Home > Trip Reports > May 12-13, 2012, Rainier, Summit to Bridge via ID

May 12-13, 2012, Rainier, Summit to Bridge via ID

WA Cascades West Slopes South (Mt Rainier)
Posted by Amar Andalkar on 5/14/12 6:38pm
May 12-13, 2012, Mount Rainier, Summit to Bridge Ski Descent via Ingraham Direct

Summary: Enjoyed a spectacular climb and ski descent of the Ingraham Direct route, in near-perfect weather and fine snow conditions, including excellent snow stability with no observed instability. Near-complete solitude for long periods too, as the route was surprisingly uncrowded on this magnificent sunny weekend, perhaps due to the dire NWAC avalanche warning (link). The Ingraham Direct is currently very direct, ascending left towards the saddle near Gibraltar Rock to join the typical Gib Ledges route above that point, and with minimal crevasse issues now (although that may change quickly at one spot near 12500 ft). Snow remains continuous on the route for over 10500 vertical feet from the summit down past Nisqually Bridge, although that too may change quickly, as Cathedral Gap may soon melt out and the exit to the bridge is getting thin at one spot beside the rushing river. Overall, an outstanding day for Elliott's first ski descent of Rainier (after a trio of previous summits on foot) and my 20th ski descent, including my third straight year skiing the ID in mid-May (previous TRs: ). Unfortunately, no free beer on the summit this time like last year, but you can't have everything every time.

Details: This trip, and this summit, almost didn't happen -- several times it almost didn't. Fighting through that to actually summit and ski from the top made it all the more satisfying.

I'd been sick with a cough/cold/headache for a week, and had barely even made it to

We registered at the Climbing Info Center at 9am on Saturday morning, and were warned to expect a busy camp and a possibly-full public shelter. We made a calculated decision to leave the rope and glacier gear behind in the car, and skinned up just before 10am, the snow still well-frozen where shaded, but softening quickly in the sun. We ascended via Pebble Creek in order to stay on continuous snow, but almost everyone else was following the winter route like sheep (why??) even though it has no snow near 7400 ft and is no longer skinnable or skiable. We arrived at Muir just before 2pm following a hot sunny slog to find the hut totally empty, making me regret having lugged the extra weight of a fancy OR bivy-sack just in case we had to sleep outside (I arrived a half-hour after my partners, still coughing and generally dragging). A few of our close friends were at Muir to greet us, readying to ski down to the Nisqually Bridge and then heading to Mount Saint Helens for the huge Mother's Day ski party. I was immediately filled with regret for trying to attempt a Rainier summit which seemed to be beyond my current physical capability, lugging a heavy pack up to Muir for no good reason, when we all should have joined them on their much better weekend plan instead.

Overall, the entire camp was surprisingly uncrowded, with less than 2 dozen others staying overnight, and no guided parties or even climbing rangers present on a prime mid-May weekend (apparently, the guided groups will be ramping up within the next few days -- and perhaps the climbing rangers were off training someplace else). We enjoyed a nice several hours lounging in the warm sunshine on the roof of the storage shed, napping and melting many liters of water and eating dinner before the camp was plunged into cold shadow around 6:30pm as the sun passed behind the Mountain. Then off to bed early, another half-dozen climbers were now joining us in the hut and planning to depart for the summit by midnight, while we set our alarms for 5am and planned to head uphill at 6am, hoping to summit around noon for properly softened snow.

I slept terribly, remaining awake for hours at a time, and during one of my sleepless periods in the early AM, I realized that something else was wrong, very wrong: it was windy, not just breezy, but a roaring gusting wind that was fairly loud even inside the hut. No forecast or weather model had suggested that. The alarm finally went off, I grudgingly went outside to the restroom, and confirmed that the southwest wind was ripping through camp at 30-40 mph, far in excess of anything forecast and far beyond anything we wanted to climb or ski in. Our spirits plummeted, I felt tired and sick anyway, and so did Jessie. We came within a hair of bagging the climb entirely and just sleeping in for several more hours. At least I'd watched a nice sunrise.

