Ascent of Mount Rainier on 2013-07-28

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Pete Ellis
Date:Sunday, July 28, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Mount Rainier
    Elevation:14411 ft / 4392 m

Ascent Trip Report

After our Baker and Silvertip Mountain ascents we head south on I-5 and I-405 past Seattle then take the 167 and 161 south, then the 7 and 706 east, stopping off en route to climb High Rock, a P2k with a nice close view of the big peak.

Afterwards we backtrack a short way to Ashford for a meal at one of several places there. Ashford also has a visitor centre and an outdoor shop: we buy a nice detailed Rainier map (Cairns, $15); we notice that a range of gear can also be rented - at a price! We then drive to the Paradise trailhead, noting that meals can also be found at Longmire and at Paradise itself. There's a self service pay station on the main highway 706, $15 for Rainier National Park entry.

At Paradise we drive to the upper parking lot to familiarise ourselves with the setup. There are 3 main buildings. First is Visitor Centre (closed evenings, but daytime also has a busy cafeteria). Middle is Climbing Information Centre, where climbing permits are issued between 6 am and 3 pm (we have a camping reservation hence need to pick up before 10 am). The upper building is the Mountain Inn which as well as accommodation, serves food evenings. Not staying at the Inn, we have to park in the lower lot N46.78431 W121.74129, a few hundred metres back downhill (otherwise might get towed away). We sleep in the car.

Sat 27 July: Next morning after breakfast we wander up to the Climbing Information Centre, queue for maybe 30 mins (filling in a red card from a pile on the counter while we wait) then a friendly knowledgeable helpful ranger (called Rob...) takes us through our registration (I had faxed (!) our Climbing Passes application in March when reservations opened), tells us about the route and answers our questions.

Back to the car to pack then we start hiking at 8.45 am. There's a maze of paved paths: we leave the highway at N46.78499 W121.74024 but on our return arrive back at approx N46.78495 W121.74098 so clearly both work. Then follow signs for Alta Vista trail and/or Camp Muir. Nice walking through alpine meadows: they are trying to get people to stay on trail to reduce erosion but probably need to widen the trail - very crowded. Great weather, warm sun, clear views, we can pick out yesterday's summit, High Rock, also bulky Adams, peaked Hood and whale backed St Helens. Plod up the Muir snowfield, crampons all the way although folk manage without, especially the throngs of day hikers who have no summit goal. Glissading down seems popular, we note...

Camp Muir reached in 4h15, a stony ridge with a few permanent buildings (N46.83543 W121.73277, 3070m), and a few groups of tents on the slopes just above. Most folk seem to have brought heavy looking shovels to excavate tent platforms but our ice axe adzes have a suitable platform ready in 10 minutes. Tent soon up, Pete disappears upslope and comes back with 3 carrier bags of snow, tea is brewed, 2 contented Englishmen!

Sleep awhile. Late pm a ranger (again, knowledgeable and helpful) comes round and talks about the Disappointment Cleaver route. In particular there is a steep ice section which has been shortened by putting a ladder across a crevasse, but is still causing multi hour delays. We decide on a midnight start, but even so we see some very early teams setting off from mid evening. Big group next to us (Polish?) chattering away but eventually they and we get a few hours sleep.

Up 11.20pm and away at 11.45, too early for breakfast or even a brew! Short ascent to pick up well trodden contouring path, taking us to Cathedral Gap, quite a few lights ahead of us. Snow trails on the route are nice and smooth making for easy plodding, unlike Mt Baker's ankle-stressing trail a few days ago. Stony/rocky ascent to the gap, trail not at all obvious in darkness but we soon refind it above, back on snow, contouring round to pass just L of Ingraham Flats camp, then contouring round to the foot of the Cleaver. Plenty lights ahead, at least one team above the Cleaver already.

