Forum Index > Trip Reports > Main Cowlitz Chimney  5/30-31/14
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cartman
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cartman
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PostThu Jun 05, 2014 7:18 am 
Sergio has been jonesing for this peak for a while now, since he sees it every time he's boarding at Crystal Mtn.  And though I've been to Summerland several times, I've never been past Panhandle Gap, so this was new terrain for both of us.

Cowlitz Chimneys is a series of prominent crags visible from many areas on the northeast side of Rainier.  The Chimneys are three distinct major pinnacles:  North, Middle, and Main Cowlitz.  Main (South) Cowlitz is the highest and largest of the three and would be our objective.

We decided to make this a one and a half day trip to break up the 16 miles and to get some backpacking training in for bigger trips this summer.  The trail to Summerland was mostly dry for the first two miles, after that there was snow most of the way.

Tamanos
Tamanos

Last weekend on Shasta we had just missed Kyle Miller snowboarding off the summit.  As we were coming up the slope to Summerland, who should we run into but...Kyle Miller.  Small world.  He and his partners were in to do some touring past Panhandle Gap.  If you haven't ski toured here before, there's a wealth of fine terrain to keep you busy for days.

Coming up to Summerland the views really open up to the land of fire & ice.

Approaching Summerland
Approaching Summerland
Little Tahoma and Rainier
Little Tahoma and Rainier
Little Tahoma
Little Tahoma

Summerland was nearly all still snow covered, so we snow camped under some trees a little way from the shelter.  Clouds kept threatening to sweep in from the east,

Clouds above Banshee
Clouds above Banshee
Clouds to the east
Clouds to the east

but despite a bit of overcast in the evening mostly stayed to the east both days.


We got going the next morning at 7:15 under bright and sunny skies.

Rainier morning
Rainier morning

We initially left our snowshoes in camp, but after 100' of walking and noticing how soft the snow was already, went back and put them on.  Very glad we had them, as we would have been postholing all the way back without.  A bit unusual for June, as I rarely ever use them past the end of May.

The route heads over Panhandle Gap.

Snowshoeing to the Gap
Snowshoeing to the Gap
Approaching Panhandle Gap
Approaching Panhandle Gap

Approaching the gap there was a fresh, north-facing avalanche crown.

Avalanche crown
Avalanche crown
Another view
Another view

Curious.  Typically north faces are safer in late spring as they've usually slid if they're going to and due to the reduced solar effects.  Starting up the ridge and looking over at the Tatoosh Traverse, there was another N-facing crown.  Possibly both were started by cornice collapses.

Tatoosh Traverse
1 label
Tatoosh Traverse

At the gap we turned right directly up to the little rise, then over it to the other side.

Tracks
Tracks

We went around this to the left coming back, but it's not really worth the bother unless it's melted out.

The route continues up Banshee's gentle W slopes to the summit's fine viewpoint at 7400'.

Banshee slopes
Banshee slopes
Approaching Banshee summit
Approaching Banshee summit
Banshee summit
Banshee summit
Main Cowlitz
3 labels
Main Cowlitz
Middle Cowlitz
Middle Cowlitz

From here Beckey's description of the route is apparent.  The "spiry solitary fir" is obvious, so we marched on over to it.

Over to Main
Over to Main
Crags
Crags

Beckey says to then ascend 100'; actually the "horizontal fence of small evergreens" is directly above the solitary fir, so ascend about 50' and start traversing left just above the line of trees.  The slope here is quite steep so we faced in and kicked steps sideways.

**Note that if you know the approximate location of the cave and slot, at this time of year it's much better to just boot up the snow to directly below and scramble about 75' up to them on class 3 rock, dispensing with the solitary fir and fence of trees traverse.

Due to various delays Sergio and I got separated and so each climbed the rest of the way solo.  Once past the trees there is a tiny alcove directly above.  Note this but otherwise ignore it.  Continue traversing on rock another 100'--I traversed just above the ledge, class 4, solid--till the route comes around a shallow corner to Beckey's "small hidden cave".  This isn't a cave at all, merely a larger alcove.  Just to the left of the alcove is the short rock slot.  This was wet and mossy, and getting up it involved the most awkward moves on the route.

