Thursday, August 04, 2022

Emmons 8/2


Emmons/Winthrop as viewed from Steamboat Prow

The Emmons/Winthrop route still remains navigable. Crevasse bridges, especially above the Coridoor are weakening and separating.  Previous iterations of bootpacks are visible but some exist on bridges that are not currently viable crossings given the warm weather. Use caution and understand that your party may need to route find while climbing or descending.  The general flavor of the route remains similar to the last Emmons post.  Climbers are still traversing to Liberty Saddle, and crevasses are opening wider along the route.

Travel from Schurman to Emmons Flats and accessing the Corridor is relatively straight forward and no ablated glacier ice is visible yet.

No crevasses are visible on the Inter Glacier, although snow-line is slowly creeping uphill towards the lower nunatak and will most likely be disappearing in the next few weeks if the temperatures remain warm.

Looking up towards the Inter Glacier

2021 vs 2022 Glacier Comparison

2022 brought unseasonably late spring weather with a lot of precipitation. It is amazing how different the mountain looks now compared to this time last year. Here are a few photos to compare how the east side of Camp Muir and the Emmons-Withrop route looked in 2021 vs 2022.

Emmons-Wintrop Route August 3rd 2021

Emmons-Winthrop Route August 3rd 2022

East side of Camp Muir August 3rd 2021

East side of Camp Muir August 3rd 2022

It is easy to see that the Emmons-Winthrop and the Disappointment Cleaver routes are holding up well as we get into August! In recent years by early August, the Emmons-Winthrop route has become very indirect, glacier ice has been present, and there has been increased exposure to crevasses. However, this year things are still hanging in there! The Emmons-Winthrop Route has minimal adjuncts, and it is still fairly straight up the mountain. On the Disappointment Cleaver side in past years, even the access onto the DC has become difficult and exposed to rockfall. Crevasse and route-finding problems on the Ingraham Headwall have contributed to long routes with many ladders and adjuncts through, around, and over serac problems. Overall, this year has had great climbing conditions even though the climbing season started a little later in the year than normal. 

Monday, August 01, 2022

Disappointment Cleaver 7/31

The Disappointment Cleaver is still in good shape, however, warm temperatures are impacting snow stability.  Slushy snow isn't as strong as "coral reef" snow!

Descent Track From 7/31

We are still in the midst of long period of high-pressure, resulting in freezing levels hovering between 15,000 - 17,000ft in elevation for nearly the past two weeks. While this has led to some beautiful days in the mountains with great visibility, it also means that the route is changing rapidly and climbing conditions are quite variable.

Traverse onto the Disappointment Cleaver

The Cleaver is still quite snow-covered for the beginning of August, however snow is melting daily and quickly exposing underlying rock. Late morning and afternoon temperatures have led to unsupportive, often shallow snow. This can make the descent more challenging and easier to snag crampons on unseen rocks. 

Be heads up for other parties above and below you, especially when on the Disappointment Cleaver itself. The initial traverse onto the Cleaver as well as bare patches of rock on the cleaver are greatly susceptible to rockfall from other parties above. 

Cracks opening up above the cleaver

Wands crossing off old route around 13,100 feet

There are a number of route changes in the past week that avoid suspect snow bridges. Many of these are marked with wands to deter climbers from getting sucked into older variations. While these route aids are nice when they are present, climbers are encouraged to analyze their decisions when picking the best route. Don’t blindly follow the path most traveled. Consider options to end-run hollow bridges, take a different path, or if it’s not feeling right head back to camp. The mountain will always be here!

Ladder around 13,100 feet

The handline and ladder pictured above was one of two total on the route on 7/31. There is a multitude of "fixed" pickets on the route. If your party chooses to use these, please check each placement. Rangers do not maintain fixed protection on the routes, and with warm temperatures many of these route adjuncts can melt out providing little protection.  

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Emmons-Winthrop Update 07/26/2022

Emmons-Winthrop climbing route from Camp Schurman

Independent parties and guide services are successfully summiting via the Emmons-Winthrop route this week despite the heat advisory. The heat is making travel conditions challenging and have resulted in a longer and more demanding route.

