|Mount Rainier Emmons Glacier - July/August 2016
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|Author:||Puma concolor [ Wed Aug 10, 2016 10:01 am ]|
|Post subject:||Mount Rainier Emmons Glacier - July/August 2016|
The plan started to come together even before I left the heights Denali at the end of June 2015.
I wanted to climb Mount Rainier again. My July 2012 Disappointment Cleaver Route climb to the crater rim of quite arguably the greatest mountain in the lower 48 had been one of the most thrilling ascents of my life. But three days of unstable weather ended with my International Mountain Guides team summiting in extreme weather conditions as high winds and sideways snow ripped across the plateau of Rainier's summit crater, leaving us all covered in snow and ice and hardly able to see each other even from a rope length away.
Moving ahead three years to 2015 ... a few times during our group meetings in the cook tent on Denali when we spoke of other mountains and upcoming plans, it consistently came back to a second climb of Rainier for me. I wanted to experience the mountain in clearer and hopefully kinder conditions. But I didn't want to repeat the same route. I had heard good things about the beauty of the Emmons Glacier Route and picked the brains of the guides who had knowledge of the mountain. The Emmons seemed like a good fit for me and my enthusiasm for it spread to a couple of my Denali teammates. Both Richard from England and Boris from Australia asked me to keep them in the loop as my plans progressed.
Upon returning home and receiving quite a bit of attention for scaling to the top of North America and completing my 50 state highpoints project, I began to talk about my Rainier plans on Mountains'n'Stuff ... again with my enthusiasm seeming infectious. Three members of the MnS community as well as an old friend from the East Coast were showing interest and the e-mails began to bounce back-and-forth like tennis balls.
Eventually, just after Labor Day 2015, I wound up reserving five spots on an Emmons Glacier Route IMG team scheduled to climb between July 30th and August 3rd, 2016. A long way off to reserve for sure but Rainier is a popular mountain and guided spots need to be secured well in advance.
Over the next several months, the team dynamics would change a bit with two of the MnSers opting out and Richard (who had been late to the party getting his paperwork together) securing one of the openings. In addition to myself, my Denali summit day rope-mates Richard and Boris would be making the journey as would the inimitable John D from New York City.
I landed in Seattle around 5:30 PM on July 27th and my airplane was still on the runway as I received a text from Boris that he, too, had just landed. The timing was so coincidental that I looked around to see if he was on the same flight as me. As it turned out, we were both on Alaska Airlines flights that had started in California but I was coming from San Diego and he was coming from the Bay area, where he was now living after relocating from Australia following our June 2015 Denali trip. Richard would soon join us in Seattle and just a few hours later we all found ourselves in a dark tavern in south Seattle enjoying drinks with one of our American Alpine Institute guides. Four-fifths of our Denali summit rope team was suddenly reunited and we caught up with all of our personal updates deep into the night.
The following day, Boris, Richard and myself made our way to the Cougar Rock campground in the Mount Rainier National Park, where we would spend three nights and enjoy a bit of acclimatization, souvenir shopping and a light hike on Rainier's lower slopes. Not to mention a healthy sampling of the beverage selection at Whittaker's Tavern in the heart of Ashford.
Soon enough, game-time got closer and closer until we finally met up with John D at IMG headquarters just before our gear check at 2 PM on the 30th. These gear checks tend to be painfully long sessions where you and the guides reach agreements about what kinds of clothing and equipment are most appropriate for the route in the conditions expected to be encountered. More interestingly, we met the rest of our team, which consisted of a father and his two teenagers (son and daughter) from the Seattle area as well as a solo traveler from near my own stomping grounds of Albany, NY. Talk about coincidences! After that, it was off to our last real meal with John D at a local restaurant where we were treated to great food as well as a taste of John's boundless energy and enthusiasm. This was going to be a good trip. I had no doubt.
The following morning, we all hopped into a large van and started our nearly two-hour road trip to the other side of the National Park, where our climb was to begin. Sometime in the late morning hours, we set off down the trail at an elevation of about 4,400 feet with Rainier's lofty summit looming just about exactly 10,000 feet above us. Laden with heavy packs of up to 60 pounds, we made our way slowly through the forest surrounded by the kind of true deep backcountry beauty not so easily encountered on the more popular Paradise side of the mountain.
It took quite awhile for us to reach the snow-line somewhere around the 7,000 foot level but it was a welcome site for me after trekking through the snowless lowlands while wearing my mountaineering double boots in an effort to save weight on my already over-stuffed backpack. Once firmly on the ice and snow of Inter Glacier, we dropped our packs and fanned out for snow school. At this point, I've been through several rounds of snow school but it's always fun to throw yourself around on the frozen stuff and practice skills in self arrest and team travel. We then made our way up to the site of our low camp at 7,800 feet, pitched our tents and enjoyed some dinner while absorbing the magnificence of the terrain surrounding us.
