Peak(s):  Mt. Rainier - 14411
Date Posted:  06/20/2008
Date Climbed:   05/26/2008
Author:  san juaneer
 2008/5/24-27 ~ Mt. Rainier ~ Disappointment Cleaver Route   

14.7 mi.
Jamie Princo, Jamie Nellis, Aaron Ihinger

Several months back, Jamie Princo and I began discussing a visit to the high peaks of Peru in '09. We both knew we could use some glacial travel and rescue skills, and were eager to acquire them, however true glaciers are hard to come by when you live in Colorado. Where in the lower 48 could we go to get some real practice in? He and Jamie Nellis immediately hatched a plan for a 10 day tour of the Cascade Range of the Pacific NorthWest over the coming Memorial Day weekend. The trip was to encompass two or three glacier coated volcanoes and they promptly invited me to join them. I had already had my fair share of vacations over the course of that winter, so 10 days in the coming Spring seemed too long and too soon to even take into consideration, but I was tempted. Mt. Rainier was the big one on their list of potential climbs and it had also been a long time dream of my own to climb it, so I asked Jamie the question "How little time could I take off of work and still have a chance at Rainier with them?"... Jamie quickly worked the math in his head and replied "Well, you would need two flight days either side of four days on the mountain, allowing for one foul weather day window" I hedged still, but then he said "but if we were to fly on Friday night prior to Memorial Day weekend, you'd technically only be missing two days of work"... Leave it to Princo to find a way when there is no way to be found. I struggled with the decision for two days before presenting my dilemma to my business partner. Much to my surprise he responded " I don't care if you take off, so long as everything is covered in the field". Well now, that could surely be arranged. I was now more optimistic about things and the weight seemed to lift from my shoulders. We have two trusted and valued employees working for us and surely I could trust them to hold down the fort for a couple of days. I called Princo back that evening to see if they were ready to commit to the trip so I could purchase my plane tickets. He confirmed that night that he and Nellis were in and would be buying their own tickets the following week. After much internet research, I settled for a fare from Durango and purchased the ticket the next afternoon. Now it was really on!

Hold on now, if I'm gonna climb Rainier, I'm gonna need a whole slew of new gear, because that's a big mountain and it's covered with ice and snow. For the next few weeks it seemed as though money was going out faster than it was coming in and the credit card receipts were piling up around me. I would need a new one man tent, a lower rated sleeping bag, new boots, gaiters, glacier glasses, and on and on and on... Fortunately my mom helped out by offering me her Big Agnes Sarvis Superlite one man tent, but there was still a matter of snow protection, as most of my rock pro. would be useless on a glacier. In the end, Todd Holmes came through for me, offering me several pickets and a fluke along with the know how to use them, and I am eternally indebted to him as well. I still had to get my own Fixe (pullly w/ fixed side plates) and a Croll (ascension device) for crevasse rescue, of which the Jamies were already equipped, nevertheless two thousand dollars later, I began weighing the 'expense versus chance at success' ratio and ponder the prudence of my investments. Less than 50% of first time private parties make the summit on their first effort. Well, perhaps taking these items to Peru as well will help to minimize the cost burden swamping my mind and present budget. Lastly, before tearing into this tale of adventure, I must offer special thanks to Jamie Nellis for tackling the logistical challenges of the trip, and making all of the necessary preparations for our effort. She was able to obtain the rental car, the hotel room, the climbing and camping permits, and also the National Park and outfitter beta we would need to meet with success, so here's to Nellis for a job well done !!! Also regarding Nellis, I should mention that her co-workers endowed her with an honorary chicken which was to be taken to the summit for photo's and it wasn't long before our mascot was to be purported to others as our sponsor. Some people will believe anything you tell them!

TUES. May 20th: Word reached us that the road to the White River campground on the NE side of the mountain would not be open in time for us as expected and after months of planning around a route on the Emmons Glacier, we would have to select an alternate route around to the South. Nellis had also just received word that some friends of hers had just summited successfully on the SE side of the mountain via the Disappointment Cleaver route, so we focused our intentions in that direction. The worst of it was that we would no longer be able to sample the blackberry pie of which Sarah T. had spoken so highly last year up in Greenwater. Oh well, the show must go on!

FRI. May 23rd (down to sea level): All three of us arrived on separate airlines from Denver within 2-1/2 hours of each other. Once convened, we traveled via Pontiac Vibe to our hotel not far from SeaTac and received a good nights rest.

