Observation Rock/North Face

Observation Rock via the North Face is a Grade II ice climb.

Getting there

From Buckley drive south on SR-165, eventually crossing the Carbon River bridge, to a road junction with the right, uphill fork signed for Mowich Lake. Take this right fork all the way to the lake (4,929 ft).

APPROACH

Follow the Spray Park Trail heading south from the lake. Shortly there will be a junction with the Wonderland Trail. Continue south, then east on the trail, up into Spray Park. Near the high point on the trail at approximately 6,400 ft a cairn marks a climber’s path which takes off north toward Observation Rock.

This path becomes indistinct around 7,200 ft in moraines. From here there are numerous ways to approach the North Face of Observation Rock by contouring southwest. Some parties aim for the small lake at 6,583 ft to ascend snow; this can reportedly avoid some tedious scree.

ASCENT ROUTE

Ascends the steep finger of the Flett Glacier, aiming southwest for Observation Rock’s summit. There is enough ice for four to five pitches, steepening to about 50° near the top. The first pitch is usually simul-climbed; then parties can swing leads to the top of the glacier. There is plenty of room for two to three parties to climb at once, with some variation in steepness and snow cover from left to right. From the top of the glacier, unrope and scramble to the crumbly summit for fine views of Rainier’s north side.

DESCENT ROUTE

The best descent is to scramble down to the south and east of Observation Rock. Descending to the west puts one back on the crevassed Flett Glacier which may prove impassable late in the season. Then follow the climbers’ trail back to Spray Park and then the main trail back to Mowich Lake.

TRIP PROFILE

SEGMENT TIME (HR) ELEVATION GAIN (FT) ELEVATION LOSS (FT)
Trailhead to Climb 3-4 2,500
Climb to Summit 2-3 800
Summit to Trailhead 4-6 300 3,200

EQUIPMENT

Two ice tools, ice screws, pickets and crampons.

NOTES

  • This climb is a rarity—it's a one-day ice climb. 
  • It must be done on or after July 1 for Intermediate Ice credit.
  • The difficulty can vary greatly as conditions change. Trip leaders are asked to use judgement in awarding Intermediate Ice credit in conditions where it is unwarranted. Students should understand that achieving the summit does not guarantee credit. Characterizing a route on a given day as "challenging enough" is obviously subjective.

Information for Leaders

Permits

Check with Mount Rainier National Park (land manger link below) to be sure you have the required camping and climbing permits.

INTERNAL CLIMBING LOTTERY

  • This is a very popular climbing area. If you are listing a trip, please first review the relevant Internal Lottery Results document below.
  • The 2022 Mountaineers Internal Lottery results are now final. Please select the Observation Rock tab to view the results for this location. If you are scheduling a course trip here for 2022, please check this spreadsheet before listing your trip to be sure your course has priority for the field trip date(s) you are scheduling and that there is no other course that already has priority.
  • The 2023 Mountaineers Internal Lottery results are now final. Please select the Observation Rock tab to view the results for this location. If you are scheduling a course trip here for 2023, please check this spreadsheet before listing your trip to be sure your course has priority for the field trip date(s) you are scheduling and that there is no other course that already has priority.

 
  • Suitable Activities: Climbing
  • Climbing Category: Intermediate Alpine
  • Seasons: July, August, September
  • Weather: View weather forecast
  • Difficulty: Intermediate Ice Climb
  • Length: 13.0 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 3,600 ft
  • 8,364 ft
  • Land Manager: Mount Rainier National Park
    Mount Rainier Wilderness
  • Parking Permit Required: National Park Entrance Fee
  • Recommended Party Size: 12
  • Maximum Party Size: 12
  • Maximum Route/Place Capacity: 12
Map
  • USGS Mowich Lake
  • USGS Mt Rainier West
  • Green Trails Mount Rainier Wonderland No. 269SX
Activities

Upcoming Activities

Intermediate Alpine Ice - Field Trip 2 - Observation Rock/North Face

Avalanche Safety Field trip: Intermediate Glacier/Alpine Module
Technical steep ice/snow focused; the skills/concepts are applicable to almost all of your alpine climbing
Difficulty: Intermediate Ice Climb
Sun, Aug 20, 2023 - Mon, Aug 21, 2023
Prerequisites
6 participants 0 instructors
Registration closes Aug 18
Tacoma Branch

Intermediate Alpine Ice - Field Trip 2 - Observation Rock/North Face

Avalanche Safety Field trip: Intermediate Glacier/Alpine Module
Technical steep ice/snow focused; the skills/concepts are applicable to almost all of your alpine climbing
Difficulty: Intermediate Ice Climb
Sat, Aug 26, 2023 - Sun, Aug 27, 2023
Prerequisites
6 participants 2 instructors on waitlist
Registration closes Aug 25
Tacoma Branch
Trip Reports
Resources

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