American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Washington, Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, North Mowich Face

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1969

Mount Rainier, North Mowich Face. The Mowich face can be divided into three distinct sections: the south side (on the right) which is basically a smooth steep snow and ice slope its whole length, the central portion which is another smooth steep snow and ice slope but which is capped by a series of rock bands, and the north side (on the left) which is also predominantly a smooth steep snow and ice slope but which also has a significant rock cliff at the bottom and several more at the top and is finally capped by a vertical ice cliff. These three sections are divided by systems of rock protrusions. The south and central sections were first climbed in 1957 and 1966 respectively, leaving only the north section (the North Mowich Face) unclimbed. Our party of Mike Heath, Mead Hargiss, Bill Cockerham and me completed the first ascent of this route on July 22. As on other Mowich Face routes Our approach was long, starting at St. Andrews Creek on the West Side Road and then via Klapatche Park, St. Andrews Park, lower Puyallup Cleaver, and crossing the Puyallup, South Mowich, and finally Edmunds Glaciers. A comfortable bivouac was had at 9200 feet at the top of a rock ridge which separates the Edmunds and North Mowich Glaciers. From our bivouac we dropped down to the North Mowich Glacier and then angled up the gentle glacier to the concave bowl at the beginning of our route. This bowl is directly below the ice cliff at the top of the face. We quickly crossed the bergschrund at its only passable spot and immediately found ourselves climbing on the representative 40° to 50° snow and ice slopes. Very soon we arrived at our first real challenge, a nearly vertical band of typical crumbly Rainier rock, which fortunately was broken by an “hourglass” of very steep ice and ice-covered rock. We finally all got up this after a fair amount of "twelve-pointing," step-chopping, and one Salewa ice screw for safety. From the "hourglass” we continued to head pretty much straight up toward the ice cliff. When we reached the rock cliff at the base of the ice cliff, we angled up right as high as we could go, on the now considerably steeper and harder ice, and picked out the most reasonable route up the 50-foot rock cliff. This rock cliff seemed to be solid at the base (even enjoyable except for the cold, and in one place the icicle handholds) but was pure "crud" at the upper half. Mead found the pitch particularly interesting with his glasses getting broken by falling ice as he led the pitch. It was hard class 5 or easy class 6, and those pitons which didn’t fall out were left in. The rock band brought us to the base of the steep ice slopes immediately right of the vertical ice cliff, and the final 600 feet of difficult climbing were up these steep ice slopes before they started rounding off onto Liberty Cap Glacier. About five more Salewa ice screws were used on this final ice slope. Only a long slog in a cold wind remained for us to get to Liberty Cap. Our descent was made via the Tahoma Glacier, which also gave some problems when we got off route. This North Mowich Face is definitely one of the hardest routes on Mount Rainier, or at least it seemed so on this first ascent.

Daniel R. Davis

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