SAT. May 24th (1.9mi. / 1,800'): After a late breakfast, we headed South under mostly clear skies around to the West and South sides of the mountain, working our way toward the Paradise Park Trhd. inside the Mt. Rainier National Park. We stopped off along the way at Whittaker Mountaineering on the left side of the highway for some last minute supplies, namely fuel which we had been unable to bring along on the plane. I had brought two different kinds of stoves along to 'up' my chances of finding compatible canisters. Whittaker's carried GAZ which was one of my options, and the Jamies were able to get white gas for their own stove. Princo grabbed a 'last supper' at the grille out back, while Nellis and I enjoyed a 'last beer'. A block past Whittaker's on the right, there was a little country store where I grabbed a lighter, which was the other thing I had been unable to bring along on the plane. Soon after we entered the National Park and payed the Park fee, for which I felt stupid because I had an annual Pass back at the truck in Durango. Oh well, it goes to a worthy cause, I suppose. It took us a long time to climb the grade up to Paradise with the many scenic pullouts along the winding road, but eventually we reached the trailhead at 5,400'. We wanted to check in and get moving, but the ranger hut was both unoccupied as well as unposted as to where we should go? We headed 300 yards back down the road to the visitor's center (the 'round house') hoping for better luck or service, and there we found the Ranger kiosk where we were able to check in and review our altered plan with the Park Service rangers. By that time it was already after 2:00 pm, but not to worry, we only had 2,200' of vertical in a little more than two miles to reach our intended first camp on the Muir Snowfield, so we drove back up to the upper lot where we lay out all of our gear for inspection and packing. It didn't take long for Princo to realize that his tent poles were amiss, and the mood at the trailhead suddenly went sour. Without much said, Princo made sure we had what we needed from the Vibe and departed back to Whittaker's for an expensive and unexpected rental. Nellis and I sat on our gear in the parking lot for two hours waiting for Princo, and I had another beer. Upon his return, Princo packed up fairly quickly, and at sometime shortly after 5:00 pm, we were off and humping.

Snowhoes were helpful at first in the late afternoon sunbaked slush with all of the extra weight on our backs, and people were all over the place... sledding, sliding, shoeing, building snowmen, and throwing snowballs. One woman struggled for footing whilst carrying an infant close to her breast. Unbelievable, this was a full on National Park parking lot party. We pressed on through the hoards while some stared in amazement at the size of our packs. Mine weighed in at a cool 70 lbs., yet at that looked undervalued and I believe the Jamies were in for something comparable. Eventually, the people gave way to trees, and we veered to the left of Alta Vista hill following the general line of the Skyline Trail toward Panorama Pt. At 6,300', East of Glacier Vista, we decided to cache our snowshoes before the grade steepened up to Panorama Pt. We simply did not want to bother with carrying them if we were presently unable to use them. This was a decision we fortunately did not come to regret. We dug down a couple of feet into the snowfield and buried them, covering them back up with snow and flagging them with two locate markers which Nellis had been carrying, and marked a GPS waypoint on Nellis' receiver just in case. There was a large glissade flume ahead of us, down which someone would periodically come screaming, so we slowly climbed up alongside it. At the top of the flume, we traversed to the left below P. Pt. arriving at the toe of the Muir Snowfield at 7,000'. Lightning began to crack not far off of the ridge to the East of us and black clouds were closing in fast. The sky began to unload heavy blasts of wind and water upon us as I hurried forth to a rock band in the center of the snowfield at 7,200'. It provided some small measure of shelter in the form of nooks to stash gear into, and there I held up to appeal to the senses of the Jamies. I suggested we make camp here to try to keep things dry, but Nellis wanted to climb higher in hopes of dryer precipitation in the form of snowfall, but I was already wet, and she was willing to acquiesce. We struggled to set up the tents in the wind and rain, especially the Jamies who had never even seen their tent before. Adversity was in the air and it didn't bode well for our spirits. It rained heavily at times with nearby lightning flashing throughout most of the night but cleared off right around sunrise. Who knows, maybe 12 hours in the tent was just what we needed to get us back on track.

