Mt. Rainier Via Kautz Route
How It all Started
This is where it all began, and to be honest it was a harsher taste of reality that what I ever expected. I woke up one day deciding I wanted to become a mountaineer and began reading any information related to the subject and how to best prepare. Mind you Im a pretty fit individual, having excercised most of my life. That being said I thought this would be a breeze...
I had recently read "No Short Cuts to the Top" by Ed Veistures and figured that if I wanted to get to big Himalayan mountaineering, id better start with something like Rainier. Rainier has many routes ranging in different difficulties and popularity. By far the most popular is the DC route which sees about 3/4 of the summit attempts, the second is the Emounds route followed by the much less frequently travelled Kautz route. I ended up signing up with RMI To climb via the Kautz on a skills seminar. I had 4 months to train, but little did I know my idea of training would be a detriment to my first climb.
Some facts on the Kautz Route:
- It sees 3% of the summit attempts on Rainier
- It is considered a more difficult and technical route compared to the Emmonds or DC route due to the Ice chute, lack of established trail and navigation of terrain.
- Kautz chute when melted is made up of two 40 to 50 degree ice pitches.
- We took the up and over route due to hot weather and danger of rock/ice fall on the kautz( ascending up the Kautz, summiting and descending down the DC route).
I was never much of a runner(mistake No.1) but I did enjoy cycling, so every weekend id ride for about 2 hours. I also focused on doing full body, weight lifting work outs during the week. I kept this up for the first 2 months and then had the bright idea to head out to the Everglades in a alligator infested paved trail and walked 15 miles with a 50lb pack in the middle of the summer(mistake No.2) with little more than a box of Wheat Thins for my buddy Carlos and I. We started at 5am and finished at 1pm with massive sunburns, and destroyed feet. The next day I couldn't walk and realized I had stress fractures on both feet from the pounding of the pavement and the shoes I was using. This was a huge blow to my already crappy training. I could no longer do any workouts that would put any stress on my feet. That pretty much limited me to swimming, bench press, and a few ab work outs. By now I had 6 weeks till the trip and I was having a hard time believing it would come to fruition. I kept icing every day, wrapping my feet in order to be able to go to work and resting as much as possible when I got home.
Eventually I was able to get on a bike and start cycling on a very easy gear. Realizing I had very little time left, I was waking up everyday at 4am do get at least an hour cycle before heading off to work. With just about a week before the trip my feet where feeling a lot better and i was finally able to do some jogging but my training up until the day I was to take my flight was shit. So I crossed my fingers and hoped everything would work out.......In hindsight it did but not without a whole lot of suffering.
I flew Miami to Seattle with all my gear and took a Taxi all the way to Ashford, got checked into the Whittaker Bunk house at about 1am and tried getting some rest that night.
The next morning I met the guys as well as the guides that I will be joining on the Rainer climb. We all introduced our selves, every one had come in groups except me(i was the only looser that couldn't convince any one to join me). It was a total of 8 clients and 4 guides. I was a bit nervous at first but felt a huge relief when i found out only 2 of the clients had any previous climbing experience. Later on that day we did some gear check and started to go over some basic techniques and knots, chatted for a while on what to expect and called it a day.
We where to get up early the next day and do some training on the actual mountain. I was very excited being that the past 2 days I hadn't been able to get even a glimpse of Rainier. We had a quick breakfast, loaded our gear on the van and headed out to Paradise. After a short while, there it was, in all its glory, Mt Rainier. I thought to my self " holy shit, this is one hell of a mountain". We eventually pulled up to the parking lot grabbed our bags and started our day hike to the snow field where we would put some skills to practice. It was an awesome day to say the least. We did some self arrest, glissading and crevasse rescue. Once we where done we hiked back to the parking lot and headed to the bunk house to get our final nights rest before heading out for the real climb. That night I hardly slept. The anxiety had me up the walls. I checked my gear list about 6 times, packing and un packing to makes sure I wasn't missing anything, got about 2 hours of sleep and jumped out of bed as soon as I heard my alarm go off. I went to the small cafeteria to pick up a breakfast sandwich, got all my gear ready and began loading all our stuff onto the van. We drove to Mt Rainer once again but this time it was for real.
