Monday, July 09, 2018

Emmons-Winthrop Route Update

Climbing Rangers ascended the Emmons-Winthrop on July 7th and were surprised to find that the route remains very direct, but is trending toward late season conditions. The route was only 2.5 miles long from Camp Schurman to the summit, zig-zagging through a jumble of cracks directly above the Corridor before angling up and right above a giant rectangular serac.  That being said, this could change at any point, and expect it to with the really high freezing levels that are coming in this week.

Giant rectangular serac illuminated by the sun.

The points we took away from our climb and want to spread to other climbers:

1. Crevasse fall potential is high. Use protection on larger crossings, especially if the slope is steep and a fall could drag your partners into the crevasse too. When temps are so high, get up and down early. When crossing something big, how can you get back below it if that bridge collapses while you are above?  Keep a look out for alternative routes.  

There were a couple of large bridges we crossed (around 13,100' and 13,500') that had steep headwalls on the uphill side.  Arresting a fall on the steep headwall if the lower person broke through would be impossible.  Place a picket on the uphill side of the crevasse after the leader crosses to have it between rope-team members (running protection). In the warmer temperatures that are coming, consider a full belay for crossing the larger bridges.  

Steep headwall above a hidden crevasse.  It's hard to assess how thick and strong the snow covering the crevasse really is.
A climbing ranger having just crossed a 20 foot wide bridge to a picket and the steep headwall on the uphill side
2. Take a GPS track on the way up. If you climbed the DC before and expect to find the Emmons Winthrop as easy to follow and straight forward, you will be very disappointed and ill prepared. This is not a maintained route. Don't expect the bootpack to be easy to follow or to always go the best way. Don't blindly follow tracks across areas that you are not comfortable crossing. And if clouds roll in, finding your own way down can be nearly impossible in a whiteout. Have a GPS, download the maps for Mount Rainier, and know how to use it.

3. Stick with your climbing partners. Again, STICK TOGETHER.  As climbing partners, it's your duty to look out for each other. If one person is feeling run down or showing signs of AMS, you should all turn around together. Don't leave your buddy sitting on a glaciated slope while you "quickly" tag the summit. As you head down from Schurman, it's good to keep your partners within visual distance, at least to Glacier Basin. People have fallen in the cracks on the Inter Glacier and if no one witnesses a fall, it can be hours before help could arrive.
Large Crevasses right above and below Camp Schurman
4. Be courteous to other climbing groups. The mountain is always busy in July. The camping and climbing use quotas (read: limits) for the standard routes are filling up fast. This means a lot of climbers on the routes. At some point you will pass every group on the route and remember, if you are feeling 'hangry' or tired, and sore, they are probably feeling just as bad as you. And everyone's day can be a lot safer and smoother if you just communicate with other groups (Are you crossing a crevasse now? Heading up or down? Taking a break in a safe zone, out of the way of other parties?).  And maybe even try to share a smile with folks.

5. Know your own limits (and your group's) and stick to them. Stay well within your abilities.  Don't get summit fever. If you come across a crossing you are not comfortable with and don't see an alternative, don't do it. The route is getting toward late-season conditions and requires increasing amounts of experience and skill to navigate. You can always come back another season with more experience and knowledge under your belt. 

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Be safe out there and have a fun climb.