Corie: When the alarm went off at 9:45pm, my first instinct was to throw my phone out the open truck window. It was too early, too late, too ___ to be waking up. What should be labeled as a ‘glorified nap’ had turned into 4 hours of tossing and turning in the heat of the evening as car after car rolled in and out of the parking lot- babies screaming, music blaring, voices screeching. Nothing about that sleep had been restful. We got up and, in a few minutes, we were ready— now it was time to get psyched.
By the time we reached Muir, all of the parties had left- the camp was a ghost town. The tents were billowing in the wind- rainflys rippling with the current. We stashed our skis behind a rock and took temporary shelter from the wind that was blowing through. Right before we started off, an overwhelming wave of nausea hit me. I couldn’t move. It wasn’t altitude, going from sea level to 10,000’+ in a matter of hours had become relatively normal. I couldn’t figure out what it was, all I knew was that I was scarily close to vomiting the contents of my stomach all over the snow, effectively ending our summit-bid. I sat on the ground and curled up, willing it to pass. 30 minutes later, we were finally able to start moving again- slowly, but we were moving.
Making our way up to Ingraham was fun. Rocks came shooting down behind us as we made our way to the other side of Muir- it felt like we were playing dodgeball with the mountain… On our way up, we ran into multiple parties who had elected to turn around due to the fierce wind that was howling around us. One of the parties decided to take the ‘choose your own adventure’ route during their descent and sent a number of cooler-sized blocks careening down toward us. They didn’t take any more caution after they realized we were traveling below them so we had to plan our progress based on their location. (Please, please use caution when traveling above other people- it’s the safe, smart, and courteous thing to do.) Eventually, we crested up to Ingraham and took a quick break behind a snow shelter someone had built. My nausea seemed to be holding off for now but I was worried it would kick back up at any time. I still felt slow, weak, idiotic, but I fueled up and assessed myself, deciding that I was still safe enough to climb and descend from where we were heading. The sun was coming up in full force at this point and we basked in its glory before covering every inch of exposed skin we could find. The wind was brutal and it was doing its best to unstake the tent city we were sitting in. Rainier certainly wasn’t going to let this day be easy.
Up and up we went- crossing our first crevasses of the day on our way to the Cleaver itself and enjoying a brief reprieve from the wind when we drifted behind rock outcroppings. We could see a few small parties heading back down and as we met them on the snow, we gathered bits of info, “the wind just gets worse and worse,” and/or “we turned around at __,000’- we couldn’t take the wind anymore.” The wind didn’t seem too bad and we were continuing to make decent progress despite how slowly I was moving. Winding around crevasses and crossing snow bridges at their marked points didn’t take any mental energy- we simply followed the same path that hundreds of parties had taken and braced ourselves when the gusts became their strongest. As we climbed, one foot in front of the other, we noticed that clouds were beginning to make their way in down low, obscuring what we could see of Muir.
By the time we finally made our way to the crater, we were in the middle of the craziest windstorm I’ve ever felt. The winds rushing over the crater’s rim were so intense that they knocked me to my knees and sucked the breath out of my lungs. With the true summit in sight, we kicked our way across the snow as quickly as possible, heads down, one step, two steps, three steps. Trudgery. When we finally reached the summit, I felt a huge wave of relief. We had actually done it. The winds were so powerful up top that I almost had to crawl onto the summit- standing was a precarious balancing act and I didn’t want to waste any energy stabilizing myself for a few selfies. We spent no more than 60 seconds up top, briefly enjoying the views, before heading back down- quickly and cautiously.
The fog below Muir was thick and due to the shrinking visibility we started skiing down almost immediately. The snow was incredible and skiing on tired legs, although requiring much stopping and starting, was a great relief. The really eerie part was that the lower we went, the thicker the fog was. We were losing sight of each other at about 50’. It was crazy! After what seemed like ages, we packed our skis on our backs and made our way down the marked trail to Paradise. I’d kept blisters at bay during this trip and I was totally psyched about that. When we reached the parking lot, I dropped my stuff and started getting it ready to load into the car- Andy walked down to the overnight lot and brought the car up to us. We were exhausted, thirsty, and still letting the events of the day sink in.
Andy: After our stifled attempt on the Fuhrer Finger in late May, we deliberated on whether or not to attempt Rainier again and if so, what route to try. We considered the Kautz, but our feeble ice climbing skills left us feeling hesitant after reading a variety of trip reports. Climbing the Disappointment Cleaver route in two days was not very palpable to us, primarily because it felt so tame. Do not mistake this for elitism; we knew we could fully get shut down on the DC. Rather, because many guided parties took this tactic to climb the mountain, we would be surrounded by many people and adopting a casual pace over two days. These elements seemed to steal the sense of adventure from the accent. Success was almost too guaranteed. We thrive on the unknown, the maybe possible, the likelihood of things going awry, and attempting the DC in a day seemed to bring some of these elements back into play.
We launched at 11pm from Paradise in a dense fog. The snow had greatly retreated compared to our previous attempt and we found ourselves walking more often than not for the first 2 miles. We prematurely donned skis several times in the patchy snow and missed several switchbacks which cost us valuable time. Regardless, we hit Muir about 3am and took a short break to re-fuel, stash our skis and watch the horizon begin to glow. We roped up here not because we necessarily needed to, but more to capitalize on having our packs off and already being stopped. Traversing the upper Cowlitz to gain Cathedral Gap went quickly and the crevasses were benign. Up to, across, and a little ways after Cathedral Gap was exposed rubble and scree which is never fun (or fast) in ski boots. The sun crested the eastern skyline as we topped the Gap and gave us beautiful morning views of Little Tahoma. The route from here up to Ingraham Flats and across to the base of the Cleaver was relatively casual with a few larger crevasses that needed skirting or a careful walk across a snow bridge. Upon reaching the Cleaver we resumed our scree walking and scrambling. The path up the Cleaver was fairly well marked with flags, but rock fall is almost inevitable given the very loose terrain.
From the top of the Cleaver to the summit was nothing more than a few crevasse crossings and a few steeper (35-40ish degree) slopes, but a very well-used path made the terrain very easy to move through. We encountered a few pickets used as running belays before and after some spicy sections which were very convenient. Although the climbing was technically easy, the altitude and fatigue began to catch up to us around 13,000’. We persevered and finally stood on the Columbia Crest at 12:30am. We didn’t stay for long because the winds were bitterly fierce, and we quickly initiated our descent. We reversed our path the entire way, ecstatic to be done crossing very soft snow bridges and finally clicking back into our skis at Muir. We reached the parking lot at Paradise around 8pm, 21 hours after we started. It was a long, beautiful and challenging day – exactly what we were looking for.
Equipment List- Disappointment Cleaver
- 2 liters of water each while traveling + 1 liter stashed at Camp Muir
- Lunch & snacks
- Ski poles
- 1st Aid Kit + various other essentials
- Map, compass, and GPS (iPhone 5c with Gaia GPS)
- Ice axes
- 40m 9mm rope
- Crevasse rescue gear
Detailed maps, downloadable tracks, and other beta can be found here on Gaia GPS:
Starting Elevation: 5,423'
Final Elevation: 14,410'
Total Elevation Gain: 8,987'
Paradise to Summit: 9.8
Summit to Paradise: 9.8
Paradise to Summit: 13.5 hours
Summit to Paradise: 7.5 hours
Round Trip: 21 hours