Above the slot the route continues directly up for a hundred feet or so on mediocre rock.  No need to worry yet; the rock gets much worse.  Not necessary to go to the top of the ridge; the route starts traversing up and left not far above the slot as the very large summit area becomes visible.

Main Cowlitz summit block
Main Cowlitz summit block

Choices, choices.  Sergio had warned me off going too far left up a harder gully, so I went right.  I bypassed the near gendarme on its left and started up and gradually right towards what is more of a face than a gully route, looking for weaknesses and slots to work my way up (class 3 junk).  As I got higher I noticed a sideways ">" slot I thought might go.  Getting to it was interesting class 3 and 4 with exposure, not clean but not as junky as the less angled terrain below.  The > was not as exposed, but ended in a 10' gully with three overhanging chockstones clogging it to the ridgeline above.  The only other option was just left up low class 5 for a couple of moves, which I took.  Easier scrambling led to the false summit, and another 200' horizontal to the true summit of Cowlitz Chimney, 7605'. No register.

Rainier from Main Cowlitz summit
Rainier from Main Cowlitz summit

As Sergio was waiting below, I stopped only briefly before heading down.  Not wanting to downclimb the face, I considered the major gully below and between the true and false summits.  It was clogged with talus junk but getting to it and down it looked only class 3 until it curved left and disappeared around a corner.  Making my way easily down this I was pleased to see the route went fine where it got steeper.

Descent gully
Descent gully

Stemming down this slot the route down now varied from class 2 to 3+ on more of a face.

Downclimbed this
Downclimbed this

I worked my way down the path of least resistance until I could return to the up route crossing back below the gendarme and down the slot to a patiently waiting Sergio.  Depending if you want easier but junkier terrain, I'd recommend this down route for going up as well.  If you want more of a challenge, there are plenty of variations across the face to keep you occupied.

The snow had now turned quite soft, though short of postholing with our snowshoes on.  To return the route goes mostly up the way on Banshee to avoid steeper sidehilling below.

Return to Banshee
Return to Banshee
Up Banshee...again
Up Banshee...again

As we were coming down Banshee's slopes the approaching clouds were looking rather ominous...

Sergio is TOAST
Sergio is TOAST

but we wuz faster.

This is an interesting area.  Most of the peaks on this side of Rainier have a gentle route, so it was more challenging to head up one that involves a bit of routefinding and some definite climbing moves.

For the Cowlitz Chimneys:

If you want to get to the high point, do Main Cowlitz.

If you want a more aesthetic route and easier scrambling, do Middle.

If you want some roped climbing action, do North.

If you want lousy rock, do any of the above.


Thanks to Sergio for the idea, camaraderie and the driving.

16 miles, 5000' gain.

Eric J. Johnson

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Jetlag
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PostThu Jun 05, 2014 1:22 pm 
Excellent TR with useful route-finding tips and photos!

I really like the photo of Little Tahoma!!

Easy to see from the pictures why Kyle split-boarded Banshee.

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puzzlr
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PostThu Jun 05, 2014 11:55 pm 
That looks like a great trip for this time of year. I never heard of these points, but added them to my ever growing "hikes to do" list. So glad you can still write a TR or two.

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Jim Dockery
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PostFri Jun 06, 2014 10:04 am 
Thanks for the TR, I may head down there for some skiing this weekend.

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Zloi
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PostThu Aug 07, 2014 10:49 am 
Really good trip report, thanks.  Now I know not to elevate the Chimneys on my To Do list.

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Redwic
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PostThu Aug 07, 2014 10:55 am 
borank.gif

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Year 2021: 50 pounds lighter but not 50 points brighter.
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Magellan
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Magellan
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PostThu Aug 07, 2014 11:24 am 
Nice work. up.gif Middle Cowlitz is damn sexy from Tamanos.
Heather, Paintbrush, Cowlitz Chimneys
Heather, Paintbrush, Cowlitz Chimneys

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