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North America, United States, Washington—Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, Central Mowich Mountains

Mount Rainier, Central Mowich Face. An ascent of the central part of this broad and steep face was first made July 23 and 24 by Dick Pargeter, Gene Prater, Jim Wickwire and me. This new route differed from the June 1957 route by Beckey, Gordon, Hornbein, Rupley and Staley in that it ascended directly above the North Mowich Glacier and through the system of rock bands at the top of the face. Ice-climbing conditions were ideal in late July; however, any ascent of the face more than a week later would have involved rockfall hazard and considerably more blue ice. The base of the face was reached in 7½ hours from the car at St. Andrews Creek on the West Side Road, via Klapatche and St. Andrews Park, lower Puyallup Cleaver, and a crossing of the Puyallup, South Mowich and Edmunds Glaciers. Our lightweight 4-man tent was pitched at 9600 feet on the crest of a small nunatak between the upper North Mowich and Edmunds Glaciers. While basking in the afternoon sun we were entertained at close proximity by the largest ice avalanche any of us had ever observed on Rainier.

At 5:30 A.M. we left camp and, after crossing the toe of yesterday’s avalanche, tackled the ever steepening slope above. The early part of the ascent was up firm frozen snow whose corrugated surface provided good footing. Gradually patches of blue ice were encountered and we had to swing the axe in places. Generally, our steady upward progress on the 45° to 50° slope was expedited by use of front crampon points. At 13,000 feet the lower of the rock bands was reached via a steep apex of ice. Here, the 12-foot vertical cliff was climbed quickly as icicles and verglas provided incentive to get more secure footing in crusted snow on the ledge above. We traversed the ledge around a narrow corner to the left which placed us in a steep ice chute between the rock bands and the prominent ice cliffbulge that caps the face. After chopping a few steps up the chute and placing one coathanger ice-screw "for looks”, we finally gained the warm sunlight above the face at 11:30 A.M. Following a brief pause to catch our breath and note small figures coming into view on the Ptarmigan Ridge route below, we plodded an hour to 14,112-foot Liberty Cap. Our descent was made via the Tahoma Glacier "Sickle” and over the crest of lower St. Andrews Rock. Extremely slushy snow conditions had us all mentally plunging into bottomless crevasses before we reached Puyallup Cleaver. Arriving at the car at 7:30 P.M., we were once again convinced that a descent of Rainier on a hot summer day is a greater test of nerves than is the ascent.

Dee Molenaar