Corie: Notoriously optimistic about conditions, gear, and our overall fitness level, I’ve suggested a few good, and a few less-than-awesome, ideas to Andy when we’ve been prepping for an upcoming objective. After our windy, crap-skiing-filled, attempt on the Kautz last weekend, we decided to leave the skis at home and do the entire mountain in mountaineering boots. When we laid out our gear on Saturday morning, we realized that our awesome Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs would be pretttttty empty without all the extra gear inside of them/strapped to the outside. Half-jokingly, I mentioned that we could just climb the Kautz using our Dynafit Enduro 12 Running Vests.
NEW "light & fast" v. OLD "light & fast"
Andy looked up at me with a half-amused, half-excited expression on his face… and we put our backpacks away. We could make do with 12 liters of pack space if we only brought 4 screws, brought our 30m rope, and started hiking out of Paradise wearing racked-up harnesses. We would be abandoning layers and reducing the amount of water we could carry but our hydration strategy going into these trips has paid dividends in keeping us comfortable. So… we went for it and, water included, our packs weighed ~14lbs, a far-cry from the previous weekend’s 30lbs+ we had (skis and ski boots are HEAVY!).
Hiking out of Paradise with next-to-nothing on our backs, we quickly made our way up to Glacier Vista, across the lower Nisqually, and up the Wilson Gully. We were moving so much faster than we’d anticipated and, oh my god, mountaineering boots are SO comfortable! Without strong winds to fight against, we were at the base of the ice chute at 7am. The downclimb was straightforward and we pretty much ignored the fixed lines. This may be problematic later in the year when the snow beneath the rock has melted out enough to create a longer, maybe more technical?, pitch to scramble down.
Both Fixed Lines + Corie down-climbing onto the Kautz
We initially planned to solo the Kautz but I voted for sections of simul-climbing, moving together once we had gear in between us. It made for a more enjoyable climb for me with the risk of a catastrophic fall being mitigated for… and it was simply good practice placing screws and being fast through lead swaps. More accomplished, skilled ice climbers could probably solo the ice comfortably.It appeared that a good number of the parties up the Kautz avoided the ice entirely, skirting it to climber’s left and slogging up the suncupped snow rather than pursuing sweet kicks and sticks… as of last weekend, there is still a section of snow between the lower and upper ice section that requires a bit of firm snow slogging.
One of the more exciting crossings on the upper Kautz.
We had no issues with soft bridges between the top of the Kautz and the summit. The crossings were clear and even flagged in some places. When we reached the summit, we had it to ourselves- the perk to being so late to arrive! The biggest issues came on the descent. We were hoping for ~5 hours from the summit back to the car but it seems like crevasses decided to play a cruel joke on climbers, forcing an incredibly circuitous route way out onto the Emmons and back with extra sections of gain and loss that were a struggle on tired legs. The final climb back UP to the cleaver gained an additional 400’. By the time we reached Muir, we were ready to be done. We ran and boot-skied back to asphalt before following the throng of day-hikers making their way back to Paradise.
Looking across to Ingraham after winding our way down the DC.
Andy: I laughed when Corie suggested using our running vests to climb Rainier. It was a little crazy, and I like a little crazy. Other people have climbed Rainier with even less for some of the speed ascents, but this style was pushing our personal boundaries given the objective. But after lugging around skis for the majority of our attempt last weekend, I was ready for different method.
Among the plethora of other things that teetered on the edge of disaster, I had neglected to refill my prescription for acetazolamide (diamox). I had one pill left. Hopefully that would be enough, but given our one-day siege and relatively rapid ascent to 14K’, I had my doubts.
The climbing (or slogging) on the first half of the route went by quickly and easily. Moving in mountaineering boots was quite a treat after spending the majority of the season in ski boots. As well, having dialed-in our approach beta from Paradise up to the Turtle Snowfield was key to allowing us to move quickly and confidently. Upon arriving at the base of the ice chute, we were still full of energy and psyched to break out the tools and do some real climbing. We stuck to the right side of the chute, which held the steepest and most continuous alpine ice.
The upper section of AI on climber's right with the snow chute on the left.
The ice itself was great, with fun climbing in and around penitentes, which made for great belay platforms or screw placement stances. A fair amount of dust and gravel had blown over the ice and frozen into it, creating a dirty black layer on top. Although most of the climbing was quite casual (AI2 with a few spots of 3 if you wanted) climbing up through black-colored ice surrounded by large, glacial spikes was really novel. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Winding around penitentes and finding good sticks in black ice.
The upper half of the mountain and the descent was largely a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Ad nauseam is probably the most apt descriptor because I was, literally, quite nauseous. My lack of proper medication caught up to me around 12K’ and unfortunately I started moving very slowly. Attempting to ignore my headache and trying not to throw up consumed the remainder of the slog to the summit while Corie patiently waited and prodded me along. During the descent I increasingly improved and by the time we reached the top of the cleaver I was moving at our normal pace once again. We rolled into the parking lot out of water, full of stoke, and a bit surprised we actually pulled that one off.
Start: Paradise- 5,443'
Elevation Gain: 10,164'
Time: 17:15 hours round trip
CalTopo GPS Track: https://caltopo.com/m/DBVK
(Download GPX and KML files here)
- 2 liters of water each
- SUUNTO Watches (GPS)
- 30m 8mm rope
- Harnesses & ATCs
- Crevasse rescue gear
- 2 pickets
- 4 ice screws
- Extra layers- lightweight shell and puffy
- Crampons and two tools
- Ski/Trekking poles