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NWAC Avalanche
+  Turns All Year Trip Reports
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| |-+  May 2017 Backcountry Trip Reports
| | |-+  May 27-29, 2017, Rainier via Emmons
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Author Topic: May 27-29, 2017, Rainier via Emmons  (Read 1395 times)

Posts: 124

May 27-29, 2017, Rainier via Emmons
« on: 05/29/17, 10:05 PM »

Emmons-Winthrop, May 27-29, 2017


The traverse from the ridge above Camp Curtis to Emmons Glacier is completely snow covered making for very easy travel. On the way back, you can do a high traverse without needing to skin. Corn o'clock was about 7:30-8am this morning (Monday) at 10,000'! I don't think it re-froze much below 7-8k. There are about 6 crevasses on the entire route and are easily navigated. Even with a 12,000' freezing levels on Sunday, anything above 12,000' did not soften. The snow surface at 12,000+ is a mixed bag of sastugi, packed\chalky powder, and firm snow, which makes skinning nearly impossible but excellent cramponing. The biggest hazards are likely the drainage crossings in the first 2-3 miles of approach trail to Glacier Basin.

Permit notes

The rangers at White River RS said Emmons Flats was full and would not issue us a permit to camp there (Camp Schurman was already full). When we skinned past Emmons Flats on Sunday, there were only 3 tents there. Since the reservation system can be done online now, there might be some glitch in the system or a ton of people are making reservations and not claiming them (I believe Emmons Flats holds 24 permits). We were issued a permit for Camp Curtis (and ended up trading ours with someone who had a permit for Camp Schurman but there partner was ill). I wasn't aware you could reserve a camp online now. We did purchase the climbing permits online the day before, though.

Saturday, May 27

We left the parking lot around 10am and hiked for about 2 hours before transitioning to skinning. We caught up to what appeared to be a father and 2-son team who already had their harnesses on with dangling ice screws. I asked them for a belay in the avalanche debris but I don't think they appreciated it. As other reports have said, continuous snow begins immediately after the avalanche debris. After another 20 minutes, the bootpack\skin-track splits, some people crossing Inter Fork (on their feet, jumping from rock to rock) to travel up climber's left of the creek, others staying right, following the summer trail. We chose to cross Inter Fork and were able to find a narrow snowbridge a few hundred feet downstream.

On the way to Camp Curtis, I chatted with a fellow who explained his predicament with his sick ski partner. They had abandoned a summit bid and their permit at Camp Schurman for Camp Curtis and laps on Inter Glacier. The light bulb went off in my head, maybe we can swap permits. We caught up to them later and ended up trading permits, taking cell phone pictures of each. The ridge that drops off from Camp Curtis to Emmons is still snow covered and easily traversed without taking skis off. We arrived at Camp Schurman around 6pm, and ran into some friends doing a climb of the Emmons.

After setting up camp, a helicopter flew in and started circling around the top of the Winthrop. Hmm. After 5-10 minutes, it flew off. Maybe 20-30 minutes later, it was back (I think it was a different helicopter), apparently with a team of 6 rangers, and it landed at the Winthrop Saddle, where the rangers then descended to the accident site. I think a 3rd helicopter came in with a short haul later too. Either way, lots of questions were generated by the small community of people at camp. Other questions were generated at camp, but these were between me and Radka, and in regards to what other people were doing. You think you've seen it all, until you go to Rainier...

Avalanche debris

I am starting to have some questions...


Almost at Camp Curtis

About to start the traverse



After 6-7 hours of sleep (WHAT?), we left camp shortly after 6am, the last to leave of the parties going for the top. The 2 times we have done Rainier in the past, we normally get about 0-1 hours of sleep, before leaving camp at 1am in the morning. It was pretty awesome actually feeling rested and not completely sick this time. We "destroyed" the first 2,000' feet to the top of "The Corridor" doing 1,000' per hour (hey it's fast for us!) and took a break at 8am. We passed a rope team from (mostly) CO who was really struggling because they didn't have ski crampons. We only had our harnesses on and were not roped up.

