MT. RAINIER - 1962

Click on photos to enlarge

During the summer of 1962, I led a climb up Mt. Rainier via the Emmons Glacier Route. The two most popular routes up Mt. Rainier are via the Emmons Glacier and via Camp Muir from Paradise. The Paradise route is a little more difficult, but popular because it is shorter and takes less time. There are guided climbs from Paradise for that route. The Emmons Glacier route is longer but easier. Also the Emmons Route gains more elevation starting from the White River Trail-head. I had been in a climbing party the previous year led by a friend and it included two of my math professors from University of Puget Sound. We were going to try to climb via the Ingraham Glacier Route from Camp Muir. The climb had to be aborted because of a new ice-fall on the glacier and it would have taken to much time to find a route through it. The following summer I was taking a math course from the two professors and asked them if they were still interested in climbing Mt. Rainier. They both said yes, and I said I would take them up at the end of summer school. Thus I insured myself that I would pass the course.

I was still active in the Tacoma Mountaineers and Tacoma Mountain Rescue. I put up a notice in the club house that I would be leading a climb up Mt. Rainier and asked around if anyone else wanted to join the party. By the middle of the summer, I had enough people and started to plan the climb. We were going to do it in three days instead of the usual two days. I wanted to spend an extra day at Camp Schurman, which was at an elevation of 9702 feet, to acclimatize to the altitude. We would start at the White River Ranger Station, which was at an altitude of 4400 feet, and hike up the Inter Fork of White River to Glacier Basin. We would then climb up Inter Glacier to Steamboat Prow. At that time we would be at Camp Schurman. Due to the size of the climbing party, I decided to have community meals to make it easier for cooking. I wanted most of the party to go with me the week before the climb to carry food and fuel to Camp Schurman and cache it there. Camp Schurman was a shelter being built by members of Tacoma Mountain Rescue. They wanted a shelter on that side of the mountain in the event there was a large rescue during bad weather. They spent a lot of time and money building the shelter. It was made of corrugated metal that had been airlifted in by Air Force helicopters. In the past, we had gone on rescues for Air Force planes in various locations and they were willing to help us. However, sometime back, the shelter was taken over by the National Park Service to use as a ranger station for a climbing ranger who was stationed there during the climbing season. Now climbers have to take tents with them to Steamboat Prow.

The following link is to a Relief Map of Mt. Rainier National Park with the location of Emmons Glacier.

Click here for Map of Mt. Rainier National Park.

spacer Mine Shaft spacer This is on the trail up to the Inter Glacier starting from White River Ranger Station. There was mining activity in this area before it became a National Park. There is still some old mining equipment scattered around this area.

spacer Moraine in Inter Glacier Basin. spacer View of a moraine along the side of the Inter Glacier Basin on the way to Steamboat Prow. If you use your imagination, you can see a mountain grouse in the lower middle of the photo just to the left of the small snow patch. I wish I had had a telephoto at that time. But with the old Argus 35 mm camera, there was no telephoto lens available. The grouse blends in with the rocks in the area.

spacer Emmons Glacier. spacer View of looking up Emmons Glacier from Steamboat Prow and Camp Schurman. Our route will be to the left, then about halfway up, we will cross to the middle and go straight up to the summit.

spacer Steamboat Prow. spacer A view of Steamboat Prow. During our day at Camp Schurman to get use to the altitude, we went up aways to set out flags near the crevasses to mark the trail we would take the next morning in the dark.

spacer Emmons Glacier Snout. spacer This looking down to the snout of Emmons Glacier. Notice the strips of dark areas that are parallel to the sides of the glacier. They are bands of rock that have fallen onto the glacier as it moves downhill. Winthrop Glacier would be on the left side of Steamboat Prow in this photo. The Emmons Glacier splits into two glaciers at Steamboat Prow.

spacer View of summit route. spacer A view of Mt. Rainier and our summit route up the Emmons Glacier.

spacer Sunrise. spacer Sunrise on the day of the final climb to the summit, we got up about 3:00 AM to start the climb while the snow was still hard. If we tried climbing during the day after the sun came up, we would be plodding through snow slush in areas. Our breakfast was hot jello liquid and oatmeal. During the climb, we would be eating constantly on trail mix to prevent altitude sickness. We also had to drink lots of water. At that elevation, the sweat would vaporize and it would be hard to tell that we were loosing moisture. I usually had a few salt pills to prevent cramps. Most people who have problems at that altitude are suffering from mountain sickness or altitude sickness.

spacer Cloud Bank. spacer Looking Northeast over a layer of clouds as the sun is coming up.

