Emmons-Winthrop 2011

September 9th

This last week saw the closing of the hut at Camp Schurman for the fall and winter. The Climbing Rangers that work Camp Schurman would like to thank everyone who climbed through the camp for a great and relatively safe season, and look forward to seeing many of you next year. That said, you are free to climb without our presence at the camp. Please remember to register at the White River Ranger Station before your climb. The route remains in great shape with the only difficulty being in getting off the Inter-Glacier and onto the Emmons. As we have been advising: please start low and traverse onto the Emmons. The moat at this time is still rather easy to cross. Above the camp the route is straight forward, and follows the route described in previous blog updates.

August 26th 

The Emmons route is still in fine shape! At the top of the corridor the route traverses to the right and then follows a relatively direct path to the summit.
With the past few week's warm weather, crevasses have been opening and widening on the Inter Glacier and on the traverse from Camp Curtis to Camp Schurman. So take note of these hazards on the approach and be aware of them while descending.

All in all, the approach to Schurman and the route on the upper mountain remain in good shape and many parties had successful summit trips over the past week.

August 17th

Climbers have been summitting via a very direct path to Columbia Crest, still. The E/W glaciers have been holding strong. Skiers have even been braving the less than ideal conditions on the upper portions of the glacier; as long as it's sunny the snow/ice/sun-cups can be shredded. Climbers are ascending up the Emmons "Corridor" until encountering a large crevasse, and then zig-zagging up and right (climber's right) toward the Winthrop. A direct path straight to Columbia Crest still exists - no need to traverse out to the Liberty Saddle.

Crevasses on the Inter Glacier (on the approach to Camp Schurman) have been opening wider. Please use caution! Watch where glissading paths lead, boot-ski under control, and consider the consequences of falling while traveling on the Inter Glacier. Though crevasses are opening, there are no large icy patches forming.Make sure to stop in and get current route beta from the rangers at Camp Schurman. Enjoy!

August 5th

This week brings the end of the big guided parties. We also had a unroped crevasse fall on the Inter Glacier this week. So the time is ripe to remind people to rope up for the Inter Glacier as things are starting to melt out. The trail down to the Emmons from Camp Curtis (the ridge above the Inter on the climber's left) is starting to be more challenging so use your head and possibly start your traverse into the Emmons a bit lower then the climber's trail. This will avoid the nasty rock crossing. The route above Camp Schurman is rather direct and still in really good condition. Come prepared for daily route changes as things melt further out towards the end of August.


July 28, 2011 The Emmons-Winthrop remains in stellar condition. The photo above shows the directness of the route with only a few minor detours to circumvent crevasse and snow bridge hazards. Surface conditions consist primarily of firm snow with some rime-ice near the summit. Many parties have been summiting over the last week.

July 1st - The route up the Emmons continues to be in great condition. A thorough boot track, ground in by the many parties making summit attempts, can be seen on the approach from White River camp ground. Keep in mind though, always be wary of old tracks; just because previous parties have crossed does not guarantee security.
The crossing from Camp Curtis to the Emmons and up to Schurman is still in good shape although some crevasses are beginning to emerge.

Be sure to start climbs early as the warming days make the afternoon snow on the lower Emmons and Inter glaciers soft and sloppy.
Additionally, the trail from the White River camp ground to Glacier Basin is now about 60 percent melted out with intermittent patches of snow becoming completely snow by Glacier Basin.

June 24, 2011

The deep snow is persisting in many parts of the mountain making for excellent climbing conditions on many routes. Many climbers have been successful on the Emmons route due to a direct route and stable snow bridges, though climbers should always be roped on the upper mountain and aware of changing conditions. This photo (taken from the top of Steamboat Prow) shows a well-defined boot pack heading up the corridor and to the summit!

The snowy conditions are also making for excellent skiing with perfect corn on many aspects. The following photos were taken from a ski tour to the Fryingpan Glacier - where we skied all the way back to the car on on the 2nd day of summer! Bad news for Wonderland Trail hikers, but excellent news for ski mountaineers.

