #7 on: 06/07/08, 07:23 AM »

Nice job you guys.
Sure looks like you hit a good weather window.
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"Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." - Niels Bohr
"If a given person makes it a priority not to die in an avalanche, he or she stands a very good chance of living a long, happy life in the mountains." - Jill Fredston
Dale Crockatt
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Re: May 30, 2008, Mt Rainier, Kautz Glacier via DC
« Reply #8 on: 06/07/08, 10:55 AM »

Incredible trip!  That's what we live for!!  Mt. Hood was the same conditions that day- I can't remember a better summit ski in the 32 years I know of.  A couple days later The Sunday Oregonian featured a climber named Asit from Hood River skiing off the summit- I thought it was Amar until I did more research... 

Over a foot of new in the mountains again- looks like spring won't quit!  Now when is this weeks window going to be- after the windslab and before the wet ones...?

« Last Edit: 06/08/08, 08:43 AM by Dale Crockatt » Logged

Happy trails!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Mad_Dog
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Re: May 30, 2008, Mt Rainier, Kautz Glacier via DC
« Reply #9 on: 06/08/08, 09:13 AM »

Very nice, great pictures, thanks for another well written detailed TR.
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