For whatever reason, writing up a recap of my experiences climbing Rainier has been incredibly hard to do. So much so, that I've avoided the blog world in general. Time to put on my big girl panties and fill everyone in. This may take a while.
August 22, 2013
We were supposed to meet the rest of the climb team at base camp at 8:15 am to take the shuttle to Paradise. We were a couple minutes late because on the way there Wendy realized she'd left behind her softshell jacket. I hoped this wasn't a sign for the trip. We still had time to pose by the summit climb sign before loading up in the shuttle.
|My Dad, Wendy, my stepmother and me at Base Camp|
|My RMI climb team, start of climb|
|Crossing pebble creek|
|That's me in the red-pack|
|First rest stop. You can see my Dad switching his shoes.|
|Just hanging out at the first rest stop|
From the second rest stop, we should have had great views of Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, the Tatoosh range, etc. The storms coming from Oregon interfered with the views though. I later learned that the storms coming in were motivation for the lead guide to change us to 3 breaks from 4 to make a quicker ascent to Camp Muir.
|Still, not a terrible view.|
|Camp Muir nestled on it's rocky ridge. Larger building on left is the RMI Bunkhouse.|
I cannot explain how excited I was to make Camp Muir and get the monkey off my back from last year. Since I had a Verizon cell phone, I actually had a signal at Muir to post a picture to Facebook and exchange text messages with my husband about the incoming storms. I was SO glad that I had decided to carry the extra weight of a pair of running shoes to Camp Muir. This allowed me to take off my mountain boots for a few hours, which was glorious.
|The lovely potties. Those barrels are full of poop. |
Using these facilities without gagging required a cloth over my nose.
Still, better than a blue bag.
|Me, Wendy, Janette and my Dad posing in our bunks.|
|Our fearless leaders giving us the briefing.|
I laid down in my sleeping back with my ipod. I'd forgotten to charge the batteries, but somehow it lasted. Ok. Trying to sleep in a small wooden bunkhouse with 18 other people is ridiculous. We also didn't know what time they were going to wake us for the summit attempt, so every time the door opened, my adrenaline kicked in thinking it was time. (18 people using the potty means a lot of door openings). I was telling myself it wasn't time yet at the next door opening, when I heard the lead guide saying it was go time. It was 11:30 pm. We were told we had an hour to eat breakfast, use the potty, load our packs, put on our crampons and get into rope teams. Even now, just thinking about it gets my blood pumping again.
Luckily, I was able to poop. This is important, because if you poop on the mountain anywhere other than the potties and Camp Muir, you have to blue bag it and carry it out with you. It was surreal watching everyone get ready to go by headlamp. What was in our packs for the summit bid? All of our warm clothing, enough snacks to get to the summit and back and 2 liters of water. We were expected to be wearing our avalanche transceivers,our climbing helmets, headlamps, harnesses and our crampons. It was rather warm for Rainier, so must of us chose to wear a base layer and our softshell pants. Our parkas were in easy access positions for when we got to the rest stops. My Garmin had been beeping low battery, so I didn't even try to find satellites.
|The teams getting ready to go.|
|I'm ready. Let's do it.|
The first pitch out of Muir is in the dark. You can't see all that far in front of you, but you can see groupings of other headlamps on the upper mountain of other climb teams pushing for the summit. I cannot even begin to describe the sense of wonder and awe that inspired as I left Camp Muir. My camera was stored in my pocket, it was just too dark to get a good photo here.
This first pitch out of Muir is the one time during the whole climb that I would say I absolutely loved it. It was one of the easier pitches. We had a few crevasses to step over about the width of my desk that were awe-inspiring rather than terrifying for some reason. I just kept saying over and over how awesome it was. We were in a rope team of 4 people, the guide plus 3 clients. We had 30 feet of rope (I think) between each of us. Enough to span a crevasse. This was all glacier travel so we were required to be wearing long sleeves and gloves in addition to everything else. This pitch took us over Cathedral Gap and onto the Ingraham glacier.
|A view of the Ingraham Glacier from the decent, taken from Disappointment Cleaver.|
|A picture of the cleaver from our descent, when it was light out.|
Look closely, the red and blue dots are members of our other rope team descending and give you a scale of the thing.
Adam explained that the buzzing I was hearing was the electricity from the nearby storms causing his metal shovel to buzz. The two lead guides were discussing whether this was the high point of our climb and whether or not the weather was going to require us to turn around. It's hard to describe my feelings at this point. Fear over the electricity and storms, disappointment that this might be it....
After discussion and checking in with teams further up the mountain, the lead guides decided we would go for 15 more minutes and see. Luckily for us, the buzzing stopped and we continued to the top of the Cleaver.