Little Tahoma and Mt. Rainier from the Fryingpan Glacier

Sun cups in the corn at the head of Fryingpan Creek

Emmons-Winthrop ~ June 15, 2011

The Emmons-Winthrop route on Mount Rainier remains in stellar condition. As can be seen from the photo, the line of ascent climbs nearly a straight line from the "the corridor" all the way to the upper bergschrund, which at the moment can be circumvented either to the climber's right (standard variation) or to the climber's left (a bit steeper but more direct), and then on to the crater rim.

Surface conditions as of late have been following the typical spring/summer trend of firm during the night and soft during the day under direct sun with the freezing heights hovering around 9,000 to 10,000 ft. Cramponing conditions have been excellent in the early morning hours and as summarized above, have allowed for a variety of routes between the corridor and the bergschrund ...some perhaps faster than others.

Additionally, numerous people have been summiting Liberty Ridge lately and have been descending the Emmons Glacier without any problems. The only real change worth mentioning from previous years to this line of descent is that the "shortcut", typically taken from the summit saddle between Liberty Cap and Columbia Crest directly to the Emmons, has finally succumbed to gravitational force and no longer really exists (unless you want to jump for it!). There is now currently a very wide crevasse that extends all the way across the top of the Winthrop Glacier from Russell Cliff to where the normal Emmons route joins. This makes for a short ascent up from the saddle towards the crater rim before being able to turn back down hill towards Camp Schurman.

And finally, the approach from the White River Campground is now considered to be 65% snow from the trailhead to Glacier Basin and 100% snow from Glacier Basin to Camp Schurman...so bring your skis if you are so inclined.
See you on the mountain!

Emmons-Winthrop~May 2nd, 2011

Climbing Rangers made it up to Camp Schurman and the summit over the last couple days travelling strictly on the Emmons Glacier. Access to the White River trailhead is still a bit problematic as the road remains snowed in... not due to open until May 21st. Once at the White River Trailhead however the route finding up the newly improved Glacier Basin trail (opened last summer) makes early season route finding on the snow a non-issue. (Hooray!) Due to avalanche concerns for the Inter-Glacier approach and overall aesthetics, a traverse was made approximately 1.25 miles up the G.B. trail over to the toe of the Emmons Glacier proper. This made for a very leisurely yet long skin up to Camp Schurman taking roughtly 6-7 hours total. This route was also used for the descent and will likely remain as a reasonable option for another month or so.

Reaching Camp Schurman, it became evident what kind of winter it had been on the upper slopes of Mt. Rainier as the Schurman hut was completely buried and blown over with snow. Ironically, the outhouse was not nearly buried as deep...at least not on the outside! (see photo)

The next day, May 1st, brought appropriate conditions for a summit attempt which indeed panned out. It was an excellent opportunity to get a close-up look at the avalanche conditions on the upper mountain as well as get some of our new rangers more familiar with the route. As can be seen from the photos, the Emmons route is essentially in a "go anywhere you please" type of condition, in terms of coverage. The avalanche danger however was found to be on the scale of moderate with pockets of considerable in the more wind-loaded versus wind-scoured areas above The Corridor. On the upside at least was the lack of any significant wind-loading directly above the climbing route. Nearing the infamous "Bergschrund" at the top, the climbers left side was taken on the way up and the climbers right side on the way down. Both options seemed reasonable at the time although it was a bit dis-heartening for this troublesome glacial feature to already be so visible this early in the season.

All in all, it was a successful trip to begin digging out the high camp and checking on the climbing conditions for an anxiously anticipated climbing season on Rainier.

See you on the mountain!

Check out last year's photos and condition reports here.

Ptarmigan Ridge 2011

August 9th, 2011

Yes, Ptarmigan Ridge is still remarkably "in"!!! The route
has full coverage from top to bottom and is probably 60% ice and
40% firm snow. We climbed while the freezing level was up to
14,000 ft. making for a comfortable night's stay at the high camp and since the sun doesn't reach the upper portion
of the route until 11:00am, we were able to sleep in a little bit.

