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Mount Rainier, Edmunds Headwall Attempt
July 16-18, 2004
I'm late in writing this trip report. Today is February 23, 2005. I've just looked through all the pictures though, and a smile curves across my face as I remember the fun and adventure.
Fresh off our three-day climb of the one or two day Adams Glacier route, I'm all for another climb with an extra day built in. After some discussion we settle on four days on the Edmunds Headwall route on Rainier, with a planned night on the summit.
I've never been on the north or west sides of Rainier, nor have I been to the Mowich Lake entrance. I'm excited about seeing a new side of Rainier, and also a first trip to Rainier with Hannah, to whom this mountain is at least as special as it is to me.
I pick her up at the usual spot: The high school in Orting. The drive to "Wilderness Information Center" in the tiny town of Wilkeson. I so don't like the requirement to and process of getting a permit to go into any supposed wilderness area. Today is not our day, either.
Ranger Person: "I'll need your climbing permit and photo ID."
Hannah: "Here is my ID. You actually need the permit?"
Hannah: "But I just registered like a week ago. Can't you just look it up in the book, or in the computer?"
RP: "No. The computers are not linked."
Hannah: "Isn't there any..."
Hannah's Mom very generously offers to meet us halfway between Orting and Wilkeson with the much ballyhooed permit. We return to the RP in the WIC who now issues us a climbing permit with an affectation like the incident of an hour earlier never took place.
Soon enough we arrive at Mowich Lake. I've never been here and it strikes me odd to see drive-up camping so deep in the heart of the park. We slowly get ready: I down copious amounts of water and make numerous trips to the nearby restroom, while sorting and packing gear. I swat half-heartedly and a few half-hearted mosquitos.
At some point we discover that we are ready to go. Having noticed this, we depart. At the trailhead Hannah discovers a beautiful blue bonnet which she models, providing laughs for me. The we start down the trail. Yes, down. For the first mile the trail gradually descends until the short spur to Spray Falls is reached. At Hannah's suggestion we drop our packs and walk to the falls.
The waterfall is exquisite. I enjoy the cool mist and take in the view, which includes a nice cairn. Hannah dunks her head. She even lets me take a picture with only one iteration of her usual, "D00d, you take too many pictures."
From there the trail gradually rises through the trees until opening up into Spray Park. We get a few tantalizing glimpses of our intended route along the way.
Spray Park is sublime. The flowers, views, and (at least on this day) lack of crowds relative to Paradise make it great destination in itself. There are a few people, but they are friendly and quiet. We stop for a break on a sunny boulder in the snow.
Steps rise up above Spray Park. We follow them, then turn off and head toward Observation Rock. At the first snowfield we catch a group that asks us about the Wonderland trail. Hannah explains to them that they've missed a turn and have walked 20-30 minutes off the trail, toward the north side climbing routes. They turn and leave.
In the rocks above we meet and older solo hiker and her way down. She is quite friendly and I both admire and wish for myself her drive to get out and be in such beautiful places.
Then we are on our own. We follow faint tracks in the snow, and then veer right around a rocky island and along the base of Observation Rock. On the way down we learned that left (east) is better. We slog on, though I am getting tired. Our goal for the day is a rock wind break above Observation Rock constructed by Ben Manfredi and friends several years earlier.
Our route brings us in a bit high, and we have to drop down a bit before the last curving traverse onto lower Ptarmigan Ridge. At last we reach our bivy for the day. The time is about 3:00 PM. We've been on the go for six hours or so. We make some improvements to the wind break, gather snow to melt for water, and relax. The weather is holding, though we know predictions call for a change over the next two days.
We laze around in the late-day sun, melting water, snacking, and eventually eating dinner. I loaf in the tent while Hannah watches the sunset. I feel somewhat melancholy in this place. I'd climbed once with Ben, a trip to Hyalite, and we were planning a second trip when he died in a kayaking incident. His boundless energy and good nature are well-known, and though we were not close friends, I miss him.
In the night I awaken to the sound of crunching. Wind blowing the heat reflector on the stove, I decide. But that's not it. Eventually I unzip the tent door and peer around the corner just quick enough to see the hind-end of a bushy-tailed snaffle bound away from Hannah's pack into the wall of the wind break. I clamber out and stash away the package of freeze-dry food the beast was gnawing on.
