Climbing conditions on the Emmons-Winthrop route have been slightly variable due to the large changes in freezing levels over the last week. Climbers have generally reported good, firm conditions on the ascent, with conditions ranging widely on the descent: from mid-shin plunge-stepping, to icy patches requiring running-pro (ice screws). While the latter may be most applicable in areas where the route runs immediately above large crevasses, and when conditions would be challenging to self-arrest a fall, it is a technique that parties should be prepared to employ if necessary.
We're entering a rapid transition in crevasse bridging, and numerous climbers have been discovering how easy it is to misread the crevasse hazard. As crevasses continue to weaken with the warm weather, the current boot track may not be the best route. Investigate crevasse crossings and be open to the option of walking around the end of the crevasse rather than over a thin bridge.
The increasing popularity of ski-mountaineering descents on the Emmons-Winthrop poses numerous existential challenges to aspiring ski-mountaineers: Is it worth it to essentially travel un-roped, at speeds where it's hard to assess terrain subleties that imply a hidden crevasse, with few contingencies should a crevasse fall occur? While some routes on Mount Rainier may not be technically more challenging than a typical 'blue' run at a ski area, it's important to recognize that if your skills aren't up to the challenge of skiing or riding in highly variable snow conditions, with a heavy pack, after climbing 10,000 feet, in terrain where even a minor hip check may immediately result in an uncontrollable slide above significant crevasses, then the upper Emmons-Winthrop may not be an advisable objective.
|Questionable route selection on the Emmons-Winthrop Glacier|
Parties can increase their 'margin of safety' by knowing the route well (come climb the route before you try to ski it) as well as being highly proficient in their route assessment skills, crevasse rescue skills, and glacial skiing skills. If its 'natural' for you to scrub speed just before a steep rollover, you might be applying ski-area skills inappropriately, as you might be scrubbing speed right on top of a crevasse lid! Check out the blog post specific to ski-mountaineering published last year...
Rainier Climbing Blog 2018 - Considerations for skiers
Parties with single-push ski-mo objectives should remember that a climbing permit, as well as paying the cost-recovery fee is still applicable, and helps rangers know where folks are on the mountain in the case of an incident.
While the hazards of ski-mountaineering are very real, so are the rewards, and it's an excellent approach tool for the InterGlacier and for those looking to increase the whoohoo factor on the descent back to Glacier Basin!