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Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier Area, Washington

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Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route

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  • View toward Inter Glacier from Glacier Basin.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • A climbing team makes their way to the end of the maintained trail in Glacier Basin.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • After leaving Glacier Basin, the unmaintained trail becomes steep.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Arriving at a snow field below the Inter Glacier.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • View down Glacier Basin.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • View to the east down Glacier Basin from the Wedge.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Preparing to ascend the Inter Glacier (left).- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • A climbing team approaches the steep Inter Glacier with Glacier Basin below.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • The steep slope of the Inter Glacier with Saint Elmo Pass above.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Climbing the Inter Glacier next to a glissade chute.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Panorama of storm clouds forming over the Inter Glacier.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Storm clouds forming over Mount Ruth as seen from Camp Curtis.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Nearing Steamboat Prow above Inter Glacier.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Emmons (left) and Winthrop (right) Glaciers converge below Rainer's summit, as seen from Steamboat Prow. The Emmons Glacier climbing route can be seen on the left.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Massive icefalls on the Emmons Glacier.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Climbers descending to Camp Schurman from Steamboat Prow.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Clouds obstructing the summit above Steamboat Prow.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Roped climbers traverse the Lower Emmons Glacier with Little Tahoma above.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Storm clouds break up below Camp Schurman.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • A rope team ascends the lower Emmons Glacier below Little Tahoma as seen from Camp Schulman.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Climbers ascend toward Camp Schurman above the clounds on the Lower Emmons Glacier.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • The Upper Emmons Glacier towers above Camp Schulman.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Prepping base camp at an empty Camp Schurman.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Clouds move swiftly over Steamboat Prow at the Ranger Cabin of Camp Schurman.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Warm evening light over the Winthrop Glacier as seen from Camp Schurman.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Panorama of Camp Schurman at sunset.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • The summit to the left, Russel Cliff above and to the right from Camp Schurman.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Clouds sweep across Little Tahoma above crevasses in the Lower Emmons Glacier.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Taking in the view of the mountain from the Ranger Cabin on rest day.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • The impressive crevasses and seracs in the afternoon light as snow is blown off Russell Cliff.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Plaque on the ranger cabin of Camp Schurman.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Prayer Flags on the Ranger Cabin of Camp Schurman above the clouds.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Views northwest toward Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Late sunset color as darkness falls on Camp Schurman.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Sunrise from Upper Emmons Glacier.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Vibrant sunrise above the clouds from approximately 12,400 feet on the Winthrop Glacier.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Little Tahoma's summit and the Emmons Glacier at dawn.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • A ski-mountaineer ascends the Upper Emmons Glacier.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Peering down a crevasse on the Emmons.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Seracs along the Emmons Glacier.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Climbing the Upper Emmons Glacier.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Climbing through the bergschrund at the top of the Emmons Glacier.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Warm morning light on the slope of the Winthrop Glacier as the moon sets behind Columbia Crest.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Preparing to cross a crevasse on the Winthrop Glacier at approximately 12,600 feet.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Preparing to cross a crevasse on the Winthrop Glacier at approximately 12,600 feet.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Impressive seracs and crevasses below Russell Cliff.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • A rope team ascends to the Columbia Crest/Russell Cliff saddle to avoid large crevasses.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • A rope team ascends to the Columbia Crest/Russell Cliff saddle to avoid large crevasses.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Morning sun above the clouds from approximately 13,400 feet on the Winthrop Glacier.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Nearing the Columbia Crest/Russell Cliff saddle.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Liberty Cap as seen from the Columbia Crest/Russell Cliff saddle plateau.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Traversing the saddle plateau toward the summit and Columbia Crest.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Steam from sulfur vents on the Columbia Crest hump.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Ascending the west slope of Columbia Crest with the peak Russell Cliff above.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Ascending the west slope of Columbia Crest with the peak Russell Cliff above.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Ascending the west slope of Columbia Crest with Liberty Cap above.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Mount St. Helens as seen from Columbia Crest.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Mount Adams as seen from Columbia Crest.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Columbia Crest and climbers ascending the final steps of the Disappointment Cleaver Route.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • View to the north from the summit as a climber makes his way up the final steps of the Disappointment Cleaver route.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Traversing back across the west end of Columbia Crest.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Descending back down to the Russell Cliff/Columbia Crest saddle plateau.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Descending to the Winthrop Glacier.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Panorama above the clouds with Russell Cliff on the left.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Steamboat Prow and Camp Schulman can be seen far below to the left of the climber.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Climbers take in the view with seracs below Russell Cliff on the right.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • The intimidating seracs pouring into the Winthrop Glacier below Russell Cliff.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Steamboat Prow and Camp Schulman can be seen far below to the left of the climber.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • A rope team descends the Winthrop Glacier at approximately 12,800 feet.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • A large serac at approximately 11,600 feet.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • A rope team descends the Emmons Glacier with Little Tahoma above and to the right.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • A climber cautiously navigates a crevasse, on belay, descending the Emmons Glacier.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • More seracs on the Emmons.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Panorama from approximately 11,000 feet with Little Tahoma on the right.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Panorama of the crevasses on the Lower Emmons Glacier with Little Tahoma above.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Panorama of Camp Schurman with the Ranger Cabin on the left, the summit above and to the left, and Curtis Ridge to the right.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Finding a route through a few crevasses on the Lower Emmons Glacier to Camp Curtis on the ridge above.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Open crevasses on the Lower Emmons Glacier below Camp Curtis ridge.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Climbers skirt an open crevasse while the summit looms high above.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Several uniform crevasses on the Lower Emmons Glacier below Little Tahoma.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Panorama as seen from Camp Curtis with the summit to the right and Little Tahoma to the left above the Emmons Glacier- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • One last view of the Emmons route.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • The North Cascades and the Prominent Mount Baker on the horizon to the north above Saint Elmo Pass.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Mount Ruth as seen from Camp Curtis.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Glissading the Inter Glacier.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Preparing to glissade the Inter Glacier.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Glissading the Inter Glacier with the North Cascades and Mount Baker on the horizon.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Hiking back down to Glacier Basin and the White River Canyon.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Hiking back down to Glacier Basin and the White River Canyon.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Snow and dust blowing up high as seen from Glacier Meadows.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
  • Massive Mount Rainier from a viewpoint on the Emmons Moraine Trail.- Mount Rainier: Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
High altitude views. Route less traveled. Ranger resource in camp. Toilet in camp.
Cons: 
Technical mountaineering skills required. Difficult route finding. Grueling 10,000-foot ascent.
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Region:
Mount Rainier Area, WA
Congestion: 
Moderate
Pets allowed: 
No
Recommended Equipment:
Ice axe / crampons, Harness / rope / anchors, Additional ice tools, Helmets
Alpine climbing NCCS rating: 
Grade III
Net Elevation Gain: 
10,824.00 ft (3,299.16 m)
Parking Pass: 
National Park Pass
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Summer
Total Distance: 
20.00 mi (32.19 km)
Trailhead Elevation: 
4,327.00 ft (1,318.87 m)
Current Local Weather:
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Adventure Description

