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Trip Report

TRIP REPORT – RAINIER VIA EMMONS
21-22 JULY

The initial trip idea was to do Emmons-Winthrop route as seemed to me more interesting than the Disappointment Cleaver route while still keeping it moderate but recent updates from the climbing rangers speaking of several climbers falling into crevasses, disappearing snow bridges, almost no parties summiting on the previous two weeks and the possibility of the route shutting due to more open crevasses/schrunds made us decide on the planning forum to do the DC route instead; the approach to first camp –Muir- is much shorter and so is the elevation gained on both days, plus the route is being maintained by commercial guides with ladders and fixed ropes. We met at the Paradise Valley center at the Rangers office, they opened the office at 7am we got there at 6am and found already a group bivying at the door. 2nd on the line but with most permits already gone would be tight, the guys in front of us get it, the ranger says that we can camp in Muir icefield ,right before the normal camp, we say yes, he looks again to book it and boooom gone (as there 5 ranger offices maybe someone booked in those 3 seconds?) DC route is off the list. We saw a few people going without permits but apart from being very poor form and illegal means that you are making already a busy climb busier and more dangerous for everyone. We could wait until 10am to see if there are no-show permits but not very likely and if that failed would be too late to do anything.

 

The ranger gives us the speech about why we cannot climb DC (conservation, overcrowding…)and ask any alternative plans? Mummm well Emmons via Schurman? Looks and yes enough permits for the 5 of us, warns us about the late season conditions but seems quite positive and says that most people turning are inexperienced, the route definitely goes to the top without major hazards and reassures us that if we have prepared for that route should be solid although tight on time…its already 7am we have to drive almost 2h to the trailhead and the way to camp Schurman is not short, everyone nods with resignation…we have a new plan: the old plan!

Back in the car driving to White River trail head, a quick coffee and breakfast and we are moving at 9am on a long beautiful slog up the valley trail, which follows the river side and is quite popular with day hikers. The views of Rainier with Little Tahoma are spectacular and a few marmots greet us as we enter the alpine meadows. We arrive to the talus were the Inter Glacier starts, we stash our approach shoes and time to get to business. The next two hours is slow consistent 25/30degrees straight up the glacier being baked by the sun, we take a direct line straight up, there are a few crevasses towards on top and we decide to rope up although probably wouldn’t be necessary. We are making great time and moving fast, we don’t really take any long breaks just 1min breaks to drink/eat as necessary. Once at camp Curtis the route drops from the shoulder of the Steamboat into the Emmons Glacier…the huge longitudinal crevasses undulating up Emmons and the view of the entire climbing route of the next day is completely amazing. From there magnitude of the mountain is obvious we have been sweating for awhile up the Inter glacier and we haven’t made it even to the base of one of the flanks. Its going to be a long second day. 40 mins more up the Emmons glacier and we are in camp Schurman around 3/4pm. The climbing ranger briefed us on weather, camp etiquette, and what the other groups are up to. Seems like everyone is starting that night from 10pm onwards, we said we would start and midnight, he mentions that it is early enough for a turn around time of 8/9am as with sunny days they don’t like people stuck up route as lots of serac and bridges to cross, also warns us we will be trailing a few groups but that it is part of the Rainier experience but with such a great weather window everyone should have fun!

Everyone is in high spirits setting up the tent and prepping dinner/lunch whatever that was. Bad news Mike tells us that he was super tired hiking to camp and the altitude isn’t helping so it’s not feeling like starting tomorrow, we try to convince him as that is just because he had the bigger pack of the group (bringing a 300page novel was a bit of a heavy luxury) and the next day with daypacks he should feel better but he seems pretty convinced and set on resting up. Everyone is in bed by 6.30pm with alarms at 10.45pm… for me one of the longest nights of my life as I did not close my eyes for one second, there are lots of groups arriving on three days attempts arriving until 8pm and then the alarms and people waking up to climb so the chatting is non-stop and the acoustics of the place should be studied for future generations to improve on theaters…doulby-surround systems are nothing compared to how people chatting about how beautiful the sunset is a few hundred meters from you seem to be whispering it at your ear… Apparently Rich and Louis managed to sleep a couple of hours, I couldn’t at all and made it very hard to Pav, that was sharing tent with me, as I was trying to stay still but couldn’t help but moving from time to time. At 9.30 I had had enough and just sat outside the tent to soak-in the views and wait for the wakeup time, was pretty cool to see the first groups start ascending with headlamps but still some daylight.