Leaving camp

At the top of The Corridor, the route starts a ~1,000' traverse right over to the Winthrop. We caught up to the father-son team and passed them. They abandoned skinning at this point and were now booting. This traverse was done mostly around 9am and the snow was already soft enough that we were able to easily stomp a skin track in to the slope. Unfortunately, once we hit ~12,000', which also ends up being the end run of the prominent crevasse across the Emmons, the snow was cold, still powdery, and our skins were wet. Solid glopping occurred and we decided it would be best to crampon from this point on. Not bad, able to skin 3/5 of the elevation. We roped up for rest of the route. While on the traverse, the first of a series of helicopters flew back.


First helicopter

Last bit of skinning

Shortly after our transition, the 1st of the final 4 helicopter circuits came in, this one with a climbing ranger on a short haul. We were still below the accident site at this point so as the helicopter lowered the ranger, we eventually lost site of the ranger. Then it flew off. It came back shortly after, did another lower, and this time when it flew off, a ranger and victim (on a stretcher) were lifted off. A few minutes later, we made visual contact with the 2 climbing rangers still present at the accident site, and asked them what happened. They said a skier fell 100' into a crevasse and advised us to be cautious skiing down because the snow was tricky. We continued on. 2 more helicopter passes occurred, the 3rd hauled out a net full of gear, and the 4th the 2 rangers. Wow! Being witness to such an event is a really interesting conflict of emotions. It's scary and sad that an accident has occurred yet simply amazing and awe-inspiring watching the rescue.

Helicopter with a rescuer

Rescuer and victim flying off

Helicopter is back for rescue gear

And they are off...

Helicopter is back to pick up rescuers

Shortly after the final helicopter load, folks started descending the route, the 1st a pair who were in the process of breaking the speed record on Liberty Ridge. They didn't stop to chat, unsurprisingly. Watching folks ski down definitely suggested challenging conditions. We hoped things would soften by the time we descended.

We finally reached the summit around 1:30pm. Of course there was a good breeze (as opposed to stiff) on the top and some seriously bulletproof rime ice. It wasn't too cold definitely colder in past summit experiences. Neither of us brought Gore-Tex, only had 2 layers on our legs, 4 layers for upper body, and were not uncomfortable. I didn't even bring big down gloves. We walked to the summit register, 5 minutes from the true summit, signed in, then dropped back over the Winthrop-Emmons. Then we ate, drank, took photos, started descending at 2:30pm.

We dedicate this climb to teledavid

May there be wonderful powder and buttery corn wherever you are skiing now....

While we were gorging, a solo skier hit the summit, and started their descent at the same time. They quickly caught up to us and it was none other that Carl Simpson who started from the parking lot at 4am. Jeezus man! We chatted for a bit then continued down. The snow never really did soften above 12,000', so it was a combination of survival skiing, jump turns, traversing, and side slipping.  A few pockets of 5-6 cautious linked turns were had though. Once below 12,000' the traverse back to The Corridor was starting to re-freeze and 8-12" of pole penetration soft. From the top of the Corridor back to camp was quite excellent. We made it back to camp at 3:30, taking 1 hour to descend. Skiing the mountain for the win! Back at camp, the questions returned...

Hey, who is that!


We left Camp Schurman around 7:45am and were on top of Inter Glacier by 8am. It was already soft. The skiing down Inter Glacier wasn't that great, as it was isothermal below the corn, and the re-frozen crust below the corn wasn't really supportive enough. Somewhere around 8000' it all turned into various depths of mush, and was actually better skiing since the conditions were more predictable and consistent. We were back to our stashed shoes at 5300' by 9am, back to the car at 10:30am, and home by 12:45pm. 5 hours Camp Schurman to house, beating holiday traffic, was a great way to end our 1st ski descent of Mount Rainier.

Trip report: Chris
Photos: Radka

Posts: 79

Re: May 27-29, 2017, Rainier via Emmons
« Reply #1 on: 05/29/17, 11:00 PM »

Nice TR and beautiful photos! Spring/summer weather is finally here!

"We caught up to what appeared to be a father and 2-son team who already had their harnesses on with dangling ice screws."

^ reminds me of La Graving...
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