Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Rainier: Take Two!

Almost exactly 4 years after I attempted to climb Mt. Rainier I found myself again making the long trek up to Camp Muir.

Unlike 4 years ago, however, I actually harnessed up...and ascended away from Camp Muir.

There were six of us sitting around, watching the weather and trying to decide the plan of action. Weather was supposed to be coming in and we worried that our planned 10pm departure would land us on the summit in a whiteout.

Finally we decided to begin our climb at 6pm.

Not much was said as we fussed with our gear, roped up, and readied ourselves. We'd heard that the route was already in rough shape, more like September than July. We anticipated five crevasses open so wide that they were bridged with ladders. We hoped none had fallen in that day...or that any new ones had opened beyond our ability to jump.

Our two rope teams headed across the Cowlitz Glacier. My rope team pulled away and we waited on Cathedral Gap for our second to rejoin us.

Once they arrived the group made the decision to continue on independently. Our rope was moving much faster, the other was struggling with altitude.

Shortly after Ingraham Flats we entered a world of twisted ice and yawning chasms. We crossed our first ladder. It was dizzing and my stomach flip flopped as I stared down into it.

The Disappointment Cleaver was completely melted out and we scrambled through loose volcanic rock until we once again got onto snow.

We traversed toward Gibraltar Rock crossing yet another ladder. Sun set and we clicked our headlamps on. We encountered our fifth ladder. I can't even describe it's precarious nature and the way it was resting on the lip of an undercut. We all felt relieved when we were safely past it. In the back of my mind I thought, "Ok, I only have to do that once more on the way down."

To our surprise we encountered a 6th ladder, slanted upward not long after. I wasn't looking forward to descending it. The sky was clear. I watched the Milky Way and stars and planes. In the far distance I saw a flash of lightning. I listened closely, but heard no thunder. We continued onward.

By now it was cold. I was happy with my layering choices which I had deliberated for hours before leaving home. As someone who is frequently cold I had been incredibly concerned about staying warm on the notoriously cold peak. For the climb I wore Icebreaker baselayer pants, a pair of Sherpa hiking pants on my legs (I have an older version that I LOVE. Hard to find now). On my torso I wore my Seven Hills singlet layered with two light fleece shirts and my faithful Patagonia Houdini. Seal Skinz hat, gloves, and socks were perfect in keeping me dry and warm. I wore a buff around my neck as well to round it out. I was completely comfortable throughout the night, only adding my Feathered Friends down coat at the summit (and wearing it back to the Disappointment Cleaver).

We reached the crater rim around 12:30am. The wind was whipping as we searched for a way down into the crater. There seemed to a large moat open between the rock and the snow. We slipped off our harnesses and circled the crater arriving at the true summit at 1am.

We clicked a couple of pictures and returned to our gear. As we were roping up I watched a blood red crescent moon rise through wispy layers of clouds. It was eerie to watch while standing on the rim of a huge volcano.


This dude was very altitude sick...doesn't show one bit!
As we descended I noticed that there were far less stars. Clouds had thickened.

As we reached the severely broken glacier we began encountering the myriad teams on their way up. We had to wait several times in precarious locations as they labored upward. I felt frustrated that they wouldn't step aside for a clearly faster team. The anxiety of hanging icefall above me in the darkness knotted my stomach.

At the bottom of the Cleaver, we stopped to put our crampons back on. Just then a large icefall plummeted from above...cascading over our route. We looked at one another and agreed to "run" to Ingraham Flats.

Contemplating the dash through that mess

We finally dropped into Camp Muir not long after sunrise. There we slept for a couple of hours before descending with the rest of our team. We were back to the parking lot by 9am.

A few days later as my plane rose above Seattle and turned eastward I gazed out my window. Rainier's bulk filled it. I felt a smile curve across my face, despite my sadness at leaving Washington. I had stood there on that snowy dome one cold, dark night at the top of the world around me.

Whenever I see that mountain, whether in life or in pictures, I will never feel the same again.

Special Thanks to:
 Grant Larsen for leading our rope, 
Ryan Minkle for taking great pics, 
and Doug McKeever for bringing it all together!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you - [from an arm-chair hiker who hopes to get back out there]