Emmons Glacier 2014

August 26

It is starting to feel like fall on Mt Rainer with colder temps and wide crevasses. Here is the latest.
On Sunday the 24th a small but potent storm came in and blanketed the mountain with several inches of snow. Thunder and lightening accompanied the storm and made for hazardous conditions up high. By monday the weather was good again and it is looking like good climbing weather till friday the 29th.
 If you come up to climb on the Emmons this fall be prepared for complex glacier navigation and the potential for full value climbing conditions. The weather changes fast up high and this last storm proved that yet again.
   One of the most dynamic spots on the route, 'The Corridor' is heavily crevassed and may or may not require a belay to cross certain sections. The route remains relatively unchanged from the past blog post. Expect wide crossings, hollow bridges, and end running crevasses if necessary. There are no wands, no kicked in guide track and no easy way up. Please come prepared for adventure if climbing on the Emmons-Winthrop route this fall and remember your ten essentials!

August 15

Mountain climbing continues to be good on the Emmons-Winthrop! We had a blip of T-storms for a few days there, but things look like they are to be back to normal summer weather starting today. The typical pattern this time of year when thunderstorms are forecast is for them to begin building in the early afternoon, and if they are going to affect us it starts happening mid afternoon. If thunderstorms are in the forecast give yourself a wide margin of time to work with, and be conservative if you begin to see large cumulus clouds building on the horizon. It's difficult to forecast whether thunderstorms will come into our area, it's usually a wait and see type of situation.

As for route changes, most of the change is happening on the Corridor, the long ramp between 10,000 and 11,200. The route still goes just fine, but there are new ways around the crevasses as the bridges go away. Above that it is going the same general way it has for over a month now.  Be sure to keep your head up as you go up the bootpack, yesterday's trough may end in an open crevasse today. Check in with the rangers at Camp Schurman for the latest updates.

Fresh snow on the Upper Mountain!

The approach:
The Inter Glacier

The trail up to Glacier Basin has been snow free for some time. The wildflowers are amazing right now, and there is abundant wildlife (which you should not disturb) to be seen

In the photo at right we see the Inter Glacier. Obviously there is some exposed glacial ice, and crevasses. It really is a glacier. Be prepared with appropriate glacier travel equipment, and consider roping up on this portion of the approach. When you descend, remember what you climbed up if you are thinking about glissading.

Silky Phacelia

While you are on your way to Camp Schurman, keep an eye out for these little guys, the Silky Phacelia. It's a hardy alpine flower that does very well above treeline on Mount Rainier. They are abundant right now. 

New snow, exciting climbing, beautiful wildflowers, friendly rangers, what's not to love on the Emmons and at Mt. Rainier in August? We hope to see you soon!


August 3

Little has changed in the Emmons route over the past few days. See the previous posts for good route beta. Sunny weather is predicted for the next week with chance of afternoon Thunder Storms, so get up and climb early.

Ranger at about 12,500'
Crevasse bridges continue to thin, especially through Emmons Flats and through the Corridor. As mentioned below a bridge that may be solid in the early hours will be soft and punchy as the day goes on. Don't feel forced to follow the boot pack! If you don't like the look of an area, go around.

With the good weather and the route holding up nicely, August is looking like a great time to get out on the Emmons. The Rangers have really been appreciating the fresh fruit and veggies brought up by climbers, too.


July 29

It has been a fantastic week of weather and climbing at Camp Schurman and on the Emmons Glacier route, with nothing but sunshine in the forecast!

Sunset from near Camp Schurman
 With all the sunshine and hot temperatures, the route has seen some minor changes. See the previous post below for a good general description of where the route is still going. The changes we have seen are minor alterations to where it makes sense to cross crevasses. In places the bridges melt out during the day and you may want to adjust your crossing away from the old bootpack. Remember that conditions are ever evolving and to make an assessment and choice for what is best for your team.

The Interglacier is still a decent approach, and the trail is snowfree from the White River campground to well above Glacier Basin camp. Watch for crevasses near the pressure ridges on the Inter, and for exposed glacial ice to start appearing, making for slick conditions in spots!

