Trip Report    

Intermediate Alpine Climb - Observation Rock/North Face

A strong team, gorgeous day, and good route conditions made for a fun climb.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Route is in good shape.   Snow on the trail starting around 6000'.   Lower portion of the route is 8-18" of powder over hard ice; upper portion of the route and top-out shelf is exposed hard ice.  The freezing level was well below the base of the climb on the night before, as the ponds in Spray Park were frozen over on approach.

The group met at the parking lot for the Spray Park Trail shortly after 6:00AM, sorted through gear, and was on the trail at the planned time of 6:30AM with headlamps on.  We took a 60m single rope, 12 (longer, 19-22cm) screws, and four pickets per team of two.

The hike along the trail to Spray Park was quick and uneventful with compact snow on the trail starting around 6000’.  We turned off the trail at the usual place (around 6350’) and followed a bootpack toward the Flett Glacier. Passing over the col to the west of Point 7225 on the USGS map, we followed a bootpack in the SSW direction toward the base of the climb.  We stopped to put on helmets in one steep and somewhat exposed section with bad runout.


We arrived at the base of the climb at 10:30AM and roped up as three teams of two.  There was an obvious break part way up the face where it steepens and the exposed hard ice started, and we made a plan to simulclimb to that point, build a first belay anchor, and then pitch out the remaining portion, leaving enough rope length on the final pitch to build an anchor over the lip.  Our three teams spread out across the face and headed up.


The first (simulclimbed) pitch had 8-18” of soft, powdery snow over hard ice with good screw placements available after digging away the snow.  Pickets would have been useless. Neither picks nor sticks were much good in the soft snow, but it was possible to get traction on the underlying ice.  Each team broke the remainder of the face above the first belay into 2-3 pitches to get over the lip (40-45m probably gives an equitable distribution of leads) and built a final belay anchor over the lip using screws.  One climber brought a BD Raven ice axe along with a second tool and found the Raven to be of not much use. All three teams topped-out by 1:15PM, and the face was in the shade for the entire climb. We coiled the ropes, grabbed a snack, and left harnesses on in case we decided to rope up for the glacier.


Once everyone took a few minutes to recharge, we tagged Observation Rock via the ridge, took a few more minutes to enjoy excellent views of Rainier’s rugged north side, and worked our way down to the Flett Glacier.  The glacier had a 1-2’ coat of fresh powder over hard ice, which made for tricky footing at times, but we made a group call not to rope up and follow a well-established bootpack across to meet our ascent track.


We met our ascent track at the col west of point 7225 at around 3:00PM and began the long hike out, reaching the cars just before 5:00PM for 10.5 hours car-to-car.


GPS track: