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Mount Rainier Summit with Mountain Madness

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