Took a party of 8 Mazamas, mostly repeat climbing friends, up the Kautz, a route I've wanted to try for some time. My hand-drawn route on sharemytrail.com turned out to be very accurate, we enjoyed some steeper, spicer climbing twice on the approach by veering off it to the left.
Forecast was for signficant wind (depending on who you asked) and a bit of weather on climb day. So we decided to make camp at 10,200 in a sheltered spot at the edge of the "Turtle", behind the rocks of Wapowety Cleaver, 800 feet below the regular camp below Hazard. Good decision, we were fairly sheltered from the wind, worth the time carving out and maintaining sites on snow. Still quite windy especially Saturday night, my 3-season tent kept slapping me in the face, but it held up fine. Camping at the bivvies below Hazard would have been nasty, we could barely stand there when we arrived at 4AM, but took the chance, and sure enough the wind was quite tolerable down on the Kautz itself, even though the incoming fog and clouds gave us pause.
We lost 2 hours on the Wapowety Cleaver 1) hunkering down in an alcove waiting for the weather to pass/wind to get worse/better, 2) wandering up and down the ridge hunting for the rap station. It's hidden around the corner on the ledge where the main bivvy sites are located, as I guessed, but somehow we missed the bivvies the first time we wandered up the ridge and overshot. Situation wasn't helped by wands ABOVE the bivvies, I took one out.
That pretty much foiled our summit bid, but we actually got over all the technical work, to 12,300 feet, where I took a clean 20-footer into a huge hidden crevasse. Well, almost hidden, later I noticed the crevasse exposed about 100 feet to the right, on the other side of the intermittent track and wand that I missed! Anyway, I hit nothing, was hanging in space, having dropped my 2nd tool that miraculously landed on a ledge a few feet away. (Never leave your tool unleashed.) The team knew exactly what to do! I prusiked up to the lip, and the team dropped a C and hauled me out with three pullers in an amazing 25 minutes total, including a 3 minute lower to collect my tool! The ICS crevasse rescue folks will love to hear about this one. First crevasse fall I ever been involved in.
As for the core of the climb, it was bigger than I expected, per reports of "Kautz is icy", but the ice climbing was easy - if you had a second tool and your first tool was ice-worthy, fortunately everyone wisely decided to bring a second tool and our primary tools were more or less usable. Check that pick clearance angle! There were three full ice pitches, in two sections, the upper one was WAY longer than it looked from below, so II wrongly thought I would not need to collect the ice screws. Made for some spicy leading for about 40 feet! Fortunately I was able to communicate back to the second team and they could protect it. Then above that was mush on ice, rather disconcerting, but it climbed OK. The crevasse fall was just after the snow got good again and I relaxed, of course.
No way we were going to downclimb hard glacier ice, we ended up doing 2 50M and 1 30M raps, most of the party off two ice screws, then lucky me getting to rap off a v-thread, in two cases in not-quite-bullet-proof ice. Believe me, I was thinking "I have no mass"....But the v-threads worked perfectly (note to self, don't bother trying to thread accessory cord, hard to catch and pull through.) Many team members got their first experiences placing and remove and rapping off screws. Great job everyone catching on in a hurry to ice climbing and ice rappel and downclimb logistics!
As if that wasn't enough challenge, we had one more scary moment. While Michael Domeier and I were rejoining the team after pulling the rope on the first rap, suddenly we heard a crashing noise. Michael Horst was setting up the last rappel down on the lower ice face, but the other five team members were clipped into the middle rap station. Michael Domeier looked up to see a truck-sized block calve off the ice wall far off to climbers's left, seemingly safely away from us. But it struck another block and according to Michael, exploded in a shower of fragments flying in all directions ("a beautiful array of fireworks-like ice spray"), including three microwave-sized blocks which one after another rolled down the slope all around us. Michael and I yelled ice repeatedly and tensed to jump if needed. Of course, the five at the rap station could only watch helplessly like flies on flypaper, and sure enough, Roger got tagged on the left shoulder with a pretty good sized chunk, and Margaret took a small hit on the helmet. Just a bruise, fortunately.
We were all very surprised because there had been almost no falling ice before or after this, and I thought our path was relatively safe in this section because it was up a clean sloping gap between the ice walls on the left and right. The once area raked by debris, as we first stepped out onto the Kautz below the lower icefall, was quiet, but we dashed across anyway. Time of day matters, apparently, but basically it's a roll of the dice.
The one thing I didn't check in the beta - so, if you rap in, how do you climb back off the Kautz? The rap is very short, and there is a 4-move 5.2 chimney to regain the rap ledge, aided by a fixed line with knots (don't they know about prussiks?) We threw a line down for the last half of the party to prusik instead.
So, after that amazing day, somehow not summiting didn't really seem to matter. We even discussed going just to Point Success, but it didn't seem worth the effort. Good to get back to camp with plenty of daylight to eat - those of us who had any appetite. Which did not include me. Seems I've developed more sensitivity to altitude sickness, and it didn't go away as soon as I went down - threw up twice yesterday, near Paradise and in the evening at home. Only now 24 hours later am I daring to eat and drink normally and get rehydrated, still not feeling well.