Back in November or so, last year, the idea was conceived that a group of people get together to go climb Mount Rainier the following summer. A meeting was organized for all interested parties to get together, have some food & drinks, and discuss the trip. A couple of people had to back out at this point for various reasons, but ultimately we ended up with enough people for two teams. The trip was booked for August, and along came one of those - "that's forever in the future" feelings. Well, the time started ticking near, and the two rope teams were formed. It would be my husband, Jordan (jmc5040) and I on a rope with our good friend Ryan (kushrocks). Bill (wildlobo71) would be on another team, along with Nicole (14erAddict) and Nicole's climbing friend, Tommy. Ryan was busy training for his Denali trip, while the rest of us were reading up on glacier travel and taking our crevasse rescue courses.
The months turn to weeks, and the banter became stronger amongst the group. Hotels and cars were arranged at virtually the last minute, but all was well. Then comes the call you don't want to hear; one member of your team has to back out. Nicole got very sick, and it crushed all our spirits a tad to know that she was not going to make the trip. It now became a team of two - not a problem until it becomes a problem. Tommy had proven to be a very strong member on the rope, with lots of rock climbing skills to go along with a good mountaineering history. In the end, Nicole was missed, but the team of two performed flawlessly.
Saturday, August 2nd rolled around very quickly and Jordan & I met Bill in a park and ride near DIA that morning. Soon after, we were waiting for Tommy at our gate. We would meet Ryan at Camp Muir, where he would make a pit stop to rope up with us during his 2nd "Rainier in a day" trip. All four of us were very anxious and nervous, as we had been reading a lot of reports recently about a new crevasse that opened up above the Disappointment Cleaver that was causing quite a number of groups to turn around. We all were hoping that enough days had passed that allowed the guides to rig something up to help us avoid any issues or prevent us from summitting.
After a short time, we were on the plane en route to Seattle. Jordan and I were able to snag seats on the left side of the plane, as recommended, so that we could see Mt. Rainier during our descent into Seattle. Seattle was very cloudy during our descent, but luckily we were able to sneak a peak of the summit before we descended below the clouds. The mountain was so big, and those anxious feelings I had suppressed were making their way back up to the surface. I could feel the butterflies forming in my stomach...
Mt. Rainier from plane
After landing, getting our bags and rental cars, the four of us met back up at REI near SeaTac to grab a few essentials before heading to Puyallup, where we would stay Saturday night. Once in Puyallup, we checked into our hotel, grabbed some free cookies in the lobby, and headed to Puyallup River Alehouse for pre-climb drinks & dinner. They had a good number of different local brews on tap, as well as some other beer from across the country. For dinner, they didn't have a big selection, but we all indulged in some of their "gourmet" hot dogs that they had on the menu. For me, it was a Mac & Cheese Hot Dog. Two of my favorite childhood foods together. It was delish...
Mac & Cheese hot dog
After dinner, we stopped by the local grocery store so we could prevent having to eat dehydrated meals on the mountain. We got back to the hotel and began the dreaded process of packing a suitcase full of gear into one backpack. The next morning, we grabbed some breakfast at the hotel and drove to the Paradise parking lot in Rainier National Park. It was a gorgeous day - sunny and warm. We were gifted with our first unobstructed views of the mountain, as there were no clouds in the sky yet. We checked in and got our packs ready in the parking lot. From here we were looking at about 9,000 ft of elevation gain to the summit. It was comforting knowing we only had to get to Camp Muir today before we got a good rest.
Getting geared up at Paradise
Four of us ready to start our ascent to Camp Muir (photo by Bill)
The hike up to Camp Muir was beautiful. Gorgeous wildflowers, spectacular views of the mountain, and fantastic weather.
Mt. Rainier on a rest stop; Tommy taking in the views
About an hour and a half into our hike, we found ourselves crossing Pebble Creek and stepping onto the incredibly long Muir Snowfield. We took a few snack breaks as we worked our way up the snowfield. All of the people glissading down on the soft snow was entertaining, but the bugs that kept buzzing around were incredibly obnoxious. It took us an additional 2 hours to ascend the snowfield before we made it to Camp Muir at 10,080 feet. It seemed like we were one of the first to arrive at Muir, as the bunks were still empty and there were plenty of pre-dug spots for our tents to choose from. We ultimately chose tent sites, seeing as how we lugged tents up already and we might as well use them. We set up our tents and sleeping bags and got to making dinner. We then climbed up Muir Peak (10,188') above Camp Muir to get our first glimpses of the Paradise and Cowlitz Glacier fields and their crevasses. We got back to our tents for the process of melting snow for the next day. We crawled into our tents early around 6:30pm or so to try to catch a few hours of sleep before Ryan arrived for our wake up call.
Our tents at Camp Muir
Ryan arrived around what I think was 11pm from the Paradise TH and woke us up. He let us "snooze" for an extra hour or so while he rested up and refueled with some food and water. I got word that Jordan, Bill and Tommy didn't sleep that well due to chatter around Camp Muir and excitement, but I slept great - probably the best I've ever slept in a tent. I was very cozy in my sleeping bag and down booties and the hike to Camp Muir must have worn me out enough to help me sleep. I woke up readily, feeling pretty refreshed. I layered up, threw on my mountaineering boots, crampons and harness and clipped into the butterfly knot in the middle of our rope. Jordan would be at the front and Ryan in the back. Tommy led the other team, with Bill following. We left camp by 12:45am and started making our way towards Ingraham Flats. Just above Ingraham Flats, we would face our first crevasse ladder crossing. A fixed hand line was in place to the left, but it wasn't really needed as the snow was still firm, resulting in a stable bridge. Seeing the first crevasse in the dark spooked me a little bit because the reality set in that I was on a glacier, surrounded by some real danger.
First crevasse crossing in the dark (photo by Bill)
After passing this spot, we step foot onto the Disappointment Cleaver, which was looser than I anticipated. We shortened up the rope separating each of us, and worked our way up. The route was wanded, but we found it difficult in some spots to stay on route on the Cleaver since it was so dark. We quickly found the route again anytime we got off. Finally, we stepped back onto the glacier and kept moving along. Around 12,600' we reached the big crevasse we had read so much about the week preceding our climb. Our first obstacle was a crevasse with a vertical ladder set up that you had to climb up, immediately followed by the second obstacle which was another crevasse with a ladder bridge set up. The guides had also set up some fixed lines in this section for a little extra security. Tommy and Bill made their way up and over these obstacles, followed by our team of three. There were great metal rods which aided in setting up some belays for each member as they made their way over the more tricky sections. Once we got past this section, I hit a mental wall. I was convinced I wasn't going to make it to the summit and actually considered turning around. All of the guys were great and talked me back into my senses and told me to just push along for 5 more minutes and see how I felt. So, I did. And I got my groove back. Shortly after, we were all treated with an AMAZING sunrise. It was truly one of the most beautiful sunrises I've ever seen. The mountain was washed with orange and red. We paused for a short time to take photos and take in the amazing scenery. It was the first that we were seeing the route in light - we were finally able to turn off our headlamps.
Sunrise on the mountain
We still had over 1,000' of elevation to gain from here, and with daylight arriving, we knew we had to keep pushing. It seemed like forever until we were finally coming up to Paradise Crest on the southern edge of the crater rim at about 7:30am (14,200'). It was a HUGE relief to be almost there. But at the same time, Columbia Crest was looming across the crater. I was so exhausted at this point, the thought of walking across the crater and gaining that last 200 feet to the high point of the mountain seemed impossible. Most of us dropped our packs in the crater before making our way up, but for some reason I wanted to bring mine with me. So along I went... slowly. Finally, I made it to Columbia Crest - the last one to arrive. I was on the summit of Mt. Rainier!! Holy crap!! It felt amazing. I dropped my pack, threw on my down jacket, and sat down to eat some M&M's and a bar. I looked over to find half of our group taking a nap on the summit, so I got up and took a walk around the summit to enjoy the views. 45 minutes later, the nappers finally awoke. We took our individual summit shots and got ready for our descent. We had a massive fail, in that we didn't get a group summit shot. We all dropped the ball on that one - oops!