Day two featured a lighter agenda. Similar to the DC Route program that IMG runs on the other side of the mountain, the idea is that an easier second day maximizes your chances of putting out a big effort on summit day, thereby increasing your odds of reaching the top. But "easier" doesn't mean "easy." Right out of camp, we had a steep semi-technical ascent of 1,200 feet on the Inter Glacial while fully roped up and wearing crampons. We eventually reached a point where the Inter Glacier ended and our route spilled onto the Emmons Glacier, which has the distinction of being the largest glacier in the lower 48 states. From this point, we had a fairly simple 500 vertical feet of cruising up to Camp Schurman, which at 9,460 feet would be our launching point for our summit bid the following day.
The summit bid wake-up call came bright and early. Midnight to be exact. After a few minutes of inactivity on my part, my tent-mate Richard asked how I was feeling. "Like I want to go back to sleep" was my reply. "I hear ya, mate" he shot back in his thick British accent as I dutifully began the the nearly two-hour process of waking up, fueling up and gearing up. The insanely early start was important for many reasons. For starters, in alpinism, the best time to travel is when the snow and ice of the glacier is firm and crusty before the sunshine and radiant heat of the day has a chance to turn things to slush and open up crevasses. And on top of that, not only was it a 12-hour round trip to the summit (still 5,000 vertical feet above us) and back, but we had been watching an approaching weather system for several days now. The best guess was that it was going to hit sometime between 10 AM and noon and we wanted to be well into our descent by the time the storm struck.
My watch read 1:51 AM the last time I checked as my rope team set off into the night with our headlamps blazing the way. The lead guide placed willow wands at regular intervals to assist us with route-finding if our descent was to take place in the storm. After an hour and about 1,000 vertical feet of gain, we took our first break. As we got back to our feet after 15 minutes or so, I think we were all a bit surprised to see John D begin to descend with one of the guides. He had put out a magnificent effort in our three days on the mountain and he would later say that he didn't want to slow the team down ... magnanimously giving up his own shot at summiting so the team could get the job done before the weather rolled in.
Onward and upward we continued to go at a steady rate of 1,000 vertical feet per hour followed by our regular breaks for snacks and water. My legs felt good and I remained confident that the weather would be the only thing that could stop us. The stars continued to shine above before eventually giving way to the rising sun. The rising clouds below us and a more ominous-looking bank of clouds to the northwest, however, continued to hold our attention. But all 10 of us (now 3 guides with 7 clients) remained focused on moving ahead. We ended our last break in the bright sunshine at an elevation of about 13,400 feet and began the summit push to the 14,410-foot summit. It was clear and cold until we we rounded a corner a couple of hundred more vertical feet above when we began to feel the blast of a biting 30 MPH wind that would now stay with us the rest of the way. My rope team consisted of one guide plus Richard and myself. During the final stretch, we passed and moved ahead of the other two rope teams as we increased our pace in the push to the top.
And finally, we crested that last little bit and were on top of Washington! Upon reaching the summit register box, we unroped and hoped to find some protection from the wind amongst the rocks while awaiting the rest of our team. It was to no avail though and our stay atop Rainier was a chilly one indeed. But clear as a bell. I fully soaked in the views that had eluded me during my 2012 trip and gazed down into the awesomeness of the crater. Eventually, we back-tracked just a bit and went out to the more exposed Columbia Crest where we tagged the USGS marker and had our photos taken. For myself and Richard, this was the second major US peak for which we had been summit day rope-mates in the last 13 months. Boris soon joined us atop Rainier and, despite some significant blistering issues, seemed to relish the summit experience as much as Richard and I.
We made it back to high camp just about exactly 11 hours after we had departed and not a moment too soon. We skipped our last break and picked up the pace as the weather began to close in on us. We couldn't have been more than 500 yards from high camp when the snow started. But the wind that soon followed was the kicker. I retired to my tent within minutes of getting back to camp and didn't move from my sleeping bag until the following morning when it was time to pack out and head back downhill 5,000 more vertical feet to the trailhead. The wind ripped the tents all night and sleep was fitful at best. Several teammates said they hadn't caught even a single wink.
But it was all OK. We had done what we came to do and spirits were high during our descent.
Normally, this is the point in my trip reports where I say what I'm planning to do next. But this time, there is no "next." I had talked about it with my wife ever since returning from Denali. Win, lose or draw, my second trip to Rainier was to be the end of the line for me as far as "big" mountains are concerned. The last time to board an airplane to go climb a peak. It's all been more than I had ever hoped it would be ... this journey of mine all across America to the tops of some of this nation's greatest mountains as well as to the backwoods of places like Louisiana and North Dakota. I walk away from it with a satisfied smile on my face.
|Author:||aahz [ Wed Aug 10, 2016 12:26 pm ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Mount Rainier Emmons Glacier - July/August 2016|
Nice TR! Welcome back!
|Author:||Puma concolor [ Sun Aug 14, 2016 11:22 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Mount Rainier Emmons Glacier - July/August 2016|
Thanks Aahz. Good number of people I know have taken the time to check out the report.
Updated my state highpointing glory wall today to reflect my dual ascents of Rainier. Disappointnet Cleaver Route in mid-July 2012 and the Emmons Glacier Route in early August 2016.
Told my wife last night I'll have to climb it again right before the 2020 Olympics.
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