American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Washington, Wilson Glacier Headwall

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

Wilson Glacier Headwall. Few unclimbed and untried routes remain on the popular Paradise side of Mount Rainier. Wilson Glacier heads in a steep-walled cirque at about 10,000 feet and then flows into Nis- qually Glacier below 8500 feet. Above the head of Wilson Glacier a series of steep couloirs climbs upward to join in a rather broad icefield pocketed beneath the 13,000-foot top of Wapowety Cleaver. Only 15 years ago this now quite inactive, ablated ice slope was a hanging lobe of thick ice fed by Kautz Glacier to the west. It terminated in an ice cliff which overhung the lower couloirs. Only the frequent slides of loose rock and fresh snow and occasional fragments of ice from the eastern end of the Kautz Ice Cliff down the couloirs attest to the former glories of immense ice avalanches. (See AAJ 1957, photo: "Routes of Ascents on South Side of Mount Rainier.” The new route ascends about halfway between the Kautz and the Fuhrer Finger routes.) This route was first climbed July 20-21 by Pete Schoening and Dee Molenaar under ideal conditions, with a recent snowfall well consolidated to the ice and over the loose rock. We left Paradise Valley at 2:45 P.M., crossed Nisqually Glacier and ascended along the western edge of Wilson Glacier rapidly. After detouring around the right end of the bergschrund at the head of the glacier, we worked back and up into the central couloir, keeping close to the rock cliff at one side to avoid possible rock and ice debris. A 15-foot cliff across an avalanche-scarred constriction required delicate climbing on rock with crampons, made quickly with frequent wary glances upward. Once above this exposed gully, we climbed higher and into the protection of an overhanging rock wall. Here at 11,000 feet a narrow platform was leveled and a bivouac made at 8 P.M. After a restless but beautiful night we continued upward at 2:30 A.M. A steep diagonal traverse of the frozen snow-covered surface of the upper ice slope, followed by intermittent ice and rock climbing brought us to the top of Wapowety Cleaver by sunrise. The crater rim was reached at 6:15 A.M. After a brief pause we descended by the Gibraltar route, reaching Paradise Valley at 10 A.M.

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