Adventure Description

Pro Contributor

The summit of Mount Rainier sits at 14,410 feet, making it the highest point in the Pacific Northwest. Climbing its peak can be one of the most exhilarating and dangerous experiences of a lifetime. Training for the climb, ascending its steep slopes, crossing crevasses, and being patient and cautious with the weather must all be constantly considered. But standing on Rainier's summit and seeing what you've accomplished can provide a memorable and vitalizing achievement. 

Most climbers take three to four days to climb the route, adding in a rest day and leaving a full day for the descent. After procuring the proper supplies, permits, and ensuring you have all necessary training, experience and safety equipment amongst your climbing team, it's time to begin the grueling march. It's a seemingly long walk through the White River Campground from the climber's parking lot to the Glacier Basin Trailhead. You will, no doubt, draw some attention with the copious amount of gear on your back. Once in the woods on the Glacier Basin Trail, you'll be on a gentle climb up a recently restored trail. Following a major flood that damaged the trail in 2006, four years of work resulted in its complete restoration in 2011. The trail is sufficiently wide in most areas to allow climbers to hike side by side. The trail was once a mining road, and several pieces of mining and logging equipment can be seen along the lower trail. Enjoy periodic views of the mountain as you climb toward Glacier Basin and Glacier Meadows camp (the end of the maintained trail), offering an excellent breaking area complete with pit toilets. 

The trail then ascends steeply up a dirt ridge before arriving at the headwaters of a fork of the White River below the Inter Glacier. This is where the climb truly begins. The Inter Glacier lies on a steep slope transected by a handful of smaller crevasses. Climbers may prefer to rope up as a team depending on the conditions. As you ascend the Inter Glacier, make sure to  turn around and enjoy the views as you make your way Camp Curtis above Mount Ruth. This is considered an overflow camping area if Camp Schurman is full. The ranger-issued permit you received prior to starting the climb will indicate your camping area. This is an ideal staging area for donning crampons and roping up for glacier travel as you make your way down the ridge to the Lower Emmons Glacier. Many crevasses may be open here, but it is a fairly short traverse over and back to Camp Schurman above Steamboat Prow. Note that there is a small and extremely steep climbing trail that drops from near the prow of Steamboat Prow proper that descends directly to Camp Shurman. This trail is exposed, however, and it may not be well suited to some climbers. The more common route is to drop from Camp Curtis to the Lower Emmons Glacier and climb up to Camp Schurman along Steamboat Prow's southern side.