spacer Steamboat Prow. spacer Looking down on Steamboat Prow where the Winthrop and Emmons Glaciers split. This was taken as the sun was coming up.

spacer Two summit climbers. spacer Two climbers in my party resting on the summit of Mt. Rainier. For some reason, a fog always comes in when I reach the summit and I can never get good photos on the summit. We rested for awhile, ate more food and drank more water for going back down to Camp Schurman.

spacer Elder Bob on Summit. spacer Photo of Elder Bob on the summit of Mt. Rainier. I had to doctor the photo for it to show up due to the fog that had surrounded us on the summit. I still have the parka and hat that I am wearing. I never could get rid of them in my travels. Everything else is gone. Either given away or sold.

spacer Summit Party. spacer A group shot of the entire climbing party. My two math professors are wearing the red parkas. We are sitting on the inside of the crater wall for shelter from the wind. There are still steam caves on the summit. Some people have been cold when they reached the summit and would go into the steam caves to warm up. However, they would get saturated with moisture from the steam which would freeze when they came out of the caves. This made them worse off then they were before they went into the caves. After this photo was taken, we started our descent back down the mountain to Camp Shurman and home in Tacoma.

The following is a story from the Tacoma News Tribune about climbing Mt. Rainier via the Emmons Glacier Route. I found it interesting due to the fact of how some things had changed since I made my last climb up Mt. Rainier.

A Rainier path less traveled
Date: 08/02/2003


Even by Mount Rainier's rugged standards, the trail to Camp Schurman is a kick-your-butt hike. It begins amid the towering firs and cedars of Mount Rainier National Park's northeastern corner. It rises steadily along gray rivers until forest gives way to meadow, then meadow yields to snow. It turns sharply uphill onto a steep glacier pockmarked by footprints and splintered with crevasses.

The path ends 9,460 feet above sea level - almost a vertical mile above its starting point - near a knife of rock that splits the massive Emmons and Winthrop glaciers. Here, hikers mingle with mountaineers on Rainier's second most popular summit route.

Yet for all its dangerous beauty, the trail to Schurman gets a fraction of the traffic seen on the route to Camp Muir, a popular outpost on the mountain's south face. A sunny Saturday might tempt more than 100 hikers to trudge from Paradise to Muir, but Schurman typically sees no more than 10 day trippers even on its busiest days.

"There's a lot fewer people. You're not dodging people all day," said Matt Hendrickson, a 23-year-old climbing ranger happily assigned to Camp Schurman.

Many who have hiked both high-altitude trails say they prefer the challenge, solitude and scenery of the Camp Schurman route.

"You're not just coming up from a parking lot," said Cebe Wallace, a Bainbridge Island climber who has reached the summit of Mount Rainier more than 15 times. "It has a more alpine feel."

But Schurman recommendations come with a warning.

The path "has significant objective dangers that the route to Camp Muir doesn't have," Wallace said as he pitched his tent on Schurman's snow. "Once every five or 10 years, somebody gets killed in a crevasse."

The trail begins at Mount Rainier's White River Campground, a popular area where all 112 drive-in campsites usually are filled by Friday. Hikers heading to Schurman walk to the far end of the campground to find the trail to Glacier Basin.

The wide path follows a riverside route to what was once a bustling mining operation. A few rusting relics of that extractive era sit beside the trail. Hikers trudge through forests and flowers up a steady grade for 3.1 miles to Glacier Basin Camp, an overnight stop for some heading to Rainier's 14,410-foot summit.

The footpath beyond Glacier Basin is not maintained but is fairly obvious. Past flowery meadows, hikers maneuver up Yellow Death Hill, a ridge named for its steepness and sulfurous tint. Beyond, a boulder-strewn meadow at the foot of Inter Glacier offers a final snow-free rest stop.

The path steepens sharply once hikers reach Inter Glacier. Dangers also increase, and rangers recommend that anyone ascending the glacier travel roped to companions and carry proper equipment for crevasse rescue.

Inter Glacier's crevasses and the steepness blur the line between hiking and mountain climbing. Most day hikers adopt the climbers' "rest step," a plodding stride that lets uphill travelers catch their breath and rest their muscles during pauses between each footfall.

The unmarked but well-traveled route rises at staircase pitch until it reaches the ridge running from 8,690-foot Mount Ruth to the 9,702-foot tip of Steamboat Prow. Along this rocky spine sit the five tent sites of Camp Curtis, a popular pit stop and occasional overnight camp.

