This is a Trip Report of my climb of Mt Rainier via the DC Route. I know most dislike the link to external trip reports. However I put together a much more detailed report on my website. I think the more detailed post would be useful to anyone planing a similar climb. I will only include here the summit day narrative, and a few pictures
View of Rainier on Flight in
The guides don’t tell you what time you will be woken up. They do this so that you don’t lay awake and watch the clock. Due to the warm forecast the next day I knew we were in for an early wakeup. Sure enough our guides showed up to wake us up a little after 11:30 PM, yes PM. They brought down boiling water for breakfast and coffee. There was no snoozing and within seconds everyone was out of their bags and scurrying around to get ready for the climb. There was much to do and we needed to be roped up and ready to go by 12:30AM. The guides recommend leaving in just a top base layer and softshell climbing pants. I went with the recommendation and headed for the smelly outhouse to see if I could make some magic happen. As unpleasant as the outhouse is, at least it is private. On the upper mountain you are roped to your teammates at all times, this includes using the restroom. Additionally, all waste must be brought off the mountain in a “blue bag”
The pack you carry to Camp Muir weighs around 40 lbs. Although you don’t really leave anything behind besides your sleeping bag, the pack you carry on the upper mountain is only about 25lbs. You are now just wearing the other 10-15 pounds of gear and clothes (harness, rope, ice axe, crampons, and avalanche transceiver).
We left Camp Muir at around 12:45 AM in a line of bobbing head lamps. I was on the rope team with the lead guide Paul, and fellow climbers Mark and Dave. The first section was a traverse of the Cowitz Glacier. It started as an easy warmup for about 45 minutes. The last part up and through the Cathedral Gap was pretty steep. We took our first break at Ingram Flats where a few climbers decided to turn back. We could see a couple of groups ahead of us already nearing the top of the Disappointment Cleaver.
After the first break we crossed the Ingraham Glacier where we got to hop over our first “cracks”. This is a pretty flat section but you move at a very fast pace. You need to clear the area as quickly as possible as ice fall is a real hazard here. Even in the dark you could see refrigerator and house sized chunks of ice that had fallen near the route. Below the route some impressive crevasses yawned, waiting to swallow climbers unlucky enough to be knocked down the slope by falling ice.
Directly after the icefall you reach the Disappointment Cleaver and its rockfall hazard. We paused in a relatively sheltered area to shorten the rope interval. This area is not a glacier so you can travel closer together which improves speed. The Disappointment Cleaver begins with a traverse of a steep snow field, then you turn and climb a long steep rib of mixed ice and loose rock. There was quite a bit of snow here which eased this section a bit. The rock sections were difficult class two, maybe low class three, however walking on rock in crampons is like climbing with high heals on and certainly does not make you feel confident in your foot placements. For the sections of the Cleaver that were snow covered the path was quite thin, which required much care as not to catch your crampons on your pantleg. The Cleaver took about 1.5 hours, and overall, climbing it was not bad at all. Although I was only wearing a base layer I had worked up quite a sweat through that section. We took our second break at the top of the Cleaver. As we topped the ridge where we took our break the temperature dropped and the wind picked up significantly. Even with my down coat and mittens on I was shivering hard by the end of break. I decided to add another layer before heading out. The first signs of light were appearing over the glow from Yakima, and the spreading color in the sky was punctuated by a sliver of a moon. I wished I had a tripod and some time to capture the view.
After we got through this series of cracks we turned a switchback to see the Independence Day sun breaking over the Eastern horizon. The soft light painted a sea of clouds below us with hints of pink and purple. Breaking through the clouds were Mt Adams, Mt Hood, and Mt St Helen’s. I begged the guides to let me stop for 30 seconds to snap a couple of pictures, but they felt it was unsafe and we needed to keep moving. A little after 5AM we arrived at ‘high break’ which is essentially some shelves that have been shoveled into the steep snow. Much care had to be taken here as you removed items from your pack. It would be very easy for the strong wind to take a glove or a water bottle to rocket down the steep slope. We applied cold sunscreen to our cold faces and got out our sunglasses. I managed to snap a couple of good pictures before the color completely faded from the clouds.
The route above high break was steep but unremarkable and seemed to go quickly. A combination of the following factors makes this mountain feel like it is much higher than a 14er: you are nearly 13,000ft above anything around, at least 5K above the cloud deck, 9K above treeline, and 9K above snowline. Climbing 14ers has become rather routine, but this felt as if I were far from home on a much bigger mountain. It was an exhilarating feeling indeed. The terrain eased a bit, and I could sense that the summit was close. I had a surge of energy and wanted to rush ahead to stand on top, but I maintained my rope interval and slowly and methodically rest stepped upward. Then at around 6AM we were over the crater rim. A quick step over a final crack and we were standing inside the summit crater.
Sunrise from high break
Sunrise over MT Adams
Me On Summit
Crossing Cracks on the Emmons Glacier
Descending Emmons Glacier
Descending the cleaver
Crossing Rockfall Hazard Ingrahm Glacier in background
Once inside the crater rim it was safe to unclip from the ropes. We dropped our packs, slipped on our down parkas and exchanged excited congratulations. The guides tempered our exuberance by cautioning that we were only halfway done.
