Our team of nine met at the Red Roof Inn in Seattle Tuesday, July 17, 2012. The team members were: Laura Alexander (Leader), Tom George (Co-Leader), Jim Donahue, David Sturm, Harry Robertson, Ed Hawes, Al Dwyer, Jason Barry, Nick Boudreau Following a gear check and fuel purchase, group gear was distributed and we all got to the business of packing and catching some sleep. First thing in the morning we loaded our trucks and got off early to head for the mountain. As usual it was a bit foggy and drizzly, but just as we got to the White River Ranger Station the clouds lifted and so did everyone’s spirits. The weather forecast was calling for a nice Wednesday, showers and t-storms likely Thursday night into Friday morning, but it looked like we still had a weather window for Friday night into Saturday (our intended summit bid).
The hike into Glacier Basin was uneventful. There was minimal snowpack within about a ¼ of Glacier Basin, but right at the camping area the group site was barely melted out, making the tent sites less than ideal. We lounged around Glacier Basin in the afternoon and watched the bear frolicking in the tarn. Bear barrels have replaced the rickety pole where we used to hang our food. Interestingly this area is usually filled with marmots, but there were none this year. None. We don’t know why…
The next day everyone got going fairly early and it was another sunny day. We traveled as rope teams up the Inter-Glacier to practice traveling together, and it was a long day of slogging under the weight of our full packs. By the time we got to Camp Curtis it was pretty cloudy, just as forecasted. There were several wide crevasses open near Camp Schurman and between Schurman and Emmons Flats that were easy to skirt, and just as we arrived at Emmons Flats the sky got really dark and we saw a bolt of lightning over Little Tahoma. We set up our high camp in wicked wind, rain, thunder and lightning, and pea-sized hail. Once the tents were anchored, the rain stopped (of course) and we got to the business of melting snow. Since it looked like we’d be tent-bound in the morning we made sure everyone could hydrate well the next day. Sure enough we had thundershowers and rain all night and until early afternoon the next day. Then the clouds kept trying to lift and then socking us in for the afternoon. We could hear a lot of icefall all night and day and we weren’t sure what the route would look like (or if we’d find it, since our snow anchors washed out). We decided to go for the summit that night, and prepared our equipment so we would be ready for an 11 p.m. start.
We were on our way at 11:05; the first ones out of the gate. It was a starry night and the winds weren’t too bad initially. There were even shooting-stars sightings on the way up the Corridor. This year the route took a half-hour traverse through an icefall/crevassed area that was pretty scary for our team because it was pretty washed out from the rain and some ice had fallen making it difficult to find the way. We were slow getting through that section and once we got through it (and were now on the Winthrop Glacier) it was a slog up the moderate slope. The snow conditions were firm there and it was difficult to see where we should be because the boot tracks had pretty much washed away and we could barely see our own crampon marks. Because of the rain that had iced over, every step turned the snow into bb-like pellets blowing into our faces. It was quite a bit windier climbing this slope.
We came to a place where there was a small, flattish platform at 12,010’ and assessed the progress of the teams. One team had fallen quite a way behind the others, and the other two teams were pretty cold waiting for the team to catch up. There were a lot of people on the route at that point, and the team leader was concerned that our rope teams might be caught in a traffic jam coming back through the traverse section in dangerous conditions (as it would undoubtedly be hot and ice would be falling). Because we were only half-way between high camp and the summit, it seemed prudent to turn the team around – we were moving too slowly for the route conditions.
Now a new set of problems – going downhill when some team members were cold (and therefore moving quickly) and other members were more tentative walking downhill on a fairly steep slope (and therefore moving slowly) meant that we had to be diligent about rope management. The traverse was easier to navigate now because all the boot tracks had made the narrow places a little wider (a boot track, rather than a half a boot track), and the views were stunning in the sunrise. The final steep part had turned small steps to sugar snow because of all the traffic, which made it difficult to negotiate, but everyone got through it okay. Interestingly, two days after our team returned home the climbing rangers marked a major re-route that took the traverse out of the route entirely, deeming it ‘too sketchy.’ The new route got onto the Winthrop Glacier right out of Camp Schurman, which would have taken away our advantage of camping higher at Emmons Flats.
We got back to Emmons Flats about 7 a.m. and rested for a few hours with a plan to hike out and explore more of the park depending how team members felt after resting. We did in fact hike out and once people got to Camp Curtis where they could see how high we made it and how far we still had to go they felt better about the decision to turn around. Everyone had a blast glissading the InterGlacier that had taken so long to hike up, and we made short work of the hike out to White River Campground.
We camped at White River and drove out for a dinner of burgers and fries (we had more dehydrated food, but most were sick of it) and the next day we hiked in to the Grove of the Patriarch’s and then visited Paradise – just in time for the buffet breakfast! Back in Seattle, after cleaning up, we had a great dinner at Elliot’s Oyster House on the waterfront. Nine new friends bid each other goodbye with promises of more mountain adventures in the future.