Observation Rock - Mt. Rainier Satelitte

Seeing as both Phil (solo) and a team of Jeff/Matt had been rejected by this "moderate" sounding ice face in the past week, I was intruiged. Phil had mentioned that on his solo attempt/recon. that the face was about 4 pitches of water ice, starting out at 40 degrees or so, and steepening into the 50s up higher. So the wheels turned and sure enough, Phil, Greg and I were driving out to the Mowich lake trail head Saturday night.

Arriving in the parking lot at night is certainly advantagous-- one does not forget to turn off the headlights. As Matt and Jeff had learned earlier that week, batteries die and cold nights outside with out any bivi gear are no fun! (Aparently no fun for your house mates when you don't return too!). It was very cold, probably near freezing. We quickly setup the tents and crawled into bed after tasty subway sandwiches and beer. Following Mark Twight's (famous alpine and ice climber) advice, we "carbo loaded" with our asiago parmesian cheese bread and identical sandwich fillings. The night was long and sometimes cold. We had much respect now for Matt and Jeff!

Dave and Greg at the "special" parking spot - the exact trail head!

The hike into Sprey Park and Observation Rock is decently long. Probably 2000-2500 feet to the base of the face. It was cold, but moving fast and light as we were, it only took two hours to get to the very bottom of the face. It was still so cold that small ponds had about 3 inches of ice covering them, and there was about 5 inches of new snow! When phil had visited the area the week prior, there had been none.

Rainier lookin' sweet.

We stopped for a sip of my homemade GU, and harness up at the bottom of the face. Phil was particularly impressed at the "runnyness" of my GU. The face above looked short, but very nice. Definitely steepening on the upper half and turning to blue ice. Greg impressed my backcountry tastebuds with cooked pasta that had a light oil and garlic sauce. He claims to have eaten it on the summit of Rainier several months prior, but it's probably bs because you can't even stand GU at that altitude! :)

Heading off towards the face.

The very bottom parts of the face consist of easy 15-20 ice/snow for about 1,000 feet until a bench is reached below the obvious climb. Phil and I had a Democratic game of Yatzee to determine who got to lead which sections of the face. I won the upper half! yes! So up the face we went, running belay style. Phil stopped about 25 m up and placed a screw mid way through the initial 50 degree bare ice section on the lower face. The ice here was very strange. It was simmilar to glacier ice, but it seemed to have experienced many melt-thaw cycles that made it very plastic like water ice. Unfortunatly we were in a "thawing" phase, and most swings ended up pitching off the upper inch or two of ice. Greg followed Phil in the middle of the rope, and soon it was my turn to be the "ice ball catcher". After two piches phil set in an ice screw belay and brought Greg and I up. Phil had chosen an excellent place to belay for the ice/snow was soft enough here to kick small steps into the ice, thus letting our calves relax. This turned out to be advantageous because there wasn't another rest in sight until the top of the face!

Phil leading the "lip" of steep bare ice on the lower face.

The first two pitches were hard ice and sometimes frozen snow up to about 45-50 degrees. About 50 feet above our belay the face became notably steeper as one entered the base of "the Mushroom". This feature was the longest section of bare ice we could find through the new snow on the face. We hoped it would be the steepest! After a very quick re-rack and transition, phil belayed me off. These first 50 feet or so of frozen snow were so fun and easy to climb that I practically ran up them, swinging each tool like I was a dog trotting up the climb. I realized my folly when I finally stopped to place a screw at the base of the mushroom, phew , I was getting tired!

Placing a screw at the start of the steep ice on the Mushroom, 3rd pitch.

The first pitch of the Mushroom was pretty warm 50 degree ice. It took screws very well though, and soon all three of us were moving again. Each tool placement caused the ice to shatter or rip out a decent chunk, sending it hurtling down on the unsuspecting Greg and Phil. On the plus side, these "divits" created great foot holds for me! A good symbiosis!

Our three person team climbed very well together, all roughly climbing at the same speed. We each had momentary breaks when an ice screw had to be placed/cleaned, and soon we had climbed onto the Mushroom's head. A lip of sorts runs across the face at this point and creates a nice 60 degree slope. The ice quality greatly improved in this section, and it was pure heaven on 60 degree ice to the top of the face.

More mushroom pictures!

I set in a quick belay at the totally flat top of the face, and belayed greg up. I really wanted to measure the angle of the face because everyone has messed up ideas about snow slop angles. I passed Phil's belay off to greg and wipped out my fancy-trusty compass/clinometer. Exactly 60 degrees down to phil, and soon he joined us up in the sunlight again on top of our little ice climb!

Seeing as the summit was so near, we decided to hike up to it along the W ridge. The snow was soft, and balling up terrible in our crampons. At one point it felt as though I was walking on a cusion of snow, little 6 inch snowballs on the bottom of my feet that compacted with the grounded snow to give a "big snowball" feeling. hmmm, safe perhaps on this 15 degree slope, but definetly tireing! We plodded on up to the summit in the nasty heat of the sun, reaching it at 2:30pm. Not bad for leaving the car 5 hours earlier, we had spent and hour and a half on the 4 technical pitches of the face. Unfortunatly I was supposed to be back in Seattle for dinner with my family at 6pm. Oh well, so it goes in the mountains.

After a quick bite of food on the Summit and some awesome views of the rugged N side of Rainier, we headed down.

Greg descending the frozen scree on the North ridge.

The decent took us NE down a short gully and out on top of another small and moderate ice face. This one probably two pitches long and 50 degrees or so. We opted for the walk around. :) A quick traverse though boulders led us back to the bench below the North face and soon we were futiley trying to glissade down the soft powder of the lower face. On a short section Phil decided to show off his steep ice technique. You see, he has been building arm strength to climb vertical ice since an embarasing spectacle on a oversized melting popcicle last winter. I'm guessing he still has a way to go...

Phil getting pumped on some "steep" ice!

We all seemed to have not brought enough food, and were pretty much starving the whole way back to the car. At one point Phil told Greg and I that the next hour of our lives were really going to suck. He was referring to the uphill hike back to the car over the last two miles. So a small gentelman's wager was made to see how long it would be to hike back to the car. I said 45 minutes, greg 47.5, and phil a doubtful 50 minutes. As I hiked, I realized how silly it is to make a trail that descends or "dips". The hiker must cover that elevation 4 times instead of once! Think about the round trip and both ups and downs and it makes sence. Or no sence. go figure! On our way out, eveningish we notice a high volume of hikers with nothing more than tennis shoes and small packs heading up into the snowy spray park. When we reached the trail head (37.5 minutes) we met up with some rangers who were adament that "there's almost no one up there now." Oooookay, well they had bigger fish to fry: us. Since we had parked IN the campground (road leads to and around it), we were camping illegally. Usually the Park service employs the modern gating technique of "a big wet log rolled over the entrance to the camping ground." Because we had rolled in at night, and there were others camping with thier cars around us, we figured no problem. Aparently someone had moved the log!!!!! oh no! So the ranger's had already closed the gate, as it was, on us. Luckily these rangers were "nice" as they described themselves, eluding to a "bad cop" ranger that we were lucky not to have encountered, and didn't ticket us.

"Roll the log back when you leave..." they told us. yeish!
But we all had a nice climb, and an interesting hick town experience in the wonderful town of Buckley on the way out. See Phil's trip report for more info!

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