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JUNE
17-18
2006

MT. RAINIER, Disappointment Cleaver (steep snow, late spring conditions)

Category: Washington      Trip Report #: 25
Partners: Eu-Jin Goh, Paul Csonka
Elev: 14,411 ft

I always see this as my first major alpine climb, at the beginning of the summer of 2006. By the end of the summer, I had done several more climbs and had caught the alpine climbing fever.

(Aireal photo was posted at the end of May on the Mt. Rainier blog site http://mountrainierclimbing.blogspot.com.)

On June 17-18, 2006, I climbed Mt. Rainier (14,410 ft) in Washington with a couple of friends from school. We climbed the popular Disappointment Cleaver route. So far, 2006 had not seen too many successful summit attempts, with bad weather and poor conditions stopping many climbing parties. But we had planned this climb for awhile, and the weather looked like it might be turning for the better.

I arrived at the Paradise parking lot Friday afternoon (June 16) and Eu-Jin and Paul arrived later that night, just in time to pick up their climbing permits. To pass the time, we decided who was carrying what gear, compared the heaviness of our packs, took photos of the not-so-wildlife begging for scraps of our food, and settled into the backs of our cars for the night. In the course of a couple hours, we managed to break at least 3 rules (a. no feeding the wildlife, b. no sleeping in the parking lot, and c. no peeing in the bushes next to the parking lot).

Saturday morning we woke up to drizzle and clouds, listened to some not-so-enlightening-yet-not-without-hope weather and condition reports from the rangers at Paradise, and were on the trail up at 8:30am. Five miles and 4,700 vertical feet of mostly low-angle snow-travel to Camp Muir (elevation 10,188ft)...

At about 1,000ft below Camp Muir, we broke out of the clouds to clear blue skies and warm sun, and got our first view of the summit. So that's what we are climbing, wow! Pretty cool....

We reached Camp Muir (elevation 10,188ft) around lunchtime, set up our tent, rested in the sun, climbed to the top of the little rock to the east of the camp, melted snow, and ate and early dinner. By the time we settled into our sleeping bags around 8pm, we had been joined by several other climbers, including a couple large RMI parties.

Our plans were to wake up at 1:30am and begin the climb at 2am. At 2am we were indeed climbing...out of our sleeping bags. We ate a few power bars, wished for more time to take pictures of the stars, and began our climb of the last 4,200 ft to the summit at around 2:45 am. We were the last party to leave Camp Muir, as most parties had left between 12am and 2am. At least our route across to Cadaver Gap was lit by headlamps.

Crossing over Cadaver Gap was straightforward, as was the traverse across the relatively-flat Ingram Flats to Disappointment Cleaver. We could see the lights of other climbers already halfway up the cleaver. So far it was turning out to be a beautiful morning to climb, with not a cloud in the sky and beautiful stars and a half-moon.

We crossed quickly onto the Cleaver, since this area is prone to rockfall. We had heard that getting onto the Cleaver can be a challenge, but it was early enough in the season that there was a snowy trail right onto it. The cleaver was the steepest section of the route, but the snow was in perfect condition, and we did not even use the fixed lines left by the RMI teams. We reached the top of the Cleaver just after 5am to join several other climbers enjoying the sunrise.

The route from the top of the Cleaver to the summit looked straightforward, with a boot-beaten, wanded trail to the top and several other climbers already on it, so I decided to climb the last 2,000 ft to the summit unroped. Having been the last person to arrive at the top of the Cleaver, I made it my challenge to be the first to reach the summit. The view on the way up was spectacular.

After 55 minutes from the top of the Cleaver, I arrived at the Crater Rim, to a spectacular vista.

Ten minutes of walking across the flat crater, and I was standing at 14,410 feet! Wow! What an amazing view, with Mt. Adams dominating the southern skyline.

After finding the summit register (which is by a rock a bit down and to the right of the summit as you walk across the crater to the summit), I began to head down. By this time, the crater was becoming quite populated.

I passed my friends on the way down, and told them I would meet them back at camp. I decided to descend via Disappointment Cleaver rather than the quicker Ingram Glacier, since the snow was already softening and there had been reports of slides in this area as well as climbers breaking through snow bridges on Ingram Glacier (my two friends ended up descending on Ingram Glacier, and actually saw a guy fall into a crevasse, but he was lucky enough to be stopped by his rope partner and quickly pulled out by other climbers; a future reader of my website pointed out an article written in the August 2006 Mazama Bulletin about this rescue).

The descent for me was uneventful (with great views of Little Tahoma and Ingram Flats), but I took it carefully since I realized the danger of being unroped on glacier territory. But it was early in the season and there was only one small crevasse I had to cross....

I arrived back at Camp Muir at 10am, melted some snow, ate my full extra day's ration of food which I had in case of the nonexistent bad weather, wore the 5-lb down jacket I had hauled up the mountain and never wore, took photos of Mt. Adams in the clouds, and took a nap in the sun as I waited for the rest of my party to return.

My friends arrived back a few hours later, and after a few more hours of indecision (over staying at Camp Muir and taking star-trails photos or heading for the cars and sleeping in a warm bed) we decided to break camp and head back into the rain and down to the cars. We left Camp Muir at 6pm and arrived at the cars at 9pm after an exhausting slog through soft snow. We had fun sliding down some well-travelled snow slides though. Next time I am bringing a sled!

It was an awesome climb, definitely worth repeating! The weather and conditions from 10,000 ft upwards were perfect. Thanks to my climbing partners Eu-Jin and Paul for driving all the way from California to climb Rainer, and for putting up with my enthusiasm to race to the top. Thanks guys for the great climb!

Eu-Jin has also posted his photos and a trip report on his webpage.

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