Sunday, August 06, 2017

Emmons-Winthrop Route Update 8/5/17

Little Tahoma from the Corridor on 8/5

The Emmons-Winthrop route is beginning to change as warm weather wilts away the snow bridges spanning crevasses climbers have been crossing since May.  The trail/trough is still well defined from Camp Schurman all the way to the summit.  However, in a few places that trail is not the easiest way to the top.  Rangers at Schurman explored new route options on Saturday.  Some variations were purely to make the cramponing easier, and other variations cross crevasses in better spots.

Climbing on this side of the mountain puts more responsibility on the climber as there are no wands, ladders, or other work done on the route by guide services.  It's up to you to make route finding decisions on the climb when the old trail is no longer the best route.

The track below shows the trail (red) and some new variations taken by climbing rangers on 8/5/17 (blue).  Right out of Camp Schurman, climbers can avoid almost all the large crevasses at the Emmons Flatts by kicking out climbers right (rejoining the trail at about 9,850 ft.)

Red: old trail from June still being followed.  Blue: variations taken by rangers on 8/5 (bold contour lines 200 ft apart)
In the photo above, notice the blue track splits from the red one above 10,200 ft after gaining the corridor.  Rangers found much nicer cramponing out here on the climbers left side of the corridor.  100-200 feet from the current trail, the snow surface was much smoother, and not a trough flanked by penitente; as the current trial is.  Rangers rejoined the trail at the top of the corridor, and followed it until about 11,900 ft.  Here, if you climb out of the trough and ascend straight up, you can avoid many of the more challenging crevasse crossings on the route.  There is no trail here (see photo below).

If leaving the trail here, ascend until you reach about 12,300 ft in elevation, then traverse hard right (neither gaining nor loosing elevation) about 200 yards until you reach the main trail.  You will intersect the main trail right where it crosses the big crevasse at 12, 300 ft.  On this variation, you will have to negotiate some smaller penitente once you leave the trough.  Pay careful attention on the way up if you plan on taking this variation on the descent as well.

Looking uphill at the variation from 11,900 ft to 12,300 ft.  Switchback straight up, then traverse hard right at 12,300 ft
The crossing at 12,300 ft is still pretty solid.  The plug climbers are traveling over to cross the crevasse is big, but it won't last forever.  Think about putting in running protection at this crossing if your team needs it; especially on the way down.  A fall from a team member descending here could pull an uphill teammate over a big edge.  Don't forget to keep the rope tight between climbers when crossing crevasses like this one.  Slack = Acceleration in the event of a fall.

Ranger Hasebe descending the plug at 12,300 ft
After crossing the plug at 12,300 ft, the route ascends the same path it has for some time.  Just before the bergschrund at 13,800 ft, the Emmons-Wintrop meets the DC.  Expect to see wands here marking the trail to the top.  Don't forget to take a left on the way down so you end up back at Camp Schurman.

Key Points:  The well worn trail out of Camp Schurman is still a viable climbing route.  Better variations do exist, but they require more decision making.  Jumping over large crevasses is dangerous, and you should find a different way across if you think you need to jump.  Start early to avoid being in the hot sun for many hours.  Climb safely, make conservative decisions, and have fun. -691