Day 1 of the Climb
We started our hike through some beautiful meadows and about a mile later switched to a less traveled trail where we headed towards the Nisqually Glacier. We scrambled up some rocks and dropped right on to the glacier. Right away we put on our harnesses, crampons and helmets and roped up to one of the guides. Being that this was late into the summer, the crevasses had really opened up and required some skill to navigate the deadly cracks. I was ecstatic, which lasted all about 15 minutes till we we got to "the fan" , which reminded me how crappy my training really was. About an hour in I was smoked, my quads where pumped and for the first time I began second guessing my self. I didn't know how I was going to keep going for the next 3 days, but I knew I couldn't quit now. None the less on our next break spot 2 of our fellow climbers decided to turn around, not feeling so well. One had developed a nasty cough and was having troubles with his knee and the other pulled his groin. While the others turned back we continued trudging along till we got to our first camp at 9,400' . (Mind you mountaineering is pretty uneventful, it usually consist of walking at a VERY slow pace for hours on end up steep sections of the mountain).
It was a rocky area with amazing views of Rainier National Park, at the distance you could also see Mt. St Helen and Mt. Adams. I finally understood why I was there and why I would keep going back to the mountains. The weather was perfect with not a cloud in the sky. Our guides suggested we sleep outside the tents right on the rocks, which gave us the best sunset views imaginable right from our sleeping bags! We had dinner (I'm no fan of freeze dried meals! At the bottom of the blog you can find some food suggestions) cleaned our selves up a bit and tucked into our bags for a nights rest.
My first night at altitude proved to be a bit of a challenge to get some sleep in. I woke up a few times feeling a bit out of breath, that and the fact that I had mountain mice constantly trying to get in my pack and eat my food. We where up early and got to see the shadow of the mountain during the sunrise. It was also pretty awesome to see we where above the clouds. We had a quick break fast, packed up our gear and set out to our next camp. It was a short day, about 5 hours worth of climbing till we arrived at camp hazard. The views here got even better! We had a nice view of the chute and the glacier below it full of massive crevasses (every 30 min we would hear the loud noise of rock falling from the chute. Due to the heat, a lot of the ice was melting and sending the rocks loose). The guides got us together to have a pow-wow, being that the next day we would be going up the chute, there would be no turning around after this. Therefore decisions had to be made and anyone considering backing out would have to do so now. I was pretty darn tired and my legs had taken a beating but there was no way I was turning back, this is exactly what I paid for. Once again we where told to enjoy the wonderful weather and sleep outside the tents. The night sky was littered with stars like I had never seen before, it was amazing. Shortly after the sunset I was sound asleep getting some rest to take on the next days challenge.
The Kautz Chute
We woke up early in the morning to take advantage of the cold weather and get up the chute before the sun came out and the rock fall began. We packed our stuff quickly and belayed down a short section of rock before landing on the glacier. It was an incredibly massive glacier full of features like I had never seen before. I was falling more in love with this mountain with every passing day(I also hated it at times when I was exhausted and my legs seemed to go out of service). We finally made our way to the chute, the guides would pitch the first sections, place an ice screw and we would follow their lead. It was quite an adventure, we where front pointing with our crampons using our ice axe on one hand and an aggressive ice tool on the other. This made for a nice change from the usual slog up the snow fields. It took some time to get up the 2 pitches on the cute but when we finally did it was well worth it. we had arrived at our high camp.
This day we had some extra time to spare so two of the guides took some time to teach us avalanche transceiver skills, as well as how to set up pickets for a crease rescue. It truly was a great learning opportunity, knowing where i wanted to go with mountaineering I soaked up every bit of knowledge they dropped on us. Our sleeping spot where we would put our bags was right in front of these massively cool penitentes. Being from Miami (where we live at sea level) I could of never imagined sleeping on a mountain at 13,000'.
Through out the trip the guides kept stressing how important it was to rest step correctly or how the mountain would kick your ass if you didn't. Well for the first 3 days the mountain kicked my ass because I couldn't keep a consistent rest step pace!(as stupid as that sounds). But given we where about to go on our summit push in the next few hours, I was set out to perfect my rest step. Laying on my sleeping bag I would imagine my self making my way to the summit making sure I had a flawless rest step, one foot in front of the other, with out rushing it or tripping on the rope until I finally fell asleep for the night.
