Mount Rainier (14,411')
Emmons glacier (solo)
7/17 - 7/18 2021
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In my late teens I battled through some pretty serious, poor, decisions in life. If you read this site you may already know that, but today’s tale centers around it. As I went into recovery I was asked to find a higher power. I have never been much for religious belief but my sponsor once said “it doesn’t need to be God, only something that makes you stronger”. I began to search for anything and one day I went on a hike to Boulder River Waterfall. Looking back on it now I looked ridiculous. I had on denim and sneakers with a Jansport backpack. I barely made it the 3ish miles round trip without getting winded due to being a smoker. These days the whole scene gives me a good laugh at my own expense. But, something wonderful happened that day. By the time I got home I felt energized. While I would love to say that I fell head over heels that day for the mountains, like all good things it took time to develop. Within a year I was hiking every chance I got and then mountain-tops began to interest me.
As time wore on climbing became a huge part of my life. One day after a hike I was researching what it would take to climb something like Rainier. Through my search I happened across a random forum posting that is now lost to time. While I cannot find it any more I will never forget the moment I read that someone had soloed mount Rainier. I was immediately hooked. That day almost 15 years ago I set a goal for myself, I was going to solo Rainier too.
During the early part of this summer (2021), I had a moment where I realized I keep waiting to achieve something. It is like I am hoping someone comes along and tells me that I am ready. That day I realized the time was now to solo mount Rainier. So, I went online and filled out the application for a solo permit and waited with anxiety. About a week later I saw an alert on my phone that I had an email from Mount Rainier National Park. It took me 20 minutes to even look and when I read it I jumped out of my chair with joy. They said yes and I was going for it. I booked a campsite right away and paid my climbing fees then started going over my gear for myself. For weeks I planned and re-planned. Packed unpacked and repacked. I exercised and climbed mountains to make sure I was ready and then the day came.
I did not have any vacation time that I could use so I had to take on the entire climb in two days. To give myself maximum time, I drove down the night before to the Bevin Lake Rest Area for some sleep. That would put me within an hour of the park office and so I could be there when they opened to grab my pass. All went smooth and by about 9:30 in the morning on Saturday I was on the trail.
The walk up to Glacier Basin went as easy as one could hope. There were pretty wildflowers everywhere and lots of hikers. I got a lot of interested stares carrying climbing gear and being by myself. A few people even asked where are your partners and I responded with glee “I am solo”.
I made it up the inter-glacier in good time. By 1pm I was eating a snack and staring at the epic view of little Tahoma and Mount Rainier. the entire day all I could think is “I cannot believe I am doing this”. As I approached camp Shcurman the ranger waived me down and said no one had informed her that a soloist was coming up. I handed her my pass and she said to come and find her for some route info after I had my tent setup and was settled.
By this time it was around 4pm. When I went and found the ranger she informed me that most successful parties were making their way up the Emmons glacier by 10pm. I was a little startled, but felt like I could make it work. I went straight back to my tent, made dinner, got water and started chatting with other climbers. There seemed to be a strong agreement around camp that pre-midnight was going to be the best to leave. One group even said they were headed out around 9pm.
I did my best to get some sleep which only resulted in about an hour and a half. My alarm went off and all I remember doing was sitting up and telling myself “sleep or not, it is now or never”. When I exited my tent, the sun was still going down and it seemed like a very strange moment.
After eating a quick “breakfast” I was out of camp by 10:30pm along with several other groups. Despite being completely sleep deprived the first several hours went perfect. I was climbing at around 1000 feet an hour and thanks to the very early start, crevasse bridges felt nice and solid.
The one thing about doing the Emmons glacier solo was that every-time I came to a bridge it was a lot of work. Do I set an anchor? Do I chance it? I had already heard that the previous day a roped group had fallen through. The climbing rangers blog had listed several other incidents in previous weeks. This year had not been the best up here. At around 12,800 was where I hit the worst part. The route headed over a crevasse bridge that was around 10 foot long. It was not so much a bridge as a couple wedged pieces of ice inside the crevasse. I got across it, but I am not going to detail it. In fact, I don’t want to detail much of my efforts. If someone else wants to solo this beast, you should know what to do. If you don’t, find a rope team.
Around the same level on the Emmons glacier one of the parties that left before me was sitting still. I began a conversation with them and they told me they were not sure which way to go. I felt confident enough that I started leading them and another team along a steep traverse. The traverse ended in a very awkward snow bridge with steep plummets on either side. All us navigated it no problem and once on the other side, every team started to go their own pace again.
From this point the route was simple to puzzle out but very steep in spots. After my last trip up Mount Rainier’s Emmons Glacier, this time you could tell the snow was gone. Once again, if you know how to do a glacier route, it should be no problem. Though if you are going to try this year expect a lot of very difficult crossings and some route finding.
The biggest obstacle to the remaining day was the wind. By the time I reached 13,000 feet it was topping about 30mph and giving me a good shove. There was a few times I had to employ my ice axe until the gusts died down so I wouldn’t topple. I even noticed one of the people in front of me on a rope almost get shoved down at one point.
By the time I reached Columbia crest (Mount Rainier’s summit) the wind was bad enough that I could barely stand. Me and several of the groups from camp all tagged the summit and then sat inside one of the craters to enjoy the view.
I was almost in tears. 15 years of hard work and dedication to what once seemed like an insane goal paid off. The walk back down was simple. The one thing I did notice was that by the time I was nearing camp, the snow was already mush (7 am ish). It made a few crevasse crossings on the Emmons glacier a pain as solo climber.
I was glad I had left early and as soon as I was back to my tent I chugged some water. I sat in the shade of my tent thinking back on all the hard work over the years. I was generally in a state of disbelief. By 4pm I was back at my car. As soon as my backpack came off it hit me and I started laugh crying in the parking lot. Some poor lady came over to see if I was okay. I felt terrible that she thought I had lost it or something.
It is rare that I see in myself how much climbing has changed me. But by the time I had gotten home I could feel something new. Achieving this summit in this way was truly life changing.