But by sometime after 6am, it was clear that the wind was diminishing, Elliott went outside with my wind gauge and the max gusts were now only 18 mph. It felt like we just had to motivate and give it a shot. I finally got ready and left camp just before 7:30am, cramponing on foot with skis on pack, the snow solidly hard-frozen even though the sun had been up for 2 hours. The other two were about 20 minutes behind me, and given how crappy I felt, I figured they would catch me shortly, and in any case I said I'd wait for them at Ingraham Flats, prior to the crevassed portion of the route.

A long slow slog across the Cowlitz Glacier and up Cathedral Gap, my partners eventually visible behind and below on the route. Still quite windy at Cathedral Gap, but I knew that the Ingraham would be better protected from this SW wind. A glorious clear morning, but most importantly, it was unexpectedly cool and not hot at all, with a cool downslope breeze keeping it that way. The upper Ingraham Glacier is a semi-circular reflector oven aimed directly at the morning sun, and it's all too easy for things to become dangerously warm and unstable through the Ingraham Icefall, but there was no sign of that on this day. No camp was in place yet at Ingraham Flats, although a couple of large tent platforms had been dug.

Elliott caught up to me at the top of the Flats near 11400 ft, stating that Jessie had felt sick and turned around on the Cowlitz, and we rested and ate for a bit while we considered what we should do. Turn around and ski back? But the weather was too nice, the route seemed to be in excellent shape, and I really wanted to continue. A few rope teams of climbers had descended past us, and soon a solo climber too, who reported the route felt fine for him, which gave us additional confidence in our rope-less simul-soloing travel.

Onward and upward we marched, past 12000 ft and through the crevasses atop the Icefall, the current bootpack needlessly crossing several open crevasses when uncrevassed end-runs were available only a few yards to the left. On the last steep pitch up to the 12800 ft flat above the saddle near Gib Rock, a pair of IMG guides were descending and installing a fixed rope for upcoming guided groups to use. They expressed concern as we ascended past them that the slope was already too warm now at 10:20am and was becoming dangerously unstable, while I felt the exact opposite, that temps were much cooler than expected and the slope felt entirely stable to me (it was still frozen solid). My assessment would be proven correct when we skied the slope 3 hours later in total stability with nothing sliding at all, despite many hours of sun on that slope and skiing it at 1:30pm, just after solar noon.

I had definitely been feeling somewhat better above 11000 ft, re-energized by the adrenalin and the altitude, and with a deliberate pace it was clear that we were making good steady progress. A few more minor crevasse crossings on the summit dome above 13000 ft, including one on which IMG had put in a fixed line. There was a light SW breeze of about 10 mph which kept it from getting too hot, but luckily the high winds of several hours earlier had not returned.

We reached the crater rim at 14180 ft by 12:15pm, not bad at all to make it up in under 5 hours given how poorly the climb started. After a brief rest, we ditched our packs and crampons, and skinned across the crater and on to Columbia Crest, arriving moments after a solo skier who had come up the Fuhrer Finger. He was the first person we'd seen since the IMG guides almost 3 hours earlier.

Skied off the summit at 1pm, on mostly-smooth windpacked snow in the crater which was just beginning to corn. Pretty good snow conditions for the summit, with almost no ice below the first 10 feet -- it's usually much worse snow up there. The ski down from the rim was also quite good, mostly smooth and mostly corning up.

We arrived at 12800 ft atop the steep face onto the Ingraham Glacier, and decided to ski the slope carefully one at a time in case it slid. Yet stability was fine, the upper part was a couple inches of soft corn on a firm base, while about 200 ft down near the bottom of the slope was deeper mush, but still not sliding in any way. A quick traverse under some huge overhanging seracs, then across the one critical snow bridge at 12500 ft, and we were home free.

The rest of the run was an easy cruise in well-softened corn, making sure to end-run each of the incipient cracks which the bootpack had needlessly crossed. Some nice wide-open turns down the last steep face to Ingraham Flats, then some more corn on the NE-facing aspect just above Cathedral Gap. Over-softened mush on the south-facing slope below the gap, with many hidden rocks as usual, and then the quick schuss around the cirque of the Cowlitz Glacier brought us back to Camp Muir just after 2pm. Jessie was waiting for us, having watched parts of our ascent and ski descent on the summit dome just left of Gib Rock.