Tracklog of Emmons-Winthrop descent from 07/23/2022

With the current heat advisory, Mount Rainier saw 17,000 foot freezing levels today.  The high freezing level and relatively calm winds are adding up to poor overnight snow-surface condition recoveries.  While the snow surface may be frozen during early morning hours, conditions deteriorate rapidly, and travel has been challenging on the Inter Glacier and the Corridor in the afternoon sun. Snow bridges are softening and crevasses crossings are becoming more interesting. Icefall and rockfall have been calving off Russell Cliff and the Womb all night, reminding climbers of the melting occurring above them.

There are two crevasse crossings between the corridor and the alpine meadows that are giving climbers some difficulty. The first crevasse is wide with a soft snow bridge spanning it. Independent climbing parties reported a body sized hole in this snow bridge and a subsequent self-rescue. 

The second crevasse above the corridor was reported to have a fallen bridge. Independent parties were following the boot pack and jumping across this crevasse on their descent. It is difficult to judge the distance with tired eyes and difficult to execute a jump with tired legs. Jumping across crevasses is not a good idea, especially with crampons on. A caught crampon combined with the forward velocity of a jump can easily break a leg. If unable to step across a crevasse, it may be time to utilize your contingency plan. Guide services reported chopping a step in this crevasse to more easily step across it.  Consider placing running protection above crevasse crossings to help prevent pulling the entire team into the crevasse.

At 13,000 feet, there is no snow bridge allowing a direct crossing over the bergschrund. The route traverses hard climber's right to the Liberty Saddle to end run it.

Rangers crossing a poorly-bridged crevasse using running protection to manage fall risk in consequential terrain

Snow bridges that were crossable during the ascent may no longer be supportable or present on the descent. Think about contingency plans on the climb up. What will your party do if a bridge is gone on your way down? Have you already examined the crevasse from camp the afternoon before? Can you end run it? Can you find an alternate descent? Can you use other skills to get across? The safest contingency plan may be to climb back up to the summit and descend the Disappointment Cleaver route. Leave enough gas in the tank to do so. Bonus vertical is not fun, but neither is a shiver-bivy.

Climb at night, plan for a longer route, make conservative decisions, develop contingency plans early, and have a great climb.

Disappointment Cleaver Conditions 7/23/22

Camp Muir Viewed from above

Route conditions on the Cleaver remain quite good. The route itself is virtually identical to this route track from 7/19. The section from Ingraham flats to the transition onto the Cleaver is relatively simple, but this is an area with a lot of overhead hazard from ice and rock fall, and we recommend moving quickly through this point, and avoiding stopping while in areas of higher risk. 

Handlines coming on to the Cleaver

As you move onto the Cleaver itself there are a series of handlines on the route, if you choose not to use them just be aware that they'll be underfoot, and avoid getting your feet tangled in them. The Cleaver is still almost entirely snow covered with the exception of a few short sections of exposed rocks, and the route above the Cleaver is a straightforward series of switchbacks leading to the summit, with a number of crevasse crossings along the way. There are currently two ladders on the route, placed by the guide services to facilitate crossing crevasses that have fallen out.

Warming Temps and Changing Crossings

We are moving into a week of warmer temps, and as things warm up the condition of crossings on the route is going to keep on changing as things melt. Pickets are in place near many of the crevasse crossings for use as protection or for setting up belays, but it's always good to examine the state of any placement before you rely on it. We were asked the other day whether anyone went out each day to check the state of each crossing or adjunct in place, but the adjuncts on the route are placed and maintained by the guide services, and may not even be checked on a given day at all, while conditions can change massively throughout a single day. It's your responsibility to make decisions about the safety of any crossing, place protection as needed for your team, and investigate alternate routes if needed.


Warm temps and nice weather have brought more climbers to the mountain, especially on the weekends. Areas like the steeper switchbacks above the Cleaver, and some of the more complicated crevasse crossings can be prone to creating bottlenecks as climbers move through them. With more consolidated snow, just remember that you can move out of the boot pack to politely work past slower teams in areas where the terrain allows, and if you find yourself waiting to cross a point as other groups pass through, remember to stay patient and cheerful, this can even be a great chance to move off to the side and take a quick snack break with your team.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Please Rope Up

Recently there's been an increase in the number of climbers travelling un-roped.  This includes climbers ascending the Emmons glacier to Camp Schurman, coming off rope as they descend the corridor, and even travelling off rope for their entire ascent of the upper mountain. This is extremely ill-advised! Significant hazards are always present in these areas.  With warmer temperatures, the odds of punching through into an unseen crevasse are even higher.

