Friday, September 9, 2016

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier - From Paradise
Plans to climb Mount Rainier started to materialize about a year ago when my friend Harsha extended me an invitation to join him. I previously climbed Rainier in 2008 with my Dad as part of the Summit for Someone program. I couldn’t head back up there without asking my Dad to join us; he immediately said yes. Harsha planned on using the Rainier Mountaineering Incorporated (RMI) guide service, which was the same guide service I had used previously. I was more interested in doing a non-standard route, but with this being Harsha’s first climb on Rainier we selected the standard Disappointment Cleaver (DC) Route. Our climbing team would be composed of six other climbers that we would meet on our first day of the program.
Over the year leading up to the climb, getting into climbing shape becomes the priority. Throughout the year I kept to my same workout routine, and would try and get my boots on the dirt as much as could on the weekends. I have the advantage of living in Colorado at an elevation of about 5,700 feet, so my primary concern was not the elevation on the mountain, but rather the technical elements that a glacier climb presents.
We arrived in Ashford on the first of four days with RMI on Monday August 15th. On this day we met our guides and the other team members in the group. There is an overview of what will take place over the next few days, then there is a gear check to ensure each climber is adequately outfitted to climb the mountain.  We found out our lead guide would be Jake in which he would have two assistant guides; Jesse and Megan. Jake was an assistant guide on my trip in 2008, so it was nice to see a familiar face. The rest of our team would be composed of the Callaway family.
The Team 
Before I get too carried away with this report there is another aspect of the climb I would like to mention, and that is the development of relationships with our fellow teammates, the Callaways. The family included Mike, the father; the four siblings: Andrew, Matt, Will, Amy and Neil which is Amy's husband. The family is from Arkansas and a couple of them live in Kansas City, so they are very much flat landers. The Callaways have a great history of doing adventures together; previously they have climbed Mount Hood, Pikes Peak and the Grand Teton, all very difficult challenges. I knew right away we were all going to get along and have a great experience together. I enjoyed getting to know them as we climbed the mountain together.
Day two was mountaineering school. This was basically the introduction to techniques of mountaineering. I had been through this last time on the mountain, but it was good to get a refresher. You learn how to walk all over again, there are various walking techniques that make you more efficient on the mountain. After you have learned to walk, it’s time to learn to fall…in style as Jake would say. Learning to self-arrest is what can save your life on the upper mountain should you fall. You get a lot of practice falling in different ways. The remaining time is used working with rope travel. This shows you how to ascend and descend switchbacks and the proper length to keep between you and the climber in front of you. While you are in school you take a few 10 minute breaks throughout the day to get you prepared to manage yourself of the mountain. Time goes quickly, so you learn to eat, drink, medicate, and adjust layers and gear during these quick breaks. The climb to Muir is tomorrow, so the rest of the evening in Ashford is used re-packing bags, fueling and hydrating our bodies.
Climbing the Muir Snowfield
Day three is all about making the ascent to Camp Muir. The climb starts from Paradise and covers about five miles and about 4,500 feet of vertical gain. We loaded up our big packs and hit the trail out of Paradise sometime after 9am. The first hour and a half stays on the trails surrounding Paradise, so some people chose to wear an approach shoe. I chose to climb in my mountaineering boots to avoid having to do a change during the ascent. The pace was very moderate, keeping to about 1,000 feet of vertical gain per hour. We took a ten minute break about every hour. This gave us enough time to fuel and hydrate up for the next stretch. We hit the Muir Snowfield after our first break and would remain on the snow for the remainder of the day.
The goal of the day was to climb to Muir “in style.” This was an opportunity to work on all the techniques that we learned the previous day. The more efficient we could climb today, the easier our summit bid would be tomorrow. I’m not sure how long it took us to get to Muir, but I would guess we arrived around 2pm. We had about an hour to rest and get moved into the sleeping hut before the guides came in to give us the low-down on how the rest of the day and tomorrows climb would be played out. With temperatures being fairly warm we knew we would have an early wake-up. The warmer temperatures heat up the ice which dislodges boulders down glaciers, so this is the reason to get more of the climb done while the mountain is ‘sleeping’. After packing for the summit climb we needed to fuel/hydrate, and try to get a nap in before the early wake-up.
Most of us tried to fall asleep around 6pm figuring we would be up around 11pm for a long day. It didn’t sound like too many people got much sleep if any at all, but I felt like I got a few hours so I wasn’t feeling too bad. The guides woke us up at 11pm and we had one hour to fuel/hydrate and gear up for the day. It wasn’t too cold out, but as the night progressed we would be working into the coldest part of the night just before summiting. Jesse was guiding me and my Dad. Harsha unfortunately decided not to join us on a summit bid. He will be back at another time though. We met up with Jesse a little before midnight and soon started along the first stretch of the route.
