American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Washington, Mowich Face

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1958

Mowich Face. Rising steeply in a nearly smooth wall of ice and incipient rock-ridges, about two miles across and 4000 feet high, the northwest face of Mount Rainier directly above the heads of North Mowich and Edmunds glaciers has long discouraged efforts to pursue a new route. For most of the summer months this vast 35° to 50° wall is swept by slithering snow-, ice-, and rock-avalanches and its usual aspect is one of smooth glare ice. (See AAJ 1957, photo: "Routes of Ascents on die West Side of Mount Rainier.” The new route ascends directly above the head of Edmunds Glacier to Liberty Cap and is on the face north of the Sunset Ridge route.) On June 22-23, a few days after a fresh snowfall had thawed and refrozen on the upper slopes, an experienced party, composed of Fred Beckey, Don Claunch, Dr. Tom Hornbein, John Rupley, and Herb Staley, made the first attempt to scale this face. The party hiked in to Klapatche and St. Andrews parks from the West Side road and then climbed to the head of Colonnade Ridge, where an 8200-foot camp was pitched late that evening. At 5 A.M. the following morning they crossed the ice breakups of South Mowich Glacier to reach the base of the Sunset Ridge route. After ascending the lower snow slopes of this ridge, they traversed westward onto the upper reaches of Edmunds Glacier. Here long bergschrunds and crevasses forced them to contour to the center of Edmunds Glacier before they could begin the ascent of the face itself. Once above the upper bergschrund, their major problem was kicking steps directly up the ever-steepening face of crusty ice overlying powder snow. Axe belays and ice pitons were of little value in the crusty surface. The upper slope reached the angle of about 50° before rounding off toward the crest. Thickening clouds rose with the climbers, and at 2:30 P.M. when they reached Liberty Cap they found visibility so limited that their plans to descend via Tahoma Glacier had to be abandoned. Suffice it to say that the descent of Mowlich Face must be considered as great an accomplishment as the ascent.

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