Notes, the schrund at the bottom of the ramp
appears like an obstacle at first but is actually easily climbed up some easy rock and pumice without much deviation from the direct line. Making the traverse from the top of the ramp to the first snow/ice chute was probably the crux, requiring a horizontal traverse on steep water ice with great exposure. Once past the
traverse however, the climbing is classic with a mix of ice and snow that is well protected. The rock step at the top of the route, although tedious to access, was easily climbed in crampons on the right hand side where you can find one fixed pin for the 5.7 move. After this, you top out on the Liberty Cap Glacier and have a couple hours left of glacier travel
before reaching Liberty Cap. The route finding here was pretty straight forward but be sure to re-rope for glacier travel as several large crevasses are crossed or schrund bulges climbed.

Gear, 3-4 ice screws for simul-climbing and possibly a couple more if you want to actually pitch out the ice sections. We only used 2 pickets, which seemed adequate enough, and although not required, a small selection of
small to medium nuts could prove useful and on occasion save the use of an ice screw. 2 ice tools also make for a much better time while climbing.

All told, Ptarmigan Ridge is still in great shape and highly recommended...particularly over Liberty Ridge as the approach
for this climb has become troublesome at best. The photos above
and right more or less tell the whole story. Come check it out
while it still lasts.

See you on the mountain!

July 10th, 2011

Ptarmigan Ridge is in fantastic shape right now! The approach from Mowich Lake was mostly on firm, consolidated snow (in the am) and travel along the lower ridge (above spray park) was relatively efficient. The route above 10,3 camp (standard route, not ice cliff) had some awesome climbing on snow/ice. There were multiple sections of solid water ice and steep snow, you will definitely swing your tools. The climbing on the upper Liberty Cap glacier was straight forward, no major difficulties. The route seems like it will be in for a while longer, so get up here and enjoy some of the best steep climbing on the mountain!

June 15th -

Route appears to be in great shape. Prepare for a long approach through deep unconsolidated snow for a while still. The Mowich lake road is scheduled to open July 1st, but that is condition dependent. Check the Mt. Rainier road report for further information.

Kautz Cleaver 2011

Thanks to Olympic Mountain Rescue for this route condition update. The Kautz Cleaver remains one of Mount Rainier's best but least traveled routes.

We approached via the Comet Falls trailhead at 3,600 feet starting at 2 pm on Friday afternoon, expecting to find very soft snow conditions. However,generally consolidated snow was found, with only a few stretches of shin-deep post-holing through Van Trump Park on our way towards the toe of the Cleaver.
With the late start we chose to make camp on flat terrain at about the 8,000’ level directly below the Cleaver. The clouds had parted above 7,000’ and we were rewarded with nice views and the promise of more good weather to come, backed up by a forecast which predicted calm to lights winds up high over the following 2 days.

After finally stirring and setting out around 7:30 am we decided to take the Middle Success Glacier alternate start. It was a toss-up with the Cleaver itself, since both looked equally filled in and straightforward. We reckoned the more westerly aspect of the Middle Success would provide more sun shade and stay firmer longer. At around 10,000’ the snow ramps merge in with the Kautz Cleaver. Firm snow conditions held out until around noon when things began to rapidly loosen up. We decided to dig in a camp at 11,500’ directly on the Cleaver in the early afternoon and have an early go at it the next morning. The views from this perch of the Kautz Glacier and Icefall are superb especially since we had another evening of gentle winds and clear skies. The location afforded a direct view of the Kautz Glacier just to the east, where we watched 2 parties of 4 descend from the mountain and spend over 2 hours to get down the first, steeper portion of the glacier. All 8 eventually ended up doing controlled glissades down the snow covered ice pitch. These were the only people we saw until reaching Point Success.
Several long pitches of crust over unconsolidated snow around 12,500’ did little to dampen the spirits of climbing higher on such a calm morning. Route-finding was real straightforward as the snow still has a very complete coverage up high. The airy traverse pitches above the Kautz Headwall were easily protected by long pickets. We found only a few short sections up towards 13,000’ of post holing, due primarily to leeward accumulations of wind-blown snow. The first sign of any wind was seen shortly afterwards by light spindrift coming off the rockbands higher above. The rockbands above 12,000’ were covered in rime ice. At 13,400’ we traversed westward around the rockbands above the South Tahoma headwall to reach a ramp leading to Point Success around 10:30 am.