SUN. May 25th (2.1 mi. / 2,900'): We cooked up and packed up, drying things out as best we could in the now warm and welcome sunshine. I cached some wet clothing along with my second stove for which I had no fuel deep into a nook in the rock band, asking Nellis to mark another GPS waypoint for me and then we moved out. Above the rock band, a descent of forty feet or so brought us to the Pebble Creek crossing, which was the only running water we passed on the mountain but we all had enough to get to Camp Muir, and no one wanted the extra weight anyhow. The Muir Snowfield opened up before us now, sometimes more than 200 yards wide, yet amazingly was covered with foot pack from one side to the other, making it extremely difficult to find an uphill track. The postholes would often throw us off balance beneath our heavy packs and came to be thoroughly frustrating for us. We spoke with several climbing parties returning from Camp Muir who reported that only a couple of successful summit bids had been made during the high winds and storms of the last couple of days. At sometime after 2:00 pm, We arrived at the 10,100' Camp Muir, and it was once again windy and snowing. We were some of the first of the day to arrive at the public shelter and found room in the bunks to make space for our things and ourselves, and not two hours later the place was completely packed with climbers. We spent the afternoon melting snow to fill our water bottles and for cooking dinner, and arranging our packs for summit day. Many friendly and interesting people were congregated here, but everyone was in bed and quiet by 7:00 pm. in hopes of catching some shuteye before midnight. I had foolishly had myself a nice hot mug of cappuccino while packing and would get no sleep prior to the 11:00 pm. wake up call, and I don't believe the Jamies were far more successful than I. The wind and snow continued on throughout the night.

MON. May 26th (6.7mi. / 4,990'): Princo got up at 11:00 pm to check the weather, reporting partial clearing and hellatious winds, so we decided to wait it out a little longer. By 11:30 PM. The cage was a rattle with activity. Everyone was up and gearing up for their climbs and we could only do likewise. At 1:00 am. We were outside roping up in a fog whiteout in the dark. There were three other rope teams around us, all with headlamps beaming this way and that. The team behind us was speaking predominantly in a language unknown to me which I mistook for Russian but would randomly switch back to English periodically, and there were no tracks headed off in our direction of travel. Where did they all go? I was uncomfortable to say the least as I set off on lead into poor visibility and unfamiliar terrain breaking trail. Half way across the Cowlitz Glacier, the team of another language tired of my timid pace and broke off to the high side and took over the lead, which was actually much to my preference. The trailbreaking wasn't bothering me in the least, but the routefinding surely was. They were able to lead us up the steep Cathedral Gap pitch and out onto the Ingraham Glacier to the Ingraham Flats camp at 11,100' in the dark and fog whiteout. Once past the campsites, they stopped to take a break on an abandoned tent ring. The other two teams had fallen behind and were not visible to us at this time back through the dense fog. Knowing the three spoke English, I asked them where they were from. "Chicago" they all chimed, and I chuckled at the absurdity of their response. "I mean originally" I stated, and they responded that two of them were from Poland and one was born in Chicago to polish parents. We exchanged pleasantries and reviewed our mutual plans of attack. It was cold dark and damp out.

Princo set out on lead next and wasn't out long before encountering our first crevasse. He negotiated it well, as did Nellis, and then myself. Princo's pace slowed at the next one and the boys from Chicago passed by us again. At the far middle of the Ingraham Glacier, the clouds lifted enough for us to make out the rock buttresses of the Disappointment Cleaver before us but the snow chutes were too steep for our liking, and half of them were crevassed as well. The polish boys yelled back that we could either continue up the Ingraham Glacier Direct or veer to the right to find our way onto the cleaver but that they were turning up to the left. In retrospect, we should have turned to the right. We were on route and just didn't know it. Headlamps suddenly came into view from behind. The two other teams had caught up in lieu of our indecision. Elevation was gained slowly in the steep and deep snowpack of the Ingraham Direct and all four teams were soon stacked up and waiting for the trailbreaker to do his work. The other two teams fell in line behind us, but all of a sudden after only 400' of vertical gain, the polish team-leader stopped dead in his tracks and reeled in his team to himself. Our team soon joined the spectacle and then one more team behind us, before we finally convinced them to halt the team behind them. We were staring into a gaping bergshrund, deep and blue, which rose like the jokers grin 40' above us to the right, and tapered off into a labyrinth of heaving chasms to the left out towards the belly of the Ingraham. 400' below, a long string of headlamps emerged out of the fog and the leader stopped to yell "Climbers above, there's no route up there", which merely confirmed what we already had seen for ourselves.

