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Trip Report    

Basic Glacier Climb - Mount Rainier/Disappointment Cleaver

Cold, crowded, and windy, but a direct route above the cleaver. Just one ladder crossing.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Cleaver is loose and unpleasant

    Fairly direct above cleaver

  • No snow until above Pebble Creek
  • Camped at Camp Muir, which is pretty noisy as one might expect. We arrived pretty close to previous groups’ departures which meant that we could reuse their tent platforms which saved time and effort. Watch out for some areas that are prone to rockfall, such as further uphill towards Cowlitz Cleaver/Beehive. Ingraham Flats and Muir Snowfield would probably be quieter alternatives, although Ingraham Flats would require hauling an overnight pack up Cathedral Rocks while Muir Snowfield necessitates a longer summit day.
  • Ranger came by around 19:00 to check permits and answer any questions
  • We left Camp Muir at 0:30.
  • We carried a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tarp, stove, and water filter on summit day, though did not use any of them
  • The route across the Cowlitz Glacier is now rerouted lower down, so you spend more time in the sand of Cathedral Rocks.
  • Beware of rock fall when traversing Cowlitz Glacier.
  • The route was very crowded. We probably saw about 15-20 people above us and 45 below us.
  • Winds were quite high, starting from the cleaver onwards, higher than forecast. There was really no sheltered place for comfortable rest breaks until the summit crater.
  • Everyone was pretty cold. Several parties turned around at various places due to the cold. It didn’t really warm up until about 9.
  • The cleaver was really unpleasant, with no snow on it and lots of loose sand and rock. There were a couple of spots where wands were broken / knocked over, which made navigation in the dark tricky. This created some mental tiredness (along with the wind), in terms of not knocking stuff down and making sure you had good footing. While the common wisdom seems to be to keep crampons on through this (and Cathedral Rocks), I would really reconsider this, especially if the team is not large and can put crampons on and off quickly enough in a safe spot, a little bit up from the base of the cleaver.
    One could also consider unroping instead of going in coils. I would guess that the time spent to deal with crampons and ropes would be saved by the speed increase going up the cleaver. It took about 1.5 hours to get up it.
  • No handline on the cleaver (nor was one needed)
  • Very obvious boot track starting right at Camp Muir and many wands. Very easy to tell the way on a clear day. Look out for wands in an X configuration which mark retired routes. Note that just above Ingraham Flats there was one spot where the obvious path was past several X wands which led across two parallel crevasses on a snow bridge. It may have been possible to go further uphill around this, but it seemed that noone had.
  • There is one short ladder (6 steps?) at about 13,000’. It crosses a crevasse onto the other side which is higher than the downhill side. The ladder is about 45-60 degrees. There are fixed pickets on either side. About 100m to climber’s left, there was an older horizontal ladder that the guides are planning on removing and is apparently not well attached. We did see a party cross it, but they seemed quite hesitant to do so and it put them in a pretty exposed spot.
  • Aside from that, the route had small crevasses to cross, nothing of great concern, both above Ingraham Flats and above the cleaver.
  • The trail onwards is well packed down and wanded. The trail itself is pretty much horizontal where it traverses slopes, but it is quite narrow. One still needs to be quite cognizant of footing since it would be easy to catch a crampon and in some places it is exposed to a crevasse or rollover below. Depending on snow conditions, it may be difficult to arrest.
  • There are a number of fixed pickets, although some of them are missing carabiners. There are also a few handlines that can be clipped to, or just use the handline pickets as a running belay.
  • The snow was in pretty good condition, no icy spots
  • Carried FRS/GMRS radios which worked well for inter-rope communication, even though the ropes were always close to each other.
  • The route is quite direct from the top of the cleaver to the summit:
  • Would not recommend a party larger than 6-7 people. Climbing midweek would also be preferable.