The Rainier 9000: Summit to Paradise Ski Descent
With the return of spring weather to Washington (no rain?!) the conditions in the mountains went from sketchy to primed. After allowing a few days for recent snowfall to settle or slide it was time. Ditching the 90 degree heat in Seattle, two buddies and myself decided to have a go at Rainier on Thursday Morning.
We pulled out of Seattle at 6am on Wendesday and headed South to Mt. Rainier. After securing climbing permits and sorting out all our gear we left the lot around 10am. The temperature was easily in the 50’s as we worked our way up to Camp Muir. For anyone who has done that tour it is full of false summits.
After reaching Camp Muir we set up in the climber’s shelter maintained by the USFS, melted snow for water, made dinner, and were headed to sleep around 7pm. Spending time at Camp Muir is incredibly beautiful; situated in a saddle below Cowlitz Cleaver at 10,000′ on Rainier. There are sweeping views to the South of Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, and on a clear day down to the Three Sisters South of Mt. Hood.
For our summit push we woke up at 1am, and were ready with crampons on and skis a-framed by 1:30. While this was a ski (and splitboard) mission, the route we had chosen up the Disappointment Cleaver (DC) Route favored crampons and ice axes in the pre-dawn freeze. Leaving Camp Muir we hardly needed headlamps as a fat full moon to the South provided ample light.
The going was relatively smooth and warm up until around 11,000′ where around the ripe hour of 4am, dropping temperatures, higher elevation, and rising winds forced us to layer up. As the sun rose at 5:30am we were working our way up the top of the Disappointment Cleaver around 12,000′. Once we reached the Emmons Glacier above the DC we roped up and continued our climb upwards. If the trip up to Muir teaches you anything about Rainier, it’s that false summits are commonplace. Working up switchbacks on the Emmons Glacier, we somehow forgot that and found ourselves walking up a seemingly endless white pitch.
We reached the crater around 9am, where we ditched packs and skinned (finally, no more crampons!) our way to the Columbia Crest (highest point) at 9:30am, a full 8 hours after we started. After taking in the sights for half an hour we grabbed our packs and began our 4500′ descent to Camp Muir.
The top portion of the route along the Emmons Glacier was fairly wind-scoured and made for some interesting skiing. If not necessarily enjoyable, the portions of survival skiing were much quicker than bootpacking back down Rainier. Once we dropped to the top of the DC, approximately 12500′ the snow had warmed enough to be edgeable and enjoyable. Skiing down the DC becomes impossible by June as the snow melts off. The DC provided nearly 1000′ of steep soft snow as we worked along the ridge.
After skiing down the ridge of the DC we traversed onto the Ingraham Glacier in the shadow of Gibraltar Rock. After picking our way through over one intimidatingly large crevasse we found nearly 600′ of corn that wound around to the Cathedral Gap and the entrance to the Cowlitz Glacier. After pointing it down the Cowlitz and back to Muir, we checked our watches: 10:30am. What took us 8 hours to climb was skiied (slowly and cautiously up top) in 30 minutes.
At Muir we packed our bags and remaining gear and got ready to enjoy the 4500′ of sustained pitch and sun-warmed corn that would take us to Paradise. The skiing on the upper two thirds ofthe Muir Snowfield was fantastic; fast, creamy, 1-2 inches deep. Lower down, the snow had been hammered by the sun from the past few days and was sticky and treacherous, especially with 40+lbs expedition packs.
Arriving at the parking lot before noon, we revelled in what we had just accomplished over warm IPA’s: an ascent of Rainier followed by a 9000′ descent. The DC and Cadaver Gap above Muir still held snow, allowing us to do a complete ski descent without down climbing a single section. Spring in Washington always holds surprises; snow levels are falling to 6500′ this weekend, shutting down climbing for at least another week.