By the time we had turned all four teams around and reached the trail below, the dawn light had already struck and we only had 1,100' of gain to show for half a night's meanderings. Worse than that, we were now stuck behind seven rope-teams and on the narrowest section of the entire route, the cleaver itself. On the positive side, the guides had succeeded in pointing us in the right direction, however I was getting cranky because we were at a standstill. Once we finally reached the nose of the DC, I huddled up with the Jamies to express my concerns and that I was leaning towards bailing back to camp to prep for a now better known start on the following morning. We did have a spare day in the budget. The sun was coming up now and it began to shed some much needed warmth on us but the wind came along with it as if to counter its positive effects. The cloud cover was burning off, revealing the spire of Little Tahoma behind us, and we were debating the pros and cons of persisting or bailing. The weather was actually looking up at the moment and we had no guarantee of better weather on the morrow, in fact it could be dismally worse. I was playing my 'lack of energy' card due to lack of sleep and slow progress when Nellis piped up... "I don't have any energy either, but I'm gonna find it somewhere". Her determination inspired me and the tide abruptly turned for me. Suddenly I was ready for the challenge, and I will always remember that moment and hopefully be able to draw upon it in times of need to come... Thank you Jamie Nellis! At 7:00 am. we took a few moments to slather on the sunscreen and mentally prepare for the 3,300' of vertical to come. I lead our team up the DC as slowly as I had to, and as patiently as I could. At sometime around 8:30 am. we topped out on the DC at 12,500', passing through the 'P-Garden' of the large guided party stopped and resting. The Chicago boys passed along to us the wisdom of the guides they were communing with, sharing that the route could be sluffing if the sun were to stay out and weigh upon the snowpack. I was already feeling the freedom of the decongestion and responded that we would assuredly turn around if the sun became a serious concern. Now we were finally free of traffic and the upper headwall of the mountain lay bare and untracked before us. The sun was shining but diffused and I had an abundance of energy for the first time that day.

With renewed enthusiasm, Princo again took the lead switching back and forth between existing wands up the Ingraham / Emmons headwall. We were in 'our' element now, aside from the occasional crevasse to negotiate. Another 6-team guided party cleared the top of the cleaver and followed in our footsteps behind us. The first guided party and the three other teams turned to descend. Halfway up the headwall, The guide and leader of the first team behind us asked if we would like his team to break trail for a while. I responded that that would be fine so long as we didn't have to fall in six teams back. He agreed to let us fall in third team in his party and I accepted. I shouted up the news to the Jamies and we all stepped aside to take a short break. Not far along, at about 13,400', everyone stopped for a breather. The lead guide announced that it was late enough in the day that they would only be doing a 'touch and go' today. That is to reach the crater rim and then descend without truly summiting. The fog-like cloud cap had set in heavily once again, and the guides rearranged their rope teams. A younger first time guide set out with his team in the lead and we fell in second with me to the fore. The young new guide was impatient and set off at an unmanageable pace, verbally flogging his team to keep up. We struggled to keep him in sight, but the other teams were disappearing in the fog behind us. At last, the young guide became unable to find the next wand in front of him through the dense clouds and yelled back for all eyes to look out for it. A wand briefly emerged in my line of sight about 100 yards to his right, so I called it out and once confirmed, he set out for it. He was switching back not 50' above me when the snow bridge either side of him began to collapse. He immediately lay flat and called for his rope-team to hold him taught. He quickly bellied across and suggested that we all turn up to meet him from where we were rather than following his team across the crevasse. Seemed sound advice, so I took one step above the trail and rapidly plunged down to my crotch. Fortuitously, mostly spurred by fear, my body sprang back up like a startled feline and I was spared from the grasp of the cold depths. I then looked back to see Nellis' eyes wide with fright as she pulled the rope taught between us, ready to arrest if need be. We backstepped 20' or so before attempting it again, and this time, without incident, we were safely back in line and moving upward.

It wasn't much longer before we all topped out on the SE corner of the crater rim at 14,200' at 10:30 am. The guides were rounding everyone up to prepare the teams for their descent. Nellis appeared to be ready to do the same. I suspect she was lamenting the loss of the comfort of the guided rope teams either side of us given the lack of visibility. Although I could identify with her, I could also put into perspective that this was going to be our only shot at the summit and it was now my turn to summon the motivation of our team. I told her that I still had ten wands to pay out on the rim and that we could probably still catch them in the middle of their slow descent and at the very least, we would still have their tracks to follow. I told her that she might hate me now, but tomorrow she would surely thank me if we were reach the summit and she conceded. We set off along the South edge of the rim, moving West and then North toward the Crest over some minor ups and downs. There were many open crevasses along the inside of the crater rim, so we stayed along the outer edge where sun and wind had revealed some of the rocks beneath.

