Damien and I snagging last minute reservations to climb Mt Rainier via the Emmons Glacier Route. Damien climbed the mountain last year on the DC route… I had never climbed it. We figured since we already climbed 3 volcanos this year we might as well go for another. The weather was predicted to the clear and sunny… perhaps a bit overly sunny, but we figured travel by night would mitigate most of the sunshine issues. Our training was up to par. We took aspirin for two weeks to thin our our blood a bit to deal with elevation and climbed to Camp Muir the weekend before. Now we just needed to actually start climbing!

Damien and I got out of work early on Thursday to pick up our permits. The ranger at the White River Ranger station warned of very thin snow bridges and gaping crevasses in the corridor. Plus a questionable “snow chockstone” bridge over the upper bergschrund. To top it off some of the route was pure ice due to the lack of snow. Self arresting would be impossible in some areas and a few screws were recommended. We kicked ourselves for a bit. We had talked about taking a  few screws and then decided against it. We decided to drive back to Everett to get our screws… then we came back and slept in the car. We got up at 2am… the ranger’s intimidating talk started to get to us and we began to wonder if climbing the Emmons was a safe idea after all. We discussed everything for about an hour and decided to do something else for the weekend… but when we got home we felt horrible about bailing so we drove back to the park and headed down the trail at 12:30pm Friday. We no longer find the drive to White River enjoyable.

The Glacier Basin trail begins in the White River Campground (4500ft) and gradually ascended through mostly shady forest to Glacier Basin in 3.1 miles. There is running water along the way and Glacier Basin Camo has access to the silty White River on a side trail. The basin is completely melted out which I’ve been told in very unusual. The unmaintained trail from here is very easy to follow, but gets rougher as it follows the white River from the grassy basin to the moraines of the InterGlacier. We put on our harnesses and crampons at the base of the ice slope, but figured we’d rope up higher up on the big ice field.  Access onto the glacier is made treacherous due to running water running swiftly under the ice and snowpack which is thin in some places. There are large areas of exposed steep ice and self arresting would be futile. Rockfall from the surrounding cliffs is frequent so stay out of the fall line. We roped up about 600ft up the slope before the first crevasses. By then it was 6:00pm.

There is a beaten bootpack that leads up what seamed like an endless slope. Every time i thought we were at the top there was another slope behind it! We stepped over a few crevasses and crossed a snow bridge. Nothing was dicey. We were just very very tired at this point! Finally we arrived at the rocky area known as Camp Curtis. We picked our way over some rocky ledges and were greeted with a full view of Mount Rainier… and the long track we had to follow below to Camp Schurman (9450ft). We carefully descended the sandy rock ledges back onto the snow, now passing mammoth crevasses and Little Tacoma to the left. The path seemed to go on forever and the little hut of Camp Schurman never seemed to get closer. But we did finally reach it just as the sun began to dip below the horizon. We joined the other late comers in digging our a space for our tent on the snow left of the rock plateau the dry campsites and hut were located. The wind howled as we staked down our tent with our pickets. Folks nearby us were really struggling with their massive dome shaped tents, but getting up our BD Eldorado was fairly easy. The city light of Seattle glowed far below us against a smoky pink sky as we finally snugged up inside the tent at 10:30pm. Damien ate gummy worms for dinner… I had goldfish (whole gain of course!).

We awoke late on Saturday morning. This was our day to chill and rest before the climb. We hung around camp talking to the ranger and other climbers. I’d never been to a basecamp like this before complete with prayer flags and plastic flamingos outside the hut. We switchout our pickets and staked down out tent up our snow parachutes… had last nights dinner for breakfast. Base camp activities and a lot of sleeping. Climbers seemed to be having success with the route, though many warned of icy on top of the corridor being very cruxy. Damien and I were concerned about the heat forecast for Sunday as well and figured it would be best to start as early as possible just as the glacier began to freeze up and get down before the sun had much time to heat up the route. We decided that we would head out at about 10pm.

As the sky dimmed Damien and I donned our harnesses. We’d been studying the route all day. The corridor would be the hard part it seemed. We were the first team to break camp and head into the darkness. We passed through Emmons flats easily following a boot pack across the gentle slope. Then the real climbing began. We followed a narrow ledge beside a massive crevasse up onto the corridor. Bridges were everywhere and many were disguised as solid snow. I crossed one and only realized i was on a bridge when my ice axe punched through halfway across! We moved carefully and with purpose. The path was easy to follow… but sketch. We stopped over a crevasses with a deep lip. The going was on wither very soft snow or solid ice. Whenever Damien crossed what seemed like thin bridge I would go into arrest position if i could, but in some places it was impossible due to the ice. Getting a picket to rescue would not work here. At about 11,000 ft Damien came across a very sketch bridge. It had two footholds punches through it as though someone had fallen through and their crotch stopped them. Damien crossed to the left of it… up ahead her could see even more thin bridges in a seracs field. It didn’t look bad from down at camp… it was very different up close. We moved into what we assessed to be a safe place and stopped to examine the situation. Snow bridges around us were making funny sounds. Someone had punched through this one earlier. The day was going to get warm and through we could probably make it up just fine getting down could lead to an epic. Self arresting was not always an option. We are conservative climbers.. we bailed… and it became very clear that this was the right move in a matter of minutes a few feet below the bridge with the boot punctures the ground under Damien made a big whump sound and sunk a bit…. he was on a weak hidden bridge. We moved down the mountain surprisingly not in sadness, but feeling pretty happy with ourselves for not letting our ambition override our judgement. This is the first time I didn’t horrible about being forced to bail. For the first time it wasn’t about the summit… it was about the journey. I’ve always been obsessed with summits  and getting as many as possible. I didn’t care how I obtained that goal. Amount of mountains climbed is still important to me… but the route and journey there now holds importance as well. That is something Damien has shown me.

Climbers definitely made the summit that day, we saw them near the top when we woke up later that morning. I don’t know what it was like for them coming down. Damien said the route probably will only be in a day or two more. We’re glad we made our decision regardless of the others. It was the right one for us. We broke campo and headed down the InterGlacier. It was so warm that i ended up wearing just my tank top and wishing i could convert to shorts. I always knew this would happen eventually… i never thought it would be on Rainier. My watch read 83 degees at Camp Curtis and it was about 8:45am! Descending the InterGlacier wasn’t as bad as going up… good amount of rockfall in some areas though due to the heat.

We walked out of the wilderness at 12:45pm to what would be the hottest day of the year in Seattle. Until next year Emmons Glacier!


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