Type: Ice, Snow, Alpine, 9000 ft (2727 m), Grade II
FA: Dee Molenaar and Pete Schoening; July 21, 1957
Page Views: 2,566 total · 36/month
Shared By: Michael Blake on Feb 18, 2018
Admins: Nate Ball, Jon Nelson, Micah Klesick, Zachary Winters

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Description Suggest change

The Wilson Headwall as described in Mt Rainier: A Climbing Guide by Mike Gauthier is a steep cirque of snowfields and rock bands accessed through narrow couliors off of the northwest head of the Wilson Glacier. The headwall comprises the central and western side of Wapowety Cleaver and tops out at 13,300 feet, the cleaver's apex. The climb is best attempted when snow covers most of the face. There is substantial exposure to icefall from the Kautz Ice Cliff when accessing the headwall. Climbers should use helmets and get an alpine start, especially in summer, when the headwall gets a lot of sun. Once on the route the climb is moderately steep (30 to 50 degree snow and ice slopes) with great exposure as the lower headwall and Wilson Glacier fall away below.

Location Suggest change


The usual approach begins at the Paradise upper parking lot (5,420 feet) and follows the Skyline Trail for 1 mile to Glacier Vista (6,336 feet). Rope up - the Nisqually has numerous hidden holes - and continue northwest across the glacier. From here there are three principal approaches depending on conditions:

1. The Fan - look for a prominent snow chute on the other side of the glacier that provides access to the west side (left side) of the Wilson Glacier and to the upper Wapowety Cleaver. A large rock buttress marks the right side of this chute. There may be a bergshrund at the entrance to the chute and a creek is usually flowing from the buttress.

2. Nisqually Cutoff - for those who are weary of the significant rock fall danger going up the Fan it is possible to continue further up the glacier to a noticable snow ramp on the left. Ascending here meets back up near where the Fan tops out at but avoids all of the rock fall involved with ascending the Fan.

3. Nisqually Direct - during the early season, it is possible to ascend the Nisqually Glacier directly to the Wilson Glacier. On some occasions, this can provide a more direct approach. The way melts out early, so be prepared to climb the Fan or the Cutoff.


From the 9,200-foot high camp, climb directly to the headwall and across the top of the Wilson Glacier. There may be a bergshrund in late season. The headwall is accessed through 30-degree snow chutes (at 10,000 feet) that exposes climbers to icefall from the Kautz Ice Cliff. Move quickly.

Stay left of the prominent rock butress in the center of the hedwall and ascend 30 to 50 degree slopes for 3,000 feet. The steepest sections are lower on the face. Small rock bands at 11,300 feet and 12,200 feet can be climbed or bypassed on the sides.

Slope angle decreases higher on the snowfield, but larger bands of rock near the top of the upper Wapowety Cleaver may require fifth class moves and protection. These can be avoided by exiting on the eastern snow chute toward the upper Nisqaully Glacier. Continue to 13,300 feet to the top of the headwall and of Wapowety Cleaver. From here it's a short climb to the summit crater rim and Columbia Crest.


Descent is either via the Kautz Glacier route or a carry over the summit and take a standard route back to Camp Muir.

Protection Suggest change

Rope, 3-4 pickets, and a couple ice screws just in case.