Fast forward nearly a decade, and thanks to the Basic Climbing Class I took this spring, I finally had the skills I needed to join a rope team and make a summit bid via the Emmons glacier route. This was Part 2 of my summer vacation in August, after a week-long backpacking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail.
There were five of us on the rope team: two other students from my climbing class this spring, one volunteer instructor, and another more experienced instructor, Peter, who would be our team leader. Peter suggested doing the climb with an extra day so that we had a night to sleep at a higher elevation and let our bodies acclimatize before summiting. This schedule increases chances of success, and of his seven times attempting Mount Rainier, he and his team had safely summited every time.
We left Seattle Friday morning to drive to White River Campground on the north side of the mountain, stopping at the ranger station to register our climb and talk to the ranger. A message board confirmed what we already knew: with the warm summer weather the bergschrund was ever-widening and that the route was moving more and more to the right as the crack opened up.
|Map from mattsea.com|
|Northwest sunset view from Interglacier camp|
|A break at Camp Curtis while the boys get a few turns in|
|Our view from Camp Schurman|
The Emmons glacier has the largest surface area of any glacier in the contiguous United States. It is the second most popular climbing route on Mount Rainier after the DC (Disappointment Cleaver) route. It's also longer, with a lower base camp, and far more crevassed.
It was a little before 7pm and all of Camp Schurman was quiet. I was just about to fall asleep when a party arrived, and set up camp right next to us. Literally about 10 feet away. They had to put up tents, melt water, make dinner, and prep for the climb... which means I laid there able to hear their every word for the next two hours. It was a big bummer as my already short night of sleep got cut down to less than two hours.
It was a day before the August super moon, and the moonlight reflected brightly on the snow. As we began tromping upward, what stands out the most in my memory was the gaping, wild cracks of the crevasses, heart-wrenchingly beautiful and ominous in the moonlight. I have simply never seen anything like that and not sure I will again.
|Ascending the last bit|
|Looking across the crater, and the tracks for the DC route|
|One of my rope-team mates brought a beer!|
By the time we started heading down it was gloriously and worrisomely hot. We again took it slow and steady as we made our way down the steep and melty mountain. We were extra careful crossing snow bridges, especially the ones that had seemed dubious in the middle of the night.
|The bergschrund. Photo by Peter H.|
|Last steps before returning to Camp Schurman|
|The team leaving Camp Schurman|
|Last leg of the descent, hiking into the river valley|
We made it back to the car just as it was getting dark. We stopped for fish n' chips and made the long drive back to Seattle. I had been up for over 24 hours straight, and in that time climbed the mountain and then descended about 10,000 vertical feet. It was quite the day.
I felt full with the beauty of the mountain, and overwhelmed with being on sunny snow for so long. It was a full-time job just to stay adequately fed and hydrated. I'm so happy I had the chance to climb this wild mountain that looms over Seattle and punctuates the skyline on most days. We had a really fun and safe climb, with big thanks to Peter and my other three teammates.