Full Trip Report: https://engineeredforadventure.com/kautz-emmons-traverse-mt-rainier/
I had been away from skiing in Washington for prime ski mountaineering season; granted, it was because I went to climb Denali, so I shouldn't complain too much...but still, I had built up some stoke for the next high pressure window. Nick and I threw around a bunch of ideas, but most of them revolved around Rainier. It was supposed to be HOT...we needed to get up high. The set up seemed ideal for some volcano corn harvesting, so we set our sights on the big Tahoma.
Trip Report We opted to go for an overnight of Rainier, rather than a single day push, mostly because we didn't want to wake up crazy early. Taking it easier and waking up to the sunrise high on the mountain sounded really pretty. We drove up to Paradise Saturday morning with the intent of trying to ski the Kautz Glacier route after climbing it. There had been a large dump of snow recently that we had heard filled in the Kautz ice chute, possibly making it skiable. The Kautz is traditionally an ice climbing route, but in the right conditions it can be skied, and the setup seemed right. We drove to an overlook on the road to get some telephoto pictures of the upper mountain for recon. Sadly, the Kautz did not look "in"; it seemed like there was some white ice and scoured snow on the upper headwall. The red lines denotes what would have been a ski descent of the Kautz route.
Dang it. We were a bit bummed. Hmm....what should we do?!? The Success Couloir looked smooth, but we couldn't see the lower slopes of the line, which often has a large bergschrund to manage. It seemed risky to head all the way out to that part of the mountain with no real information. Nick and I had heard that the Emmons route had filled in nicely with the latest storm and was skiing well; it would involve a 3 hour car shuttle over to White River and then back to Paradise, but it seemed to be more of a "guarantee" that we would achieve something with the weekend. The idea of an up-and-over intrigued us: we had both already climbed the Emmons, so just doing the Emmons didn't entice us much. But climbing the Kautz and then skiing the Emmons felt a bit aesthetic, a "traverse" of sorts.
We grabbed our permit from the rangers at Paradise, hopped in the cars for the long drive, and left a car at White River. We had a sinking feeling in our chest when returning to Paradise around 1 PM on Saturday to a MOBSCENE. There were so many people that we were sure there would not be any parking; for a brief moment, we discussed what we would do if we couldn't find any parking. Uhhhh..... By a stroke of pure luck, there was a lone parking spot....RIGHT next to our buddy Anthony Marra. How funny! He was up on the mountain carrying a 3 year old to the summit via the DC route. I know...crazy.
Climb Up to Camp Hazard
We got an alpine start of 1 PM...LOL. It was already hot and the crowds were out and about on the Muir Snowfield. Fortunately we were off the beaten path on our way cross the lower Nisqually towards Camp Hazard. The route was sealed up well, with no major crevasses to report. We didn't rope up but each carried a rope in our pack in the event a rescue would have been necessary. We saw a party of climbers ahead of us climbing up to the ridge, but we opted to traverse further along the Turtle Snowfield before transitioning to booting. Climbers gaining the ridge.
We opted to remain on skis and traverse below the cliff bands in the lower right hand corner of the photo. Thankfully a nice booter had been put in by previous groups. We took a nice break above the Castle and then continued on to Camp Hazard, climbing the Turtle rather than trying to skin it. The snow was mushy and sliding a bit underfoot, so we felt it was a safer bet. Nick skinning up towards the Turtle Snowfield on the Nisqually Glacier. Nick cruising through the nice booter on the Turtle Snowfield. Around 10,800' we gained the ridgeline again and started to see bivy sites as we neared Camp Hazard. The "camp" is quite informal, more like a series of bivy spots. We found one that we liked and Nick stayed put as I ventured up a ways more to see if there were any that were better. NOPE! This would be our home for the night. Nick pulling into camp for the night. What a camp spot! Dinner with a view! We reached camp around 7 PM and make some dinner, then watched the beautiful light show that was sunset over the surroundings. We planned to wake up around 5 AM and start by 6; we anticipated that the climb up the Kautz to the summit would take us between 4 and 5 hours. It was only 3,600' or so from our camp at 10,800', but there would be some time delays due to a rock step we had to maneuver to get down onto the Kautz, as well as the ice chutes that would likely require some slower climbing. We figured we'd make up time once we reached the upper Nisqually and cruise to the top from there. Given the heat of the day, we wanted to be dropping onto the Emmons around noonish. We aimed to top out around 11-1130 AM, giving ourselves some time on top to enjoy the view.
Climbing the Kautz
We packed up and were heading out of camp just after 6 AM towards Camp Hazard ~proper~. There was a party ahead of us that had started to head up around 30 minutes prior, so we figured we would catch up to them around the ice chute. Our first "crux" of the day was down climbing the rock step out of Camp Hazard to get down to the Kautz Glacier. There was a handline that we could use to rappel, but the trickiness was just maneuvering with skis on our backs. Nick's photo of me trying to squeeze down the rockstep, while holding on to the handline. It was a bit messy, but overall it went relatively smoothly. I slipped a bit while trying to climb down onto the snow below the rock step, but caught myself with my hand belay. We could have taken off our packs and handed them down, which would have made the down climb much easier. Oh well...next time. Down at the bottom of the rock step. Nick's picture. Once we were down off of the rock step, we made haste travelling underneath some large seracs. We didn't want to increase the amount of time we had with this overhead hazard. Nick's photo of the traverse under the seracs over to the Kautz ice chute. Once we completed the traverse under the seracs, we were in the ice chutes. We could see the group ahead of us making their way up the lower chute. The party ahead of us making their way up the lower chute. The lower chute was just firm snow and Nick and I felt more comfortable soloing it than being roped up. We quickly caught up to the party ahead as they were preparing to climb up the upper chute, which was firmer ice. They were going to simul-climb, but their leader was gearing up to place screws as he went. For a moment, Nick and I thought we could solo the left-hand side around them. We quickly realized that was NOT going to be a good idea.
