American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Washington, Curtis Ridge

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

Curtis Ridge. Without doubt the most frequently attempted and eagerly sought route on Mount Rainier over the past 25 years has been Curtis Ridge on the northeast side. Separating Winthrop Glacier from Willis Wall and Carbon Glacier, this steep and crumbling ridge has thwarted over a dozen serious efforts to go higher than 11,000 feet, merely by virtue of an almost continual barrage of rock which falls during all periods of the climbing season. It was not until July 20-21 that two men from the Yakima Cascadians, Marcel Schuster and Gene Prater, found the favorable conditions under which to complete the ascent. Recent new snow had become well consolidated and offered a solid footing and a binding material to hold the rocks in place. (See AAJ 1957, photos showing the Curtis Ridge route. Continue the route-line to the summit dome above Willis Wall.) They followed the usual approach to lower Curtis Ridge via White River Campground, Glacier Basin, St. Elmo’s Pass, and a traverse of the lower Winthrop Glacier. Camp was pitched near a small tarn at 8000 feet on lower Curtis Ridge. A reconnaissance that afternoon by Prater and Bob McCall, of the support party, showed frozen new snow covering the scree slopes above. The clean condition of the snow indicated that very little rock was falling. At 4:30 A.M. next morning Schuster and Prater left camp. A long rappel off the north face of the big gendarme at 10,300 feet was followed by a traverse upward along its north flank, which brought them to the knife-edged ridge. This sharp crest offered no problems from 10,000 to 11,000 feet, except for another gendarme and two more drop-offs. The crux of the whole climb was a rock cliff which intersected the ridge at 11,000 feet and had to be overcome with a shoulder stand, pitons, and stirrups. Above, progress was rapid and the next major cliff was by-passed to the right. An open snow slope and then a series of snow-filled gullies brought the climbers at 1:30 P.M. to 12,500 feet and the summit snow cap of Russell Cliff. Curtis Ridge was finally conquered. The ascent to the crater rim and summit was completed at 5 P.M. and two hours later Schuster and Prater rejoined their support party below St. Elmo’s Pass after a descent via Emmons Glacier.

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