Rainier: Kautz Glacier

At the summit we signed the register with a special note to Solberg, a friend of Kathy's who was supposed to be climbing Rainier by a different route that day. We also left a note for Sid, who had chosen to go with the Basic Climbing Course to Mount Baker rather than accompany us. We later found out that they did not make their summit due to poor weather – is it possible the instructor was much more cautious this time?

While I was sheltering from the wind with other climbers, another climber kept looking my way. With all the cold weather gear covering our faces it was hard to tell who was who. He finally asked “Are you Gary Sager?” It turned out to be Bruce Carson. He was leading students from another climbing course up the Ingraham route. He signalled me to come over and look into his pack; inside was a 15 pound watermelon he had intended to share at the summit. He said: “The hell of it is that it's frozen so I'll have to carry it down.”

Chris, Kathy and I roped up after an hour on the summit and headed down the Ingraham (aka tourist) route with them in the lead. There was a deep trough made by all the climbers trudging up and down the mountain so it was impossible to get lost even though I had never come up the route and only gone down it once before. Every once in a while we would come to a crevasse 2-3 feet wide and hop over without stopping, passing others who were belaying the jump; of course, we maintained just enough slack in the rope and were prepared to do an ice axe arrest should one of us miss the jump. Chris and Kathy were now old hands and totally unimpressed with the lack of route-finding challenges and the “miniature” crevasses. This may be the “tourist route,” but it can still be deadly.

As we walked into Camp Muir at 10,000 feet, a ranger was checking in climbers coming from the summit; he took one look at us and said “You didn't come up this way!” His tone seemed mildly accusatory; we explained our decision-making and, having satisfied him, were soon on the way down. Back at the Paradise ranger station, we checked in to give our assessment of the route. We were the first party to complete the route in over a month so the rangers appreciated some updated information. The rangers also told us the party who joined us at Camp Hazard had turned back.