After our first summit attempt in August 2009, Shelley and I felt real strong. Although we didn’t make it past Camp Muir due to weather, we felt strong and ready for the summit attempt via the Disappointment Cleaver (DC) route. We decided we needed a harder test for ourselves. Since one potential goal is Denali, we wanted to push ourselves with a harder climb. We decided to try for the summit via the Emmons Glacier route.
This route is described as an intermediate climb, the DC route is a beginner climb. On this climb you start from a lower elevation, the summit day is much longer and it takes one extra day to climb via the Emmons.
So, those are the reason we chose this route instead of going back to the DC route.
We started out with our gear check the afternoon before our climb. We met at the Alpine Ascents office on Monday afternoon and met our lead guide, Matt Hegeman. He conducted gear check. Here’s Shelley surrounded by her gear during gear check.
The next morning we met at the office again at 6:00 am and loaded up the van and trailer and drove to the White River campground at Mt Rainier. We left their office at around 6:20 am. We stopped for a quick breakfast at a Safeway in Enumclaw. Once at the camp ground, we divided up all the group gear and finished packing our packs. The other thing that makes this climb more difficult is that there are no resources on this climb like there was on the DC route. We had to hike in all our food, fuel, stoves and tents for this route. On the DC route, the tents are already on the mountain (or you stay in a shelter at Camp Muir) and the food is much better. Our packs on the DC route were probably around 40 lbs. For this climb, our packs were closer to 50 – 55 lbs.
One of the ways to keep your pack light was to sleep three to a tent instead of two to a tent. You may remember during our Denali Prep Course we slept two to a tent. We used the same tents on this climb and they are, technically, 3-man tents. But there were eight climbers. So six of the climbers (all guys) split up two tents between them, but Shelley and I had our own tent and couldn’t split the tent up into thirds. We had to split it in half. So although we had more room in our tent, we had more weight in our packs. Maybe two or three extra pounds. We really didn’t mind it in the long run. We trained with a heavier, or as heavy, pack leading up to the climb.
Here we are at the camp ground parking lot completing our finishing touches to our packs. The large orange bags spread around are the tents. Shelley is standing in the middle of the photo looking at her red/gray pack. My pack is in front of her. The blue/gray pack. The weather was great. Warm and sunny.
Here is one of the climbers in our group, Rob, with our lead guide Matt (in the middle) and Shelley. It was right about 10:00 am and we were ready to head up to camp 1. Another way to keep our packs lighter was to hike up in our climbing boots instead of trail boots. It wasn’t nearly as comfortable, but it beats carrying those heavy climbing boots on your back. Besides, we were going to need those climbing boots in just a few hours.
We maintained a slow climb up to camp 1, taking 15 minute breaks every hour or so. We didn’t carry much water in our packs either. Since we were following a trail very close to the White River, we carried minimal water. During our breaks we would drink about 3/4 of a liter or so, then fill up the bottle from the river before leaving the break site. We brought some iodine tablets with us and dropped them in the water bottle before drinking it. We had some sort of running water source for the first 3 hours of our 4 1/2 hour hike up to camp 1. The first few hours were along a very well maintained hiking trail through the woods.
Break 2 was right near the White River and was the last stop in the shade. Once we left break 2 we were no longer on the maintained trail. Some of the day hikers we met coming down warned us of some black bear cubs along the trail. They didn’t see the momma bear, just two cubs. I kept thinking, “Well, that would be perfect. Try again to climb Mt Rainier only to be mauled by a black bear on day 1.” We never saw any cubs or bears. Just chipmunks.
Here we are leaving break 2.
About 30 minutes after break 2, we hit the snow fields of the Inter Glacier. You can see what looks like trails coming down the slope in front of us in the distance. Those are actually glacade tracks from people coming down the mountain. We used those tracks to glacade down on day four on our way home. Camp 1 for us is about half way up that slope in the rocks near the center. Look for the text box I put on the photo with the arrow. Shelley is directly in front of me with the blue helmet on her pack.
Our final break was taken on a pile of rocks in the middle of the snow field. The black line is the route we took from break 2 and the text box points to where break 2 was at.
The final push up the Inter Glacier to the camp 1. Yes, it was steep.
Break time at camp 1.
We set our tents on the snow here at camp 1. Two guides, Matt and Ben Jones, set their tent on the rocks. They brought their own small 2-man tent. It had a much smaller foot print then the big 3-man tents we used. That was the only way they could get their tent on the rocks. Our tents were just too big, but they were comfortable. Alpine Ascents uses this spot a lot and there were already some flat spots dug into the slope for the tents. We just needed to stomp them down a bit to level them and they were good to go. Here are some scenic shots around camp 1 from day one. The yellow tent on the rock is Matt and Ben’s tent. The orange tent in the image looking up the slope is our tent.
We ended day 1 with a warm dinner, a briefing from Matt for day 2 and then an early bedtime.
Day 2 started at about 6:30 am with an early wake up and breakfast. We broke down camp and roped up for the first time on this climb. The top of the Inter Glacier wasn’t too far away and the Emmons itself, with all of its huge crevasses, was just over the ridge. It was just a short hike up to Camp Sherman, so our climbing day was going to be a short one. We were looking at about 2,000 feet and a couple of hours of climbing.
One of the topics our guides stressed was to take every precaution to eliminate any possible threat to a successful climb. One of those precautions was taping your feet to avoid blisters. You didn’t want to wait till a hot spot popped up and formed a blister so they recommended to tape off those areas of your feet where you have been prone to blisters in the past. This way you can avoid the forming of the blister in the first place. So, the morning of day two, Shelley worked on her feet to get them ready for another day of climbing.
Here’s an overview of the camp site. You can see the tent platforms dug into the side of the slope.
We roped up with Ben. Here’s Shelley and Ben getting ready. Then it was off to Camp Sherman. In the photo on the right, if you look up near the center-top of the photo you can see two hikers coming down.
After getting up on the Emmons we came to our first crevasse. We came upon a number of these during our climb. Many of them we just walked past the tip of them, but there were about three or four that we actually had to cross over them either by snow bridge or just jumping over them. Some openings were just a foot or so wide and you could take a big step/leap to cross over them. These shown in the picture below were about medium-sized, compared to other we saw later on this climb.
As we approached Camp Sherman I was able to snap this photo. The small building to the far right is the outhouse (yes, they had a bathroom) and the larger building was a National Forest Service Ranger Station. This station is manned 24/7. The rangers here work a 8-day on / 6-day off schedule. You can see a few yellow tents on the left.
After we got onto the rocks that make up Camp Sherman, I took a tour (short tour) of the area and snapped a series of photographs of the area. From the top row to the bottom row, left to right:
The large crevasse just off Camp Sherman. Looking out over the Winthrop Glacier to the north of Camp Sherman. You can see the various tent platforms dug out of the snow on the Winthrop Glacier side. Only one person was camped down there when we arrived.
Looking east towards the rock formation behind Camp Sherman. I should have merged these photos, but you get the idea.
Looking down the Emmons Glacier from where we hiked up from Camp 1. Looking west up towards the summit.
We arrived at Camp Sherman around 1:00 pm. We got our tent and camp set up and then had dinner. While getting set up, the group of climbers who had left that morning for the summit were just starting to return around 3:00 pm. They were so late getting back because they had thunderstorms around 1:00 am. They decided to wait till the storm passed and ended up leaving for the summit around 4:30 am.
After dinner, Matt held a briefing with everyone. He went over many of the basic points he had talked about already, but wanted to cover all of them again to reinforce them with all of us. Topics included safety, rope travel techniques, breathing, breaks, wake up time, what to pack and how to pack the clothing items. It was about a 45 minute talk then we were off to bed. It was about 5:30 pm and we were looking at about a midnight or 1:00 am wake up for the summit.