Mount Rainier Emmons Route July 5-7, 2012
Three years after my Mount Adams climb, I am a different person, a different climber and have a completely different perspective on both life itself and climbing. A friend from Colorado (Andrew) asked me if I would do Mount Rainier with him to which point I quickly thought about my summer plans and realized that would work perfectly. Josh was getting a bus ride down to Colorado and this would be a perfect way for him to get back home. He would also be able to join us on Rainier. My roommate (Stephan) joined as well and later on a fifth joined our team (Eric) who met us at the trailhead. Andrew agreed to drive the four of us from Colorado in his car. Josh, Stephan and I met up at his house on the third of July and on the 4th we all headed out early in the morning. We alternated driving and went straight through to Mount Rainier and arrived at the White River trailhead at about 3am on the 5th where we all napped in the car for a few hours. That morning we went to the ranger station to get the permits (where we saw a huge line). We hit the first perfect weather window of the entire year and it was the 4th of July weekend so we expected MANY people. After waiting a half hour we got the permits (which cost $30!) and parked at the trailhead. We all geared up and started up the trail which very quickly became covered in snow and we were hiking on firm snow to treeline at glacier basin. I took one look at the inter-glacier and realized we didn't have to rope up for it since it was clearly no longer a glacier. So we slowly made our way up the snow following the well worn path through the snow. We were all feeling well and made it to Camp Schurman in great time. We were all pretty tired but not completely exhausted. We found a few open platforms to use to set up the tents. It was neither cold or windy at camp which was awesome. It was a beautiful afternoon and we saw climbers coming down the mountain. To my surprise I saw three other people I knew from Colorado (one of which is SP's own Monster5) at camp and spoke with them quite a bit about climbing and the route itself. We spoke with the climbing rangers a bit too who were awesome to talk to. Turns out the day before my friend Matt just passed through camp on his way down Liberty Ridge...we just missed ya man!
As the sun was setting the views across the Emmons Glacier to Little Tahoma were breathtaking and looking up at the route left us in awe. The crevasses were huge...just incredible to look at. We planned to spend the second day relaxing at camp and practicing ice axe arrest and crevasse rescue and Z-pulley since we all needed a refresher and a couple of the guys on our team had never been on snow or glacier before. We had a nice warm day going over the crevasse rescue process. I spoke with more climbers on who came down about the route and we heard there is a very thin snow bridge to cross which got us a little worried. We easily saw where it was as there was an area where there were huge seracs about halfway up the route. Later that afternoon we saw skiers coming down the route and all I could think of was craziness! I thought that was insane...one wrong turn and you'd probably die. We agreed to be up at 11pm and start moving by midnight to try and be ahead of the 15 other rope teams at camp. It was a busy place at Camp Schurman the whole time we were there but the people were cool. By 7pm I was asleep with 5 alarms in the tent. What felt like 5 minutes was 4 hours and we had to get going. I made a quick breakfast and we roped up. Stephan, Andrew and I on a team of three with Josh and Eric on a team of two. We started up the route right at midnight and quickly passes Emmons flats where we saw even more people camped! We soon found ourselves passing a number of rope teams who started just before us. There was a backup at the seracs where people had to cross one at a time over the small snowbridge which wasn't a problem at night when it was frozen. Shortly after we crossed over we passed the remaining teams and we began leading the charge up the Emmons Route pulling further ahead of everyone else. The upper mountain we had to ourselves and the sunrise was nothing short of spectacular! I noticed we were slowing a bit but only as we reached the crater rim. The final 5 minute walk to the summit was very memorable albeit windy as hell. I was amazed how we went from calm winds to 50 MPH just by reaching the crater rim. We reached the summit and literally cheered, grabbed some photos and quickly headed off the rim to take a break just below where the wind was less. We were all very excited to have summitted but we had the descent still to come.
So we began slowly hiking down the glacier following the same path we took up. The winds whirling off the crater made for some very interesting cloud formations. We took our time going down since we had to navigate our way through many rope teams who were still going up. We also started to have the snow ball up in our crampons as the sun warmed the snow slightly. It really wasn't too bad though. We were passed by a team of two who just got off Liberty Ridge right as we bot back to the thin snow bridge at the seracs. They ran across just before us and we decided to send Andrew across and put a directional picket just in case the bridge broke on either of us. One of his feet punched through but he made it across. I made it safely across and Stephan, who is the lightest made it easily across but more in this later. The rest of the slog down wasn't bad and we made it back to camp around 1pm at which point we took a nice long rest and once again spoke with our friends at camp. It was an all around beautiful day and the summit stayed clear all day. We broke camp and parted with Eric who was going to head down later. So the four of us continued back down the inter-glacier which was an awesome glissade which is much better than walking. I managed to call my parents to say we were on our way down and to let them know when we would be back. From the bottom of our glissade, the hike out the trail seemed to take days! I hear it always does but we sure were glad to get back to the car to head to my house for dinner.
So that sketchy snow bridge I was talking about...turns out that when we returned to camp, as we were packing up we heard that merely 20 minutes after we crossed it it gave way when a woman sat down to start across. She didn't fall but just about everyone behind us headed up that morning were not trapped and had to locate a different way down. Everyone eventually made it down but the moral of the story is that had we been 20-30 minutes later it could have failed with one of us on it!