Sunday, July 3, 2005

Mt Rainier - Emmons

Mt. Rainier, WA
14,410 feet
Emmons-Winthrop Route
July 2-3, 2005

Mt Rainier - Emmons

Kirsten and I decided to do a fairly impromptu climb of Rainier over 4th of July weekend. The 4th was Monday, and the day when my sister-in-law, Johanna, would be getting her U.S. citizenship at the naturalization ceremony at Seattle Center, so we had to make sure and be back by Sunday night.

We stayed at the White River campground Friday night after a delicious hamburger at the Greenwater Tavern. The hike up to Emmons flats was pretty uneventful Saturday morning, although hauling our skis and boots strapped to our heavy overnight packs up miles of dirt trail was a little demoralizing. But the weather was perfect and conditions were looking pretty good for skiing from the summit even if the freezing level, forecast to be around 11,000 feet, was a little lower than would be ideal. We rolled into camp at Emmons Flats around 2:30 in the afternoon. Plenty of time to set up camp and get some snow melting for cooking and drinking water.

We slept in a little later than what is generally recommended because if we were to ski from the summit, we wanted the snow to have a little bit of a chance to cook so it wasn't bullet hard. That was our excuse, anyway. So we set out for the summit about 3:30am. As we lifted our packs with our skis attached, we noticed that the wind and the gravity were feeling especially strong. So strong in fact, that we both looked at each other and with little verbalization agreed that we would leave the skis behind. We had little if any regret about this on the climb up the glacier as the wind gusts made staying on your feet difficult enough without a sail-like ski structure rising up above our heads.

The wind was howling and we were pretty cold. Fortunately the climb was very straightfoward and there was no time spent standing around trying to figure out the route or anything, which meant we could keep moving--helpful in keeping warm. But around 13,500 feet, about 1,000 feet below the summit, I wondered if Kirsten was going to lose motivation because we were pretty miserable and she had been to the top before. Fortunately she was game to keep going and we reached the summit at 9:30. I'm glad she toughed it out! Even though the route had only a few minor technical challenges, putting one foot in front of the other at that altitude was one of the most physically demanding things I have done.

We found shelter from the wind just below the edge of the crater rim and were able to warm ourselves up in the sun and enjoy being on top of this huge landmark. By the time we started down the wind had pretty much subsided and the snow was in great shape for skiing. It was nice soft wind-deposit right off the summit. As we descended towards camp however, it gradually turned into knee deep mashed potatoes. It would have been great off the summit, but the final 1,000 feet to camp would have kind of sucked in our tele gear.

After packing up camp, we did finally put on our skis and started down. After 9,000+ feet of climbing in two days, skiing down on telemark gear with our big overnight packs was exhausting, especially when the snow got sticky on the Inter Glacier. I'm pretty sure we didn't do any tele turns, although there may have been a wedgemark or two in there. But I'll still take skiing down over walking down any day.

Video Footage:

Steady progress toward the summit.

On the summit of Mt Rainier