At a few minutes past 11:00 am, Memorial Day observed, 2008, we walked onto the summit plateau of Washington State's highpoint. We were shooting summit photo's with chicken when another rope-team of two Frenchmen arrived. Deed done, we didn't waste much time celebrating. We doubled back down the crater rim to the South and East, collecting my wands as we went. The clouds lifted enough on a couple of occasions for us to catch a glimpse into the crater but we were back in white out conditions for most of the stretch back to the top of the DC. The sun now shone brightly on the cleaver, so we slathered on more sunscreen and resumed our descent. The snow was softening rapidly and the fixed lines seemed more appropriate than they had that morning. Half of our ascent tracks from the misadventure on the Ingraham Direct that morning had already been erased by avalanche activity, signaling that it was indeed well past time to be off the glacier, so we scampered back over to Ingraham Flats on the far side of the glacier. The afternoon sun was fully ablaze now and the views opened up in all directions. Little Tahoma was stunning with clouds enveloping its summit spire and then dissipating into the clear blue sky. We stopped briefly at the Cathedral Gap to admire a brilliant display of m&m‘s left merely to melt in the snow, before descending steeply onto the Cowlitz Glacier for the gentle ascent to Muir. At 3:00 pm, just minutes from camp, the clouds closed in again and it began to snow and it would not abate until the middle of the night. The Chicago boys were the only ones left at the public shelter upon our return, and they were busily prepping for another attempt on the following morning. We relaxed, congratulated, reminisced, dried out, ate, and readied for bed. A girl named Stacia from Alaska soon arrived and her father shortly thereafter, with three more in their party to arrive by nightfall but I missed their arrival because I was ASLEEP!

TUES. May 27th (4 mi. / 60') We awakened to bright sunny skies and busied ourselves melting snow and packing up for the hike out. At 9:30 am, we said goodbye to our newfound friends as their teammate Eric S. made some beautiful turns on his snowboard down the Muir Snowfield in 8"s of new snow. We plungestepped downward with clouds rolling in and out until I reached our first scavenger hunt location, cache #2, the stove and cotton wares next to camp 1 at 7,200'. There I waited for the Jamies before descending further. Below Panorama Pt., the Jamies enjoyed the glissade flume while I watched and shook my head, then we all made for cache #1, the snowshoes at 6,300'. We had just come from 8"s of new snow above down to 8"s less snow down below and parts of the snowshoes were now visible through the snowpack. Still, the locates were in place and no one had been around them. We dug them up and put them back on because again, no one wanted to carry them for the final push back to the car. Arriving just after 12:00 pm, we changed clothes and loaded up the car. We then drove back down to the visitor's center to check out and get some nachos and a Rainier beer. The chicken made a cameo appearance in the food court, much to the elation of the staff and there we received some much needed caloric replenishment. Driving back to Seattle, we dropped the rental tent back at Whittaker's and the Jamies picked up some souvenirs. Once back at the hotel near SeaTac, we showered up for a night on the town. We started out at the Pike Brewery with a tasty dinner and some xxxxx stout, then moved on to a tour of the wharf, the Space Needle, and finally the Science Fiction Museum and when enough was enough, we headed back to the hotel for a full night's sleep.

WED. May 28th : In the morning, I packed up for my flight and said goodbyes to Nellis, then Princo dropped me off at SeaTac for my return flight. I wished Princo well on Mt. Hood and as I understand it, that's just what they have done. From Seattle to Denver to Durango I flew, arriving home in Telluride just after 10:00pm. After working Thursday and Friday, This report is all I have accomplished this weekend. I suppose that is ok.

What a great trip!
Many thanks to the Jamies!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4

Comments or Questions

Great report!
06/22/2008 13:51
Congratulations on your successful summit, I just have one question, where is the photo of your sponsor?

here you go
06/22/2008 15:38
our trip was sponsored by santa claus


Um, I believe
06/23/2008 04:53
he is talking about ‘chicken‘.
Here is his summit photo:

and the rest of our photos are here if anyone is interested:


You guys are nutz....
06/23/2008 12:54
You are telling me that you carried that thing all the way up to the summit? You guys are nutz.... in a fun way. Thanks again for posting.

   Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2021®, 14ers Inc.