Each year, the opportunity to climb the Kautz Glacier route on Mt Rainier is an event I look forward to with much anticipation. From the National Park Road to Paradise, where most climbs begin, the Kautz Ice Chute stands out in prominent relief from the rest of the broad, south side of the mountain. If you’re paying attention on the drive up, this route is one of the first features you’ll see. After you know it’s there, it is hard to let go.
Two approach days put us in position high above the crowds. Climbers enter the ice chute at first light and the real fun begins. Ice tools sink with satisfying security into the chute’s bare, hard surface. Upward progress is slow, focus is directed inward and extends not much beyond arm’s length. Until the sun lights up the valleys below, and taps you on the shoulder. Hazy summer conditions mean layers of mountains extend forever. Mount Adams, Hood, St. Helens. Jefferson on a clear day. The volcanoes southward in the Cascade chain are frosted with the pink of sunrise. It is morning up high. And it is good to be climbing.
Finishing the ice chute, there’s still work to be done navigating real, big glaciers before stepping foot on the summit. Tired, sleepy, hungry, elated. It doesn’t matter, it always seems worth it for those moments that stick around long after we’re home.