June 27, 2014. That’s exactly five months post-surgery, the timeframe my surgeon gave for a full recovery. If I played a contact sport, and my rehab went as planned, that’s when I’d be cleared. So walking around on some glaciers and swinging an ice tool or two should be fine by then, right? It’s not like I’ll be slinging baseballs or performing swim-moves against Offensive Tackles.
At least that’s what I’ve told myself since the day I decided to have surgery. I’d miss ice climbing, winter 14ers, the beginning of couloir season — but June 27 wouldn’t so bad, because that just so happens to be the sweet spot for climbing in the Pacific Northwest. A hazy outline of a potential trip formed in my head even before I went under the knife, and it continues to serve as the carrot on the proverbial stick.
A return to Liberty Ridge, despite offers from solid partners, wasn’t what I wanted. Part of the joy I derive from mountaineering is exploring different places and reveling in new experiences. I’ll go back to Liberty Ridge one day, probably soon, but attempting it a second year in a row just doesn’t instill the same sense of wonderment. I want to immerse myself in an unfamiliar route and get to know a new slice of mountain. After much research and discussions with potential partners, an extended glacier romp has finally taken shape for June 28 (or 29…or 30…) through July 6.
Mt. Adams: Adams Glacier, Grade III, AI2
This route is appealing for an obvious reason: I’ve never climbed Mt. Adams. Much easier options exist on the south side of the volcano, but the Adams Glacier is considered by many to be the most classic line on “Washington’s Forgotten Mountain.” Basically a giant icefall, the route weaves its away through crevasses and seracs on 40/50-degree snow and ice for 5,000 feet. The technical sections allow access to the easy summit plateau, where the successful climber is rewarded with a half-mile snow slog to the true summit.
The glacier changes from year to year, with trip reports varying wildly from protection-less moderate snow climbing with only a piolet to 70-degree ice pitches with screws and pickets. I’m hoping for somewhere in between. The descent is via the infamously loose and rocky North Ridge. Sam Sala will be my partner on this climb.
Mt. Rainier: Kautz Glacier, Grade II/III, AI2
In terms of difficulty, the Kautz Glacier falls somewhere between Liberty Ridge and the standard DC/Emmons walk-up routes. Early in the season it’s a straightforward snow climb, but as the powder transitions to neve and ice, many people prefer a second ice tool. Starting from the Paradise trailhead with the masses heading for the DC, the Kautz route variates at Glacier Vista to cross the Nisqually Glacier. The Turtle Snowfield and Wapowety Cleaver lead to rocky Camp Hazard at 11,500′.
The most dangerous part of the route is traversing under the massive Kautz Ice Cliff to reach the Kautz Ice Chute, a moderate-to-steep section of ice and snow. Above the chute, a couple hours of glacier-walking leads to Point Success and the true summit at Columbia Crest. Our permits are for 6/30 through 7/4, allowing for maximum flexibility. Sam Sala and Keegan Young will be my partners for the Kautz.
The routes described will take two days each in ideal weather. We haven’t bought plane tickets yet, but it’s possible we could swing as long as an eight-day trip. The need for weather days is pretty much a certainty in the PNW. If we get a miracle week-long window of bluebird skies, however, we’re even looking into options for a third route. The possibilities are endless. Now if you’ll excuse me, writing this blog post has inspired me to hit an extra set of rubber-band exercises…