American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Washington, A Westside Traverse of Mt. Rainier

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1950

United States: Climbs

A Westside Traverse of Mt. Rainier. In the course of an ascent of the Tahoma Glacier on the W. side of Rainier in 1948, George Senner’s and my interests were drawn to the rugged and seldom visited Sunset Amphitheatre and to what looked like a feasible route up Sunset Ridge on the left border of the huge cirque. The fact that the route had been climbed in 1938, by L. Boyer, A. Campbell and D. Woods, did not lessen our interest.

On 9 August 1949 we climbed out of the lowland fog through Sunset Park and out to the end of Colonnade Cleaver. At 8300 ft. we made high camp. This put us at the base of Sunset Ridge, which leads up to Liberty Cap (14,112 ft.), the lowest of Rainier’s three summits. Starting at 3.30 A.M. the next day, we dropped down across the S. Mowich Glacier and ascended 1500-ft., 40-degree slope of névé and ice. This tapered out to a crevassed area. An overhanging bergschrund, which cut across the base of all the couloirs extending above the small cirque, yielded to coercion by means of an ice-axe. We continued about 2000 ft. up a 45-degree slope until we hit the ridge proper. On a small pinnacle, where we had to drop down and make our way around some very rotten rock, we found an old sling rope left by the previous party. Now a 600-ft. ice slope, at 50-55 degrees, was all that lay between us and the summit ridge. The thought of losing 4000 ft. of elevation, and the inadequacy of our supply of Band-Aids, made us stamp our crampons in extra hard. A few outcroppings of rock served as belay points and made ice pitons unnecessary. We reached Liberty Cap at 12.30 P.M.

Rather than return the same way, we decided to descend by the Tahoma Glacier. At times, we doubted the wisdom of our choice. The glacier was much more broken up than it had been the previous year, and we spent considerable time finding a route through or around bad areas. We were greatly relieved to reach St. Andrews rock—which added its bit to the difficulties by having the consistency of brown sugar. At 7.00 P.M. we were back at high camp, and three hours later we were throwing our packs in the car with a feeling of satisfaction on having completed this traverse.

C. Molenaar

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