A few minutes past midnight we start moving (Mike decided to stay in bed and “sleep” a bit more) the first groups are completely out of sight and close to the summit, we think naively, and there maybe 6/7 groups ahead of us the closest maybe 400mtrs ahead. Pav leads the group crossing/jumping crevasses very smoothly. We are going pretty fast, any faster we would need to take breaks to rest but everyone is moving efficiently and holding the pace well. From leaving the camp you have to jump a couple of huge crevasses (maybe the biggest on route) to get to the Emmons flat, then up an easy snow slope to then traverse left into “the corridor” which is a smooth line that separates the Emmons and Winthrop glaciers, that is the normal route but now is heavily crevassed and can only be followed half way up before becomes impracticable. This area is spectacular in the dark as you can only guess the huge crevasses and seracs you are navigating through. We start passing a few groups here. This feature that looks like just a few hundred meters from camp seems to go forever I think in two hours from camp we were mid/high-corridor where becomes impassable. We made winding traverse left into the “garbage disposal” (not sure if called like this because anything you drop is definitely gone for good into crevasses down below or because in late summer those huge iceblocks fall down…) a steeper left traverse between ice cliffs, this area must get up to 40 degrees, the snow conditions were superb with icy snow that the crampons were biting perfectly. Here we passed a few groups and suddenly we saw the girls group, they had been the first to start climbing and were moving fast and decisively so I was surprised to catchup to them. Here was the main problem of the day, once arriving to the top of the garbage disposal there is a looong almost 1km right traverse under the schrund but just over the seracs of the top of the corridor, until it the schrund becomes passable. Here we saw some groups trying to go straight climbers right but we had the feeling the we still needed to keep going up and left further before starting the traverse. On complete darkness and in such a big mountain is pretty difficult to measure at which point of the never ending series of seracs and faces and crevasses you are and with the choice of taking an easy right traverse into the corridor or hopefully just above it or keep going on to steepening terrain traversing left into what looks a wall of seracs…we were not very sure. We paused to discuss and the next group caught up to us. The leader group of the girls seemed to think initially that we had gained enough elevation and was time to start the right traverse but after discussing it ended up agreeing with us on the left path, their headlamp was much stronger than ours and they glimpsed what maybe was a steep ramp between two seracs way up. We let them pass and moved together with the girls group up the left traverse until we finally found the ramp that goes right between two huge blocks, this ramp is hidden at night by a serac so its definitely the route finding crux. At night with icy snow and steep terrain this final left traverse felt to me a serious no fall zone (on the way down with light seemed not that steep with plenty of room to self arrest and no reason whatsoever to fall so much so that would’ve been happy to almost run downhill, crazy how just a bit of light, softer snow and the confidence of knowing where you are going completely changes the risk perception, also I think we probably chose the worst line across this at night going straight up at first and then parallel and even losing altitude left rather than the normal leftwards and up from the start) and together with the route finding issues probably the zone where other groups turned around. As we found some old tracks we were reassured that we were on the right way, saw headlamps of the groups from the right turning around and coming to the left path, we were on route. Atop of this ramp the girls group stopped to rest, we thanked them as we passed them again between the two groups we had managed to pass the crux and now the summit seemed within reach. It was still 4am and completely dark, so we knew had pleeeenty of time. We kept moving right on a long traverse sometimes gaining elevations sometimes losing it, this is easy terrain but you are traversing on a 40degree snow patch with narrow foot placements so despite being “easy” its important to keep focused as it entirely a no fall zone as if anyone fell with the icy-snow conditions and only 20meters before the seracs drop into the Emmons/Winthrop glacier I don’t like the odds of self-arresting any fall. Pav continued on his mission of keeping a steady pace and in no time we were by the schrund and the technical crux of the day. This is a 70 degree slope VERY THIN 10 meters wall like feature to gain the final snow patch, we set up a few snow pikets as running belay that seemed pretty solid and continued climbing, that wall has some obvious steps so despite its steepness and definitely needing hands&iceaxe to get up it we didn’t have any troubles. Here Louis informed us that his GPS was telling him that we were just 200meters of elevation short of the summit. The red light from the sunrise started illuminating Baker and Glacier mt in the horizon and the spirits couldn’t be any higher, from here the trail is obvious and keeps going right and up, the crevasses on the left side if that’s the appropriate word look like holds in the mountain where you could easily fit apartment buildings, in no time we made it close to the first patch of rocks and a few mins later to the summit, the sun had just risen and was still low and red. From the top the view of Hood, St Helens, Adams…absolutely breathtaking, conditions on the summit were superb with almost no wind so we stopped for breakfast, water, pics, I think Pav even took a short nap. We summited just before 6am, and to our surprise we were completely alone, no one from the DC route onsight, almost 45min/1h later when we were going to start heading down, still no one from that side of the crater going up, we were very surprised as we knew for a fact that all the camps there were full (muir, muir snowfield and Ingraham flats) and that’s…lots of people.

