| Nothing disappointing about Disappointment Cleaver
What a better way to finish of an awesome summer of new and different experiences than standing on top of the Cascades? I’d thought about climbing Rainier for a few years, kind of on-and-off, but didn’t really think it would become a reality this soon. Then I ended up moving to Portland to work for the USGS and… well, I didn’t really have an excuse not to give it a go. My climbing partner from Colorado, Peter, wanted to climb it as well, so that pretty much sealed the deal.
I picked Peter up from the airport on Thursday (8/4) evening and we drove up to Paradise, arriving at around midnight and car-camped there. And by car-camped, I mean I slept in the back of my tiny little Rav4 next to a bunch of gear, and Peter slept outside because (he’s ridiculously tall) he can take it like a man and I needed my beauty sleep. By the way, be forewarned, this trip report will contain lots of sexist jokes, and offensive jokes in general, because that’s how we roll. Long story short, Peter and I became friends by sharing offensive jokes while hiking up to the Cayambe hut in Ecuador in 2009, so you could say that it’s the glue (or rather, the extremely-bomber anchor) that binds us together as climbing partners.
Anyway, we woke up relatively early on Friday and headed to the Ranger Station around 06:40. We waited, along with several other climbers, for the rangers to show up, which they finally did a little after 08:00. After checking in, we drove back to the overnight lot, finalized our gear and (started the hike of death with way-too-heavy packs)... I mean, we headed up the trail. The first part of the hike is actually pretty nice, as we followed the Skyline Trail through some snowfields amidst groves of trees.
1. The start of the death march to Camp Muir. It's just beyond the second little bump on the ridge ahead.
After about an hour of hiking, we were pretty much above the trees and in the sun from here on out. The trail goes up a few more little hills and then cuts back across the ridge that (eventually) leads to Camp Muir before gaining the ridge.
One of the things about the Cascades that I learned from climbing Mt. Hood in June is that volcanoes are effing huge. Well, that’s kind of a “duh” statement, from a geologic perspective, at least… eh, whatever. Anyway, everything is way bigger and way farther away than it looks. The hike up the ridge isn’t terrible … I mean, it could be worse, but towards the end, you start to wonder when the little series of hills is going to end. And then, you see the RMI hut, and you think, “Sweet! I’m almost there!” but it still takes forever to get there.
I am not creative enough to caption this one.
It was mid-afternoon by the time we got there, and there was still plenty to be done, so we found a tent site in what we dubbed the “Trough” – a small area below where the trail begins to traverse across the snowfield. We still needed to melt a lot of water for the night ahead, so we got right on that. In Peter’s words, “snow camping is like 1 part relaxing, 9 parts melting snow to make water.” We melted enough water to have 2L for each of us for our summit attempt, and then started on dinner.
RMI's 5-star hotel that their clients stay at, or something.
Actually, I started making dinner, because a woman’s place is in the kitchen, after all. Peter was a little disappointed the snow was too cold for me to walk around barefoot, and that I hadn’t gone out of my way to get pregnant (I live in Portland and would rather not have sex with hipsters – they’re about on par with livestock, I’d say) – you know, just to complete the image, but he made due.
A woman's place is in the kitchen.
After a dinner of pasta, salmon, and plain tomato sauce that would have tasted like ass any other day of the year (but was pretty decent for a couple of hungry climbers who had just ascended 4500’ with 50lb packs), we retreated into the tent to try and get a couple hours of sleep before waking up at 00:00 to start up the peak. I woke up at 23:30 with the most ridiculous leg cramp ever … seriously, shooting pain in my calf that would NOT GO AWAY. After it finally subsided, I resolved to get as much more sleep as I could before finally getting up for the climb. This, of course, resulted in not getting up until 00:30, and finally starting up the trail at 01:30, way later than we’d planned.
We weren't really sure how to go about the climb -- the route was very obvious and straightforward, but we were presented with a conundrum by the fact that Peter thought it would be better if I led, but that a woman is supposed to walk 10 paces behind a man at all times. Allah/Yaweh/whatever god actually decided that would be rather upset with us. Dubiously, we reasoned that if the man gives the woman permission (or better yet, commands her) to walk in front, that it would not be blasphemous, so we started up the trail.