At 9,440 feet, Camp Schurman is one of two permanent climbing bases on Mount Rainier, the other being Camp Muir along the Dissapointment Cleaver route. The ranger cabin may or may not be staffed, and it can be a needed resource for condition updates on the route (note that use of the interior of the ranger cabin is off limits to climbers). By climbing standards, Camp Schurman is a luxurious base camp complete with a newly built solar toilet, generally adequate snow to melt/filter for drinking water, and possibly pre-built tent platforms with wind walls. If the ranger cabin is unoccupied, one can enjoy views of the route from one of two rock hand-built chairs on its porch, but make sure not to overuse or abuse this beautiful shelter or leave anything behind. Also note that, depending on camping permit status, climbing parties may be required to climb another few hundred feet higher on the route to a small plateau known as Emmons Flats. 

Nearing Steamboat Prow above Inter Glacier. Photo by Aron Bosworth.

Climbing parties may find it helpful to take a full day to acclimate, rest, and prepare for the summit day. An early alpine start for this route in the very early hours of the morning is typical. Most climbing parties are up by midnight or earlier to be ready to climb by 1 a.m. Prepare all necessary gear and equipment by donning crampons and roping up before leaving camp. One might find climbing in the dark a welcome experience. While you may only be able to see to the edge of your head lamp a few feet in front of you, it's a little easier to ignore the steep slope you're ascending. It can be a bit of a lonely experience because the rest of your team is too far away to talk to on the rope. But once that sun rises behind you and illuminates your surroundings, you'll be taking in the beauty of this majestic alpine landscape. 

The standard route leaves Camp Schurman and navigates through longitudinal crevasses, through Emmons Flat, and up to the Corridor, which runs from 10,000 feet to approximately 11,200 feet. The Corridor is the safest route though the obstacles of seracs, icefalls and crevassse along this section of the Emmons Glacier. Small adjustments in route finding will likely be necessary as your team navigates through the dynamic glaciated landscape. Snow bridges will be crossed and crevasses will be jumped - adhere to proper and safe techniques. Continuing above the Corridor, the standard route continues upward trending slightly right and gaining a series of steps while continuing to navigate through crevasses up to the bergshrund around 13,000 feet. Depending on the year's snowpack and season, the bergshrund may be covered adequately to cross it on a snowbridge and continue up to Columbia Crest, Rainier's summit, skirting the saddle between Russell Cliffs and Columbia Crest to its left.

An alternate route can be an option particularly when crevasses and the bergshrund on the Upper Emmons Glacier have increasingly opened later in the climbing season. Below the Emmons bergschrund, climbers can traverse northwest above the Winthrop Glacier and work their way toward a large saddle plateau between the summit slope leading up to Columbia Crest and the peak of Russell Cliff to the north. Liberty Cap rises impressively to the northwest. 

Once above the bergrschrund and Columbia Crest and Russel Cliffs saddle, you'll be reminded that this is an active volcano. Sulfur vents can be seen steaming from the summit slope, which will possibly be absent of snow showing a soft scree. Hazards can still exist here, especially when cresting this slope onto the west crater and reaching Columbia Crest. Cornices can cover fractured caves where sulfur steam can pour out. It may be important to remain roped up when crossing the west crater to the summit hump and USGS marker. Enjoy the panoramic views of the nearby cascade peaks: Mount Baker far to the north, Mount Adams to the south, and Mount St Helens to the southwest. The summit can be a busy place as climbers make their way up the more popular Disappointment Cleaver route and cross Columbia Crest, or you may have it to yourself.

Remember, descending from the summit can very well be the most dangerous time of the climb. Keep your focus, rest, and hydrate as needed. Follow the route you followed up and make adjustments as needed depending on the softness of the snow bridges you crossed. It's fairly unbelievable how much climbing up steep slopes occurs in darkness earlier in the day as the route is now exposed in daylight. Though it may be tempting, avoid glissading on the glacier as unseen hazards may exist. 

Your team may decide to rest and camp another night before descending down from Camp Schurman. Once off of the crevasse-filled Emmons Glacier, glissading on the Inter Glacier may be possible (and enjoyable!). Enjoy the serenity of the subalpine as you make your way back through Glacier Basin and along the White River to the trailhead.

Information on obtaining permits and other logistics for climbing the Emmons-Winthrop Glacier route can be found here, on the Mount Rainier National Park webpage. 

Technical mountaineering skills required for this adventure include proper ice ax and crampon technique, roped glacier travel, and crevasse rescue.

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