 

As we were going to start going down two groups of two people came from our side (Emmons) and just before leaving the crater the group of girls appeared, pretty happy that everyone was making it to the top we started descending. On the way down we stopped to take some pics and both groups of two passed us. Surprisingly, or not, the other groups seemed to have turn around at some point before. As we were going down surprise, on the long traverse to the right we see a guy on a thermal/fire blanked, seating on a snow ledge attach secured to a snowpicket (non-locking binner of course, as I think Rich noted later). I really thought that was it, now we are going to stop for 5/6h until the rangers/heli appears we will be lucky if we arrive to the car with light left, the group of two that just passed us descending had stopped there as well and…well as it happens that guy was from a group of three started to feel bad (altitude) and the other two guys decided to continue climbing. I want to think that he just had a mild headache and was tired and just wanted to stop and was comfortable with being left alone there because if not… even with that, very questionable decision making in my opinion, as we were all thinking that just a few hours before the ranger mentioned not leaving anyone behind in the mountain and seemed so obvious that we even joked about it, well not so obvious after all. We stopped and chatted with them for a bit, everyone even the injured climber seemed in good humor and joking. Very funny moment because we didn’t know if the two guys assisting him were part of his initial climbing group, or if we was a solo climber or…pav asked, “do you have any friends you are waiting for?” (To assess the situation) and the other two guys looked at each other…”Yes, us. Although given that we left him here, maybe no or at least he needs better ones?” If it wasn’t cause we were on a ledge mid traverse with what appeared to be an injured climber I would’ve thrown myself to the floor to laugh. The guy alone had a GPS InReach type device so he always had the chance to contact rescue services and was capable of descending on his own, so we decided to let the group go down first with us trailing behind in case they had any problems. A few hundred meters the injured guy said that was feeling much better and asked us to pass ahead. The snow conditions could’ve not been any better, icy-snow that the crampons bited in the morning, and slightly slushier on the way down for a fast descent. On the way down you get to appreciate how obvious the route was (and shocks how hard was to find at night) also it felt much easier and secure going down despite appreciating the exposure on the traverse and the crevasses and how menacing those house-size seracs you pass by are. Here we felt it was too hot, tired, sleepy and Louis picked up the pace in front to confortable speedwalk so we ended passing the other duo.

Here we saw a group trying to still go up(ein??? obviously too late and turned safely around soon after) and the two climbing rangers flying up, at the time we thought they were just assessing the route but we were informed when we arrived to camp that a party had been seen lost off route and they had gone to retrieve them. I think the only way to get lost so high on the route might have been, just before the 70degree schrund there is a obvious bootpack that winds climbers right so I guess on the way up if you feel the schrund is hard and think the route continues traversing right or on the way down if you don’t remember where you came…we assumed that was the trail from old Emmons route as would go down to “the corridor” now a fully inaccessible by crevasses. Anyhow! We went fast down and were happy to see Mike in high spirits as well, after a late morning start he had been reading his book (a good idea bringing it after all), we spoke with a few nervous climbers that were ready for trying to summit the next day as we were the first group to get down to successfully summit so they wanted to know if the route was still “open”, had a quick sandwick and headed down.

The way down was…long the Inter Glacier was super fun though, after passing the crevasses Louis had eyed on the way up a glissade that would take him without a single step direct to our stashed shoes on probably 400m elevation descent in just 2mins…he prepared and flew down, I don’t really like glissading much but…my knee was hurting a bit and…so I went second…if it wasn’t cause he had just climbed Rainier would’ve been a highlight of the trip and almost worth doing on its own, long with curves (bobsleight style)…definitely worthed the cold ass. Rich and Pav followed after and Mike couldn’t resist to try it neither. The next two hours I can barely remember what happened, I think was trying to stay awake talking to Mike but finally we made it to the cars.

Everyone was tired and Friday afternoon wait on the border was almost sure so we carpooled and parted ways.

Overall great climbing, we were discussing on the way down that the Emmons route despite being an “easy route” the rangers do well in advice that in late summer conditions is definitely a different animal. Not hard at all but very unforgiving if you were to make any mistake, so not really a great beginner climb. The first half is heavily crevassed then what we felt an intermediate route finding problem as route changes you cannot trust bootpacks from previous days I think at some point we didn’t have any and that part of the route is always tackled in the darkness. Followed by a long easy traverse but I feel was “no-fall area” finally a steep short schrund and only from there the route can be considered easy glacier moving. Very fun day.

PS: I just found out on the climbing rangers blog the reason why were alone at the summit. A few expeditions from the DC didn’t summit because one of the early parties turned around saying that an essential bridge had fallen. The rangers had since confirmed that the bridge is still “alive” but fragile and that could be used although if it broke on the way down…would be a very long detour (http://mountrainierclimbing.blogspot.com/…/dc-route-flicker… ).

As I finish writing I read the new update from the rangers on the Emmons routes, must be the from the rangers that we encountered on our way down (http://mountrainierclimbing.blogspot.com/…/emmons-winthrop-… ) and happy to see that they confirm what we were thinking and im not just a chicken about the traverse being a narrow “no-fall area” and needing to be independent not just following old bootpacks in these conditions. The pic from the schrund where we climbed it…was so THIN, its scary to think that we climbed that as seen on the image but we had placed a few pickets to probably would’ve fine even if it broke although VERY glad it didn’t. Looks like they decided to avoid the schrund and keep traversing further right and probably will be the route from now until the end of the season.

Photos
Mt Rainier via Emmons
_Mt Rainier via Emmons
https://bcmc.ca/m/photos/get_image/file/8b8a13f87ce40c7cc477c94660e9893a.jpg
Trip Reporter
30.07.2018 (78 Days Ago)
Trip Report TitleMt Rainier via Emmons
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