Trip Report    

Intermediate Alpine Climb - Wapowety Cleaver/Kautz Glacier

A tough climb up the Kautz Ice chute with a bonus summit at the third day.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • The Fan on the Nisqually Glacier has completely melted out and the only way to access the Turtle Snowfield is via the Wilson Glacier. 
    The ice in the chute had a glass layer above it, so it took a lot of clearing this layer away to get to the real ice below, making ice showers inevitable. There seems to be better ice on the cliff to the left of the second step. 
    The route from the top of the chute to Point Success has a few crevasses, but they are still small and easy to avoid.


  • 0730: Get permits
  • 0800 Walkout
  • 1600 Campsite below Camp Hazard


  • 0000: Wake up
  • 0130: Roll out
  • 0300: Base of first step
  • 0500: Base of second step
  • 0900: Top of second step
  • 1100: Camp at Wapowety Cleaver
  • 0230: Wake up
  • 0400: Roll out
  • 0700: Summit
  • 0800: Leave summit
  • 1200: Camp Muir
  • 1530: Paradise
2 x 60m half ropes (for ice pitches)
4 pickets (used one)
8 screws (used all, could have used more)
Hands: Most members had a dedicated ice tool (Petzl quark type) and a hybrid tool (BD venom type). I had a Quark and a BD Raven ice axe (not optimal but it worked.
Feet: Most members had Petzl Lynxs. I had Grivel G12s. This turned out to be a mistake.
This was originally intended to be a Thurs-Sat climb but was bumped back a day to Fri-Sun due to weather. Naomi and Chi did DC 2 weekends before this and reported lineups at 6am at the Paradise Ranger station. Therefore we decided to be there early to get permits as well. 
Day 1:
We met at South Render PnR at 4am and were at the station at Paradise at 615 am. We were third in line at that point, along with Allison who was there for permits for Camp Muir for another Mountaineers climb the day after. We obtained permits for the Kautz zone the first night and Camp Muir the second night. Our plan was to camp just below Camp Hazard the first night, carry over the summit to Camp Muir the second day, and leave the third. Since we would be carrying all our gear, we had flexibility in case things didn't turn out as planned.
All smiles in the mist
The real King of the Hill
We quickly made the walk to Glacier Vista in the fog before dropping down to the Nisqually Glacier. Since the Fan had melted out by then, we gained the Turtle Snowfield through a snow ramp to the Wilson Glacier. We were only above the clouds as we reached ~10k ft. We found running water at ~10800 ft and set up camp at a few sheltered platforms. Naomi and Vlad brought water bags so we only needed to fill up once.
First camp
Ice cliffs above Camp Hazard
Day 2: Woke up to a clear windless night. The freezing level was just below us so we were pretty warm heading out. We struck camp just after midnight and reached the rock step soon after. Here we ran into an issue going down. The step was about 25 ft at this point and quite steep. The first two members of the party made it down after awhile, but when I went down, since the fixed line had knots in it, my prusik got caught on a knot while I was 6 ft above the ground on the side of a vertical snow pile. It took half an hour to get me unstuck. I highly recommend just rappelling here. By now there was another group of 2 just behind us. We crossed the small scree field to the base of the first step and doubled up our ropes.
The rock step
The first step was quite mellow and was more like a set of icy stairs than a slope. We set a running belay all the way to the top before walking up the slope to the second step.
Here the climbing got tricky. The ice steepened to ~50 degrees, reaching ~60 degrees in some parts. The ice was mixed in with a lot of dirt and every swing sent large dinner plates crashing. In addition, there was a thin layer of glassy ice covering the solid ice below, so every step needed to be cleaned, causing chunks to go flying down with every step and swing. Even though the second step was only 2 pitches, it took us the better part of our day to overcome. We intended to set a running belay to the top, but after I lead the first rope-length my partner Chi wanted to come up to get out of the falling ice, so I set an anchor and belayed her up. Naomi also came up at set an anchor to get out of the falling ice while Vlad took it like a champ below. Looking down we could see another party coming up behind us.
Nick on the ice
I led the second pitch afterwards, going left to try to avoid raining ice down on the belay station. I tried to put a screw in to no avail. Turns out it was iced up inside so it would have to be cleaned later. I went up another 10 or so feet to a bulge in the ice to step on as I place a screw, but at that point my crampon broke off the ice and I fell onto a penitente above the belay station. As far as I knew, I wasn't hurt, but we asked Vlad to lead the second pitch. The other party below us headed up the ice cliff on the left, which seemed more like 4 ft ice stairs than a chute. 
Retro Chi on belay
Naomi on the ice
After topping out we trudged our way to the top of Wapowety Cleaver at ~13k ft. By then the party ahead of us was nearing Point Success. We got to the top of the cleaver exhausted and set up camp. The party after us rolled in after another few hours.
After a day of hard climbing at the top of Wapowety Cleaver
Day 3: The wind had picked up overnight as expected and was blowing at a constant 20 mph. We wanted to reach the summit at sunrise and set out at 4am. It didn't take long for the sun to come out.
While walking through the ice formations was a great pain, we reached the west crater rim at 7am to see a bunch of parties already there and a group in the middle of the crater. We circumnavigated the west side of the crater to the summit registry, bumping into an OSAT team that came up Emmons that morning (we also missed another Mountaineer's party by half an hour). Turns out the party in the middle of the crater had a sick climber, but they were taking care of him. Later in the day we saw helicopters circling the crater.
We trudged back to Camp Muir in good time. Descending the DC was tedious as ever. The glissading on the Muir Snowfield is still pretty good. The parking lot was cramped and sweltering.
Ladder over a crevasse on the DC
Little Tahoma in the distance as we trudge down the cleaver
Camp Muir feels like forever away
Looking back on our route
It was a tough route, but it was worth all of it.
Parking lot shenanigans
Photos credits: Vlad Krupin, Chi Tran