It was 2am, head lamps where on and it was way colder than what I had anticipated. I threw own every single layer of clothing I had, packed my bags, put on my harness and crampons and sat there until it was time to go. I was dying to get moving to produce some body heat, my toes where hurting and I was shivering. Once we start moving with only the small circle my head lamp illuminated my only focus was following the foot steps in front of me. This was a heavily crevassed area and required some very good navigating skills, especially in the dark.
Just as I had practiced in my head the night before, my rest step was perfect and I was feeling better than ever. Before I knew it, the lead guide turns to me and says " do you know where we are?", being that it was still dark out, I had absolutely no idea. Turns out we had made it to the top. What a feeling that was! I couldn't believe I had made it, despite my terrible training (and a lot of suffering) I had summited! We stayed at the top for about an hour waiting for the sunrise, taking in the views and getting some group pictures. Since Rainier is a volcano, the summit is this huge crater with steam rising. Definitely worth making it to the top.
After a short while at the top, it was time to start heading down. At first it seemed pretty easy compared to going up hill but it didn't take long to realize that it was going to suck. Going down hill for 7-9 hours with a 50-60lb pack will take a toll on your knees and tibia. I soon began to feel it and due to my lack of training, my muscles where already fatigued from the previous days. Starting off it was painful, then it got worst and finally my knees began to buckle. What a terrible feeling that was. I had no idea how I was going to make it down. When we made it to Camp Muir I was destroyed. The lack of training more so the lack of running didn't prepare my knees for the pounding they would experience on this trip. After some very long hours of wobbling down the snow fields, I had finally made it to the paradise parking lot. What a relief! I sat on the bench, pulled of my boots and just let the whole experience sink in. What a ride it was. We then loaded everything back on to the bus and headed back to the bunk house where we would celebrate with some much wanted pizza and ice cold beer!
The climb is definitely doable but lots of training is required. I highly recommend it because it is so different and much more intense than any other mountain I've climbed in the US(climbs I did after Rainier). The mountain has all the features you would want to see and probably will see in other bigger mountains outside the US including crevasses, seracs, glacier ect.
It took some time for me to finally recover (especially my knees) but I was very motivated to learn from my mistakes and change what i need to change in order to kick ass on my next climb (see the Mt Shasta article). I changed my training and focused heavily on rehabbing my knees , you can find out a lot more about my training regimen on the training page.
Heres a list of the gear I used, the places I stayed and the cost break down of the trip:
- La Sportiva Evo Nepal boots
- 1 pair Point 6 light weight socks
- 1 pair Point 6 medium weight socks
- Mountain Hardware Super Chockstone Pant (soft shell)
- Bight Gear Solstice Hoody Men's (base layer)
- Men's Alpha Ascender Hoody (soft shell)
- Mountain Hardwear Nilas Parka (insulating layer)
- Mountain Hardwear Micro Dome (insulating warm hat)
- Marmot Men's Windstopper Glove (light weight)
- Marmot Men's Randonnee Glove (medium weight)
- Julbo Tamang Glacier Glasses
- Black Diamond Climbing Helmet
- Black Diamond Couloir Harness
- Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe
- Black Diamond Viper Ice Tool
- Avalanche Transceiver
- Black Diamond Sabertooth Clip Crampons
- Osprey 85 Pack
- Mountain Hardware 3 degrees sleeping bag
Being that I came alone, it didn't make sense for to rent a car and have it sitting at the bunk house for 4 days. Therefore I was recommended to contact Kevin, a local taxi driver that takes most climbers to Ashford from the Seattle air port. It was a bit pricey but a lot cheaper than having rented a car.
At Ashford I stayed in the Whittaker Bunk house the entire time we where there. The accommodation where perfect and it is pretty cool to chat with the climbers that just came back from the mountain and hear their experiences.
As for eating RMI conveniently has a restaurant in the same location as the bunk house where you can get a nice meal at a fair price as well as some cold cold beer!
Cost Break Down:
(Note: Mt Rainier is a pricey mountain to climb if you are going with a guided company, most other mountains in the continental US are much cheaper to climb.)
- RMI Guide service- $2,240.00 (+ tip for guides)
- RMI Meal Plan- $224.00
- Rental Gear- $644.00
- Purchased Gear- $856.00 (First time Purchases)
- Bunk house- $150.00 (3 Nights)
- Extra food not included in meal plan- $88.00
Total: Approx $4,202.00