After watching the weather for a month it was time to pull the trigger on Rainier's Emmons Glacier. SNOTEL, NOAA, and Mount Rainier Climbing were all showing good climbing conditions with low wind and fantastic visibility. The one variable was snow pack. There were no trip reports for the Emmons route but the White River campground road was opening nearly a month early thus eliminating an added 5 miles of walking. With limited ski reports on the glacier and a record low snow pack, usually there is between 5'-8' feet of snow at White River campground in early May, we hit the road.
Leaving from Spokane around 3 p.m. we arrived at White River just in time to watch the alpenglow fall over the majestic mountain. We had a enjoyable fire with two fellow climbers and hit the hay relatively early for a long, hot, day of glacier travel to follow.
From White River to Glacier Peak campground it is about 3.1 miles of mostly dirt mixed with the occasional snow patch. Choosing to hike up the river drainage as opposed to hiking up into Glacier Basin required 4 river crossings each way, however with low snow pack and cool evening temperatures the river was easy to cross. (Be aware that in the next month it could be impassable).
As we ascended onto the Inner Glacier the temperatures started to rise and our skins started to pick up snow. With climbing and camping gear our packs weighed around 40 pounds without our skis thus the going was slow but steady. Thankfully a group of Seattle folks had put down a great skin track, albeit steep under pack weight, we weaved our way up the Inner Glacier to Emmons, passing Camp Curtis, and onto Steamboat Prow.
Some 6+ hours later we arrived at Steamboat Prow hoping to access Camp Schurman from above seeing as the Emmons Glacier route was far too crevassed out for late afternoon travel. With the access to Schurman cliffed out from up top and a rappel in too sketchy with a short glacier rope we set up camp with beautiful views of Rainier, Little Tahoma, and Russel Cliffs.
As the sun set the alpenglow ignited Glacier Peak and Mt. Baker far in the distance. We enjoyed our dehydrated dinner, Alpine Aire Chicken Gumbo is delicious by-the-way, and discussed the next days plans. Knowing that we were not going to make a summit bid but instead rip turns on 4,000ft of pristine spring corn from Steamboat Prow to Glacier Basin we watched the full moon rise over the plains and highlight Mt. Rainier. The next morning Brett did a little crevasse rescue training with a group of fellow mountaineers who were learning about glacier travel and I relaxed on a warm rock thinking about the turns we were about to make.
After breaking down camp we loaded our bags, which seemingly felt heavier than the day prior, and clicked in. The top 600ft of Emmons was still frozen making for chatter but as we rolled over into the gut of the Inner Glacier we picked up speed and were able to connect tip-to-tail in the soft snow making for some of the best May turns I have ever had. As other mountaineers paraded up the glacier we raced pasts throwing up rooster tails of slush; smiles from ear-to-ear.
We forged the river, without incident, back to where we had left our hiking boots and transitioned our skis and boots to our bags and stripped off our ski gear to summer hiking attire. As I hiked back to the car with beautiful views of Rainier at each switch-back I thought about a quote by John Muir...
"In every walk with nature one receives more than he seeks".