Climbing Ranger skirting the high bergshrund (13,700).

Even though we've seen some minor changes this week, it looks as though the Emmons/Wintrhop route will be in good shape for some time to come, With excellent, stable weather, a beautiful approach through wildflowers, and the wildfire smoke making for spectacular sunsets, now is a great time to come see the other side of Mt. Rainier!

Make sure and come by the ranger hut for the latest info and to chat with your friendly Climbing Ranger, we hope to see you soon.


July 17

The Emmons is in prime shape! The route has seen many successful summit bids and happy climbers. The trail from White River Camp Ground to Glacier Basin is snow free and melted out with an abundance of wild
Traversing into the Liberty Saddle near 13,800
flowers and Marmots. However, there is a resident Bear that is not shy in the Glacier Basin area, so please be sure to properly store all foods and clean your camp site when you leave. Once through Glacier Basin the Inter glacier is in good shape. However, due to the warm temperatures, a few wide crevasses are starting to show through. There is a heavily used boot track that leads through the main body of the glacier but don't be afraid to reroute as needed to navigate around anything that is open.  From camp Curtis down onto the Emmons it is mostly melted out but is still very accessible and not giving many teams trouble.

From Camp Schurman up to Emmons Flats the route is straight forward with very few crevasses starting to show. However, on the corridor there are several cracks running parallel to the boot track that are starting to show so use caution during this stretch. From the top of the corridor the route traverses to climbers right, up and through an area the climbing rangers refer as to "the alpine meadow" to approximately 12,500 feet. In this are the route crosses a large crevasse with overhanging edges, if your team is not "comfortable" with crossing this crevasse there are several suitable options to both the climbers left and right to circumnavigate. Above this crevasse the route heads straight up through a series of switchbacks to approximately 13,800 feet where it traverses underneath the bergschrund to the climbers right to gain the Liberty Saddle. From here, the route switchbacks to the crater rim and the summit!

When staying in Camp Schurman please try to keep a tidy camp and feel free to stop by the friendly ranger hut. Remember, these rangers love fresh fruits and veggies.  Overall, the route is in fantastic shape! Don't forget to bring your sunscreen, map, a GPS pre-loaded with some waypoints and come climb the biggest glacier in the lower 48!


July 6

The Emmons has been holding up to the July weather nicely.  Besides being straight forward, the route is incredibly short - 2.4 miles from Camp Schurman to the crater rim.  There's one steeper section at about 13,400' where the route ascends a steep snow-wall.  Some climbers have been placing running pro while they climb through it.

With higher freezing levels and more sunshine typical in mid to late July, some of the crevasse lips and bridges will start to weaken and collapse... be sure to climb early on these hot days.  The descent has been taking longer than expected due to the softening snow.  Climbers returning to camp at one o'clock or later have been wading through the slush! 

Conditions don't get any better than now.  If you're thinking about coming up to give the Emmons a try - now's the time.

July 2

The Emmons saw a lot of action over the past few days, big Northwest mountaineering at it's finest! It is a premium time to climb the route as conditions have mostly been good and there is reasonably straightforward navigation. However a few parties did manage to get off route, so there are a few footprints that lead to dead ends. Check in with the rangers at Camp Schurman for the latest beta.

The photo below shows the approximate route we took on July 1st. It will likely change, and should be used for reference only. There are many ways one could travel, this is just what worked for us on that day. You will notice there are some landmark names as well. This might aid you in your discussion with whoever is at Schurman. The area outlined with the black circle is a large basin that we call, "The Alpine Meadow."

The White River campground is now open, as well as the Sunrise road and visitor center. The White River Wilderness Information Center is open daily from 7am-5pm. Be sure to stop in there to register and get the latest info. Also remember that even if you are doing a single push climb or ski, you still need to register and purchase a climbing pass if you are traveling above 10,000 feet.

