Mt Rainier - Worty Ski Mountaineering Objective
So ski season normally ends in before June...not this year. With over 28,000 ft of vertical in 4 runs, on 4 mountains (volcanoes) in the last 3 weeks...it seems like the ski season is in full swing. This year it started with Mt Rainier in the state of Washington. Mt Rainier is a massive 14,400 ft volcanoe in the Cascade range of the western United States. It's one of the biggest and most significant mountaineering objectives around. I was always under the false impression that it was unskiable...an then I decided to look into it. Turns out the Emmons Glacier runs up the north side of the mountain right to the summit. So after a couple months of debate the decision is made to go for it! Jack was up for the task, and it turned out we couldn't find anyone else who could make it down there the weekend of the June 15-16th so we went decided to go the '2 man rope team' approach.
From the climbers parking lot at 4300ft we strapped our skis to our big packs and headed up the dirt trail. The US Parks need to be given credit for the superb condition in which they keep their trails! We trekked up about two and half miles before we hit snow shortly before Glacier Basin. We followed a Ranger up the summer trail which he was breaking for the first time of the season. Seemed strange he was boot packing with his skis on his back when we were skinning; but 'to each his own' I guess. Along the trail we got some great views of the massive rock and ice body of Mt Rainier... that's when the daunting nature of this objective really started to set in. Once we passed the Glacier Basin camp ground at 5600 ft the trees gave way to a huge bowl and curved to the left holding within in it the Inter Glacier. We could see several other parties on the glacier...they looked like little black dots; that generally indicates you've got a long ways to go. By this time the sun was beating down on us and I was in shorts and a t-shirt trying to apply sun screen and drink water as often as possible.
The Inter Glacier steepened in the middle, but within a couple hours I'd managed to climb to the top, alhough I could see camp Schurman from there it seemed that it was about 100m straight down a cliff of extremely rotten crumbly rock! So I skied back down to Jack and we scored a few quick steep turns down to the Emmons Glacier. From there we skinned up to a crack just before camp, and we decided to rope up to cross it. Getting to the camp was a relief. We saw another group of skiers carving nice turns in the soft afternoon corn. Then we saw a group of Rangers and so-called Ranger groupy girls (no offense meant to girls, they were awesome skiers!) skiing very agressively down a shoulder to the west of the main ascent route. It looked good, but when they got down they told us it was almost all icy until the last 200m or so. We decided we'd stick to the main route. The next few hours was devoted to cooking dinner and boiling water, Jack had a nap while I did the first shift of cooking and water boiling.
I finally finished cooking, eating and boiling water around eight when I hopped into the tent to start trying to sleep. The sunset was quite amazing and was probably worth the trip up alone. After 5000ft of climbing with heavy pack up to 9500ft it was nice to get some rest. Jack probably got to sleep an hour and a half later. I slept relatively well, although the mountaineers leaving at 11pm did wake me.
Around 2am we got up and the view of Seatlle lights was pretty amazing. We boiled some more water to make breakfast and tea. We geared up tied into the rope and started our ascent around 3:30am. The snow beneath our skis was icy hard and sharp edges had formed everywhere after the sun melted snow had frozen. The use of ski crampons was essential to ascend with our skis and skins on. However, it seemed like most skiers around us liked climbing with their skis on their backs, so we were a little our of place. After a couple hours of dancing around crevasses and traversing above cracks the sun started to rise. The sun came up as a huge glowing ball of deep red and orange... one of the most spectacular sunrises I've ever seen.
As the morning light set in we could see a small group of climbers high and to the left on the Emmons Glacier, they must have been the ones that left at 11pm. We continued to ascend while veering climber's right on the glacier. There were snow bridges every few hundred meters that needed to be crossed; fortunately the snow was still very hard, but we were still very cautious. At about 3500m the altitude was starting to take it's toll, and I could feel the rope tugging backwards on me at more regular intervals. The pitch then steepened and we decided to use our crampons and put the skis on our back. This proved to be much harder and drained our energy a lot quicker. A couple hundred meters later we decided to go back to skis. At this point Jack was really starting to feel the effects or altitude and fatigue. We breaked for a while to regain our strength. A group of mountaineers descended past us, they were complaining about the heat and told us we had long way to go before we gained the summit. I really don't envy anyone who has to walk all the way down these mountains.
Around 10:30am we were at 3900m. The sun was up and had started to wear on us. At this point Jack decided he couldn't go on any further. I wasn't sure what to do. It was a mere 400m to the summit and the worst of the crevasses and snow brigdes were behind us. I hadn't climbed this far to turn around now. I figured I could summit and return with 2 hours, so Jack decided he'd stay put and wait until 3pm before he tried to go for help...I un-roped and carried on. Free from the weight of the rope I could travel faster. Very quickly I became aware that I was alone on a big mountain, and I became aware of the dangers and of the route I must stick to. I had to traverse hard right above a large bergschrund and then climb up to the summit plateau. Just above 4000m was where I really felt the altitude. The physical effects were very noticeable, my legs were slow, my coordination wasn't 100% and my lungs were working overtime to suck in the thin air and drive oxygen into my body. Probably the most bizarre effects of the altitude were in my head. My thoughts wandered and it was harder to focus...
After crossing a plateau I had to put my skis on my back one final time up a moderately steep slope past a steaming vent. My pace was slower than ever towards the top. I finally reached the summit around 12:30pm. There was no one else around, the only human evidence was a brown path through the snow down the other side of the mountain towards routes from Camp Muir. Solo summits are somewhat anti-climatic, but I took in the incredible view, snapped a couple photos and got ready for the descent. It felt weird to start descending after 2 days of climbing. The first turns were on boiler plate ice with divets about 30cm deep! Not much fun at 4000m, but qucikly as I descended the air got thicker and the snow got better. At any rate you can't complain about descents just shy of vertical 10,000ft!!! I quickly met up with Jack and we descended to softer corn snow above camp Schurman. The best turns of the day by far!
We packed up camp, climbed up a narrow chute through to the top of the Inter Glacier and skied about 4500 more feet to snowline where we threw our skis on our packs and hoofed it back to car. Mission accomplished:)
Stay tuned for the next volacno epic....Mt Adams. 5000ft chutes...need I say more?