I'm not going to lie. I was ready for a break at the top of the cleaver. Our lead guide told us we were taking a longer break than normal because there was a bottleneck at the ladder section. (It was better to be stopped at a rest stop with our parkas on). When we first stopped at the Cleaver, Wendy threw a fit to have her position in the rope team switched. Then, Adam went through the group one by one to see where we were all at. I said I was okay and good to go on. Inside though, I had major doubts. I had been ready for a break when we stopped. I was nervous about the ladders section. The longer we sat at the rest stop, the more I doubted. I expressed my mental doubts to Wendy. (Pre-climb I'd told her she had to help me be mentally strong). She told me that if I needed to turn around, I should. I doubted myself even more. Enough so, that I called Adam over to talk about being nervous.
He asked what I was nervous about, I said the ladders. He asked how I felt physically. I was honest. I felt good, but I had been tired towards the end of the pitch. By now, one of the other guides, Thomas, had also come over. They asked for a percentage of where I felt. I said when we first got to the break, I felt 75%. Now, I felt 85%. Adam told me he thought I could do it. He told me I could still turn around if I wanted to though. My stepmother wasn't turning around, and I really didn't want to go back down the Cleaver yet, so I said I would go on.
|The team at the top of the cleaver rest stop|
|During the day and the descent looking back up. Better view of the icefall climb above the first vertical ladder|
|The start of the climb over the icefall and the first ladder, a vertical ladder.|
|Me. Crossing the 8 foot horizontal ladder, after the vertical ladder and free climb section|
Once we were through the ladders section, we had to traverse over to the Edmunds glacier to climb the shoulder. The slope was very steep, but we had a dug out path traversing the middle of it (Thank you guides!) The guide short roped us and walked slightly above us. This inspired me to ask "I take it, a fall here would be very bad." He admitted that the slope was steep enough that we would be unlikely to be able to arrest our fall with the ice ax. Yeah, let's not fall. I believe this is where it was lightly snowing as well.
|RMI climb teams on this portion of the route|
|Headed to high break|
Once we turned the corner, we started switchbacks up to High Break. The last rest stop before the summit. I was kind of unreasonably pissed off here. In a rope team, you are supposed to allow the rope to just graze the glacier in front of you. This keeps you from tripping on it if it's too loose, and it keeps you from free-loading off the person in front of you. The rope behind me was tight for most of the climb on the shoulder. It made things much more difficult for me. I think my Dad could tell I was ticked as I came into high break as he tried to tell me how to use my ice ax to dig out a ledge to sit in. (It was too steep to just sit down). Luckily, the lead guide noticed too and dug it for me. When my guide asked me how I was doing, I think my answer was "I'm over this." He asked if I wanted to turn around and I said no, of course. The sun was out now and we could see the sky. A cloud cap was settling in below us though, so the view was some what limited.
|Gearing up at high break|
|It's steeper than it looks!|
|The view from inside the summit crater|
|My Dad, stepmother and I huddled at the summit|
Then we got to down climb the chutes and ladders section. If you want to see my Dad's video of this (it's about 10 minutes long), go HERE. This was beyond terrifying. Plus, the bottleneck at this section meant that I was freezing while I stood in the middle of the horizontal bridge. Shivering. Nothing scarier.
|From above, the start of the chutes and ladders section.|
We took our first of only two upper mountain breaks on the way to Muir at the top of the Cleaver. By now, I was a bit distraught thinking of that down climb. My team went slow and steady and we made it back to the Ingraham glacier and the section known as the bowling alley because of the danger of rocks sweeping people off the mountain. During the Cleaver section, I killed both of my big toes because I'd neglected to tighten my mountain boots enough before the descent. Stupid!
|Rest stop just above the Cleaver.|
|Almost back to Camp Muir. Notice crevasse on my right.|
Nonetheless, we climbed over Cathedral gap and returned to Camp Muir. The normal plan is for an hour break at Camp Muir. Our lead rope team beat us to Camp Muir by 30-40 minutes though, so we didn't really have an hour. I had time to pack all my stuff and refill my water bottle, but not time to actually eat or drink really before we left for the Muir Snowfield. Here, we were back to trekking poles and no rope team though. No crampons or ice axes either. Although I still fell a lot trying to glide down the snow, I was able to keep a quicker pace and halt the panicking. We took one break on the descent from Muir to Paradise to allow people to switch to approach shoes just past the Muir snowfield. I actually switched to my shoes as well because of the beating my toes had taken from my boots. From that point, off the snow, I was able to match the pace of the rest. In fact, when we reached Paradise, we still waited 40 minutes for the other climb team.
In all, including breaks, summit day was 17.5 hours. (This does not include the 4.5 hours to Camp Muir). On the shuttle back to base camp, one of the guides asked me what was harder, running marathons or climbing Rainier. I laughed and said - "Put it this way, I ran my last marathon in 4 hours and 15 minutes. There is no comparison."
|Wendy and I on the Summit.|
Special photo thanks. In addition to my own photos, I used photos from my guide Adam, my Dad and another member of my climb team, Heidi.