The first couple of hours of the climb were pretty analogous to the fourth circle of Hell for me … or the third, I don’t know, whichever one King Minos sends the gluttons to. After eating about 80% gluten-free/paleo for over a year, in retrospect, pasta was about the worst option for a pre-summit carbo-load. (*Mental note to freeze-dry a shit-ton of sweet potatoes for my next big trip*) I felt like crap, but I wasn’t breathing hard at all, so I knew it wasn’t the altitude. I just kept climbing, and drinking water, and eventually the pain subsided.
I almost talked myself out of the climb at one point, but my ego, along with the reality that we were climbing DC and could take all friggin’ day on this route if needed, took over and I willed myself upward and onward.
Morning light on Mt. Adams
The sun was beginning to rise as we neared the top of the Cleaver, and finally our efforts were rewarded with some awesome views of the sunrise.
This is what makes it all worth it.
After passing the Cleaver, the route traverses far to the right to avoid a huge mofo of a crevasse before ascending about 1000’ up and heading back to the left. As we got to the top of this section, we met the first teams coming down from the summit. One of them told us we still had 1400’ to go, which was quite possibly the worst part of the whole day. Still, there wasn’t really any reason we couldn’t summit, so we kept on trudging upwards. Someone remind me again why I do this?
Snack time, above the cleaver
After traversing back to the left, I was really beginning to feel the altitude. I almost felt bad for all the Texans who come to Colorado and climb 14ers and are always so winded near the top. Nah, on second thought, I don’t feel bad for them, at all. The remaining climb up to the crater rim didn’t seem as steep, and it didn’t seem like it took that much time (after the traverse) to get up to the crater. It’s a little discouraging to reach the crater and see Columbia Crest WAY THE HELL OVER ON THE OTHER SIDE and know you still have more climbing to do, but after coming all this way, there was no way we weren’t going to go to the true summit.
In the crater
While walking through the crater, Peter asked me what the chances were that Rainier would erupt at that very moment. Being an employee of the Cascades Volcano Observatory, I had firsthand knowledge that the alert levels were all "Normal" as of the previous Monday, but then I realized that we might have been violating divine mandate for the past 9 hours by having me lead the climb. We didn't want to risk further provoking the lord's wrath, so we hurried up the other side. Because, you know, standing on the crater rim (and not in the crater) would make all the difference in the world when that happens.
It was pretty late in the morning, 10:24 PDT to be exact, by the time we actually reached the summit, but man, it was so worth it. The highest peak in the Cascades… nothing compares. Hood was a friggin dwarf compared to this thing. Winds were pretty gusty on the crest, so we descended back into the crater and headed back to the point where the DC route gets to the crater and sat down for some food and water. The descent wasn’t terrible, as the snow was beginning to soften a little (and for all you hardcore mountaineers who are just itching to lecture me about what time to descend … it’s friggin’ DC. It wasn’t in any danger of sliding, and the only rockfall danger is right below the Cleaver and on the very last little section before getting back to Camp Muir). Still, my feet were pretty sore, and the descent was pretty painful.
The sun was bright and the weather was warm, and sometime between 15:00 and 17:00, if I had to guess, we finally got back to our tent at Camp Muir. I wasted no time in getting my boots off and promptly laying down and going to sleep. I woke up again around 19:00 or so, grabbed my hat and a fleece top so I wouldn’t be too cold, and crawled right back into my sleeping bag, where I enjoyed a little shooter of Glenlivet and the rest of my mixed nuts before a well-deserved night of rest.
We woke up the next day (Sunday) and packed up the tent and stuff, then started down towards Paradise around 10:00. Luckily, the snow was soft enough to glissade for most of it, however, neither of us had hard shell pants with us. We fixed this problem by using trash-bags (which we saw other people doing). Essentially, we cut two holes in them and pulled them up like a giant external diaper. It probably looked ridiculous as hell (though not as ridiculous as this abomination of the human race), but it made the descent way, way, way easier.
We finally reached the parking lot a little after 13:00, and quickly loaded up the car and drove out. By far, it was the best weekend of my summer.
Short side note: several other climbers/hikers that I talked to throughout the climb asked me if it was my first time climbing Rainier. As in, I kind of got the impression that it’s analogous to losing one’s virginity or something. Except (climbing Rainier is) way, way more fun, and less awkward.
*Credit for photos 1, 3, 4, 9, 10, and 11 goes to Peter Hamel.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):