Napping on the summit
Me & Jordan on the summit
Bill on the summit (photo by Bill)
Tommy on the summit (photo by Tommy)
Ryan on the summit (sorry, Ryan - only pic I could find on your facebook!)
At about 9am, we were making our way back across the crater to our stash of packs, where we re-roped and got ready for the descent to Camp Muir.
Mt. Rainier's crater (photo by Bill)
Gearing back up on the crater before our descent (photo by Tommy)
Little Tahoma Peak on descent (photo by Bill)
Ryan - kind of a big deal
It was crazy seeing the massive crevasses the route took us around now that it was daylight. There was one that we did a two-step across on the ascent, but now that it was a little softer, the center "bridge" didn't feel stable enough. A leap was now required to get across since none of us trusted the snow bridge. It was quite scary, but we were all successful. Some of us even got the camera out for a snapshot as they jumped over.
Descending, amongst many crevasses
A small leap over a crevasse (photo by Bill)
We soon reached the crux of the route again - the two crevasse crossings, one right after another. The first ladder bridge crossing was fine, but downclimbing the vertical ladder proved a little tricky. The top and bottom rungs were broken, so we had a make a couple of long reaches with our legs. And, for me, it was a little more difficult since I'm so short!! The ladder was anchored well, but moved freely, which was a little nerve-wrecking. Some of us needed a little coaching downclimbing the ladder, but we were all successful.
Tommy reaching the crux of the route (photo by Bill)
Selfie while crossing the ladder bridge over a crevasse (photo by Bill)
Jordan climbing down the vertical ladder (photo by Bill)
Jordan belaying Ryan down the vertical ladder
Once we got back onto the Cleaver, we took advantage of the fairly safe spot to sit and rest. It gave us an opportunity to look up at the upper DC route we had just passed through, and I'm pretty we all had to pick our jaws up off the ground. It was so broken and, looking closely, we could see the ladders that we had crossed right in the middle of it all. Ryan has climbed the DC route twice before this time, and he said he has never seen the route like this.
A very broken glacier we just descended through. You can see the two ladders in the crux section if you look closely
A rest break on Disappointment Cleaver
The last half of the descent to Camp Muir was a blur, as all of us were pretty beat and tired by that point. Our big dilemma at this point was whether we wanted to camp another night at Muir and rest, or if we wanted to head back to Paradise that evening for a hotel with a real bed and a shower. Heading back to Paradise would add 4+ miles to the already 11+ miles on our feet for the day. We decided to focus on getting back to camp. Once there, we would rest for a couple of hours and decide then. Getting to camp was a great feeling - I was able to take off my boots (and discover some massive heel blisters), and lay down for a bit. Ryan kept descending to Paradise and we rested for about 2 hours. We ultimately decided to leave. Another night of Ramen and snow melt water didn't sound enticing, so we packed up camp and started making our way down to Paradise. It was about 7:30pm by time we got everything packed up and left Camp Muir. The descent started out pretty rough for me - my heel blisters and bruised toe nails were really getting in the way of moving quick. The boys were having a blast boot skiing down the soft snow on the Muir Snowfield. Before long, I joined in on the fun and my heel blisters stopped hurting. It definitely made for a quick descent of the snowfield. Just before reaching Pebble Creek again, we reached a steep downhill section on the snowfield. The boys all glissaded or boot skiied down this section and I was at top trying to find a good spot to hike down. After a short time searching, I decided glissading would be a better option - I was trying to avoid it because I've never glissaded before, but I sent my pack down to the boys, sat down and then down I went. It was a blast and the snow was very slick so I flew down that slope pretty quickly. SO FUN!