We crossed to the main summit over a thick layer of loose dry snow carved into patterns by the summit winds. We began our descent of the DC route around 3 pm, which was by then loosened up by the long day’s full sun exposure. Following the wands was uneventful. The DC was particularly sloppy, and we noted that a couple pickets placed by the guide services for their fixed lines were quite loose.

We dropped down to Paradise at 8:30 the following (Monday) morning, where we checked in with rangers.

Sunset Amphitheater 2011

June 18th - Courtesy of Seattle Mountain Rescue

With partly sunny skies, on the morning of June 17, 2011,Seattle Mountain Rescue members Gordon Smith, Keith Schultz, and Kellie McBee set out to climb one of the Sunset Amphitheater Headwall routes. Planning to carry over the mountain, we left one car at Paradise and drove a second car to the gate on the West Side Road. We hiked up the West Side Road more than a mile to the Tahoma Creek Trail, and ascended that trail. A flood event a couple years before had substantially re-arranged the valley bottom and deposited several feet of rocks and sand in an area several hundred feet wide and several miles long. Quite impressive to think about the force of water needed to move bea
ch ball size rocks down the valley.

We reached the Wonderland trail and headed north on the trail. At about 4,400’ of elevation the trail become more snow covered than not. Once the snow became deep enough to hide the trail, the only sign of human presence was one set of tracks in the snow that ascended to a bit above 5,000’.

At 5,600’ we crested Emerald Ridge, between the tongues of the Tahoma Glacier, then ascended the ridge to its upper end. The clouds thinned, revealing fabulous views of the upper mountain. On other sides of Mount Rainier, it is a relatively monolithic bump. Below Sunset Amphitheater one has views south and east to the cliffs of Glacier Island and Success Cleaver, north to Tokaloo Spire, and up to Sunset Ridge, the Sunset Amphitheater Headwall, and Tahoma Cleaver. St. Andrews Rock is a distinct peak within the Amphitheater, and Liberty Cap and Columbia Crest appear to be separate peaks. With all the cliffs and peaks, it is almost like being in a mountain range, rather than being on a lone peak. The icefalls of the Tahoma Glacier add to the ruggedness.

Looking up Tahoma Glacier, from about 6,500’. St. Andrews rock is the symmetrical peak in front of the cloud near the center of the photo. Liberty Crest is obscured by the lenticular cloud on the left, and Columbia Crest is obscured by the lenticular cloud on the right.

We enjoyed the problem solving of choosing a route in the absence of wands, trails and tracks. Above 5,000’ we found the snowpack to be substantial, allowing clear paths up the glacier with alternatives avoiding the faintly darker bands of snow that suggested the shading of sagging snow bridges.

A major lenticular cloud formed over first Liberty Cap, covered both summits, then faded, then returned. We thought about the winds aloft, and thought about the weather forecast for generally decent weather until the next night, and the small weak system forecast to come through the next night. Hopefully, the weather would hold until we got high enough for the precipitation to be snow rather than rain, and hopefully the winds indicated by the lenticular cloud would fade before we got onto the headwall and the summit plateau. We did not think it odd that as the day got later and we gained elevation, the snow became softer. By late afternoon, at 7,500’ we were sinking shin deep with each step, and the winds were picking up.

We found a relatively sheltered camp on Puyallup Cleaver and were happy that the temperature was dropping as the sun descended. Hopefully we would have firm snow in the morning.

Some time around the middle of the night we awoke to the sound of rain on the tent. No big deal—the forecast included the chance of some small amounts of precipitation. However, it kept raining. Steadily. In the morning, the rate of rain decreased, but the rain continued. The temperature was well above freezing, the snow resembled a giant slurpee, and the visibility varied from a few hundred feet to a mile plus. We thought about snow bridges turned to slush. We thought about route finding with poor visibility. We thought about packing up sodden tents, and how wet our sleeping bags could get by nightfall, and how wet the feet of the person with non-plastic boots could get. But mostly, we thought about slogging in the rain.

