(re-posted from Eric J's nwhikers report
) 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. Sergio had been Jonesing for this peak for a while now, since he sees it every time he's boarding at Crystal. 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. We decided to make this a one-and-a-half day trip to break up the 16 miles and to get some conditioning in for bigger trips this summer.
After a calm night in Summerland, we got going the next morning at 7:15 under bright and sunny skies. At Panhandle Gap we turned right directly up to the little rise, then over it to the other side. 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'. From here Beckey's description of the route is apparent. The "spiry solitary fir" is obvious, so we marched on over to it. 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 large summit area becomes visible. Sergio had warned me off going too far left up a harder gully, so I went right. There are plenty of variations across the face to keep you occupied ranging from loose 3rd to low 5th with some exposure, and only those adept at routefinding will succeed in locating the easiest option. Once past the difficulties, easier scrambling led to the false summit, and another 200' horizontal to the true summit of Cowlitz Chimney, 7605'.
As Sergio was waiting below, I stopped only briefly before heading down. To return the route goes mostly up the way on Banshee to avoid steeper sidehilling below. The snow had now turned quite soft, though short of postholing with our snowshoes on. All-in-all, this is worthwhile outing in 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 with short but exciting climbing.