Kautz Glacier on Mt Rainier (late-June 1996)

We attempted Rainier via the Kautz Glacier. We left Paradise at around 10 on Saturday. From here, it's a long slog (6000 ft in elevation) up to Camp Hazard (11,400 ft), below a stunning ice cliff formed by the Upper Kautz glacier. We made pretty good time to camp, as the freezing level had been low lately so we had pretty solid snow. It took us 8 1/2 hours to reach camp. By the time we got there, we were all pretty beat, but one of our party was in particularly bad shape. Setting up camp and melting snow was a huge pain in the relatively high winds. We could've done a better job of delegating tasks, so others could rest. By 10, we had melted water, eaten dinner, and were ready for sleep. Given the condition of the party, I was pretty sure we had no chance of making the summit the next day. Before we slept, we discussed our chances, and nobody seemed to positive about our prospects. Two of us felt pretty good, but one of the party was really pretty out of it. His problem was not that he wasn't fit (he's actually quite fit), but rather that he hadn't gotten adequate rest before the trip. He also (in my opinion) didn't pay enough attention to his body and eat and drink plenty during the day. As it was, he had basically hit the wall and I didn't see him recovering by 2 in the morning.

We set the alarm for 4, which pretty much put the summit out of reach. I had a fitful nights rest, getting constantly biffed by the flapping tent, which wasn't totally adequate, given the windy conditions. We awoke and spent what must be a record 3 hours readying ourselves. By this point we'd resigned ourselves to trying to climb the ice-chute (the hardest part of the climb) and check out the glacier above. I was pretty frustrated by the time we left. We dropped down a narrow ice-avalanche chute from the camp until we could traverse under an ice finger and into the chute proper. Here we climbed the moderately steep (45 degrees?) slopes of the chute, placing running pro (snow flukes). The conditions could've been better: the snow consisted of a couple inches of crust on top of unconsolodated snow, on top of hard snow/ice (sometimes could penetrate this layer with a fluke). However, kicking through the crust let the crampons bite into the firm crust layer, which made me feel secure, but was tiring.

We climbed about 1000 feet (to around 12,200), stopping when the slopes eased up. At this point, we got some sun, ate some snacks, and descended. Getting down was something of a pain, and I wouldn't want to do it late in the day. On the way back, rather than dropping below the ice finger and traversing into and climbing the dangerous avalanche chute, we found that we could traverse directly over the ice finger, on ledges, and then quickly dash across the avalanche chute to camp.

The walk back to Paradise took a quick 3 hours. The snow was mashed potatoes by now (freezing level had moved up to 10,000 feet). All in all, the trip was a great time. The weather was beautiful, the views were stunning, and the route was uncroweded.


Rope, ice axes, crampons, 4 flukes, 2 ice screws, random crevasse rescue gear.