Nick tries to go hero mode around the party ahead of us. He down climbed just before reaching the ice bulge. We dialed it back and realized we were going to be stuck behind the party ahead, so we might as well rope up and protect the short pitch of ice. No need to get into trouble. The ice was aerated and poor quality, and "dinner-plated" easily when driving in a pick or crampon spike. We were in the blast zone, getting showered on as the party ahead climbed up through the chute. We found some protection by pulling off to climber's left a bit, but the ice came crashing down on the climbers at the end of the rope. I asked Nick if he wanted me to lead or he wanted to lead the short ice pitch, and he wanted to give it a go. He was excited to get on some alpine ice and test out his ice climbing skills. I would follow and clean the route. Nick crushed it, doing a great job of moving smoothly through really garbage ice. I followed and cleaned the route, removing the screws from some ugly grey ice.
Nick Murad the ice climber!
Atop the upper chute we got our poles back out and transitioned to glacier travel for the upper Nisqually. The booting conditions were great, firm underfoot and no crevasses to deal with. We took a quick break above the Wilson Cleaver before heading up onto the Kautz Headwall for the final push to the crater rim.
Nick heads up on the upper Nisqually as we head towards the top of the rocky Wilson Cleaver, seen in the upper right corner of the picture.
The upper headwall was firm snow but wasn't ice, like we had predicted based on the telephoto pictures we had taken the day before. It would have skied, but not well. Oh well...we'll just have to come back another time! Nick and I reached the crater rim just before 11 AM, a bit delayed from being stuck behind the other party at the ice chute but not bad timing! We trucked on over to the summit and enjoyed a relatively windless top out! Nick making his way towards the crater rim as we crest the upper Kautz. Nick near the top.
Emmons Ski Descent
Now it was time to...SKI! We were stoked for the up-and-over, a ski descent on the other side of the mountain. It was a bit of an unknown to be dropping down onto the Emmons Glacier without having climbed the route, but we had heard good reports of conditions on the upper Emmons after the recent storm. We were able to click in at the summit and ski over the ridge where the Emmons descent began. We knew there would be a roll-over to a bergschrund around 13,600', so we skied cautiously and followed the bootpack until we were able to gain view of the roll. The upper mountain was firm windboard and a bit of sastrugi, so it wasn't like we were going to be ripping turns anyway. Nick making turns on the upper mountain. Again, the verticality of skiing down on the upper mountain felt exhilarating; our vantage point made it feel like we were skiing down into the abyss below. Once we got past the bergschrund, there were still some crevasses to deal with before we made the traverse over towards the Corridor, but all of them were well bridged and easy to identify. A few parties we passed mentioned that none were of concerning stability, even to booting parties.
Nick ripping some turns with Liberty Cap in the background.
Around 13,000' we started to get better snow as it turned to corn. The traverse over through the "Alpine Garden" (as I think it is called) towards the Corridor started to get even better, and once we reached the top of the Corridor it was proper corn. We were SO excited. We were going to get the Corridor in perfect corn!! I spotted a cool vantage with Little Tahoma in the background and skied down a few turns to snap a picture of Nick ripping corn with Little T behind him. MONEY! Throughout the Corridor the snow was amazing corn; there were a few crevasses to manage, but as long as we kept our eyes open and speed up they were no problem to manage. Nick decided to get a little air over one of them that I opted to traverse around. None of the crevasses were unavoidable; all had small traverses that moved around them. The Corridor was SO GOOD that we only snapped one more picture before agreeing, "Let's just ski!". The snow got a little mushy on the slopes just above Camp Schurman, but overall the snow quality was both amazing and consistent. We took a quick water break at Camp Schurman and looked back up at our line. The full route from Camp Schurman. The upper mountain. You can see the bootpack up the bergschrund in the upper portion of the photo. We skied down Emmons Flats and over to the Inter Glacier, where the good corn continued! We took the Inter Glacier all the way down to Glacier Basin camp, where we took off our skis and transitioned to trail runners (or Chacos for Nick, lol). The hike out was mostly snow-covered until around 1.5 miles from the trailhead. Final Notes Overall, the route was in great shape. The recent snow storm really filled in the upper mountain and smoothed out any suncups or pentites that may have been present. The Kautz was a fun climb that added some complexity to a normal slog up Rainier. Camp Hazard felt much more remote than the other alpine camps on the mountain like Camp Muir or Camp Schurman. The up-and-over may have been a nuisance in terms of driving, but it sure was fun to see both sides of the mountain in one weekend. This can totally be done in a single day push, but we really enjoyed taking it easy and enjoying both the sunrise and sunset.