The trail to Glacier Basin is almost completely snow-free, with full snow coverage from Glacier Basin camp on up. Consider roping up and using standard glacier travel practices for the last few hundred meters to Camp Schurman, where you are travelling on the lower Emmons.

We hope to see you on the quiet side of the mountain soon!


June 24th

Climbing on Mt. Rainier’s Emmons/Winthrop route is in full swing for 2014. Last weekend saw Camp Schurman with a full house and many teams taking advantage of the weather for successful summit bid.
Currently the route takes a standard path from Camp Schurman to the Corridor. This is an area that  frequently sees climbers punching into minor crevasses , especially late in the day, so take caution.  Once at the top of the corridor (about 11,300’) the route continues up and to the right passing across the Emmons toward the Winthrop Saddle.  Climbing through this section has been very nice with few obstacles.  A large crevasse needs to be passed on the right at 12,800’ where the route jogs left for a few hundred vertical feet before traveling back right and toward the summit.  The bergschrund at the top of the Emmons is not an issue but the 'schrund at the top of the Winthrop Saddle is completly open and not passable.  With lots of teams making successful summit climbs, a good boot pack should be in place but there are several false tracks which have attracted several teams and resulted in a lot of lost time. Make sure you are clear on your route and pick out some landmarks to navigate by when scoping the route from Schurman.
Climbing on the Emmons looks to be stable for some time, as long as the upper mountain holds together and the weather cooperates.
With the increasing popularity of ski mountaineering, the Emmons is seeing more ski traffic than ever before. It’s great to see so many people getting after it! However, just because you brought your skis does not mean that you have  to ski the whole thing.  Teams last weekend described the upper mountain 12-14,000ft as being “challenging ”. This is not surprising with 6-8” sastrugi and lots of solar affected holes. Don’t be afraid to cache your skis, or if you do carry them to the top, carry them down a ways until you feel comfortable with the snow conditions.  On that note the Emmons Corridor has been looking great and the Inter-Glacier has a nice corn cycle going on after last week’s snow and wind.
Enjoy the mountain and see you up there.

June 15th

The Emmons-Winthrop route is in great shape right now, not much change since the last blog posts. Here are the highlights and please scroll down for more in depth route beta.

White River Campground to Glacier Basin Campground
At the trailhead: White River Campground is still closed! Hopefully it will open soon, please check back on or around June 27th as that is the projected opening date at this point.  It is a long walk with skis or a snowboard on your back this time of year, snow level is around 6000ft, almost to Glacier Basin campground. Good skinning exists from that point to the top of the Inter Glacier right now.

Glacier basin to Camp Schurman
Whiteout Conditions
June is the month of change on Mt Rainier right now. The Inter Glacier has been great for skiing so far and conditions are starting to change rapidly. Pink algae, melt out holes and uneven snow on route is starting to be the norm. There are still a few smooth panels to slide on but it is beginning to feel like slim pickings.
Camp Schurman and the upper mountain
Conditions on the upper mountain remain the same since the last few blog posts.  We have noticed that more small cracks are starting to open up from Camp Schurman to the top of the Corridor (11,000ft). Folks have been 'punching through' in spots. Keep this in mind and avoid descending during the warmest time of the day.

Remember to bring your 'ten essentials' and be prepared for anything this time of year. It can feel like summer right now but unexpected stormy conditions can envelop the mountain at any time. Be prepared, climb safe, and have fun.

June 13th

Climbing conditions are still great, the route is in the same condition as stated in previous blog posts.  Wind affected snow up high produced not the best skiing conditions. Bellow 13,000’ the snow conditions smoothed out and skiing looked to be easier. During our decent we encountered thigh deep post holing between the top of Corridor and Camp Schurman - remember to start your climbs early to avoid waist deep slush. With the increase in ski mountaineering’s popularity on Rainier, skiers need to keep in mind this is not a ski resort - at least not yet... There's no ski patroller waiting at the top of the hill to scoop you up if you fall.  Help could be many hours or even days away.  Ski conservative lines and don’t forget you can always click out and down climb sketchy areas.