Packed our stuff in the now-empty hut, wondering about the Kindle and avy beacon that other climbers had forgotten and left behind. Skied down the way-oversoftened Muir Snowfield at 3pm, trenching deeply with each cautious turn. But as expected, the snow became more consolidated the lower we went, and was quite reasonable below 8000 ft. I decided that I had to ski to the bridge, the lure of only my third-ever 10000+ vertical ft run too strong to resist, and I left the other two just after Pebble Creek, while they agreed to get my car and drive it down to pick me up at the bridge.

The NW-facing slope down onto the Nisqually was in good shape, well-consolidated and with decently skiable oversoftened corn. Even the entire run down the Nisqually Glacier was reasonable, well-consolidated enough to keep ski penetration generally under 1 inch and not too sticky either, without any sudden decelerations jerking backward on the skis. A strong downslope breeze kept things nice and cool, and provided a welcome tailwind too.

Below the glacier terminus, the route along the left side of the river was still in, while that on the right side was totally melted out for a long section just before the bridge. The ramp on the left side angling up to the SE end of the bridge was still nearly continuous snow, and easy to ski up without skins at 4pm. I crossed the bridge on foot as dozens of tourists gawked, and relaxed in the sunny parking lot until my car arrived a few minutes later.

An unexpectedly excellent trip up the Northwest's premier Mountain, a sweet summit and fine ski descent salvaged from the jaws of near-certain failure. Thanks Elliott, for agreeing to keep pushing upward when we could have easily turned around, I kinda wanted this one pretty badly, and thanks Jessie for being a good sport about the two of us summiting while you felt sick. I'm sure we'll all have some great summit skis together on Rainier in the future.

333 AM PDT SAT MAY 12 2012




                       SAT    SAT    SUN    SUN    MON 
                            NIGHT         NIGHT       

SUMMIT   (14411 FT)     19     21     22     22     21
                      W 12  SW 19  SW 18  SW 20  SW 10

CAMP MUIR(10188 FT)     36     39     41     43     43
                     SW  6  SW 11  SW 12  SW 12  SW  7

PARADISE  (5420 FT)     64     41     69     44     70
                     NE  9   N  4   N  3   N  4   N  4

LONGMIRE  (2700 FT)     71     40     77     44     78
                     NE 14  NE  8  NE  6  NE  7  NE  8


Strong work pulling off the summit while feeling sick!

You have to love Sunshine and Alpine!

Thanks Amar and Jessie for a fabulous trip! Glad I was able to share such a memorable time with you both. Amar, thanks for detailing such an enjoyable TR. Jessie, I am really stoked to ski with you from the summit soon!

Strong work Amar while being sick !!  Nice to meet you Elliott and Jessie !

Congrats Elliot on your first summit ski. I imagine many more will follow....

Nice work Amar and CO!  Thanks for the report.

Nice work, and congrats Elliott! 

Congratulations Elliot!! Nice work Amar making it happen albeit fighting a cold for that length of time. Hope you are on the mend.

Nice job baby! I'm super stoked for you <3

I rescind any dismissive comments I've ever made about altitude sickness, btw. Especially now that I've been stupidly hypoxic at a mere 10k.

Nice job pulling that off while sick. I think I fell victim to the same cold while on our recent Holden trip. Definitely one of the worst colds I've had in years; dragging myself up Chiwawa was brutal, and that's only just over 8k feet. I can't imagine dealing with it while summiting Rainer...

Yeah Josh, this feels like one of the most persistent colds I've had in many years. Today is two weeks from first symptoms, and I'm still coughing. Definitely think it was the common cold and not the flu, since I had no fever at any point, but there's no way to really know for sure. I'm hopeful that it is almost done now.

author=Amar Andalkar link=topic=24793.msg104735#msg104735 date=1337074682">
The Ingraham Direct is currently very direct, ascending left towards the saddle near Gibraltar Rock to join the typical Gib Ledges route above that point, and with minimal crevasse issues now (although that may change quickly at one spot near 12500 ft). Snow remains continuous on the route for over 10500 vertical feet from the summit down past Nisqually Bridge, although that too may change quickly, as Cathedral Gap may soon melt out and the exit to the bridge is getting thin at one spot beside the rushing river.

