Trip Report    

Mount Rainier/Ptarmigan Ridge

This is an amazing three day climb on fantastic terrain in a dramatic committing setting with very few other parties on the route. We climbed on 8 glaciers, ascended over 11,000' up steep snow, a full pitch of WI-3 ice, and climbed a short rock pitch at over 12,000'. On the last pitch of the technical climbing we used pickets, ice screws, fixed pitons, and nuts for protection. It was the best climb I've done on Rainier.

  • Thu, May 30, 2019 — Sat, Jun 1, 2019
  • Mount Rainier/Ptarmigan Ridge
  • Climbing
  • Successful
  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Approach:

    The trail was snow free for the first few miles but eventually became snow covered completely before reaching Glacier Basin.  The glaciers had good snow coverage and the temperatures were low enough that post holing was not a significant problem on the approach.

    Technical Section Conditions:

    The route conditions of the technical section were great.  The bergschrund at the bottom was relatively easy to cross, the  snow coverage was good all the way up,  snow and ice protection was reasonably good across the traverse and through the hour glass, the ice was solid on the apron/ice pitch, and the rock step was protectable and secure due to ice coverage along with good rock quality there.  We started early and temperatures were below freezing the whole time we were climbing the technical section and we did not observe any significant ice or rock fall during that time.

2019 Ptarmigan Ridge

Date: 2019.05.30 - 2019.06.01
Distance: ~20 miles
Elevation: ~11,500' gain/loss
Segment Times:
5:50 - from car to Camp 1 (3,700')
5:00 - from Camp 1 to Camp 2 (3,500')
5:00 - from Camp 2 to Lib Cap Glacier (2,400')
4:15 - from Lib Cap Glacier to Lib Cap Summit (1,900')
3:10 - from Lib Cap Summit to Camp Schurman
2:15 - from Camp Schurman to car  (1:08 to Glacier Basin, 1:08 Glacier Basin to the Car).


We left the sunny White River Campground at 9:30 am the first day.  There was intermittent snow on the Glacier Basin Trail almost immediately and the trail was covered by a few feet of snow by the time we reached Glacier Basin Camp.  All of Glacier Basin was still covered with feet of snow. We started up Inter Glacier then headed east up to a snow free St Elmo's pass (7600') as a few clouds started forming  around the mountain.  The trail down from the pass onto the Winthrop Glacier was snow covered with a few icy sections.

 There was a boot path traversing the snow covered Winthrop Glacier at between 7200-7400'.  We followed it and observed a few open crevasses and crossed a couple of thin snow bridge (with one punch through of a leg up to a thigh near the west edge of the glacier).  Once past the glacier, most of the broad rock fields below Curtis Ridge were still snow covered with a few exposed rock islands. We arrived at a snow free Curtis Ridge (7200') around 3 pm just as a thunderstorm hit drenching us with rain and hail.  Fortunately we had time to put on our rain gear and were able to stay dry and once the storm passes we set up our tent at one of the many good camping sites along the ridge.

 Day two, we awoke to clear skies and left Curtis Ridge at 4:30 dropping down to and traversing across the Carbon Glacier at around 7000'.  The snow on the glacier was frozen hard and made for easy travel.  There were no boot tracks to follow, but we had climbed here a few years ago on our first attempted at Ptarmagin Ridge and knew the route. Once across the Carbon Glacier we started up the side of Ptarmigan Ridge and on to Russell Glacier.  The snow softened as  we climbed up on to the east side of the ridge and the sun came up warming the surface snow.  We continued up with some minor post holing as we made it to the crest of the ridge.

 The west side of the ridge was still in the shade supporting frozen hard snow.  The route goes up the west side of the ridge at this point and we strapped on crampons here for the icy frozen snow.  Eventually the route climbs back to the ridge crest and then at 10,200' there is a great spot for a break and clear view of the technical section of the route that we would climb the next day.  From there it is only a several hundred feet to high camp along the ridge.  We traversed the first part of the last section on the east side of the ridge and finished up on the west aspect of the ridge.  The bivy sites were melting out and we camped on about a foot of snow in a site at 10,300'.

