Part 3 of this three part Cascade climbing series will cover climbing the Disappointment Cleaver Route on Mount Rainier.
Part 3: The Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
To finish off our hat trick of Cascade climbs we left the northern Cascades and returned to Seattle to pick up some friends before heading to Ashford, WA, the gateway to Mount Rainier National Park. The drive to Ashford from Seattle takes just under two hours. Most of our group had reserved cabins at the Stone Creek Lodge just minutes from the park entrance. My climbing partner and I had space reserved at the Cougar Rock Campground about 20 minutes within the park boundary.
We went for the second half of July and were lucky to nail a stretch of excellent weather. June, July, and August can all offer great summer alpine climbing conditions with June being a bit colder and wetter and August opening up a bit more crevasses on the glaciers. For mountain specific weather forecasts on Mount Rainier go here:
Day 1: Paradise to Moon Rocks
After a very hearty breakfast at the highly recommended Copper Creek Restaurant we made the scenic drive up to Paradise, the launch pad of adventures on the south side of Mount Rainier. Paradise is a very busy hub of mountain recreation with apparently thousands of visitors a day. We had picked up our permit the day before so we got right on the trail and started our ascent. While I forgot to run my GPS app or watch this day I’ve created a GPX file on CalTopo of the most common route and used the GuidePace App to calculate average times for each leg.
Distance 1.55 miles, elevation (+1300), time estimate 1 hour 37 minutes
Be warned this first section of “trail” is quite congested with day visitors from all over the world. The trail is actually paved for the first mile and a heavy ranger presence tries as best as possible to keep visitors from trampling the beautiful alpine meadows here. Once you reach the Pebble Creek trail the crowd will thin a little…
Distance .55 miles, elevation (+530), time estimate 38 minutes
Distance 1.28 miles, elevation (+1680), time estimate 1 hour 48 minutes
Shortly after gaining the Pebble Creek Trail you’ll come to the actual creek which was a reliable source of water for us to top off our bottles. Right after crossing the creek you start the long slog up the Muir Snowfield. This leg can drag on a little but eventually we reached our camp. After digging some level tent platforms at about 8800 feet we kicked back and soaked in a gorgeous sunset.
Day 2: Moon Rocks to Ingraham Flats
We broke camp mid-morning and started our climb up to Ingraham Flats. The day before I had found a trickle of running water in rocks a few hundred feet above our site and I was happy to see it was still running enough in the morning to top off our bottles, greatly reducing the amount of fuel/snow melting we would need. We reached Camp Muir in just over an hour. We relaxed for a bit before roping up to cross the Cowlitz Glacier.
Crossing the upper Cowlitz Glacier was straightforward and we were soon scrambling up the ridge that separates the Cowlitz from the Ingraham glacier.
Total climbing time to Ingraham was about 3 hours from our camp at Moon Rocks so we had plenty of time to level sites and dig a privy before settling in.
Day 3- Acclimatization and Crevasse Rescue Practice
Our third day on the peak was set aside for acclimatizing and a little crevasse rescue practice. Late in the morning we made our way down to the giant crevasses just below our camp and set to building snow anchors and lowering each other into the crevasse. This would certainly be a highlight for many on the trip!
Later that afternoon before turning in we got to watch a pretty spectacular natural rockfall from Gilbratar Rock!
After hydrating and eating as much as I could we turned in well before sunset as our summit day start time was 2300 (11 PM)! Everyone was feeling pretty strong after a full rest day at 11,000 feet but we knew the following day would be a long one!
Day 4: Summit and Out!
We rallied at 11 PM and quickly got on the trail by 11:30 PM. A couple of groups had passed through on their summit attempts from Camp Muir and I was eager to not get behind more parties.
We made good time up the cleaver and entered the mythical looking sastrugi above the ridge.
The route the rangers and guides had selected greatly reduced exposure to objective hazards but required dropping 400 feet of elevation after getting above the Cleaver and then far to the north eventually joining up with the Emmon’s Glacier route before turning and gaining the summit crater on the far north side. Despite the extra mileage and elevation we managed to pass the few parties that had gotten out ahead of us. We were the first group on the mountain to summit about 15 minutes before sunrise, about 6 hours after leaving our high camp!
One of the best things about summiting a peak in the dark is the views on the descent are all unseen and we were treated to stunning clear skies and under-cast for days!
After climbing back down the Cleaver we arrived at Ingraham Flats exactly 9.5 hours from the start of our climb, about 9 AM. We broke down camp and rested for a bit before descending to Muir Camp and all the way out to Paradise.
Rainier has been on my bucket list for a very long time. I’ve helped east coast climbers prep for this mountain for over a decade and it was great to finally experience this peak with such great people and in such great conditions. I hope this trip report and guide might help you plan a trip to this incredible place someday!
More info coming!
I will be uploading GPX files and some video of our climb in the very near future!
If you are interested in the exact gear I used on this trip you can find a complete and comprehensive gear list here!
Information on Guided Trips: www.nemmountaineering.com. Click on “Mountaineering” to see all Cascade Climbing Trips.
Affiliate links help support this blog.