Sunday, May 23, 2010


I don't recall exactly when the idea of climbing Mt. Rainier first came to my mind, but it has been impregnated in my psyche for quite some time. I've always loved the mountains and, for as long as I can remember, I've enjoyed reading books, watching movies and hearing stories of men conquering mountains. I felt that Rainier would present a significant challenge and be a great entry into the true world known as Alpine Climbing.

Mt. Rainier is a volcano located approximately 54 miles as the crow flies southeast of Seattle Washington. It stands a deceivingly 14,411 ft above sea level and towers above the other mountains in the Cascade Mountain Range. It absolutely dominates the horizon of Seattle. While making our flight approach into Sea-Tac Airport, the mountain seemed to tower above us. One of the reasons Mt. Rainier is so appealing, as well as challenging, is due to it's topographical prominence. A mountains prominence is basically the total vertical height which makes it a mountain or peak. Rainier stands 13,211 ft on it's own stature, more than that of K2, the world's second highest peak.

My 2010 Rainier climb started with a conversation over Christmas with a friend in Denver who has been eying the same mountain. Our climb of Liberty Ridge on Rainier didn't come to fruition which left me thinking that I would have to wait yet another year to be on the mountain. Just when hope was lost, I got an email from my friend Mike, who had heard that my climb was in the trash and extended the invitation for me to join their team (thanks Steve!).

After our first team meeting, I realized how great this climb was going to be. Jeff was more than on top of things, organizing gear lists and giving a summary of potential routes. After spending time deciding who would bring what gear items, we did a little backyard crevasse rescue simulation, setting up various pulley systems.

Leading up to the official date of departure, our climb of Mt. Rainier was yet again threatened. The Cascades were getting pounded with precipitation, which forced us to meet and plan alternative, lower altitude climbs. As May 13th approached, my eye was continually on NWAC (Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center) and the weather seemed to be moving in our favor. The night before I flew out for Seattle, Mike and Jeff told me we were good to go. All I had to do was pack my gear and get on a plane. If only packing gear was easy!

I carried 48.5 lbs of gear in a duffel, plus another 35 lb carry on. Don't get me wrong, I love gear, but this time I was wishing I was heading to Hawaii with nothing more than board shorts and flip flops.

My arrival in Seattle was greeted with beautiful sunny weather and the two smiling faces of Jeff and Mike, having spent the prior couple days climbing the crags around Anacordes. Acting as official Seattle tour guide, Jeff took me straight to Pike Market, which is where they routinely throw large fish through a sea of people (no pun intended). We visited the original Starbucks (don't worry, I just took a picture) and ate lunch on the Puget Sound.

After lunch and post-lunch coffee at a place where they took coffee way too seriously, we headed to REI's flagship store. It wouldn't be a good idea for me to spend too much time in a place like this, as I would drain our bank account dry. After shopping for the last remaining essentials needed for our climb (i.e. fuel, dried food, Clif Shot Bloks, etc), we met up with our 4th climber Jake. After a quick stop by Jake's house to gather his gear, we headed south to Kent, where we dined on Kabobs and ice cream with his family and stayed up way too late.

After a bowl of homemade granola and fruit, we hit the road to Rainier National Park and our final destination, 14,411 fasl. But first, we had to make a quick stop by K-Mart, where Jeff bought a top-o-the-line sleeping pad (he forgot his and didn't realize it until we were well on our way). After a not-so-fast climbing permit purchase at the Longmire Ranger Station, we arrived in the parking lot of Paradise and left the car and asphalt behind.

The Team: Jake, me, Jeff, and Mike (L-R)

The approach to Camp Muir (a small stone hut at 10,080 fasl on the south side of the mountain) was fairly straight forward and uneventful. Everyone was extremely fit and we made it our first 4700 vertical feet in just over 3 hours. We decided to grab a spot in the warm shelter of Muir rather than head up another 1000 ft to camp in Ingraham Flats, although it would have shortened our summit climb considerably.