Route update: May 17, skied from 10400 ft on Cowlitz Cleaver above Camp Muir down to the Nisqually Bridge again (see TR). Looking across at Cathedral Gap, it had almost melted out at one spot over the previous 4 days (and Cadaver Gap was already a mess of bare ground and many open crevasses), so the ID route will shortly have a small discontinuity without snow. There is a chance that new snow (forecast for Sunday-Tuesday, perhaps a few feet of snow above 7000 ft) might reconnect the gap briefly until sustained sunny weather returns.

It was still continuously skiable to the bridge along the left side, but just barely at one spot beside the river near 4100 ft, where a narrow finger of snow was all that remained for a few feet. The ramp on the left side angling up to the SE end of the bridge was no longer continuous snow, but still possible to ski up without skins all the way to the road with some contortions through the tangle of slide alder on the ramp and stepping gingerly across several bare sections.

Major route update: From the Rainier Climbing Blog, under Gibraltar Ledges/Chute 2012 conditions (the Ingraham Direct conditions have not been updated since May 7):

May 16:

Interesting and beautiful climbing along Gib Ledges.
Above Camp Comfort standard glacier travel with a few minor routefinding/crossing problems take you to the Columbia Crest. Up until this week this was the finish for the guided routes up the Ingraham Direct, but the guide organizations have since moved their route to the other side of the Ingraham so be aware that this upper part of the route (past Camp Comfort) is no longer wanded.

This is a major route change, probably because the one crux crevasse crossing over a snow bridge near 12500 ft had gotten too hazardous. The route going right instead of left near 12400-12500 ft is much more standard, since it connects easily to the DC route which will soon take over for the ID as the Ingraham Icefall breaks up.

Regarding the current storm: NWAC telemetry at Paradise has recorded 2" of precipitation over the past 48 hours since Sunday morning, with another large plume of precip approaching right now as seen on radar and the UW model predicting another 2-3" of precip over the next 48 hours. So the upper mountain above 8000 ft has already gotten 1-2 ft of new snowfall, with another 2-3 ft likely over the next 2 days above 5000 ft as snow levels have fallen dramatically since yesterday. All this new snow should resurface much of the upper mountain which had been getting rougher due to sunshine, rockfall, and (on Fuhrer Finger) heavy skier traffic, although it will take several days of subsequent sunshine to reconsolidate and then corn up.

As an aside: Mount Baker has gotten even more precip than Rainier over the past 48 hours, with NWAC telemetry at the ski area and the Marten Ridge SNOTEL site on the east side both recording 4" of precip since noon on Sunday, while the MF Nooksack SNOTEL site on the NW side got 3.5" of precip. However, the UW model predicts much less precip at Baker over the next 2 days, more like 1-1.5".

Ugh, maybe you have the dreaded Whooping Cough! Adults may get something that just seems like a nasty cold with a cough that won't go away for a long time.

Well I hope not! Thought about that a while ago, looked up the symptoms in adults, and they didn't seem to be a good match to mine. The cough has been more persistent than it has been severe, and it never got really awful at any point, although it was fairly bad for a couple of separate 2-day periods. I've had none of the other common pertussis symptoms.

Route update: From the Rainier Climbing Blog, the Ingraham Direct 2012 conditions received a very surprising update today, worth posting here for future reference:

May 27:

The ID made a comeback this weekend with 5 parties using the route to reach the summit. Snow accumulation from earlier in the week ranged from little to upwards of 2 ft, which may have eased a few of the crevasse crossing on the Ingraham Headwall. The new snow is consolidating quickly and the avalanche danger is generally decreasing. The route is still relatively direct and "filled in", and remains a viable alternative to the DC. There was a small amount of icefall acitivity at about 12,000ft, but the exposure is brief, and can be managed reasonably well by small groups that travel efficiently.

Overall the condition of the ID is impressive. Come and get some before it's too late.

May 24:

The ID is starting to fall out of favor, it surely still "goes" but with open and broken sections up high. The DC is more straight forward. With the recent snow the route may look better than it really is, however if it is on your tick list there is no reason not to give it a go.

These were the first ID or DC route updates since May 7 and May 9, apparently the route had switched over to the DC recently, but that had not been updated in the Disappointment Cleaver 2012 conditions section either.

Reply to this TR

Amar Andalkar
2012-05-15 01:38:02