Slowish progress up Disappointment Cleaver, rock alternating with snow. Some jockeying for position as teams stop to deal with gear, rest, snack; we lose a couple then gain a few places (not that it matters, as the early teams are moving quite efficiently). Zigzag up above last of rock, then trail traverses R above steep icefield, then round a corner and we're at the crux. Not the 70 degree ice slope we'd expected but a fairly friendly gully of frozen snow. Team of four in front make it up efficiently, Pete front points up using the fixed rope, belays me up, crosses the bridged crevasse (deep!) clipping into the fixed hand line; I follow. Then just a long snow plod to the crater. Initially a sizeable detour R, then zigzag up. One crevasse crossing, only a foot across but deep, and intimidating on a steep slope so we protect it, just a rope round an axe.

Dawn and fully light by the time we reach Guide Rocks and the crater rim. A few teams sheltering there from the cold wind: I hear someone say that some don't even bother going the last half mile to the summit. We carry straight on, level snow trail across the crater then up a little ash ridge, past vents steaming eerily in the early light, Liberty Cap with a few climbers lamps coming into view to our R. Then a short snow crest, Columbia Crest, and an icy summit dome N46.85295 W121.76052, 4386m - we're atop Rainier, all by ourselves! 5.15 am, 5h30 ascent. Just before sunrise; a fiery horizon; Adams Hood and St Helens to the south; Glacier Peak a neat cone to the north; somehow we don't see Baker.

We find a more sheltered spot, get the map out and identify the two obviously lower nearby summits then after 5 minutes head down out of the icy wind. Recrossing the crater we zigzag down, the sun at last appearing, a vivid crimson disc. We stop a few times to allow ascending teams to pass.

Back at the top-of-Cleaver bottleneck, traffic is predictably busy. Some of the big Polish group are ascending. They seem to be ignoring the advice of last evening and going straight up past the bridged crevasse; also using their own rope - both of these factors will take more time and hurt others' chances of summitting. We cross back over the crevasse ladder and soon find a gap when we can quickly make the downclimb. Then very carefully past the queuing climbers on the level traverse.

The rest of the descent is simple. There's a dozen climbers at the top of the Cleaver's rocky top. A group say they gave up after a two hour wait. We follow them down as they find an efficient way (easier in daylight) down to the snow, then we head down, passing a few slow moving guided teams. The Cathedral Gap section is very obvious in descent.

We're back at Camp Muir at 8.45 am (3h30 descent, 9 hour round trip. Time for a brew and late breakfast, pack up and away about 10am. Pete fancies some glissading so, despite the heat we don waterproof overtrousers and launch ourselves down the first of a series of chutes formed in the snow by previous practitioners of the art of bumsliding - as we call it in the UK. We never travel very fast and there are frequent walking sections but it's a bit of fun and certainly faster and easier than walking. We're down on the crowded main trail in less than an hour and back at the trailhead in two, at midday.

We're happy to have got up the King of the North West quite efficiently and in perfect conditions. We later learn that the current Paradise-Summit-Paradise record is 3h57 making our 27h15 look a bit shabby...

I failed to record a GPS track for this ascent. Not that there is any shortage of Rainier ascent route tracks.

After lunch we take a slow drive back to the western Park exit checking out the various waterfalls and overlooks on offer, then find a motel room in Castle Rock, the first of my three week trip.

The following day, on our way to Mount Adams, we visit the nearby Mount St Helens visitor centre (which is excellent) then the Ape Caves lava tubes for some hands on volcano discovery (it has a USGS Cave Inventory Marker, smaller than a standard BM and the first of its type I've seen). Bagging MSH summit would have been nice but unlikely to be feasible in summer at short notice given permit restrictions. We also call at Vancouver WA to visit Bob Bolton and return a tent borrowed from Duane Gilliland. Very nice to put a face to this very familiar peakbagging name - just 2 days after he and Dennis Poulin became the first climbers to complete the Oregon 100 Most Prominent list. Spend the night at Mt Adams trailhead.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:9001 ft / 2743 m
    Round-Trip Distance:14 mi / 22.5 km
    Trailhead:Paradise  5410 ft / 1648 m
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:Cold, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time:20 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:6 Hours 45 Minutes

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