Ascent of Mount Rainier on 2014-06-14

Climber: Marlin Thorman

Others in Party:Joe Peters
Date:Saturday, June 14, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Mount Rainier
    Elevation:14411 ft / 4392 m

Ascent Trip Report

So I was driving home from back to back summits of Rainier by Liberty Ridge and the DC. While on the way back to Spokane, I called my climbing partner Joe to tell him about the trip (he had school and couldn’t make it). While in conversation he suggested doing a climb the following week since he was just finishing up school. After a little bit more discussion it was decided to go back to Rainier and climb Curtis Ridge. Due to my work schedule we only had a 3 day window. The weather looked bad for Thursday and Friday, but they were calling for a clear day on Saturday (our planned summit day). So with high hopes and decided to at least give it a try.

Thursday I drove over to Joe’s as soon as I got off work at 8am. By 2pm we had registered for our climb and set off from the White River Campground. The weather was actually pretty decent, and we even got a glimpse of the mountain on the drive over Chinook Pass. After a leisurely hike up to St. Elmo’s camp we set up camp. No sooner did we have the tent set up than the clouds, wind, and sleet came. It was a windy hour melting water and doing dinner.

The weather report was predicting snow for the night, and the next morning we weren’t disappointed. There was about an inch of white soggy stuff over everything. We rose at 7am and were hiking by 8:30am. The route over the Winthrop was still pretty straight forward with little crevasse issues. Once we reached the lower Curtis we turned off the old boot pack and headed up. By this time the weather was pretty bad. Visibility was anywhere from decent to whiteout, and winds gusts occasionally reached 45mph. The going slowed as the snow turned deeper and wetter. We switched off breaking trail several times especially above 9000 ft where the post holing was knee deep. The normal high camp for Curtis Ridge is near the Gendarme. With horrible weather and only hope that it would improve tomorrow, we didn’t want to do the rappel and commit ourselves to the route. After we reached the rappel spot we started back tracking, looking for a spot to pitch the tent. After a short search we found one of the best spots I have ever seen. It was a good sized snow ledge tucked down in a snow/rock cave. We had to dig the floor down a little so it was tall enough for the tent, but once we finished we were completely out of the elements. Quite satisfied with our site we set to melting snow and wishing the weather would clear. After melting several liters of water Joe noticed that there were multiple things in his water that were moving on there own! After a quick check we realized all the water had living organisms in it. Since we needed water and didn’t want to waste any fuel we opted to just boil everything we had already melted in order to kill whatever it was. This process added more time to an already long cold process. We were happy to crawl into our cozy sleeping bags with a warm dinner. Somehow I had enough service on my Iphone to check the weather forecast. It was still calling for a clear day in the morning and we settled down in hopes it would be right.

Alarms went off at 2am and we crawled out of the tent to check the weather. All I remember was Joe saying that he could see the moon and several stars. That was enough for me and we quickly went about breaking camp and forcing down food. We left camp just after 3am and followed our footsteps back to the rappel point. We had brought a 30m rope to save weight so we also had along a 100 feet of static 5mm cord. We rigged our rappel and headed down in the darkness. Unfortunately we had a small issue with pulling the line and I had to ascend about 15 feet to get things unstuck. From there on it was game time, and we were excited to actually be on the route under clear skies and cold temperatures. We stuck to the ridge crest then traversed under some cliffs on the Winthrop side. Then back across the ridge and along the Carbon side of the ridge. Just before we reached the Gendarme we passed a nice flat spot tucked up next to the rock on the Winthrop side where high camp usually is. We passed the Gendarme just as the soon rose. With the rising sun we could see the could level down around 9000 ft but clear skies everywhere above. Passed the Gendarme we stuck to the ridge crest and ended up doing 1 more short 30 ft rappel to get off one of the rock fins. On breaks we would search the upper face trying to see where the route would go. It was like trying to memorize a maze from above before you walk through it....which snowfield connect by which rock bands.