We went straight to melting snow for an early dinner, as well as melting snow to replenish our water bolts for the summit climb, which was quickly approaching. After talking with a few climbers who had just returned from the summit, we decided to alter our planned Disappointment Cleaver route and head straight up the Ingraham Direct route. While cooking, we chatted with other climbers in the hut, exchanging information and plans.

Not surprisingly, we met a group of climbers lead by a pastor of a church in Seattle. We had decided to spend some time in prayer before hitting the sack early and our new friends were more than glad to join us. It never ceases to amaze me how the Lord brings people together randomly, to encourage, inspire, and show us we're not alone in this journey.
The task of melting snow takes much longer than you'd think. But after climbing 4700 ft, it was well worth it to mix with some dried lasagna!

Our plan was to be in our sleeping bags by 6 PM, get up at Midnight, cook breakfast, rope up and head up the mountain for our hopefully successful summit climb of Mt. Rainier. We were pretty much on target with our itinerary, with the exception of sleep for me. Despite having only slept 7 or 8 hours total in the past 2 nights, I could not get to sleep for the life of me. After sleeping only 2 to 3 hours, my watch was ringing and it was time to climb out of my warm sleeping bag and begin the tedious task of pulling on various layers of stuff with names like Small Wool, Patagonia, and Gore-Tex. We were roped up, ice axes in hand and on our way just after 1 AM.

Climbing by head-lamp was quite monotonous. Step-step-plunge ice axe-repeat. Keeping constant communication with all climbers was a must, as it could quickly become a tug-a-war on the rope. We made great time, climbing the first 2000 vertical feet in 2 hours. We were all feeling good, taking few breaks.

This night photo somewhat shows the extent of the exposure as we climbed up Ingraham Glacier.

As the sun began to rise, we were taken aback by the shear beauty of the mountains we were in the midst of. The colors on the horizon were continually changing and I wanted nothing but to take pictures.....and maybe get a big doss of oxygen....but alas, the camera batteries were dead. Hoping to grab a photo at the summit, I stuffed my digital camera in my down pocket and continued upwards.

There's no better way to describe the climb up the Ingraham other than relentless. Often we would see what we thought was a ridge or a trough in the slope, then become completely let down when we arrived and the slope just continued upward with little relief. After approximately 6 hours, the four of us arrived on the summit ridge. The only thing between us and the summit was a semi-flat snowfield and another 200 vertical ft up to the Columbia Crest. If I were to say this was a gimme, I'd be lying.

On the summit of Mt. Rainier, around 7:30 AM May 15th. A goal that had been in front of me for so long was half way over!

After sitting in the volcano's steam to get warm and re-fueling with gels, almonds and water, we headed back across the snow field and down the exposed slope we had just worked our way up. We could now see the enormous feat climbing Mt. Rainier was.

From whence we've come....the snow filled crater on top of Rainier.....Feeling good! We descended back to Muir to re-fuel and take a breather, then continued down the slope to the Paradise Trailhead. I've never wanted my skis more than on the slog back to the car. Ski-Mountaineering, maybe that's the way to go!

We made it, safe, without issue, feeling alive and beyond fatigue. We met up with our pastor friend for a burger at a local restaurant where we met the Owner/Cook/Manager-On-Duty/Mechanic, then continued back to Seattle.

A few pictures of the Olympics across the Puget Sound. Not a bad place to recover from a climb.

There's few words that can truly describe what I feel when in the mountains and even fewer to describe how I felt before, during and after this climb. It would not have been the same without the great group of guys I was able to climb with.

Climbing Mt. Rainier has been a dream of mine. More than climbing the mountain itself, I had dreamed more of the journey. I'm truly thankful for the opportunities I have to fulfill my dreams. After the climb, Mike, Stefan and I were hanging out and we talked about our dreams and goals in life. All of us seemed to have a list, whether it was in our head or on paper, of things we dream of doing, places we dream of seeing, things we dream of having. Have you thought about what's on your list lately? If not, I encourage you to do so. It may just leave you in the midst of a mountain!

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