MM Collection
Checking in from the Condor's Nest on Illimani, Bolivia. MM Collection
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August 4, 2012

"Best Summit Climb Yet" on Mount Rainier

MM Mt. Rainier Climb

July 8-11

Matt Barela and I met three of our members of our group at Second Ascent on a beautiful morning in Seattle on July 8th. After doing a gear check and reviewing our plan we drove southward toward Mt. Rainier National Park.  We met John Yarnall, a long time Mountain Madness client (and MM poster boy to boot), at the White Canyon Ranger station. John lives in Northern Oregon and it made more sense for him to meet us at Mt. Rainier rather than Seattle.

The hike in. Leon Bromley photo

After checking in at the Ranger Station we drove to the White River trailhead and divided our gear under nearly perfectly blue skis before hiking 3.1 miles into Glacier Basin. The views hiking into Glacier Basin were incredible with views of the Emmons and Winthrop Glaciers pouring off the summit of Mt. Rainier and Little Tahoma jetting proudly upward out of the Emmons and Frying Pan glaciers.  Once in camp we reviewed some skills, such as self-arrest, cramponing technique and rope management before eating an amazing pizza dinner that was made from scratch and baked on a camp stove. We spoke with climbers descending the mountain and to our slight dismay they described a critical snow bridge that fell in and they were forced to make a 4-5 foot crevasse jump down hill over a gap that was covered on their way up. We wondered how we were going to deal with this section.

Delicious pizza! Leon Bromley photo

That night I noticed an east wind commenting on how that is typically associated with thunder showers, an uncommon occurrence in the Northwest. But sure enough 2 hours later the skies opened up with thunder and lightning right overhead, mixed with a heavy hail that lasted around 45 minutes. 

The climb to Camp Sherman. Leon Bromley photo

Despite the fierce storm we awoke to mostly sunny skies, we ate a fantastic French toast breakfast and packed up our camp and began the steep climb up the Inter Glacier. We crested the moraine at 9,000 feet and our mouths dropped at how stunning the view was across the Emmons Glacier, the largest glacier in the lower 48.  After dropping onto the Emmons Glacier and rounding a rock feature, appropriately named Steamboat Prow, to our camp for the next 2 nights at Camp Sherman at 9,460ft. 

Leon Bromley photo

When we arrived at Camp Sherman we spoke with a Ranger that had warned us of a tricky section in the glacier that had turned around many parties, but promised us that he had just climbed it and while the crevasse feature turned many parties around with a little route finding and tricky guiding it certainly would go. 

Camp Sherman. Leon Bromley photo

Flamingos point the way from Camp Sherman. Leon Bromley photo

Thinking that some daylight could help us figure out this difficult section, we set the alarm for 2:45am instead of the more typical 1-2am. 2:45am the next morning came too early and after some hot drinks and packing up we were hiking up the bottom of the lower section of the Emmons Glacier called the “Corridor” by 4:15am. This was our nicest day yet with calm winds, and a sky full of stars.  A group ahead of us had left camp at 1am and we could see their headlamps wandering around still looking for a passage through the most difficult section. They continued to look almost until we reached them at 6:30 when they turned around. Matt and I parked our group for 30 minutes while the two of us looked around for the best possible way. After some searching, we found a way that looked great.

Sunrise on summit day. Leon Bromley photo

Leon Bromley photo

We could see where other parties were forced to make a 4-5 foot crevasse jump after the snow bridge fell in. But 50 feet to the left was a short 50 degree snow step to gain the top of a serac. Matt and I belayed the group across the top of an ever-narrowing fin of ice that pinched down to 2ft across with the bottomless dark blue and black of other crevasses below. Beyond this point the route made a rising traverse on far mellower ground from the Emmons Glacier to the Winthrop Glacier. A few larger crevasse bridges and some wandering around and we could finally climb nearly straight up the Winthrop Glacier.

Route finding. Leon Bromley photo

Crossing the narrow fin. Matt Barela photo

We rolled over Columbia Crest and traversed across the crater rim around 12:30pm. There were two climbers starting down who had just climbed Ptarmigan Ridge.  There was no one from the Disappointment Cleaver route, the most popular route on the mountain and other than a group of 4 Rangers on patrol and the climbers who turned around at the tricky section we hadn’t seen another person all day. The weather was unbeatable, nearly completely windless and the sun felt warm on our lightly dressed bodies, so we hung out on the summit for over an hour, taking in the views of Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, Glacier Peak and Mt. Baker while eating sandwiches and taking photos.

Climbers Rafael and Norton on the summit! Leon Bromley photo

After what was one of the longest and most comfortable summit hang out times any of us have ever had, we began our descent. What was prefect Neve (excellent crampon snow) on the way up became soft and mushy, prefect for the way down, cushioning our descent. We descended 2,200 feet our first hour down the mountain and before we knew it we were back at the top of the tricky section. The Ptarmigan Ridge team hadn’t found a way across, and punched up to his waist several times into crevasses nearby. Matt and I quickly rigged an anchor and combined our rope teams to belay our groups across. The other team couldn’t have been happier to see us and to observe to best way to descend. We also let them share a few of our anchors. Below the tricky section at the top of “the Corridor”, Matt and I performed an “assisted Glissade," pulling our groups down the mountain like kids on an innertube behind a boat, hooting and hollering as they went.  We descended 1800 feet in 12 minutes!  We arrived back at Camp Sherman 11:25 hours after we had left. We spent the rest of the day hanging out and looking up at the amazing mountain we had just climbed before eating dinner and going to bed. 

The next morning everyone slept in and then we ate a pancake breakfast and enjoyed another sunny day. After eating and reviewing some rope skills we packed our camp and made the short climb back up to the top of the Inter Glacier where we glissaded down 2600 feet in 20 minutes, pretty much the best glissade run of any of our lives. The perfect snow conditions, a nice track already in place and the perfect angle. 

We reached Glacier Basin, our camp from the first night, in less than an hour, a climb that had taken us 4+ hours two days prior. After that we hiked out to the trail head and put on open toed shoes and debated which was better: flip flops or Croc’s.

After changing we drove up to Sunrise, did a Map, GPS, compass and navigation lesson and visited the gift shop. We parted ways in Seattle after what Matt and I would consider one of our favorite ascents of Mount Rainier. Thanks to the awesome team that joined us!

~ MM Guide Ian Nicholson