We are in no hurry in the morning, as this second day, to the base of the Edmunds Headwall, will be shorter in both distance and elevation gain. But between us and our next camp is a 1000 foot descent through scree and loose talus to the North Mowich (?) glacier. I've read about it, and took a peek the previous afternoon. With the weight of a four-day pack, I am not excited.
Even though we are able to descend partly on a finger of snow, it is as tedious as I expected. I pick my way along, trying to balance lost elevation with distance spent slogging, and eventually reach the most-welcome glacier.
We rope up and make a long, rising traverse under the right-hand variation of the Ptarmigan Ridge route, and the the various Mowich Face routes. There is significant, recent rockfall, and little dirt piles litter portions of the glacier.
One last up and we reach our camp. We sit in the rocks debating about camping on the snow, or slightly lower in the dirt. Then the weather, which has been deteriorating all day, starts dropping rain on us. We grab our packs and hastily return to the dirt, where we frantically improve a small bivy site. Of course, having motivated us and been entertained by our Marx-brothers style antics, the Weather Goddess calls off the rain. The tent goes up and the stove is started.
Hannah embarks upon an archaeological dig near the tent and unearths a remarkable assortment of human detritus:
A snaffle-chewed woolen sock, an ancient tin can (that had been opened with an old-school can opened), and some newspaper scraps, dated 1953, and advertising for bids to complete construction of a section of the Cascade Crest Trail.
Dinner is had as clouds swirl around above and below us. We discuss options for the following day, eventually choosing to "wake-up and see what we are handed".
Wake up time find us lethargic and the weather threatening. Clouds are blowing in and out, but no rain falls. In the early morning darkness we debate about packing up and starting up. An hour passes and we've not begun the get-up process. I declare that we've decided by not deciding and go back to sleep.
Morning brings more mixed weather, and two antsy climbers. Light rain falls intermittently. We call Hannah's parents, seeking a weather report. There is no answer. We sort-of agree to spend the day at this camp, then carry up and over the next morning, weather permitting. This decision lasts a while, then suddenly we decide to pack and head up immediately. We're packed and moving around Noon, heading up right of the melted out Rabbit Ears. The snow is unfrozen but firm until we turn a small crevasse. Suddenly our upward progress slows as we wallow up in shin to knee deep snow the consistency of oatmeal. I kick steps for a while, then hand the task over to Hannah. We slow, and then stop. My feet are wet and the weather is still mixed. Though few words are exchanged, we discuss the situation for about 20 minutes, then take a few pics and head down. A few small wet slides come down while we descend, validating our decision.
Part of the difficulty of deciding to bail is that this decision means slogging backup the scree and talus slope we'd descended the day before. This is not lost on my as we quickly pack the tent and begin the traverse back across the Mowich glaciers. We stop to pack away the rope and for a brief rest before starting up the slope. The weather is trending toward worse as we start slogging.
I get a burst of energy at the base of the snow finger and kick steps until I reach its top. The mist starts as I scrog the last few hundred feet up to the wind break. I drop my pack and wait a few minutes for Hannah while the rain picks up. I pull on my Goretex jacket and we continue down. The rain pours on us as we walk down through the scree, east of the route we'd come up. I feel like the mountain, seeing us falling back, is pummeling us into full retreat. I don't regret our decision, and, reasonably dry and knowing that we'll be back at the car that evening, I am happy to be routed by a mountain that I love.
The rain eases as we reach the upper Flett Glacier and start down alongside Observation Rock. By the time we reach the rocks below the rain is gone and the sun has reappeared. We pause to get water from a brook in a grassy meadow and are greeting by ptarmigans. We laugh as they scamper about and marvel at their ever-changing camouflage. Behind us we get glimpses of the Edmunds Headwall, but thick clouds still swirl around the mountain.
We continue down as the sun drops on the horizon as we reach upper Spray Park. We pick our way along, taking in the flowers and other views. I'm also procrastinating because the trip is ending a day early and because I'm not excited about the uphill walk at the end of the trail.
Even in dusk light Spray Park is beautiful, and too soon we drop down into the trees and the short series of switchbacks that takes us down to the spur trail to the base of the falls. Under headlamp we ascend the trailhead, walking quietly past the tents pitched at Mowich Lake.
Looking back, I do wish the trip had gone as planned. And given the weather and route conditions, I have no regrets. In the end I got to visit a new and beautiful part of the mountain with a great friend who is generous with her time, loves to climb, and appreciates big views of the mountain, as well as silly ptarmigans and tiny flowers.
This page was last edited on
Tuesday, July 05, 2005