We reached the base of the 1st cliff band and looked up at what we thought was the route. It didn’t look like a class 3/4 scramble so we continued traversing for another couple hundred feet. We found an easy snow slope turn up around the end of the cliff band. Then we traversed back the other direction. We found a small rock scramble of 3/4 class and gained another snowfield. At this point we assumed we were above the 1st cliff band and started traversing the snow slope. Things didn’t seem to fit and we couldn’t make what we saw mesh with our metal image from the Gendarme or the picture topos we brought. We continued on this snow slope traversing right until it ran out on a ice/rock nose. Joe led around this nose and up onto the snow above. After he belayed me up we stopped to try and figure things out. After much discussion we figured we were way too far right and officially off route. We searched for a way up but with no luck. We looked at going right and trying to run around the end of a cliff, but that just led to the Willis Wall. It was 9am by this time and we decided that if we hadn’t figured things out in an hour we needed to bail. At this point we turned around and headed back the way we had come. From this high point we could see a snow ledge that we had missed that went off towards the climber’s left and stopped at the cliff band. Hoping this was the “hidden passage” we needed, I led the reverse pitch around the nose and back to the snowfield. After a traverse of the snow ledge it ended at the rock band with what looked like an easy 15 feet of exposed climbing to a snowfield above. Sweet! Finally on route and going somewhere! It was about this time that I started to believe we really were going to climb this big route.

This snowfield was more like a wide gully and Joe took the lead kicking steps. Near the top at a constriction we switched, and I finished breaking trail up to the 2nd cliff band. From here it was a simple traverse to the right a couple hundred feet to a steep snow slope that turned to a rock scramble. We broke the rope out of the pack again and set a belay. I led up to the end of the rope, then we simul-climbed through the rocks to the upper snow field. It was Joe’s turn to break trail, and he made quick work of this upper snowfield. We traversed left scrambled over some rocks and took a quick break right on the ridge crest looking down to the Winthrop. From here I broke trail as we headed up a snow gully. We made a short exposed rock scramble left to another snow slope and up again. At the base of a 15 foot snow covered ice step we stopped to get the rope out and belay up. Joe took the lead and got in a good piton. Just as we was about to pull over the lip something slipped and he took a 20 foot fall down to the soft snow below. Unhurt he quickly dusted himself off and sent the short step with ease. This step led us into a right trending snow gully. I took over the step kicking and continued up to where the angle increased to 60+. A fall here would land somebody all the way down in the gaping crevasses of the Winthrop. So after a short simul-climb we were above this and finally home free. It felt so good to be above the last of the steep snow/rock.

At 12,500 ft and finally above the maze we took a break before starting the plod to the summit. After a 30 minute stop to melt a couple liters of water we topped out at 5pm in clear but windy skies. We traversed across the upper slopes of the Emmons/Winthrop looking for the decent trail. Unfortunately with all the recent snow and no wands it was useless exercise. So down we went making our own path. We ended up going way to the east to avoid a couple of large crevasses. Then traversing back west about 12,500 ft we found the boot pack. From that point on the mental strain started to wain as we followed this down to Camp Schurman. The upper slopes were quite icy and 16+ hour day was taking its toll. Down on the Inner Glacier we entered the clouds and drizzle. We took a quick stop near Glacier Basin to drink our beverages we had hidden on the way up. Then it was headlamp time and pounding out the miles to the car. We finally reached the trailhead at 10:30pm making for a 18.5 hour summit day.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:10011 ft / 3051 m
    Total Elevation Loss:10011 ft / 3051 m
    Round-Trip Distance:20 mi / 32.2 km
    Grade/Class:Grade IV, Class 4, A
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb, Ice Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:10011 ft / 3051 m
    Distance:11.5 mi / 18.5 km
    Route:Curtis Ridge
    Start Trailhead:White River Trailhead  4400 ft / 1341 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:10011 ft / 3051 m
    Distance:8.5 mi / 13.7 km
    Route:Emmons Glacier
    End Trailhead:White River Trailhead  4400 ft / 1341 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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