Camp Muir and the Upper Mountain
The climb starts by crossing the Cowlitz Glacier, and then ascends Cathedral Gap leading to our first break on Ingram Flats. This section is a bit over an hour long, and covers about 1,200 vertical feet. The crossing of the Cowlitz Glacier is a nice warm up before hitting the rock/dirt path up Cathedral Gap. Or the “brown stuff” as Will called it. I heard rock/ice falling a few times as we ascended. This keeps you very attentive even when your body is used to being asleep. Once we hit the rock we short-roped through the gap till reaching the Ingram Glacier. You go short-roped in order to prevent snagging and abrasion to the rope. This is a good idea, but also presents some difficulties when you are working your way through the boulders. Once we arrived at the Ingram Flats break I pulled out my parka and had my pop-tart waiting for me in the pocket. During the breaks the guides talk to each climber individually to monitor how they are doing. I found out the Amy and Neil had decided to turn back just before we were set to leave. On the way up to the flats Amy and Neil were on a rope with Mike which was guided by Megan. There was some swapping, where Megan became our guide and Mike was added as our anchor.
Harsha, Mark and Me
The next stretch was the ascent of the DC, this is the crux of the climb in my opinion. This starts by traversing the Ingram Glacier to the base of the cleaver. I would say it was about 1:30am when we set off from the first break. Climbing the cleaver is no joy ride. You ascend wearing crampons climbing over 1,000 feet of crumbled rock. We were short-roped through this section, just like the Cathedral Gap section. Mike was having a rough go of it and at times I would be pulling the rope along with him. Megan could see this going on and when we got to the top of the cleaver for a break Mike had to make the decision to continue or descend. After he talked it over with the guides Mike made the decision to turn back. This broke my heart a little; I know how hard each of us train for a climb like this, and it’s hard to make decisions like that when you are so close to attaining your goal. He made the decision, but in the end he chose what was best for the team and himself, I have a lot of respect for someone that can make that call. From the DC our team now consisted of the Arkansas boys, and me and the old man along with Jake and Megan. It was starting to get colder and windy, so I added on my third layer then we took off for high break, another hour and a thousand feet to go.
Sunrise from the Crater
On the way to high break you climb on the upper mountain. The route was steep and there was significant exposure as the boot pack wasn't even wide enough for a mountaineering boot to fit across. I recall three or four running belays that are placed for added protection in zones where a fall has a higher probability or there would be no chance of team arrest. At one of the belay points I remembered looking over the edge into a crevasse that had no end. After a few belays we came to our first ladder crossing. Now, for all of you that have seen pictures of these from Everest, it wasn't like that...but that doesn't mean you don't pucker up a bit. The crossings were maybe 6-8 feet across a crevasse with a couple of 2x6 boards attached onto the ladder to walk across. There was a rope to hold for balance, but if you fell you were going into the crevasse and your rope team was the only line of defense.
After an exciting hour of steep climbs, running belays and ladders we made it to high break.
High break is at about 13,500 feet on the face of the mountain. This was by far the coldest break. None of us were doing a good job of consuming calories at this point. It's difficult when you are cold and tired to force any food down so we ate what we could. I chose to leave my parka on since it was so cold.
The Team on the Summit
About 30 minutes after leaving from the break I was heating up as the wind died down. I started unzipping what I could as we kept moving. This section went the fastest for me. I felt pretty good considering the situation. I recognizing the protruding crater rim rocks from my previous climb, so I knew we were close. A look behind us, we could see the deep red color on the horizon. Sunrise was within minutes. Our team made it into the crater we tossed our packs on the snow, let a few screams out and watched the sunrise over the horizon. I have seen my share of sunrises, but there is nothing that gets even close to experiencing one on Mount Rainier.
We all took in the moment and the high fives and congratulations were making it though the team. I went over to the Arkansas boys and said: “Not bad for a bunch of guys from Arkansas.” These guys are climbers, no doubt in my mind. What an accomplishment! We made our way to the true summit, which is called Columbia Crest. We signed the register as we climbed to the high point, it was neat being able to write down that this was my second summit.
