TR - Kautz Glacier C2C
Updated: Aug 4, 2019
Tahoma via Kautz Glacier
With Nastassia & Westy
Views: 👁👁👁👁👁 undeniably spectacular
Snow: ⛄⛄⛄mushy in places but largely solid
Rock: 🧗♀️ you're not climbing a Cascade volcano for the rock quality...
Suffering: 😈😈😈 14k feet without acclimatizing and no sleep is not fun, but the route was!
Routefinding: 👣👣👣👣👣 solid bootpack the whole way up and down, route is obvious
Timing: ⏰⏰⏰⏰ ice chute at sunrise was great & we avoided most parties at the summit
Exhaustion: 😴😴😴😴😴 I slept for 12 hours after
Crowds: 👯♀️👯♀️👯♀️👯♀️👯♀️ only saw 2 other people on the way up
Like most sane people, I like getting out of work early on a Friday. I like driving down to my favorite national park, talking to the rangers, eating a quick dinner, and getting into the back of a compact car with two good friends to "sleep" for a few hours before attempting something very silly. I love setting my alarm for 11pm because that is a time when healthy and productive people begin their day. I enjoy looking up at a mountain totally socked in with clouds and thinking, "climbing on top of this icy pile of loose rock will give me great happiness."
We started our hike out to Glacier Vista at 11:40pm. Mountaineering boots on paved trails is a special kind of suffering that only true alpinists understand. We all marveled at the "lunar" landscape of the Nisqually as Westy pointed out some cool icefalls that we pretended to be able to see in the dark. I was a little bummed to be crossing the Nisqually and Wilson in the pitch black and look forward to returning some time when there's more illumination.
The hike up from Shark Fin camp, across the Wilson Moraine, and up the Wilson Glacier was rather uneventful and slog-like. At this point we were all in the perfect sleep-deprived state that inside jokes need to thrive. We all agreed that our trip was beginning in a "most totally lunar" way and that the "egregiously lunar" rocks and ice were deserving of a "lunar-style" ascent because of our collective "low-gravity" day. It was a time.
We made it to Camp Hazard (named for a person, it turns out... what a name!) around 5am, just as the sun was rising. At this point, we were all beginning to feel the effects of altitude, but we had climbed about 6,000' in a little over 5 hours which felt pretty good! The stoke was at an all-time high!
The "rock step" was a fun little diversion. A few fixed lines with numerous tied-off core shots were slung to a boulder for a little fourth-class jaunt down to the finger of the Kautz Glacier. The nature of the ropes was such that rappelling would be a royal pain in the butt so I opted to rig an autoblock for safety and use them as hand lines. Once down to the glacier, we made our approach to the star of the trip, the Kautz ice chute!
Like any good story, the ice chute starts at the beginning. A field of sun cups and penitentes (which I learned are named after a crowd of people kneeling doing penance?!?) welcomed us to the Kautz.
Travel on these was relatively easy even after the glacier increased in slope up past 35º. One ice tool was helpful, though the ice was featured enough to just use one's hands for balance. Truly this is the land of lunar ice.
Once the snow and ice steepened to around 50-60º, we opted to rope up for safety and break out the second ice tool. At this point I was feeling pretty knackered by the altitude and didn't trust myself on terrain I'd usually feel confident soloing. We put a few screws in some relatively solid ice and built a belay. I was appreciative that Westy took the lead with style and grace. He climbed up about 50m/160ft, past the steepest section and belayed Nastassia and I up. While the route never felt much harder than AI2 (except maybe a 10ft step of AI3), I was happy to have the relative safety of a top rope.
After the ice chute, we started slogging toward the summit. Views toward the south were as lunar as they could be with Loowit, Klickitat, Wy'east, and Seekseekqua all visible above the clouds.
I've spent quite a few days above 10,000' in my brief mountaineering career and usually feel pretty fine, but this time I felt like death and it only got worse as we made it up past 12,500'. Moving at any reasonable pace felt totally impossible and I had to stop and catch my breath every few minutes. My heart was constantly racing even when resting. I had never experienced something like this before and it was extremely scary. To add to the drama of the situation, I knew that going up and over the summit to the DC route would ultimately be faster than descending the Kautz, so altitude-related ailments would only continue to get worse.
It was helpful to have some good climbing partners I knew I could talk honestly to about my not feeling well. We all agreed that getting down was the #1 priority and that going up and over the summit to the DC was the first choice, but that we should descend the Kautz if my condition got markedly worse. We also all regretted not knowing the full symptoms for HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema)/AMS (acute mountain sickness). For my own edification, here are the symptoms for HAPE with checkmarks next to what I was experiencing:
• Shortness of breath ☑️
• Cough ☑️
• Weakness or decreased performance ☑️
• Chest tightness or congestion ☑️
• Crackles or wheezing while breathing ☑️
• Blue-toned skin discoloration
• Rapid breath ☑️
• Rapid heart rate ☑️
We made it successfully to Columbia Crest, touched the tippy-top around 10:30am, and then quickly boogied across the crater (which we had totally to ourselves!) to descend the DC route. It felt way better to have gravity helping me move.
The DC route was beautiful! And so well manicured! 💅 We were all happy to have not come up this way as we passed quite a few parties who let us scamper past them. The open crevasses and looming seracs were amazing scenery!
We got some spectacular views of Little Tahoma on the way down. It was super cool to see it from this perspective having just been on its summit a few weeks ago. Strange how much better I had felt at 11,000' there.
The Disappointment Cleaver lived up to its name. We passed quite a few parties picking their way down among the flags and choss. Certainly not a place I'd want to be if there were more people on route.
I was feeling much better as we crossed the Ingraham Glacier and neared Camp Muir. We all agreed that a long snack-n-nap break was needed and posted up in one of the bunks. While Westy took a nap, I relished in the modern plumbing and convenience of the best restrooms in Washington above 10,000'. Feeling slightly rested and fed, we high-tailed it out of Muir and cruised down the snowfield in record time.
Perhaps the most harrowing part of this journey was the return to the paved trails around Paradise. We did all in our power to stay in snow for as long as possible but had to give up as tourists started to notice our off-trail excursion. And thus like True Alpinists we again suffered the dreadful mountaineering-boots-on-asphalt trudge that the even the most hardened mountaineers know so well.
We arrived back at Paradise at 4:40pm for a 17-hour Visitor Center-to-Visitor Center trip. Pretty good time considering my bout with altitude and our long break at Muir! We got some slices of exorbitantly priced pizza while Nastassia filled out their Junior Ranger booklet.
While this may not be the FKT for the Kautz Glacier, I'm pretty sure that Nastassia has the best time for the Kautz-Junior Ranger linkup, a very proud achievement.
We then drove home and all fell asleep the end.