Well it’s that time of year again. It was only a year ago earlier this month that I summited that large volcano a mere 60 miles away from Seattle known as Mt. Rainier. It was a great experience, but I didn’t really have any plans to do it over again…until rnast and I agreed to climb the mountain, he for the first time and myself for the second so I could hopefully have a clear view from the summit.
Ryan flew into Seattle on Saturday and after the 30-minute turbo-tour of Seattle’s hotspots, we grabbed some grub, caught up and called it early. We went shopping for gear and supplies on Sunday, then drove down to Ashford, WA to begin our trek.
The 3-day summit climb begins with a day of climbing school where you load up a limited amount of gear into your pack and hike up to approximately 7,000ft and learn basic climbing skills, crampon usage, pressure breathing, team-arrest and self-arrest techniques in the event of a fall. The day is pretty relaxed and not too strenuous. You get to meet your guides as well as some of the people that you’ll be roping up with on the upper mountain. That day starts around 9am and ends in the late afternoon, which means you get to relax and grab a beer before you gear up for the big climb.
The next day starts around 9am again, but this time you have a backpack full of 40lbs of gear and food on your back. You hike from Paradise (5,000ft) up to Camp Muir (10,000ft) in about five hours. The hike consists of about 2 hours hiking on pavement and dirt paths that are generally consumed by tourists on the weekends. Following that is a good 3 hours on the Muir Snowfield where you think that little shack at the top of the hill is never going to get any closer. But after many steps and thoughts of “why am I hauling this huge pack up this mountain on my back”, you reach it…and you’re very happy to relieve the weight off your back.
After a brief rest, you start unpacking your bag and bringing most stuff inside the bunkhouse. Then organizing your pack for the upper mountain, dinner, and a talk by the guides to prepare for what’s next. This is the point where your mind starts racing and your heart starts beating a little faster. You’re at Camp Muir - the climb up was pretty taxing…and you know that in a mere 5 hours, you’ll be waking up and heading for the top. So you roll out your sleeping bag. Crawl in. And try to sleep. But it’s five-o-clock in the evening. And when you’ve just eaten, at least for me, my metabolism jumps through the roof. So you turn. And you toss. And you try to think of different ways to fall asleep. You close your eyes. You open them. You stare at the wall. But nothing works. Until finally…finally you doze off. Only to be woken up what seems to be five minutes after you fell asleep by the guides turning on the lights and saying it’s time to get ready!
At this point, it’s about 11:30pm. You wake up, make yourself some oatmeal and slap on your base layer, climbing pants, fleece, avalanche beacon, and helmet. You stumble out into the darkness along with about 15 other people and get your pack ready. Soon enough, you find yourself roped up to 3 other people and heading out across a glacier toward what’s known as Cathedral Gap.
That’s the view you have in the daytime, but at night it’s just you, your head lamp, and a rope strung out in front of you. Except for this climb where we had a nearly-full moon and barely even needed our headlamps. The next 6 hours are more or less a blur of repetitive, focused steps up the mountain. The guides say it takes approximately 80,000 steps to make it up Rainier…and when you’re sidestepping up a plateau of snow not much wider than your own boots at 1am…you quickly believe that it’s true.
I like to say about my summit climb this time that it was more difficult than I remember, but somehow easier. Part of that is the route difference. As opposed to climbing Disappointment Cleaver, we had to skirt around the bottom of that and then climb up via the Emmons Glacier. This is due to the crevasses that have opened up (as is typical late in the season) at the top of the cleaver. Although the Emmons portion was difficult in its own right, I have no disappointment about not having to climb for an hour over rock with crampons on. Descending via Emmons was also much easier than climbing back down the cleaver. I think what also helped is that I was much better prepared this time in terms of knowing what to expect.
Perhaps I’ll post more eventually, but for now - here’s me at the top of Mt. Rainier on a beautiful day. Feel free to check out the rest of the Flickr photos of my Rainier Summit.