The Descent
On the true summit we had the sun rising to the east and the moon setting to the west. That was something I had never experienced before.  We took 10 minutes up there taking pictures and enjoying the surrounding views. We need to get back into the crater to our packs to fuel/hydrate as the climb was only half over. The descent can be the dangerous part when the mountain heats and becomes alive. We had about an hour on the top of the mountain so it was time for us to start making our descent.
The trek down the mountain seemed to go by pretty fast. We didn’t take our first break till we reached the top of the DC. With the sun out we could get a good idea of what we climbed up during the dark hours of the early morning. Some of the crevasses that had ladder crossings had views of blue ice with no end. One area we crossed under a fairly large serac, and I thought to myself about the “motivator” that Ed Viesters describes from K2. It was neat walking through this area, but I was glad to be out of what I considered an area of danger.
Once we were on the DC, we took our crampons off for the descent to make our travels more efficient. This was a pretty nasty section, must like the ascent, but in about a half hour we had made it down to the Ingram Glacier where we put our crampons back on. We followed Megan’s zig-zags through the crevasse field till we made it to our break at the Ingram Flats. This was our last rest till getting back to Muir. We were able to swallow down the last of our water since we knew we had water waiting at camp.
Mount Adams from DC
The last leg of the trek to Muir took about 45 minutes. We dropped over Cathedral Gap back onto the Cowlitz Glacier. As we got closer to camp we could hear the cheers of our fellow climbers that were waiting for us. It was nice to see our friends/family back at camp. They all made a tough decision to end their summit bids early, but I would not consider their attempts as failures. Each climb presents new challenges that you have to overcome, for a lot of people these are simply mental barriers. I think everyone got something out of this experience that they will be able to build off of for their next adventure. After chatting with everyone we had to get prepared for the next leg of the trip. We had an hour to get our big packs loaded up before heading down another 4,500 feet to Paradise. I took my boots off for what time I could. All my socks were damp or wet at this point so my heel blister needed taping again. I crammed all my gear into my bag, it was a mess.
On our way down the Muir Snowfield we tried to ski-glissade when we could. The snow was pretty snow-cupped so it was a bit difficult to slide for too long. After a while we came across some glissade chutes, so I grabbed my garbage bag out and made a diaper out of it. This way I could cruise as far as possible down the mountain. The rest of the hike down to Paradise was more of a march. My feet and body were beat so it was all about getting off the mountain and unloading the heavy pack from my back.
It was a relief to be off the mountain, summit day is one of the more exhausting experiences I’ve had in the mountains. In all you gain near 5,000 feet and descend about 9,000 feet that day. Once we got down to Ashford our group dove into a 12-pack of beer I had waiting in the truck. A nice luke warm beer and a cheeseburger sure hit the spot. It was nice to sit and talk with the others in our group about their experiences for the day and unwind a bit before the drive back to Portland.
Ingram Glacier
This climb I was in much better shape than I was eight years ago, but the mountain was much more difficult than I remembered. The route seemed narrower and steeper. The technical nature of the mountain was higher as the crevasses were more open requiring multiple ladder crossings and running belay protection points. So even though I was in better shape, this climb was more taxing and more rewarding at the same time. I was very thankful to be able to climb the two highest volcanoes in Washington over the week. I’m motivated to keep in shape to continue climbing mountains back home in Colorado.

A few times with different people during this trip we discussed the types of mountains we enjoy climbing the most. I did enjoy climbing Rainier, and am grateful to be able to climb it twice successfully, but in the end I do not prefer this type of mountaineering compared to what I do in Colorado. Though climbs like this may be more rewarding, I feel a lot of the experience is spent looking at a rope, and not enjoying the surroundings as much as I would like. I enjoy self-reliance as opposed to group-reliance, and being able to adventure more freely. I probably will not climb Rainier again, or even do roped mountaineering travel, they are just not my cup of tea. I am perfectly content with climbing mountains in Colorado and Idaho, there are plenty of challenges I have yet to face. Get out there and climb, and If you would like come climb with me, I am always in the search for a new adventure.

Date: August 15-18, 2016
TH Elevation: 5,440 feet
Camp Muir: 10,080 feet
Mount Rainier Summit: 14,410 feet
Total Ascent: 9,352 feet
Total Distance: 12.6 miles (TH to summit back to Camp Muir)
Class:  glacier climb
Moving Time: 9 hours 50 minutes (Add at least 2.5hrs for descent from Camp Muir to TH)
Stopped Time: 6 hours 41 minutes
Climbing Partners: Harsha, Mark, Mike, Andrew, Matt, Will, Amy, Neil, Jake, Jesse, Megan
GPX Track
Photo Album
RMI Guide Blog Post

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