Hikers can gaze southeast across the massive, crevasse-filled Emmons Glacier toward 11,138-foot Little Tahoma, a satellite peak of Rainier that quietly qualifies as Washington's third-highest mountain. North, beyond 10,785-foot Mount Baker, are the peaks of British Columbia.

Many hikers call it quits here, since by now most have spent at least six hours trudging uphill.

But a few push on, following climbers' footsteps onto the unpredictable Emmons Glacier. The path veers wide of yawning crevasses as it arcs uphill to the base of Steamboat Prow and the campsites of Camp Schurman.

It is named for Clark E. Schurman, chief Mount Rainier climbing guide from 1939 to 1942. Known as "The Chief," Schurman paid guides $85 a month, deducted $30 for room and board and discouraged them from demeaning themselves by accepting tips.

Schurman wrote poetry, painted landscapes and often gave lantern slide shows to Paradise visitors. In his memoir, "The Challenge of Rainier," author and former guide Dee Molenaar remembered Schurman fondly.

"An intense, brusque little man with the military way and mustache of General Pershing, he had a soul highly sensitive to the beauties of the mountain and to the dreams of youth," Molenaar wrote.

Schurman died in 1955. Three years later, volunteers began backpacking loads of corrugated steel, angle iron, cement, sand and lumber to the base of Steamboat Prow to build a shelter cabin at the site. The sale of Schurman's paintings helped finance the project.

The rock-reinforced hut, completed in 1960, was designed with bunk space for 18 people but room for up to 50 in an emergency. Today it bears a plaque inscribed with a stanza of Schurman's verse: Into a cloud sea far below / I lonely watched the red sun go. / Then turning, miracle of glad surprise, / enchanted saw the full moon rise.

Originally open to the public, Camp Schurman's hut has been taken over by climbing rangers. The accommodations are spacious compared to the cramped Butler Shelter across the mountain at Camp Muir.

"It has a lot nicer hut - a lot bigger, a lot more comfortable," ranger Hendrickson said. Longtime climbers who remember the volunteer labor that built the hut still are miffed at the Park Service takeover.

Outside the hut, Camp Schurman's snow and rock has enough space to handle up to 48 overnight tent campers, all of whom share a weather-battered one-hole outhouse. (Carpenters replaced the john's door earlier this month only to see the replacement cracked within days by a blast of wind.)

The crowd tends to be a bit friendlier than at the more bustling Camp Muir, and novice climbers looking for the easiest way to the summit often avoid Schurman's long approach.

"I think you get a little more experienced climber, even though it's still a beginner's route," said guide Dale Remsberg of Cascade Alpine Guides. The Bellevue-based outfitter is one of four guide services given limited permission to lead paying clients to the summit via Camp Schurman.

Once at Schurman, hikers often have less than an hour to rest their legs, refuel their bodies and soak up the views before they must start the return trek.

Most descend from Schurman in less than half the time required for the uphill journey, largely because long sections of Inter Glacier are suitable for a sit-down slide known as a "glissade." Sturdy waterproof pants, knee-high gaiters, gloves and an ice ax help keep people dry and safe.

A final caution: Crevasses that were obvious on the way up Inter Glacier can often be difficult to see during the descent. Safety-minded folks tend to begin their glissades well below the crevasses they spotted on the way up.

Aside from those dangers, it's downhill all the way.

Camp Schurman facts

Trail begins: White River Campground, elevation 4,300 feet

Trail ends: Camp Schurman, elevation 9,460 feet

Elevation gain: 5,160 feet

Mileage: Approximately 5.6 miles one way, although the route mileage varies as glacier conditions change

Hiking season: Late May to September. Lingering snow often obscures the trail to Glacier Basin until June, and crevasses open on Inter Glacier by July.

Dangers: Hikers and climbers can fall into deep crevasses on Inter Glacier and the Emmons Glacier. Mount Rainier officials recommend people travel roped in groups of three to five when on glaciers and get training in crevasse rescue and other emergency skills.

Directions to trail-head: Follow Highway 410 past Enumclaw and Greenwater (the last chance for gas and groceries) to Mount Rainier National Park's White River entrance at the park's northeast corner. Park admission is $10 per carload. Continue four miles past the entrance booth, turn left at the sign to White River Campground, and drive one mile to the campground. Parking for hikers and climbers is a short distance inside the campground, in a lot on the left. Restrooms, water and picnic tables are nearby.

For details: Updates on weather and route conditions are available at the White River Ranger Station near the entrance booth. The ranger station's phone number is 360-663-2273. Information also is available on the Web at

Return to Elder Bob Menu spacer Return to Travels spacer Return to Windsox Trailhead Shuttle