Before attempting Liberty Ridge, we wanted to climb its descent route, the Emmons Glacier route. The Emmons Glacier is a straightforward route that requires easy glacier travel and snow travel on 30° slopes. It starts from a scenic high camp, camp Shurman, at 9,500 ft, about 5,000 ft above the trailhead at the White River campground.

We drove to the White River entrance of Mt Rainier National Park on June 2. Since a high pressure system was announced for the rest of the week, we decided to leave the next day. We left the bus by the park entrance and went to the ranger station to inquire about conditions on the climb and weather forecasts. We purchased our climbing permits and made reservations at Camp Shurman for the next two nights.

We were now committed to leave the next morning. We drove around in search of a good spot where we could leave the bus. We found a great free campground with vault toilets just outside the park. We were the only ones there for the next several days. The campground was free, shady and really quiet. We could not have asked for more!

On June 3, we hiked up to Camp Shurman at 9,500 ft. (5 miles - 5,150 ft elevation gain). We left the bus at about 5:30AM and drove to the Glacier Basin trailhead (4,350 ft). By the time we finished the last details on our packs and put our heavy boots on (Lucie was wearing her plastic boots and Eric was wearing the insulated leather boots he uses for ice climbing), it was 6AM. We hiked the good snow packed boot trail for 3.1 miles in two hours to reach Glacier Basin at 5,900 ft. We stopped there to eat a bagel and refill our water bottles. We then climbed up the easy snow slopes to a small flat that marked the beginning of the Inter Glacier. We roped up there (~6,500 ft) and ascended moderate slopes toward Steamboat Prow. We had lunch on a patch of rock before traversing at 8,800 ft and dropping onto the Emmons Glacier. We reached Camp Shurman around 12:30PM. The camp is in a beautiful location with great views of the summit slopes and surrounding glaciers. There is a cozy-looking ranger hut (closed to public use) and outhouse facilities. When we arrived there, they were already two other parties. We set up camp and started melting snow. After an early dinner, we were in the sack by 6PM.

June 4, summit day. We got up at 11:30AM, had cereals and hot cocoa and left camp at 12:45AM. A party of four had already left and we could see their headlamps in the perfect night sky. The Emmons Glacier route follows the "Corridor", a relatively crevassed-free line to the 12,000 ft level. We followed the trail we scoped out the day before trying to remember where to go left or right around the few crevasses. After two hours, we passed the party of four and started leading the way up. If the first 3,000 ft went relatively fast, we started to slow down considerably once we reached 12,500 ft. At 13,600 ft, instead of continuing straight up toward Columbia Crest, we traversed right toward the saddle between Columbia Crest (Rainier's highest summit) and Liberty Cap (top of the Liberty Ridge route). This gave us a chance to scope out the descent from Liberty Ridge but added another 1.5 miles of climbing to the top. We finally reached the summit at 8AM. We had the summit to ourselves before another party arrived from the Ingraham Glacier route. After taking a couple of summit pictures, we started the 5,000 ft descent back to camp. There, Eric napped in the tent while Lucie was socializing with the other climbers.

June 5, back to the farm. After a good night rest, we got up around 7:30AM under a blue sky. The mountain was much quieter than the day before. No climbers could be seen on the Emmons Glacier route. We just saw one party of two coming down from Liberty Ridge. After a lengthy breakfast, we started packing and finally left Camp Shurman at 10AM. We checked out at the ranger station shortly after noon.

Mount Rainier, WA - Emmons Glacier

June 3-5, 2003 / Grade III, 30° snow, glacier, altitude (14,411 ft), 2-4 days.
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Mount Rainier; "The Mountain" as the locals call it (seen from Colchuck Peak, NE of Rainier).
 
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Hiking through rainforest on the approach to Camp Shurman.
 
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"The Mountain" viewed from the approach trail.
 
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Arriving at Glacier Basin (~2 hrs from trailhead).
 
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Panoramic view of Glacier Basin.
 
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Climbing up the moderate snow slopes of the Inter Glacier.
 
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Looking back toward St Elmo Pass.
 
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Our campsite at Camp Shurman.
 
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Eric on water duty.
 
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Having tea in the "royal throne" of the ranger hut.
 
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Camp views with Little Tahoma in the background.
 
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The "Corridor" from Camp Shurman.
 
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Night shift begins.
 
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High above the Emmons Glacier just before sunrise.
 
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Watching the sunrise.
 
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Step, breathe, step, breathe...
 
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The sun is finally here.
 
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Taking a rest and watching the other parties behind...
 
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Looking east toward Russell Cliff.
 
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Looking down the Winthrop Glacier.
 
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Approaching the saddle between Columbia Crest and Liberty Cap.
 
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Going up the final 800 ft from the saddle to the summit.
 
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Yeaah! We're finally there!
 
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Summit crater.
 
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Party time!
 
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Somewhere along the 5,000 ft descent to camp.
 
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Back at camp.
 
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So tired... Eric napping in the tent.
 
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Watching other parties coming back down just above Emmons Flat.
 
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Climbers approaching camp Shurman.
 
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Watching the sunset after a great day on "The Mountain".
 
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A huge guided party going down the Emmons Glacier just below Camp Shurman the next morning.
 
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On the Emmons Glacier on our way back to the car.
(high res. images are about 300KB)