 We spent the day at high camp melting snow, eating, sleeping, and watching the mountain.  There were a couple of small and one large avalanches that came down during the day.  The big one came down from the high seracs on the Liberty Cap into the chutes between Liberty and Ptarmagin ridges down onto the Carbon Glacier below. There was also some mixed snow, ice, and rock ablating from between the west edge of the ice cliffs and the Ptarmigan Ridge rocks sliding down onto the Mowich Glacier.

 On the third day, the alarm went off at 1 am and by 2:30 am we were striding quickly across the upper portions of the Mowich glacier under the Ptarmigan (Liberty Cap) ice cliff runout to the base of the route which is protected by  a bergschrund. The weather was great, cold, no wind, and the snow was frozen hard so we started with crampons on. There was a easy one to two foot step across/up the bergschrund on the uphill side of  the rock outcropping at 9800' enabling us to get onto the steep snow and start climbing. 

 The route follows a rising traverse back east threading through the rock bands towards the Ice Cliffs.  The snow on the ramp consisted of a 2-4" hard frozen crust over a foot or so of softer snow.  This provided a good stable climbing platforms for kicking steps, but would occasionally collapse (post hole), and there were a few patches of harder snow/ice that only our crampons points could penetrate. We observed a couple of spindrift cascades climbing this slope.

 It was just getting light as we arrived at the top of the ramp and a small rock outcropping just below a steep rock band forcing the route east and on direct traverses across a steep exposed slope that we protected with two pickets and two screws.  The traverse ends at the bottom of the hour glass gully.  There was good coverage on the east side of the hour glass and we ascended it using pickets and screws to protect the pitch up to the base of the large rock buttress and into the sunshine.

 There are two options to decide between at this point.  Either go east under the buttress out onto the Ice Cap then up between the rock buttress and the ice falls or stay on the west side of the buttress climbing snow, rock, and ice pitches to an exit rock gully leading through the rock buttress to the Liberty Cap Glacier.

 We took the west option here back into the shade of the ridge and towards the rock step traversing across another bowl to the base of a 200' ice pitch.  The ice formed a broad apron up a wide gully with an inch or two of snow covering the center of the flow. This was a great pitch protected with five ice screws and it ended on a rocky ridge that forms one side of another snow bowl under the final rock step providing an exit  through the ridge out onto the Ice Cap Glacier.

 The rock step itself held a fair amount of ice in the crevices and several rocks were completely covered with verglass. This made the pitch fun and super secure. It was pure alpine climbing and we protected it with an offset nut, a fixed pin, an ice screw, and used  a couple of pickets to build an anchor above the rock step.  Above the rock step pitch there is another 200' of steep snow to reach the moderate glacier.  It took us 5 hours to finish the 2000' of technical climbing from camp and we took break here to hydrate, fuel, and prepare for the slog up to the summit.

Once on the glacier we headed east towards the summit paralleling the bergschrund in softening snow and then headed south west to get across the bergschrund and onto the top of the ridge.   The route continues in a south east direction following the ridge on wind blown snow eventually trending in a  easterly direction up the mountain.  We followed the moderate glacier terrain reaching the summit ten hours and 4200' after leaving camp on a beautiful crystal clear blue sky day.  The sun was bright and warm and we took a break at the col between Liberty Cap and Columbia Crest.

 The three hour descent down to camp Schurman down the standard Emmons route was uneventful.  The recent new snow was soft and made for an easy trip down.  We melted snow for water at camp Schurman before the short climb up to the Inter Glacier and descent down to Glacier Basin. I glissaded down Inter Glacier, keeping up with a group of skiers descending the glacier, and we hiked out the final few miles on the Glacier Basin Trail.   It took 2:15 to get from the Camp Schurman down to the Trail Head.

 This is an amazing climb, in a dramatic committing setting, and one of the few climbs of it's stature that you can do in without seeing multitudes of other parties on the route.


60m rope
2 tools, helmet, harness, crampons each
6 ice screws (used 5)
3 DMM offset nuts (used 1)
2 pitons (used fixed pitons)
4 pickets (used 3)
1 #2 BD cam (didn't use but rock step was iced up and may have used if climbed later in the year)
Crevasse Rescue Gear, shovel

 I have a more detailed and longer write up with gps tracks, photos, and additional observations and learnings that I would be happy to share if anyone is interested. Just let me know.