Ascent of Mount Rainier on 2014-06-01

Climber: Marlin Thorman

Others in Party:Brett Barna
Kirt Runolfson
Date:Sunday, June 1, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Mount Rainier
    Elevation:14411 ft / 4392 m

Ascent Trip Report

With the recent disaster that occurred on Liberty Ridge I was reluctant to post this Trip report. However with no recent TR’s and plenty of people asking me about route conditions and beta here it is. As I think back on the trip it was a good trip yet a sad trip. A trip I will never forgot as we watched the aftermath search of the horrible incident that took the lives 6 other climbers.

Several months ago my friend Brett and I conjured up a plan to climb Mount Rainier’s classic line, Liberty Ridge. We convinced Kirt to come with us which wasn’t hard and decided to just go when the route and weather were good. With high winds and possibility of snow over Memorial weekend we anxiously waited for things to improve. The forecast looked good for the next weekend so we finalized the trip and started packing. The road into White River campground was supposed to open mid-week but when we arrived on Thursday afternoon it was still closed. We were told it would open at 8am in the morning, but we wanted to get an early start to avoid the heat and post holing in the soft snow. So we opted to ride our bikes the 5 miles from the ranger station to the campground.

Friday we were hiking but a little after 6am. The trail was great and free of snow up to about the 4,800 foot line. However there was a good boot pack on the snow and it was crunchy at that time in the morning. We made the long plod up to St. Elmo’s pass were we stopped to rope up for the glacier crossing. After dropping down onto the Winthrop Glacier we took a direct line more or less across the glacier staying with the contour. It was pretty well filled in and navigation wasn’t an issue. After crossing the lower Curtis Ridge we made camp at 7,400 ft overlooking the Carbon glacier and the entire north face of Rainier. Spent the afternoon drying gear, napping or just hanging out in the tent to avoid the sun.

Saturday was going to be a short day, just moving camp to Thumb rock. However we again left early in order to avoid the heat and soft snow. As we were crossing the Carbon in the early morning we could see a team of 2 and a team of 3 leaving Thumb rock camp just after 6am heading up the ridge. The Carbon Glacier had a well established boot track and the going was easy. We opted to cross the bergshrund early and ascend up the right side of the toe to reach the lower ridge. We thought about taking the Carbon Glacier all the way up to the natural fall line from Thumb rock and then taking that up, but we were unsure if the bergshrund could be crossed. As it turned out several other teams later in the day took that route and said it was pretty good. Once on the lower ridge we unroped and headed up. The lower ridge up to thumb rock was in good shape and the route switched between the right and left sides of the ridge a couple times. We only had 1 steep rock section that was about a 8 foot vertical step. We arrived at Thumb rock around 9am to find a couple of nice tent spots. Spent some time improving one of them and setting up camp.

About this time a helicopter flew in and started searching the upper Carbon Glacier where it meets the Willis Wall. Unfortunately as it turned out the 2nd worst disaster on Rainier was in the process of unfolding. There are still many unknowns in the entire incident and unfortunately they will probably be that way. Everyone wants to know what went wrong, what happened, but sometimes stuff just happens. It was a sobering afternoon as we watched both the small park helicopter and the large Chinook helicopter search the Willis Wall, and debris field at the base. We could see man made objects such as tents, sleeping bags or such being blown around in the rotor wash of the helicopter down on the Carbon. My sincere condolences go out to the families of the six who were lost as well as the AAI guiding community as a whole. Accidents happen, but they are never easy to understand or recover from.

We rose at midnight from the tent and begin the cold tasks of breaking camp and packing. The weather was clear and the lights from Seattle twinkled way down in the valley. We began our ascent unroped about 1:15am. The trail was well broken in and the steps were large and frozen solid making travel very easy and fast. The route made an immediate left out of thumb rock then climbed back to the right to gain the ridge above. From there it mostly stayed on the ridge crest or to the right. Just below the Black Pyramid it veered left and then up a short vertical step of rock before again gaining the ridge crest. At the Black Pyramid we were forced out left onto the face. The route usually stays fairly close to the edge of the pyramid, however we found solid alpine ice. There was a very faint track that traversed way out left and well on the upper face of the Willis wall. The conditions here were 2-6 inches of snow over hard alpine ice. Sometimes the snow was soft and powdery and other times it was hard and windblown. The consequences of a fall here are huge and so we decided to rope up and put in some protections. I led out and we simul-climbed the next 500 feet or so. I put in an ice screw every 100ish feet. The climbing itself wasn’t hard, but it was engaging and just steep enough to keep you on your toes. The higher we went to the more snow we found over ice. The last screw I put in, I had to dig down about 16 inches through snow to find the ice. As the angle eased up and the snow became more solid we arrived shortly to the more level terrain of the Liberty Camp Glacier. The sun peaked over the horizon and enveloped the us with its warm rays. After a short break we continued on towards the upper bergshrund and the last obstacle which usually includes a short section of ice climbing. The route however took a right turn and headed up a short snow gully that was about 45 degrees for 1 rope length. It was easy going and it deposited us above the bergshrund and on the upper glacier. I was a little disappointed about not having any ice section to climb but I guess that changes as the season changes. After a short snow slog we were standing on Liberty Cap by 6:45am. With plenty of time left and a beautiful windless day we opted to traverse over and climb up the Columbia Crest. After a few summit photos we headed down the Emmons/Winthrop Glacier towards camp Schurman. We passed Schurman about noon and quickly continued down towards Glacier Basin. It was hot out on the snow and without the slightest breeze to cool us down, all we could think about was descending to the shade. Reaching the trail we pounded out the 3 miles back to the campground in a quick hour. After retrieving our bikes we had stashed we enjoyed the breeze of the 5 mile downhill ride back to the White River Ranger station and our car. We arrived back at the car at 2:45pm making for a 13 1/2 hour day from camp.

I bade farewell to Kirt and Brett as they headed back to Spokane. I drove around the mountain to Paradise to meet up with my uncle and father-in-law for a trip of the Disappointment Cleaver. We had a fairly relaxed itinerary with day 1 to Muir, day 2 to Ingraham Flats, day 3 summit, and day 4 descent. But with a long summit day of Liberty Ridge on Sunday the slog up to Muir on Monday was a long one. We had a great trip and I enjoyed the summit of Rainier for the 2nd time in 3 days making for a fun week on the mountain.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:10931 ft / 3331 m
    Total Elevation Loss:10931 ft / 3331 m
    Round-Trip Distance:30 mi / 48.3 km
    Grade/Class:Grade IV, steep snow
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb, Ice Climb
    Gear Used:
Bicycle, Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:10931 ft / 3331 m
    Distance:18 mi / 29 km
    Route:Liberty Ridge
    Start Trailhead:White River Ranger Station  3480 ft / 1060 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:10931 ft / 3331 m
    Distance:12 mi / 19.3 km
    Route:Emmons Glacier
    End Trailhead:White River Ranger Station  3480 ft / 1060 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Marlin Thorman
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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