Mount Rainier from the northwest by Stan Shebs, via Creative Commons license.
My friend Karl and I grew up in and are still active in Scouting. Scouting’s principles, the patrol method and the virtues of “doing hard things”, have made a difference in every aspect of our lives. The training we received in the outdoors has opened amazing opportunities for us to explore this beautiful Earth that Our Heavenly Father has provided us. There have been many times when we have found ourselves in challenging situations, but the principles and skills learned in Scouting have made all the difference.
In August of 2008, while climbing Washington’s Mount Rainier, we met a group of three climbers from Germany. Since they never visited the mountain before, they asked us for directions about the route we were climbing. In particular, they wondered how to access the Emmons Glacier from where we were standing.
My friend, Karl climbed this same route twice previously, so he explained how to down climb to the glacier to reach Camp Sherman, one of the established base camps on Mount Rainier. About 45 minutes later, this group came back up to where we were and proclaimed that it was impossible to access the glacier from above as there was no way onto the glacier and the glacier itself was far too broken up. They then proceeded to go on up a rocky exposed ridge with hopes of accessing Camp Sherman via the less desirable Steamboat Prow route.
Karl insisted there had to be a way down onto the Emmons Glacier, and we maintained our planned route on the glacier. After exploring a few options, Karl discovered a steep mud chute that led down to the edge of the Emmons Glacier. Except for getting ourselves pretty much covered in mud, we all safely down climbed to the glacier and made our way up to camp Sherman via the Emmons Glacier route.
We stopped for a short break at Camp Sherman at about 5 PM. The climbing rangers there advised us that the route above was quite broken up, and there were few options available for our summit attempt. We moved on up about 1000 feet above Camp Sherman before making camp for the evening.
The next morning we slept in until a little after sunrise. Shortly after arising, our German friends came along on their way to the summit. We spoke briefly with them and wished them luck on their attempt. We proceeded to finish our breakfast and packed for the day’s climb, with the hope of reaching the summit before nightfall and sleeping at the top in the summit crater.
We roped up and began climbing when we spotted the German team descending up above. As we reached them, they again repeated similar words as the day before; “There’s no way up. It’s too broken up and there’s no access.” Karl and I glanced sideways at each other and replied, “Thanks. I think we’ll climb on up anyway and at least see what we can see.”
We continued our ascent, following basically in the footsteps of the Germans and one other team who had gone up before us; both had returned due to the conditions of the route and the lack of an apparent safe way up. As we came to the end of the boot track, it was apparent that they weren’t fooling with us. The route above was exposed and seriously broken up with deep crevasses and large imposing seracs.
Indeed, things did not look favorable for a continued assault of the Mountain. We traversed a ways and down climbed a bit and then moved on up a ways. There was a steep slope that came down over a deep crevasse. Not being able to see around the slope past the crevasse, Karl decide that we should belay him while he went out on the snow bridge to see if he could dig us out a platform to gain access along the edge of the crevasse and hopefully be able to move up the chute on the other side. We sent him out on belay while he dug out a foot path to access the chute.
As he got around the corner, he could see that there was a steep slope but no crevasses or obstacles to prevent our ascent. We set a fixed line so we could safely cross the ledge Karl created. We decided to wait until morning to make our ascent as it was now mid afternoon, and time and conditions were not favorable to safely continue our climb.
We arose at 2 AM and were climbing by three. We crossed the snow bridges, and our little ledge along the edge of a 100 ft. crevasse and continued on up the mountain by aid of headlamps. Below us, we could see the twinkle of headlamps as other teams were heading up from Camp Sherman. Just before sunrise, the German team reached us. They indicated that they had used our access route and thanked us for persevering and opening the route for them. As the sun rose, we were standing on the edge of a crevasse whose uphill side was quite a bit higher than where we stood. The sun projected our silhouettes on the opposite side.
This made for a unique photo–the three German climbers on the slope above us added to the moment.
We continued on to the summit of Mount Rainier and back to base camp and on down to our cars without further incident other than a couple hours of being lost in the dark while trying to find the trail after exiting the glacier. But there again, team work and perseverance paid off. There were about thirty climbers who summited Mount Rainier that day on the Emmons Route. Every one of them had followed our route and used our ledge.
As we stopped at Camp Sherman on the way back down, several who were planning summit bids for the following morning, asked us for directions to our route as they had heard from the other descending teams that it was the only possible way to a successful summit bid.
Boys thrive on adventure. Let’s make sure that we keep the outing in Scouting, teach them the skills and provide the opportunities to grow in character, citizenship and fitness.