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Emmons Glacier Summit Ski Descent

Mount Rainier National Park

Descending down the Emmons Glacier on Mount Rainier

Ski Touring Difficult

25 km
3.2 km
3.1 km
1 day +
Low Point
1.3 km
High Point
4.3 km
Emmons Glacier Summit Ski Descent Map

The descent of the Emmons Glacier off of Mount Rainier’s summit is probably the most commonly used route. With the Emmons Glacier being almost 5,000 feet of skiing back to Camp Sherman and an additional 3,000 feet of the Interglacier this is one of the biggest vertical descents in all of Washington. While most other lines off Rainier are done by Early July I have personally done this route in Early August. That being said the earlier you do this route the more straightforward it is.


There are a lot of factors that go into play when wanting to make a summit of Mount Rainier and you only add to those factors when wanting to ski it. First thing that needs to be said is you will be on glacial terrain with numerous crevasses, while you can see most of them there is a good chance you will be walking over ones that you don’t. Another thing to consider is that these lines need to be in good corn conditions with the freezing level going up to around 14,000 feet and no wind. The line also needs to be in the sun as the moment these slopes are shaded they will firm up quickly which makes traversing over a massive crevasse even that much more scary. While there are some crevasses that stay the same year to year you must be aware that these specific routes do fluctuate over the season and years.

Before heading to White River Campground you need to both get a climbing permit as well as a camping spot at Camp Sherman through the ranger station. Once this is all done leave your car at the White River Campground and start hiking up the Glacier Basin trail with your overly heavy backpack. Once in the Glacier Basin keep following the main drainage until it wraps around to the slopes of the Interglacier. Depending on the time of the season sometimes you can easily skin up while later in the season you will need crampons the moment you start walking on the snow.

There is a good chance that there will already be a well beaten path heading up the Interglacier which goes up and over the high ridge before heading down to the Emmons Glacier. With crampons on our feet make your way up to Camp Sherman which usually entails going over a few snow bridges so it could be smart to rope up. Once at Camp Sherman make sure to get as much rest as possible and drink water as this helps with High Altitude sickness.

People go at all kinds of speeds so it is impossible for me to say what time to start climbing but plan your descent for around 11 a.m. Unlike standard climbers who want the snow firm for the descent you need nice edgeable corn. We would usually start a bit before sunrise following the well beaten in track up the corridor to before you start zig zagging around crevasses for the rest of the route.

While you may feel like leaving the beaten path I don’t recommend this as you can’t be sure the snow under your feet is solid. After a whole lot of effort you will arrive on the summit and take in the views of the Cascades from Mount Baker all the way to Mount Hood. Standing up top head over to the edge of your decent route and feel the snow occasionally. Once it softens up a little bit you should probably get moving because great corn up high is horrible slush down low.

Riding down the Emmons it is important to always be within eye contact of the hiking trail and if it feels firm at all carry an ice axe to stop an uncontrolled slide. This route has a bunch of traverses that skirt around crevasses and if you go your own way there is a good chance you will find yourself stuck directly on top of a massive crevasse that you didn’t see until you arrived. You need to keep your guard up all the way until you get back down to the corridor where you can finally open up a bit back down to Camp Sherman.

Once you’ve packed up your gear wrap back around to the Interglacier and take the final ski turns into the valley. Usually you will find better turns in this area as you aren’t so afraid of crevasses (they are there though). Back in Glacier Basin it is time to put all of your gear on your back and make your way down to the White River Parking lot. Once laving make sure to return your paperwork to the ranger station so they know that everything turned out fine.

While this is the most common descent on Mount Rainier please treat it with respect.

To see my trip in the area and more photos check out this link https://www.whereiskylemiller.com/mt-rainier/emmons-glacier-summit/



Serious gradient of 30-38 degrees where a real risk of slipping exists.

High Exposure (E3)

3 out of 4

In case of a fall, death is highly likely.


2 out of 4

Away from help but easily accessed.

Best time to visit

between May and August


  • Face
  • Alpine
  • Single Descent
  • Ski Mountaineering

Equipment required

  • Rope
  • Skins
  • Ice axe
  • Crampons
  • Glacier kit

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area