Nap Time on the Kautz Glacier
Last weekend we attempted to climb the Kautz Glacier on Mount Rainier in a single-day push. We had good maps uploaded to GAIA GPS and a firm plan to stick to the Skyline Trail out of Paradise until we had to drop down onto the Nisqually (a lesson learned from out DC-in-a-day push).
We left the parking lot a bit after 1:30am, hiking up the trail in a cloud and collecting dew as we moved up and up into the night... or was it morning?
We made our descent onto the glacier based on waypoints on our map and found ourselves in a sea of (in my words) UTTER HELL. Skis on backs, downclimbing and sliding around in ski boots, we skidded up and over moraine after moraine, the 5' of visibility preventing us from spotting the patches of snow we so desperately needed to be on.
I cursed more in that hour of wasted nonsense than I have in a very long time.
We finally began making our way up the Wilson Gully, finding just soft enough snow that we didn't need crampons to safely make the ascent- we saw a few easily avoidable crevasses and the rope remained in Andy's pack. Just as we crested the top of the gully, we emerged from the cloud and were greeted by the first rays of sunlight- and the first gust of what would become a never-ending windstorm. We optimistically swapped to skinning and kicked and glided up to the Wilson Glacier until we reached a steep section of blue ice. This discovery was timed poorly with me getting the screaming barfies. And I mean the SCREAMING BARFIES. I thought I'd had them before, and I know lots of people 'understand' what they feel like but let me tell you- you know nothing (unless of course maybe you do in which case, whoopsy sorry for making assumptions!).
First, I felt a slight tingling in my finger tips. Then a massive wave of nausea that bent me over double on my skis. Next the waves of blood came rushing back to my hands at the most intensely, tear-inducingly fast pace until I was shaking and crying with my ski crampons barely planted onto the 30* snow slope. Andy dropped down next to me so I could put my hands inside his puffy. I thought I was going to pass out- like, actually pass out. It was horrible. I bet it had something to do with the nerve damage I incurred on Mount Hood this last winter (summit ski videos are NOT worth getting frost bite FYI) but it was a feeling I never, ever hope to have again. I wouldn't wish it on my own worst enemy. I know understand how and why Chris Kalous passed out while leading ice (check it, ENORMOCAST FANS).
Anyway, we continued our trek toward the Upper Wilson with skis secured on our packs, acting as crude yet effective sails that the wind repeatedly used to knock us around. By the time we hit 10,000', I'd lost count of the number of times I'd been knocked over and was starting to get extremely cranky.
As we climbed higher and higher toward Camp Hazard, we began running into parties in full 'retreat mode.' Apparently the wind (which we could have guessed) was much worse at the base of the Kautz. We saw some unhappy faces and some wind-whipped cheeks but we tried to stay positive as we fought the good fight against the tornado that was being unleashed (I was sure it was being unleashed somewhere!) on us.
We, after some struggling, eventually found ourselves at Camp Hazard. The wind had far-from improved and we weighed our options as we gazed longingly at the chute. On the one hand, if we bailed, we could come back to more, better, continuous ice (it was mostly firm snow from what we could see) but we'd slogged up to 12k and were feeling the strong desire to push toward the summit. Minutes ticked by as we talked it out behind the biggest rock we could find.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
And then we bailed. Climbing is a fun, engaging sport and the last thing I/we wanted to deal with was the chance of being pitched around on the Kautz for several more hours while avoiding the debris that was rocketing down from the seracs and rock piles.
The Great Tahoma, in all its 14,000' glory, delivers... even if that delivery means we'll be retreating as quickly as our legs can carry us. To add insult to injury, the snow was so suncupped that we couldn't even ski until we were below 10,000'... so we walked and walked and slipped and sliced and (eventually) sweated our way down the ridge and found better snow.
We carefully skied our way out, getting the best record of an appropriate approach for our next attempt and finding that, yes, we'd been meandering around in the dark all morning in the worst possible way.
At this point, we're averaging 33% success on this big, beautiful mountain.