Rainier’s summit has two overlapping volcanic craters, each over 1,000 feet in diameter . It also has a small crater lake that is 16 feet deep. This is the highest crater lake in North America. The lake however, lies beneath 100 feet of ice in the summit crater . It can only be visited by following a network of ice caves in the craters.
Surrounding the crater are three separate summits–14,411-foot Columbia Crest, 14,158-foot Point Success, and 14,112-foot Liberty Cap. The Disappointment Cleaver route reaches the crater crest at 14,150 feet. Several climbers opted for a long break while the rest of us grabbed our ice axes and made the remaining quarter mile (260ft) hike across the crater and up to Columbia Crest.
On top of the Columbia Crest we reflected on and relished in our accomplishment as we snapped photos and signed the summit register. The views from here were of another world. I had put in eight months of hard work to get to this moment. Finally standing on top of this great mountain was a really intense feeling that is impossible to describe.
In total, eighteen climbers and six guides left Paradise. Six climbers from team A (my team) and seven from team B reached the summit.
Shortly before 7AM we roped up once again, and the air of celebration was replaced with focus on the work ahead. Even though the sun had only been up for a couple of hours it was already warming the slopes below us. As the temperature rises snow bridges become soft and more likely to collapse under your weight. The soft snow also does not hold a crampon firmly which makes a slip and fall more likely. The upper Emmons glacier was still pretty firm and we were able to descend rapidly. When we reached the worst of the crevasse hazards we clipped into fixed lines or snow pickets, which we had not done on the ascent.
It took us about an hour to reach the top of the cleaver where we took a break. It was already quite hot so I stripped down to my base layer and zipped open the legs of my climbing pants. The descent of the Cleaver was considerably less fun than the ascent. The firm snow was now complete slush. Every step you had to use a lot of care and anticipate the fact that you were going to slip and slide around. The guides decided they needed to try to open up the route somewhat, so they took out shovels and worked to widen the path as we descended. This slowed our progress some, but gave me the opportunity to get some pictures with my iPhone.
Once we were down the Cleaver we sped across the Ingrahm glacier and to ingrahm flats where we took our final break for the morning. I had lost my appetite but I forced down a pack of shot blocks in an attempt to keep my energy levels up. The temperature was now uncomfortably hot, and I was once again stuffing snow down my shirt.
We arrived back at Camp Muir at around 11AM, 11.5 hours since we had left for the summit. It seemed as if we had been on the upper mountain for two days. Back in camp we rehydrated and stuffed our wet dirty gear back into our packs. I kicked off my boots and laid down for a minute in the cool shade of my bunk. The other climbers lounged around the rocks for 30 minutes or so. At around noon Paul came down from the guide hut and ordered us to shoulder our packs and head down.
He offered some words of encouragement “I am not going to lie, this part sucks, so lets get to it.”
With that we were off. I found this section half miserable and half fun. The snow was soft and the slope non threatening so you could just let loose and really haul down hill. Descending slowly doesn’t make it suck less, it just makes it suck longer. The sun was brutal by this point and the clouds below offered promise of shade and cooler temps. Even though my altimeter ticked off the feet at a rapid rate the clouds never seemed any closer. Finally at around 6,500 we entered the cloud and it felt fantastic. Other than the cooler temps the last hour sucked. As we neared Paradise the crowds on the snowfield increased exponentially. The lower we got the less prepared and more freaked out the hikers looked. By the time we neared the parking lot there were Asian tourists in dresses and slick bottom shoes clinging to the rope hand rails for dear life.
We reached the parking lot at around 2:30PM, exactly 14 hours after we began our summit bid. I COULD NOT WAIT to exchange my heavy mountaineering boots for a pair of flip flops. My feet felt so free and yet so sore. The ride back to Ashford sucked! The bus absolutely wreaked of smelly climbers. The Ibuprofen and 5hour energy I had taken at Camp Muir were churning in my stomach, and the winding road was to much. I closed my eyes and fought the nausea for an excruciating 45 minutes.
Back at base camp we did a closing ceremony while I choked down a bacon cheese burger. The food settled my stomach so I bid adieu to my fellow climbers and headed for Puyallup and the promise of a comfortable bed.
Preparing to climb Rainier has been a dominating and driving force in my life ever since I committed to the trip last October. I really enjoyed the sense of purpose and direction that this climb gave me. The time on Rainier was one of the most fun and rewarding experiences of my life. I really expected it to suck a lot more than it did. It was awesome how a group of strangers who share a passion for the mountains could come together and quickly form a strong bond. You are in close quarters with fellow climbers and must trust your life to your rope partners on the upper mountain. The sense of wonder and adventure I had on this mountain made me feel like a kid visiting the top of a mountain for the first time. I can only hope my next adventure is as good as this.
I owe a lot of thanks to my wonderful wife Angela who has allowed me to focus my energy on preparing for this. She was very supportive, and has also worked hard to keep in shape enough to accompany on many hikes, including some tough winter ascents that she did not enjoy.
Want more? Please watch this short video of my time on the mountain
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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