7.21.2006

So That's Where the Name Comes From: Rainier Part 2



You don't get much sleep up on the glacier, between being excited for the climb and fact that you are sleeping on top of snow its not the most comfortable night of sleep. Sure you have a sleeping bag and a tent, but every now and then I woke up with the need to roll over and switch which side got to be cold. Then there is the super early start factor. In order to climb peaks like this, you have to get up really early. The intent is to summit at sunrise so that you can descend in the morning before everything gets soft from the warmth of the sun. We woke up a little after 11pm, had breakfast, got our gear together, including our crampons, axes and helmets. We then roped up, each of us about 25-30 feet apart, and tied our prussiks (in the event we needed to do a rescue) to our harness and ropes. Its better to put them on now than try and fiddle with it when you are dangling over a crevasse! We hit the glacier at 12.30am by headlamp. Ahead of us we could see a couple of other parties, including our neighbors from Denver who left at 12.15, and as we climbed on their headlights gave us a sense of where we were going. The trail was actually pretty easy to follow, even in the dark. It is well work by previous climbs, and was illuminated by the half moon light. The route starts by traversing the Cowlitz Glacier, at the end of which is a section of rock and dirt called the Cathedral Gap. Here we "short roped" to a distance of about 10 feet apart by the middle climber (me) wrapping coils of rope from each side around my shoulder. This is done for two reasons, one so that the rope is easier to manage as we follow the switchbacks and two so that the rope does not drag along the rocks knocking them loose on each other. At the top of the gap we stretched the rope back out to normal and pressed on, now on the Ingraham Glacier. This took us about an hour so far, and as we climbed we passed our friends from Denver taking a break, as well as the campsites of the Ingraham Flats. From here the trail works its way to the route's crux, and namesake, The Disappointment Cleaver.

The Cleaver is a rock band that splits between the Ingraham and Emmons Glaciers. The route to the Cleaver took us in a little bit of a round about way, taking us directly up the side of the glacier before turning right and angling towards the toe of the Cleaver. At first, we weren't sure why, but from above it became apparent that the route was traversing around a very large crevasse that split the glacier. We actually had to cross it at its narrow point, only about a foot wide and easy to step across. We then continued along the side of the Cleaver to the top, which was all dirt and rock. For our climb we were lucky in that the majority of the rest of the route up the Cleaver was covered in snow. This makes travel much easier because you do not have to deal with any steep, loose rock. There was one brief section of dirt, but the steepest parts were all snow. We worked our way up the switchbacking trail to the top of the Cleaver at 12,500'. From here 1900' of glacier travel on the Emmons Glacier remained, along with a small parade of headlamps from other climbers who either left earlier than our team, or camped at the Flats. Here unfortunately we found out why the Disappointment Cleaver gets its name.

Despite getting from camp to the top of the Cleaver, considered the route's crux, in a mere 2 1/2 hours (its those Colorado lungs!), we were forced to turn around. The weather was great, not too cold, and not too windy, but a physical ailment had Tracy in utter pain. She had pulled a muscle in her back before our trip, and now it was spasming on her and sending shooting pain down the back of her legs. For fear of her not being able to get back down if she went, we took a break to get her more comfortable and then headed back down. Fortunately for Jody, our friends from Denver caught up to us, and after talking about our situation agreed to let Jody join their rope team and head up to the summit with them. Tracy and I re-tied in to the rope as a two person team and started our descent back to camp. This took a lot longer than the climb up, but not because of us. It was all of the guided groups now coming up the Cleaver that provided the delay. They were struggling with the altitude and poor physical conditioning and going very slow. We had to wait for a parade of nearly 30 climbers, some on rope teams as long as 8 people, to pass before we could continue down. After the last group passed though it was clear sailing the rest of the way back to camp. The good news is that while waiting for them the sun came up and we were able to get some great pictures of the route!

We took a nap, and at 11.30am Jody and her foster-team came back down. We then broke camp down, re-packed up and headed back down the Muir Snowfield. The weather was a lot different than our way up, no fog! It was sunny and gorgeous and we got some really nice pictures of the mountains. We packed up the car, signed out with the park rangers, and headed out to get some dinner before heading to Olympia for a nice well deserved night in a warm bed! Even though we didn't make it to the top, we had a great trip and are looking forward to going back again really soon!

Ingraham Flats, notice the large crevasses and the very tiny tents:



Seracs (ice fall) on the Ingraham Glacier near the Cleaver:



Looking back at the Cleaver, notice the tents on the Ingraham Flats. The flat spot at the top of the Cleaver is where we turned around, above it to the left is the summit of the peak:



The crevasse we had to cross, the part we walked across was only about a foot wide:



The peak with wildflowers in front of it from our hike back down to Paradise: