4-day Emmons Climb, The Summit

Here is the link to part 1, The Ascent to Camp Sherman.

So, we went to bed hoping for good weather.  With the thunderstorms the night before, there was a bit of a concern we would either be delayed or possibly canceled if the weather turned worse.  Since I was pretty anxious already, being delayed would be a killer.  When we first went to bed, around 6:00 pm, Shelley and I both just laid in the tent unable to get any sleep.  Eventually, I think I got a few hours of sleep, but I ended up waking up around 11:30 pm.  Matt told us he was looking at a midnight to 1:00 am wake up call.  Once midnight came and went, the anxiousness increased.  We could hear other groups getting up and getting food and geared up, and yet we were still laying in our tent waiting.

I started thinking, “Maybe Matt forgot which tent was ours and he forgot to wake us up.”  Okay, yes, I was getting a bit crazy.

Finally, Matt woke us up (which isn’t quite true as I had been awake since 11:30 pm) around 12:30 am.

We got dressed pretty quick and had a light breakfast of granola and hot spiced cider.  Matt wanted us ready and moving out by 1:30 am, but our group was a little slow and we were ready and roped up by 1:45 am.  When our rope team started moving off up the mountain, it was 1:50 am.  We were the third of four rope teams as we left Camp Sherman.

The plan was to make the summit in 6 to 7 hours and take four breaks on our way to the top.  The first leg was going to be the biggest move.  Matt was figuring it would be a 1 1/2 to 2 hour move before we took a break.  There after it would be about a 1 hour move then 15 minute break.

The sky was crystal clear.  The stars were super bright and the moon was just rising.  With all the fires in the greater Northwest area, the sliver moon had a reddish look and there was just a slight breeze.  Very nice climbing weather.

There wasn’t much to take pictures of for the first few hours.  At break two, I took my first couple pictures, but there wasn’t much to see.  Here’s one of the shots just to show you.

We could only see as far as our headlamps.  There was no real horizon line at all.  It  made the climbing fairly easy in the sense that you can’t see where you’re going or how far you still need to go.  That was nice from a mental standpoint.  All I had to do is just not worry about looking at my watch to see how much farther till the next break.  You can start to drive yourself crazy if you get into that mindset.  So all I did was concentrate on my foot work, breathing and the rope.  That’s it.  One of the things Matt kept talking about was just to worry (concentrate) on your little area right within your headlamp light, that circle of area just about 5 feet around you in front.

There were a couple of areas where the climbing was very difficult.  The ground was frozen and the rut we were walking in was just wide enough for one foot.  It was very difficult to put two feet side-by-side.  It made for very difficult walking as you really couldn’t maintain a good pace.  For the first few hours I was hoping it wasn’t going to be like that all the way to the top.  Around the 12,000 foot mark, the ruts disappeared and the trail flattened out and became wider as well as becoming a bit softer.  Now, what I mean by flattened out is that the trail was about 12″ wide instead of in a rut about 4″ wide.  Then we got another break when the trail turned into a traverse instead of a straight up climb.  Both those things were huge reliefs.

At break 3 the sun started to break over the horizon.  It was still pretty dark around us, but I snapped a photo just the same.  Again, the lighting wasn’t very good.

The climb actually started to become a bit easier at this point.  There was more traversing and the slope of the climb was not nearly as steep as it was for the first three hours.  With the sun coming up, I started to wake up a bit and felt much stronger.  I think that was more physiological than reality.  Our last break was taken somewhere around 13,200 feet or so.  The weather was perfect.  It was starting to warm up and there was hardly any wind.  In the photo with me, if you look just under my hand, you can see the trail we are walking along.  That’s a good example of what the trail was like once we got out of the ruts near the 12,000 foot level.

The last part of the climb was up a snow field just below the summit.  There didn’t seem to be a trail at all.  I wasn’t sure we were even on a glacier at this point as there were rope teams all over the snow field.  No one was really walking in a line like before.  These next couple photos were taken as we walked up this snow field.  Some of the rope teams in the photos are in our group, others are hikers that were near us or coming down.

Those pictures taken above are still about 45 minutes from the summit.  In fact, you can’t even see the summit from those two photos.  Mt. Rainier is a big mountain.  I was starting to get a bit excited at this point and forgot to take any more photos until we got to the summit.  I know, I can’t believe I didn’t take any more till the top.

In the photo on the right, you can see Shelley ahead of me on the rope.  We continued in a straight line from this point up and over that ridge ahead of us.  Once we got off the snow field / glacier, we came to a rock pile and dumped our packs and ropes at that point.  We were now just a few hundred feet below the summit and could see it.  We pulled out our puffy jackets, some water and snacks and the camera and walked up the last couple hundred feet to the top.  Shelley was just ahead of me when we started out, but stepped off the trail for a moment and I thought she was right behind me still.  When I got to the top, Matt and Ben were both there congratulating everyone as they reached the summit and when I started looking around I didn’t see Shelley.  Unbeknownst to me, she had started coughing and took a hit off her inhaler which cleared things up, but that was why she stepped off the trail for a moment.  So, I whipped out the camera and flipped it over to movie and took a video of Shelley making her way up the last few feet to the summit.  It’s also a real good video to show you what a “rest step” looks like when you’re climbing.  Shelley is tired, we all were, but that’s not why she’s walking so slowly.  That was our pace up the mountain for the last 6 1/2 hours.  Ben is the one greeting her at the top and asking her, “You alright?”  “Yeah,” was her response.  It just took a while to sink in that we were finally at the top.  In the background is the west crater of Mt Rainier.

We were finally on the top, I wasn’t tired anymore.  I just wanted to see everything that I could see.  I was really surprised how big the top of the mountain is.  Mt Hood was just a narrow ridge leading to the peak.  But Mt Rainier has a huge summit area.  Now there’s one high point, but the area around the summit isn’t that much lower than summit.  The west and east craters are maybe 100 feet or so lower than the summit.  Well, check out the photos and the videos and you’ll see what I mean.  The video below starts looking north towards the false summit and the trail and ridge leading over to it.  If you climb up from Camp Muir (the DC route) that is the direction you will come from.  There was a group of climbers coming up from Ingraham Flats while we were up on the summit.  I’ll point them out in the photos.  The wind wasn’t blowing nearly as hard as the sound makes it seem.  I’d say it was about 15 – 20 mph.

We hung out at the top for about 45 minutes.  That was really nice of Matt, Ben and Jason to stay that long.  They pretty much let us take it all in and just mill about.  Here are a selection of more photos we took while on top.  In the first photo you can see our group standing on the summit.  In the next photo you can see a group of people down near the rocks where we left our packs and ropes.  The panoramic shot is of the west crater and Jason.  If you look closely at the snowfield to the right you can make out two climbers heading back down to the rest of their group.  Right in the middle of the photo on the far side of the crater rim, you can see the shadows of the crater rim in the snow.  Just to the right, where those shadows end, you can just make out the rest of the group of climbers those first two climbers are headed to.  If you come up from the Ingraham side, that is where you dump your gear before walking up to the summit.  Yes, that crater is huge, appx. 1,000 feet in diameter.  In fact, underneath that snowfield in the crater (appx 100 feet below that snow field) is a crater lake 16 feet deep, 130 feet long by 30 feet wide.  Seriously.  Check out this link for some other facts about Mt Rainier.

After our visit it was time to head back down.  It took 6 1/2 hours to climb up from Camp Sherman and we were looking at a 3-hour decent.  Once we climbed back down to our gear, we got roped back up and headed off the way we came.

I think we were the last team from our group to leave the summit.  You can see the other two teams ahead of us in this photo.  In the next one, you can see the other teams moving down and around the edge of one of the many crevasses we needed to negotiate on our way down.

These next series of photos are just sights around us as we descended.  Nothing specific to talk about, just looking at the scenery.

These next couple show Shelley on the rope team as we descended.  We took one formal break coming down and a couple short stops as we stopped for other rope teams.  Some 3 or 4-man teams were by themselves and Ben wanted to stop and wait for them as they crossed the snow bridges.  Just in case they fell in.  Otherwise, no one would be around to help them until the next rope team came along.  So we got a few rest stops, but not many.  My legs were rubber by the time we got back down.

Finally, Camp Sherman was in sight.  We were almost home.  By this time, I was just putting one foot in front of the other.  My legs were so numb that I could have kept going, no problem.  I just couldn’t hurt any more so it couldn’t get any worse.

It was 12:15 pm.  We were gone for just a little over 10 hours with little sleep.  We were back at Camp Sherman and felt tired, but not exhausted to the point of total collapse.  Like I said, if I had needed to continue, I could have.  It would not have been pleasant, but I still had some fuel in the tank.  But we were done for the day.  We were not going to go back to the trail head till the next day.  The rest of the day was ours to relax, take a nap and just hang out at Camp Sherman.  I hung out with the guides listening to their stories and talking about Denali.  Yes, Denali was on my mind.

We had dinner around 6:00 pm and then went to bed early.  Both of us slept through the night.  It was nice to get a good night’s sleep.  Our group was the only climbers at Camp Sherman this night.  The only other climbing party who summited continued down to the 7,400 foot level (where we stayed our first night) instead of staying at Camp Sherman.  That made things very quite for us and we got plenty of sleep.  Day four was going to be an early wake up so we could get back to Seattle.  It was nice going to bed knowing that we made it to the summit.

We had summited Mt Rainer, and that’s pretty cool feeling.


4 Responses to “4-day Emmons Climb, The Summit”

  1. TRexDad Says:

    Awesome pics and movies! Great writeup and detail. Now I know what it is like to climb a mountain! You guys should feel very proud that you made it!


  2. Mahlon Buck Says:

    You did a great job describing the climb as well as great photos. I got a knot in my gut, in anticipation of leaving at 1:50 am.

    You are lucky Shelly did not kick you butt when you left her near the summit. Most wives would have taken your camera away and made you eat it. You are a lucky man!!


  3. rich Says:

    I actually thought she was right behind me. I’m glad I was able to capture that video though. I wish I had let it run a but longer.


  4. Back to Rainier | News From Summit Ridge Says:

    […] till Friday evening when we return from the mountain.  We have one summit under our belt from August 2010.  We are climbing with RMI Expeditions.  This is going to be a pretty special climb for the two […]


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