Once back on a dry trail, I could feel my toes and heel blisters hurting again - my pace slowed. The sun was starting to lower, casting a beautiful orange glow on the Tatoosh Range in the distance. We stopped for a quick group photo before the sun disappeared. At this point, Tommy & Bill went ahead to try to get to the parking lot before dark. Jordan & I dragged along behind at the fastest pace my sore feet could handle. We accidentally got on a different trail on the descent than we took up, but it did eventually curve back around to end up at the Paradise parking lot. It did get dark enough to pull out a head lamp before we made it back, but it wasn't too long after that we saw the lights of the Paradise area shining in the close distance. They got closer and closer and finally we were walking down the steps that we walked up about 36 hours prior when we started. It was about 10pm when we made it to the car - Bill & Tommy had arrived about 20 minutes earlier. It was a great feeling to get our packs and boots off. We drove back to the Puyallup area and after many calls, found what seemed like the only hotel with availability. After a quick stop at the first open gas station for gatorade and snacks, we were checking into the hotel. We all just wanted to sleep, but what we all wanted more was a shower. We took turns showering and soon after, laid our sore and tired bodies down into the most comfortable bed any of us had ever laid in (at least that's what it seemed like!).
Group shot on the descent, minus Ryan (photo by Bill)
Sunset on the Muir Snowfield
Our flight out of SeaTac was not until Wednesday, and it was late Monday night at this point. We spent Tuesday exploring Seattle after a yummy breakfast - spending time at the REI flagship store (and dropping Tommy off to meet his friend with whom he was spending another couple of weeks climbing), the Experience Music Project museum and going up the Space Needle. We had great views of the huge mountain that we had just climbed the day prior. It was surreal seeing it from the Space Needle, knowing we all successfully navigated that broken DC route to stand on its summit. We spent quite some time up there just reflecting before we left. Our plan was to go out that night for drinks and to celebrate, but the small town of Fife that we left Puyallup for (no rooms available in Puyallup) didn't have many options. We ultimately just stayed in the hotel room and drank. It ended up being an earlier night than we anticipated - we were just all so tired still from the climb. The next day, was our day of departure. We spent the morning at Fife's only landmark - the Poodle Dog (a greasy spoon opened in 1933) for breakfast. We then went to Point Defiance Park in Tacoma and drove across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. It was crazy to imagine the bridge ("Galloping Gertie") swaying violently that November day in 1940, before it collapsed. We silently payed our respects to Tubby the cocker spaniel, the only fatality of the collapse.
Seattle & Mt. Rainier from the top of the Space Needle
Following some coffee, we worked our way back to SeaTac to return our rental cars and get to our gate for our flight back to Denver. Upon take-off, we got to say our final goodbyes to Mt. Rainier as it passed by in our window.
In short, the weather was fabulous - almost too hot. The route froze well in the evening, but by the afternoon was a 10 mile long trail of mashed potatoes, that soft melted mushy snow that you sink into a couple inches, slip and slide everywhere on... The crampons on our feet were about half as effective on the descent.
We all wish we had taken twice as many photos (and specifically a group summit shot!). That's the problem with this route as it was when we tackled it - the DC route (Disappointment Cleaver, named for a massive rock feature on the east side of the mountain,) is usually straightforward or is modified a bit by crevassing and glacial movement... this year, the route was chopped up and re-routed in huge ways to avoid humongous ice flow and potential threats. Because of that, our hands weren't as free as we wished they would be. We had a great, strong group and I'm so glad we tackled this mountain. I feel that I grew as a climber - it definitely tested me physically and mentally. But it was a blast and I'm glad I shared this trip with the crew that I was with.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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