Mount Rainier-Kautz Route
July 17-20, 2011
Written by Amir Movasagi
Rob Kikta-North Bend, WA
Dave Hoover-Wheaton, IL
Staci Hoover-Wheaton, IL
Amir Movasagi-Kirkland, WA
Ben Haskell-AMGA Guide-Pro Guiding Services
Chris Simmons-IFMGA Guide-Pro Guiding Services
Day 1-Sunday July 17
Under overcast and wet skies all the participants met at the Paradise parking lot (5420 feet). With the group gear distributed, our guides Ben and Chris went over the details of the trip and informed us of all the risks involved with climbing and safety being the number one priority. We moved on to the climber's ranger station to receive our permits. Relative to most of the other climbing groups our team was considerably smaller so we had the benefit of a personal session with one of the rangers to receive first-hand reports of weather, mountain conditions and learn the proper technique of using and disposing of the "blue bag".
At around 11 am we started with our first steps on the Skyline Trail. Both guides immediately set a very deliberate and consistent pace.
For about 45 minutes we followed large groups of climbers and day hikers making their way towards Camp Muir. Right before Panorama Point, at Glacier Vista, we separated from the crowds and descended west towards the "fan" portion of the lower Nisqually glacier. We roped up into teams of 3, donned our helmets and made a fast cross of the glacier. This was to avoid potential rock and avalanche hazards. Food and water breaks were mandated by our guides. They were constantly reminding us and emphasizing the importance of being hydrated and fueled.
East of the Wilson Glacier we made our ascent towards the Turtle, a large snowfield with rocky ribs. We had our first safety session going over the proper technique of self-arrests using our ice axe.
Continuing our climb we hit rain showers and walked into our first night's camp site at around 5 pm at an elevation of about 8400 feet. The slow and deliberate pace our guides had set at the start of our climb was paying dividends as no one really felt the effects of the higher elevations. We quickly set our tents up and started the long process of boiling snow to replenish our water supply and prepare our meals with. We hit our bags early with gusts of 30 to 40 mile per hour winds rattling our tents.
Day 2-Monday July 18
With a relaxed morning start under partially cloudy skies we climbed towards our 2nd camp. We were hoping to use the campsites at around 10,700 but they were taken by another group of climbers. We pushed on another 500 feet and found sites to pitch our tents right below Camp Hazard-named for one of the first climbers of this route. The guides had to remove rock and ice to clear a pad for their tent. We were given last minute instructions for the summit day push. Wake up call was scheduled at 1 am with a start time of 2 am. Weather still being unstable; we went to sleep with the sound of the guides' weather radio broadcast coming from their tent.
Day 3-Tuesday July 19
At 1 am sharp the guides gave us the wakeup call. Under relatively clear skies and calm winds we put on our headlamps and helmets, ate a quick breakfast, secured crampons and harnesses and walked up 30 feet to our first technical challenge of the climb. Ben and Chris belayed each one of us through a short rock gully that puts you into the start of the two steep Kautz chutes. With the large amount of late season snow we were able to short rope through the steep chutes and with the excellent footing, made very good time.
We made our way through to the confluence of the Kautz and Nisqually glaciers coming across a vast and open area with beautiful seracs jettisoning out and breaking the winter-like scenery. Absolutely spectacular! Four to six inches of fresh snow made the boot pack well pronounced through a winter wonderland.
At the juncture of the Kautz and Nisqually glacier, our guide, Chris made an excellent judgment call and chose to avoid the standard route which a previous climbing group had taken. Chris pulled this out of his experience of bagging the Rainier summit 50 times throughout his guiding career. This call saved us an hour of travel time compared to the other climbing group that had to spend time negotiating crevasses. From this point we pretty much had a straight shot to the Columbia Crest summit at 14,411 feet.
At 8:01 am we reached the summit to a wild and exciting scene of other climbers congratulating each other. The winds were relatively light and all of us felt great. Minor headaches were the only reminder of our elevation with Staci asking, "when should I start feeling the altitude." Once again the pace that was set by the guides helped make the climb relatively easy and very enjoyable.
Dave and Staci spent a special moment together on the summit celebrating their 14th wedding anniversary. I thought most couples go to Tahiti on their anniversary.
Unfortunately our views were diminished by the clouds so after 15 minutes of picture taking and more congratulations we began our descent.
The descent was the same route we came up, with Ben establishing two running belays for Rob and I while Chris chose to continue short roping Dave and Staci through the steep Kautz chutes. Either method would have worked but I wanted to leave the day with a true mountaineering experience and Ben kindly accommodated. Watching Ben come down the chutes unprotected was impressive.
Nine hours later from our start time we were back at camp. After replenishing ourselves with food and water and a restful nap, our guides made the decision to ascend to a lower camp putting an immediate end to the client's mutinous thoughts of descending all the way to Paradise. What were we thinking?
The weather report was questionable and our guides wanted to drop some elevation to have an easier descent to Paradise the following day. After a couple hours of climbing down we came across a great camp site with running water. We enjoyed a beautiful evening at a great camp site, our last night on the mountain.
Day 4-July 20
With a relaxed morning start and great weather, we broke camp and made our way back to Paradise enjoying great views and even got to see some geological activity with a piece of the Nisqually Glacier breaking off. Reaching the oxygen rich lower elevations, we made very quick work of the lower Nisqually Glacier, a short climb up to the Skyline Trail and eventually Paradise.
Ben took care of checking us back in at the ranger station and the rest of us took special care disposing our blue bags. We got back into our comfortable cotton attire and headed to the RMI Base Camp Cafe in Ashford for the customary and celebratory burgers, pizza and beer.
On a personal note, whether you summit or not, to me there isn't a better high than spending time with a great group, great guides on a great mountain.
However, as a novice climber the key points that I noticed help make this event so successful included:
-Experienced guides that provided a climbing pace that was consistent with all the clients' abilities.
-The entire group's excellent fitness level.
-Constant monitoring of safety procedures by our guides.
-Proper hydration and food intake during climb.
-Proper equipment and clothing.