We concluded that we had all been to the top of this hill before, we had accomplished the Park’s goal of assessing resource conditions (no sign of human-caused damage), and recognized that there was recent information on route conditions from other parties. Mostly we concluded that it would be really unpleasant to hike in the slush and rain, with the rain eventually turning to sleet. We decided to head down. With the rain, we did none of the sightseeing we had done on the hike up, and it took us only about four hours from our camp on Puyallup Cleaver to the car, without feeling that we were rushing.

This outing did provide benefit as a reconnaissance. All of us were impressed by the ruggedness of the scenery and appreciated the adventure of finding our own route rather than following the tracks of others. A descent of the Sickle Route looked very reasonable, and it appeared that one could see the entire Sickle Route (with the possible exception of the very top) as one ascended into the amphitheater, and scope out a descent route. Early season, one might ski most of the approach to a camp at 10,000’ or 11,000’ in the amphitheater, and ski out. With good visibility, one could choose a line up the headwall, tag the summit and avoid a carry-over by descending the Sickle Route back to a high camp.

As we wrung water out of our wet clothes at the car, all of us vowed to return again for an aesthetic climb.

June 16-

Rangers spent several days exploring the Sunset Amphitheater on the west side of Mt.
Rainier and enjoyed excellent weather and climbing conditions. The Sunset Amphitheater is one of the most spectacular terrain features on the mountain as well as one of the most remote parts of the entire park.

There are two main established routes in the Amphitheater; the Sunset Head
wall Couloir (pictured right) and the original Sunset Amphitheater Ice Cap route, which climbs between the two major walls forming the amphitheater.

The Rangers bivied at 11,200 ft and woke to clear skies above and set out for an ice-line on the right side of the Sunset Icecap. The climb was excellent technically and suspenseful as the top of the route was invisible from below and there were doubts as to how to exit onto the plateau above.

The climbing was classic, steep ice steps with some good easy mixed terrain and a spectacular traverse pitch on the ice cap.

Surprisingly the route gave an easy exit after the exciting traverse across the ice cap. A simple walk out onto the plateau above through a notch in the cap (below right) led quickly to the Sickle variation of the Tahoma Glacier and back to our camp.

Rangers spent the next day climbing directly up the Sickle route and carried over to Camp Muir via an excellent ski down the DC.

If climbers are interested in Westside routes this or a carry over to Camp Schurman offers a great full tour of the mountain. Sunset Amphitheater and the surrounding areas offered some interesting features including St. Andrews Rock, a natural ice arch forming below the ice cap and spectacular rime formations.

Tahoma Glacier 2011

August 3rd

If you are looking for a route that offers stunning beauty, solitude, and something that will challenge your glacier navigation skills then the Tahoma Glacier is for you! With the summer temps finally starting to ramp up, some of the winter snow pack is finally receding, providing for easier access to remote routes. Access to the Tahoma route via the westide road is open finally, and the trails leading to the glacier are melting quickly, offering easier access to this hidden gem.

There are several approach options from the westside road, teams can approach via the Saint Andrews Creek trail and up to Klapatche Park, and on up to Saint Andews lake and finally onto the glacier. This option involves more road walking, but offers a direct line to the glacier, and access at a higher elevation, with excellent bivy sites along the Puyallup Cleaver.

Climbers may also choose to take the Tahoma Creek trail and access the wonderland trail. Next teams ascend the lower Success Cleaver, and cross the South Tahoma glacier over to the main body of the Tahoma itself. If you opt for this route get excited for some excellent glacier travel and route finding!

Get out and climb this remote and beautiful route before the summer temps melt the fun away!

June 16

This route is a northwest classic offering some of the longest and most varied route-finding of any glacier climb in the lower 48. Right now the route is in great shape, steep but not too steep, broken but with many opportunities for an ascent with good route finding.

The approach is typically done via the Westside Road and offers over 12,000 feet of vertical gain in one of the most remote regions of the Park. Plan on 3-4 days of approach and climbing and expect to see nobody else the entire time. This is a true wilderness experience not to be missed.