June 5th

Right now the Emmons-Winthrop route is in great shape and the weather window looks to be open this weekend. Come over to this side of the mountain if you are looking to have a wilderness style climb and want a harder challenge than the D.C.

Ranger on Route
White River Campground to Glacier Basin
I heard today that the White River Campground won't be open till sometime around the end of June, please consider this as you plan for your climb, sleeping in your car is prohibited.  From the campground the first several miles of trail is dirt, consider bringing your hiking shoes. Permanent snow line is around 5300 ft, so if you are bringing skis, plan on doing a bit of walking.

Glacier Basin to the Inter Glacier
Over the week the Inter has seen quite a few skiers. The conditions are great with corn skiing and smooth surface snow. Beware of wet slides as temperatures warm up during the day and do not ski above people. Especially those who are not skiing and are booting up the middle of the glacier.  Although no cracks are present yet we are seeing signs of 'sagging' near the top of the Inter. Be heads up! You are skiing on a glacier and a crevasse fall is possible.

Upper Emmons/Winthrop
Camp Schurman and the Emmons Winthrop Route
After a successful climb on June 4th I can say first hand that the route is in great shape. Here are a few things to keep in mind.  From Camp Schurman to the Corridor a few cracks are starting to open up. This is the time of year when the glacier is starting to move more. The Emmons is seeing a lot of ski traffic these days, be attentive to these cracks on the lower part of the route as the glacier starts to move.      

Looking Down Toward Schurman
The top of the Corridor this year is about 11,000 feet.  Above the Corridor, ascend strait up several hundred feet.  At 11,700 feet start a series of traverses to the right.  There are some good sized crevasses and some steeper sections to ascend through.  At around 12,000 the route ascends strait up for several hundred feet.  The photo below was taken at around 12,500. Go climbers right of the triangular shaped serac, going left will lead to a dead end.

The route right now is in great shape. We found good crampon penetration and lots of evidence that the snow has been whipping around up high with sastrugi formations, pockets of wind slab, and packed powder. If you are coming up for a ski (which could be great)  please read the post from June 2nd as it offers some insight on decision making while ski mountaineering.

June 2

White River Camp Ground to Glacier Basin
The road to White River Camp Ground opened on Friday, May 29.  From the parking lot, the trail is snowfree for over 2 miles until Sherwood Forest where there are patches.  You can start skinning (skis) about 3/4 of a mile from where the trail leaves the old road bed away from the Inter Fork and ascends sharply up to Glacier Basin.

At this point, most people are skiing out onto the Inter Fork river bar, notwithstanding a stream crossing that got all four of our toes wet in our ski boots.  The last place the Inter Fork peaked through the snow (for an easy water bottle refill) was just a few hundred yards short of Glacier Basin.

The camp sites at Glacier Basin are completely snow covered.  It will be a while before they melt out.

Glacier Basin to the Inter Glacier
From Glacier Basin up to the base of the Inter Glacier is smooth sailing.  When the snow freezes at night, it makes for good walking in the morning.  However, on the warm days we have been getting, it becomes pretty post-holey by noon.  I'd hate to be booting up late in the day!

Up the snout of the Inter Glacier, one is exposed on either side to wet, loose snow avalanches, if it has been getting lots of sun in the afternoon.  However, the middle of the Inter has always proved to have less avalanche danger.  Once over the 7,400 face of the glacier, it's a strait shot to either Camp Curtis or the top of steamboat prow.  Hey gang, remember that this is a glacier.  Later in the summer, you'll see each convex roll-over has crevasses.  So stay off of them now!  Go around.  People fall in these crevasses every year in June and July.  Some end of pretty hurt.  It's a shame, when the route to safety is just 50 yards to the right.

There is continuous snow from the Inter, over Camp Curtis, around and back down onto the Emmons.  Although we ascended over the top of the prow, we descended via the Emmons around Camp Curtiss.  We were able to keep moving at about 10 mph without skinning back up just by traversing off the Emmons.  No climbing needed.  A constant descent was possible.  Watch this later in the afternoon, though.  You could trigger wet, loose avalanches and get caught up.  The prow is a good option.  We were able to do some advanced side slipping down a gulley on the W side of Steamboat Prow.  You can always take your skis off and front point down.  It's steep.