Crevasse falls are surprisingly more common than you would think.  Some parties experience a crevasse fall and a party member gets injured, but they are able to self-rescue back to the surface.  This type of scenario will still trigger a rescue because the patient can no longer walk out. More often, the party does not have the skills (or enough people) to effectively get the party member out of the crevasse.  Many parties think they have trained, but find once the crevasse fall happens in real life, they don't have the equipment or skill or the number of people they need to get their party member out.  Also, imagine when you’re tired, sleep deprived, have cold fingers, and the wind ripping around you AND THEN having to deal with a partner in a crevasse.  On your ascent, you should always keep the crevasse fall potential in mind and have enough of a energy and safety margin to deal with it.  

Climbing rangers wish that they could pass the tragic lessons on to you that many other parties have learned over the years.  One of our ranger’s first body recovery due to a crevasse fall was in 1992 (that’s 30 years ago!) on the Emmons Glacier.  The surviving member of the party wrote a book about his experienced title The Ledge.  And this party was roped up!  During the subsequent three decades there’s been scores of other tragedies and near misses due to climber’s not being prepared to deal with a crevasse fall.  Please take this hazard seriously!  

Climbers next to the crevasses right below Camp Schurman on the Emmons - roping up is advised here.

Ski mountaineers have also been seen travelling un-roped.  When done well by experienced and well-thought-out mountaineers, skiing can mitigate crevasse falls and be a fun, faster, and less exhausting way to get up and down.  However, when it's not done well, it is turning out to ADD risk to many unknowing climber's trips.  The rationale for ski mountaineering in its most simple application is sound.  Having skis on as you cross the glacier distributes your weight over a larger area and this minimizes the potential for falling through an unseen snow bridge.  But, there’s common pitfalls that many skiers don’t anticipate..

Skiers need to have partners and we recommend carrying ropes, too.  To avoid accidents, skiers also should know when to take the skis off and put a rope back on while they ascend or descend!  Ski mountaineers who chose to descend un-roped should carry two separate ropes in their party in order to effectively rescue a partner who has taken a crevasse fall. A ski mountaineer carrying their skis on descent has no flotation advantage from their skis and should act and protect their climb just like any mountaineer.  Skiing down a steep glacier roped-up is not a good idea, nor fun.  So skiers generally un-rope as they ski down. This would not be a big risk if it weren't for two factors: 1) the slope angle, and the 2) surface conditions.  

From 13,500 to 11,000 feet, Mount Rainier is steep, often greater than 35 degrees.  It isn't groomed, of course, and surface conditions are often either rough, broken, or icy.  Because taking skis off is inconvenient, skiers will often attempt to ski through areas of great exposure like a steep corner around a serac with a crevasse below it.  If you haven’t climbed the route you’re about to ski, use extreme caution.  Also, please realize that skiers do fall and every skier has taken a fall, and many times it’s not predictable.  It’s why bindings are manufactured to release.  Simple tumbles, especially in unknown terrain can often be deadly on Mount Rainier.  Skiing off the mountain at these high altitudes isn’t great skiing most days (think survival ski turns) and tumbles often result in uncontrollable falls. Very skilled skiers have been seriously hurt and killed on Mount Rainier.  Don’t plan on your skiing ability to prevent a serious injury or death.  Climbing your ski route, waiting for fortunate conditions, down climbing icy sections, and always having the appropriate rescue equipment is essential.  Skiing is rarely good above 11,500'.  Our best advice is to plan on using normal climbing techniques for ascending AND DESCENDING from and back to this altitude in the summer.

What we've seen lately is befuddling!  Skiers have been walking down un-roped on lower sections of the glacier where it is warm and late in the day.  In the specific places we've seen this happening, it was the worst of all worlds.  No rope, no skis, warm afternoon conditions, and crossing crevasses.

The climbing rangers have had a serious rescues off the upper mountain almost every week.  Crevasse falls are a major cause of these rescues.  Please think about removing these commons errors from your scenario that will keep you from falling in in the first place.

Please rope up while on glaciers!  It is always the crevasse that you’re not planning on falling into that causes the most problems.