Rainier - Emmons Glacier

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 46.84939°N / 121.75873°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Sep 2, 2006
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Summer

Rainier Climb - Emmons Route

We planned to do a quick two day climb of Rainier beginning Friday, September 1 and beat the crowd that we expected to see for the Labor Day weekend. We flew up from the Bay Area into Yakima and arrived at the ranger station around noon. We planned to get to Camp Sherman that afternoon. Unfortunately my patner forgot his crampons in the plane. I took a nap in the ranger station parking lot while he drove to REI in Tacoma to buy a new pair. We weren't sure the crampons were in the plane in Yakima and thought they may be back in the car in California. By the time he got to Tacoma and back it was late so we camped a little way up the trail the first night.

The hike to camp Sherman at 9500' was an easy one. We departed aroung 9:30 or so an made it to camp in the early afternoon. We did have to put on the crampons on the Interglacer. Because it was so late in the season there were fairly significant crevasses below camp Sherman, although we did not feel the need to rope up.

At Sherman we had lunch and enjoyed the view. The weather was very warm. We wore shorts on the hike to camp. Our biggest surprise was that we were the only ones there besides the climbing ranger. We had the camp entirely to ourselves. It cooled to just below freezing overnight, but the weather, and the forecast, was so good we didn't bother with setting up the tent.

The boot track was in poor shape with many recently collapsed snow bridges and many new crevasses had opened on the "established" trail. Because of this and a favorable weather report, we decided to sleep in until 4 am for our start. We were climbing, roped up, by 4:30. By 5:30 we were totally lost in a maze of crevasses and one gaping maw. We did about 1,000 up and 500' down in that first hour trying to find a route. Once the sun came up things became much easier. Clearly the late start was the right call.

We ended up having to go far to the left (East) around much of the crevasses and then traverse back across the Emmons to the Winthrop glacier at about 12,000'. We crossed maybe 12 significant crevasses. Route finding was tricky, but the greatest frustration actually was the infernal sun cups that we had to contend with. They formed at a sharp 45 degree angle toward the sun into snow fins and were as much as 3 feet high. They were generally pretty unstable, very difficuly to navigate with crampons and we constantly got the rope hung up between them.

We made the summit at about 12:00, which was about 2 hours longer than we expected it would take due to the difficult route finding, the sun cups and a few issues I had with one crampon. There was some exposure, due largely to some of the crevasses and we did some front-pointing up one pitch, but generally the climb was class 3.

Although we had Camp Sherman and the Emmons to ourselves we expected to see some fellow climbers on the summit. Instead we were blissfully all alone. We never saw another soul. The top was very windy and didn't stick around too long after making the true summit on the South ridge of the crater. We made it back to Samp Sherman after about 4 hours. Half that time we battled the sun cups (fins) again. Our route down followed more of the established boot track and was more direct than our ascent, but had significantly more crevasse crossings and would have been very diffictly before dawn. In fact, in several places the boot track went stright into a few significant new crevasses that had obviously recently opened up.

We were pretty beat by the time we made it back to Camp Sherman. With the weather so wonderful, we decided to camp there again another night. We were pretty much out of food, but it was a good call. We had an enjoyable hike out the next morning and were back in California by Sunday evening.

I recommend the route if you want to avoid the crowd on the DC. I would suggest going a little earlier in the season.
Emmons Glacier
Suncups on Rainier


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