Camp Schurman
Camp Schurman is now being staffed by climbing rangers on most days, especially over the weekends, however, there are week days where we are not there. From Camp Schurman, there are two viable options for a summit attempt.

Google Earth view of tracklog
The Winthrop Shoulder
A really nice option if you've climbed the Emmons before.  We headed out of camp and immediately went right, avoiding Emmons Flats.  You cross a basin and then ascend steeply (40 degrees +) for around 200 feet until you're up on the Winthrop Shoulder.  One crevasse crossing does exist in the steepest part of that ascent, but it well covered and easily crossable.  Once over, I belayed my parter over, then set one peice of running pro above it, so if we slipped, we would both get drug back into the crevasse.

Once on the shoulder, it's a strait shot up.  No switch backs at all.  At 11,800 is the first noticable crevasse, but it is covered.  There is another crevasse at about 12,300.  Same thing.  This Winthrop route joins the Emmons route at about 12,800 feet, that is to say, the Emmons route makes it way over to the Winthrop shoulder.

There are a few more obvious crevasses and seracs to go around from 13,000 on up, however, nothing sketchy exists right now.

The snow conditions are typical for this time of year.  Foot penetration was about 12-16 inches, if you are breaking trail.  Remember, folks, this isn't the Disappointment Cleaver.  This is why you chose to come do the Emmons!  You start lower, and there's less of a trail or path (if any).  Factor this into the time you leave and you're time to get back.  People are returning from their climbs alarmingly late in the day.

The Emmons Glacier
The Emmons is the standard option from Camp Schurman.  Ascend strait up to Emmons Flats, and then continue onto the broad face above the flats north (right) of the Corridor.  Traverse sharply over the Corridor at the first opportunity, around 10,150.  Ascend the Corridor.  Watch out folks, over the years, I have noticed that crevasses often run longitudinally (up and down) the glacier here.  This means you may be walking strait up a crevasse!

The top of the Corridor this year is about 11,000 feet this year.  Above the Corridor, ascend strait up several hundred feet.  At 11,700 feet, start a series of traverses to the right.  There are some good sized crevasses and some steeper sections to ascend through this section.  At around 12,000, the route ascends strait up for several hundred feet.  At 12,500 it traverses right, ascends to where it joins the Winthrop Shoulder route.  Read above from that point on.

Google Earth view of tracklog from Camp Schurman
I salute all you intrepid souls skiing up the glacier.  Here's a few things to remember while ascending or descending a glacier on skis.

1. Avoid skiing terrain you haven't scouted on the way up.  Why?  I'll get to that!

2. Either put your skis on your pack and rope up or ascend skiing.  It makes little sense to ascend a glacier un-roped with skis on your back.  Choose at least one tool in your quiver to mitigate the crevasse hazard.  I observed climbers walking up the glacier unroped with skis on their backpacks (and a rope in their pack).

3. Know when you need to take your skis off, don the rope, and climb like normal!  There are accidents each year from skiers trying to ski through a short section of exposure, either over a crevasse or traversing a steep section.  Simply taking the skis off and climbing / descending using protection or a belay would've saved their lives.

4. When you are descending on skis, you are covering terrain at a dramatically higher rate than when you are walking.  We're often more tired at the end of the day, too.  These things conspire to decrease situational awareness.  You're more likely to not 'see' that crevasse.

5. Use your group wisely while you descend.  Ski short sections, and only that which you can observed while you stopped the last time.  Don't get too far ahead or let others get too far behind.  Remember, the fun factor.  Some in the group may want to just go because the skiing is just killer.  Others may go slower.  Stay together.

May 22

The Emmons route looks to be in stellar shape right now. The route from Schurman is as direct as it ever is. Smooth snow surface all around could lead to some great skiing conditions. 

White River road and ranger station will be opening this weekend. Stop in for permits and the latest info.