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Rainier Circumnavigation + Success Glacier Couloir

WA Cascades West Slopes South (Mt Rainier)
Posted by aaasen on 5/16/21 9:56am

Matthew and I skied a counterclockwise circumnavigation of Rainier starting from Paradise over five days, crossing 22 glaciers along the way. On the fourth day we skied the East Success Glacier Couloir from the summit of Point Success.

We got pictures of all sides of the mountain including the Emmons, Liberty Ridge, and the Mowich Face. These might be useful to those planning climbs for when the roads open up! https://photos.app.goo.gl/UaPK2kCbD12vmkVa6

From Paradise, we skinned up to McClure Rock and then trended E onto the Paradise Glacier, following the Little Tahoma approach described in Volken across the Cowlitz, Ingraham, and Whitman glaciers. We skied breakable crust down the Fryingpan and traversed towards K Spire trying to find a route onto the Emmons, but we couldn’t find anything that we were sure would go. Instead, we skied down the W side of the Fryingpan, traversing above cliff bands, and ultimately made it onto the Emmons at 6,200’. We skied across the Emmons and then skinned up a steep SE facing slope to just W of Point 6735. From here it was a nice powder run down to camp at Glacier Basin with running water.

In the morning we skinned up to the col about 1,000’ S of St. Elmo’s Pass at 7,600’ and skied a long traverse across the Winthrop Glacier to 7,000’. We then skinned over to the Carbon Glacier and found a hot spring with lukewarm running water on the way. We skied across the Carbon Glacier then climbed a steep slope onto the Russell. The skin up the Russell was long and hot but we got to see a massive avalanche on the Willis Wall along the way! Definitely one of the coolest things I have ever seen. The scale is just insane! We skinned up to 9,800’ on the Russell and scoped out the entrance onto the Mowich described in Volken. It looked like we would have to traverse a scree ledge above exposure and couldn’t see if it would even go all the way to the glacier. Instead of this, we followed the ridge all the way to 10,300’ and did a steep snow traverse on the E side. From here we scrambled down a bit of very loose choss onto the Mowich Glacier. The views of Liberty Ridge and Ptarmigan Ridge were amazing, but a lower crossing onto the North Mowich would be much more efficient. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a lower crossing that doesn’t involve significant scrambling right now. The North Mowich felt like an insane place to be skiing with the Liberty Cap Glacier looming above and massive icefalls to navigate around. We skied all the way down to 7,500’ then skinned up to Point 8276 for a beautiful camp overlooking Puget Sound.

We awoke to high clouds and skinned across the Edmunds Glacier then skied down the South Mowich onto the Puyallup. We skinned up to 9,900’ and then skied a very steep slope onto the Tahoma Glacier. This slope could be avoided by going a few hundred feet higher. There were huge crevasses on the margin of the Tahoma Glacier so we roped up. We skied down to 8,200’ on the Tahoma Cleaver, alternating between unroped skiing on the mellow sections and roped traverses of the broken zones. We each skied with a 30m rope and could quickly tie the ends together when the glacier got too broken for our comfort. This system worked really well and made skiing this huge glacier feel safe. We continued skiing across the South Tahoma to 8,000’ and once again roped up when crossing the margin of the glacier. We booted up Success Divide to 8,200’, skied across the Pyramid Glaciers, then skinned up to 8,500’ and set up camp next to a moraine on the Success Glacier.

We woke up at 2:45am and left camp at 3:30am. We ski cramponed up the Success Glacier to 10,000’ and had no issues with crevasses on the Success Glacier. We switched to crampons and ice axes and continued up the Success Glacier Couloir. The bergschrund was well bridged. The first rock band was almost melted out and barely skiable. The second was well covered. The final rock band at 13,600’ involved a little climbing on good rock and then some steep snow. We topped out on Point Success a little after 9am, 5:40 after leaving camp. It was windy and cold on the summit so we quickly transitioned and skied some ridiculous rime formations down to the cliff band. Some of the weirdest and worst snow I have ever skied. We put crampons on and scrambled down the cliff band which felt a bit sketchy. Below the cliff we were out of the wind and in the sun. We took a long break to make some water and wait for the snow to soften then resumed skiing at 11am. The snow in the couloir was generally terrible with penitentes almost all the way down. I really wouldn’t recommend skiing the route in its current condition. In smooth corn this would have been the best run of my life, but instead it was survival skiing that left a bad taste in my mouth. I think the same goes for other S side routes on Rainier. Despite a very snowy winter, this dry spring has left the snow surface covered with pumice and penitentes. It looks OK from afar, but it’s really not good. Once onto the Success Glacier the snow improved and we ripped perfect corn back to camp. We had plenty of food left so we spent the afternoon lounging in the sun, waiting for another corn cycle the next morning. 

After an incredible night of sleep, we skied across the Kautz Glacier to 7,800’ and then made a rising traverse across the Van Trump Glaciers to the Castle and then to 10,400’ on the Turtle. We skied down just after 10am and got great corn the whole way down except for some mush on steeper sections of the Wilson. Matthew skied down to the Nisqually Bridge while I retrieved the car at Paradise. A short day with 6,000’ of corn skiing was such a fun and relaxed way to end this otherwise serious and stressful trip! 

Total stats: 24,347’ up, 42.65 miles, 5 days

Daily stats:

  1. Paradise to Glacier Basin: 5,397’ up, 4,974’ down, 11.66 miles
  2. Glacier Basin to Edmunds Glacier: 6,729’ up, 4,495’ down, 11.3 miles
  3. Edmunds Glacier to Success Glacier: 3.550’ up, 3,343’ down, 7.04 miles
  4. East Success Glacier Couloir: 5,807’ up, 5,807’ down, 5.23 miles
  5. Success Glacier to Paradise: 2,864’ up, 5,925’ down, 7.42 miles

Great trip and write up - congrats!

The dynamic duo strikes again!

Quite the contrast between smooth corn and powder lower down and the surfaces you encountered up the Success route. Eek.

Thanks for taking me along for the video ride

Spring is a magical time in the mountains, you captured that well. Strong effort, congratulations! And great camera work and editing, you told the story really well. Godsped on future endeavours.

Awesome trip you guys, thanks for the cool vid!

Very cool, well done gents! 

Was surprised by how beat up Lib ridge and Ptarmigan ridge are right now -- with all the snowfall, does anybody know if Rainier had above-avg winds this winter?  Unless we get some precip stat, my plans for the nutty buddy are shot this season. Your choice to generally stay a bit lower was a good one, apparently.

Anyway, appreciate the report and visual storytelling. 

Looks like a great trip. That was some gnar in the Success Couloir. Loved the ending of the video.  

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2021-05-16 16:56:33