| Mt. Rainier - DC route
Date Climbed: July 7,2008
Participants: sdkeil, AZScott, CODave
Elevation Gain: 9000 feet
RT Distance: 17 miles
Total Time: 27 hours
Our trip started in the summer of 2007 when Dave and Scott asked me if I would like to be the third member of their group attempting Mt. Rainier in the summer of 2008. I thought about it for a while and decided why not, I had flown to Seattle numerous times and seeing Mt. Rainier from the plane it was an impressive sight. I mean after all it is just a 14er right? Additionally, we talked about adding a couple of other volcanoes in the area and all of a sudden it seemed like we had another jihad in the works, a "Cascade Range Jihad." The actual climb seemed so far away in the summer of 2007 that I kind of forgot about the idea of Mt Rainier. The summer of 2007 quickly raced by and soon it was the new year, time to start thinking of the logistics: what route, do we go guided or unguided, if we go guided which program, what other mountains should we throw into the mix and what dates would work the best for the chosen peaks? It was quickly decided we should go guided given that none of us have had any experience on glaciers. We chose RMI (Rainier Mountaineering) because Dave and Scott had heard good things about this guide service. We also decided at this time we would do the Ingraham Direct/Disappointment Cleaver 4-day program in July. Early January was also the time Dave and I started our training for this climb, or at least attempted to as there were many weekends this winter where we were stuck at home with high avalanche danger and crappy weather in the Colorado mountains. Scott on the other hand was enjoying the Arizona winter hiking season and was getting in quality climbs. During this time I had been getting conflicting information on how difficult this climb would be as some said it was on par with Colorado 14ers, however after reading a thread on 14ers.com I started to realize this climb was going to be much tougher then any Colorado 14er.
Fast forward to the end of June, I started gathering all my gear together and realized there was a lot of gear and that some how it had to get to Seattle. Dave chose to FedEX some of his stuff, I just chose to check two large bags and hoped the airlines would not ruin my vacation by losing my luggage or charging me an insane amount of money.
I met Dave early on the morning of July 4th at his house and his girlfriend dropped us off at the airport for an early flight. Everything went smooth, luggage all arrived and we met Scott in the Seattle airport, his flight landed within ten minutes of ours. The Seattle area was clouded over and remained that way for the entire drive to Ashford so we were left with the short glimpse of Mt. Rainier that we had seen from the airplane.
Arriving at the Rainier basecamp in Ashford.
After settling into our room, we had an orientation meeting with our lead guide and the other people that would join our hike. Our group was comprised of two guys from Tennessee (J.D. and George), who introduced themselves as alcoholics as they were drinking beer, a couple of Canadian guys (Marty and John), a Florida girl who had never seen snow before (Alex), a mother of three from Ohio (Cindy) and our lead guide Chad. Dave, Scott and I were the only ones who have ever used an ice axe and crampons before, so we initially questioned why these people wanted to climb this mountain. After a quick gear check and a short video about the climb we were done for the night.
This day started off with meeting one of our two associate guides and a 40-minute bus ride up to the Paradise trailhead where we arrived with the mountain still shrouded in the clouds. There was a steady rain coming down so we all changed into our rain gear, grabbed our ice axes and headed out onto the snow for a 45 minute hike to a nice gentle snow slope. It was a weird feeling being on snow and it raining, add in an air temp around 50 degrees and it felt like we were in a sauna at times.
Our group gearing up before heading out into the rain for our training day.
There the guides instructed the group in snow travel, rest step, pressure breathing, crampon usage and self-arrest techniques and although for Dave, Scott and I a fair amount of this was review it still contained useful information. After a quick lunch we learned rope travel techniques, something we looked forward to learning since we may need it later in the trip for Mt. Hood. Quickly the day came to an end and we found ourselves back at base camp drying out clothing and making final adjustments to our packs for our summit climb.
It was finally time for our trip to begin. The weather was still cloudy, but the weather reports called for the clouds to burn off and the sky to remain cloudless for our summit attempt on Day 4. We met the RMI bus at 8:15 am (a late start by mountaineering standards), took a couple group shots and it was off to Paradise trailhead again at ~5400 feet.
The necessary pre-climb group shot, from left to right:
back row - Rob (guide), J.D., Cindy, Alex, Marty, John, Chad (guide)
front row - AZScott, George, sdkeil, CODave, Eric (guide)
Although not raining this time, there was a low cloud cover and it was still muggy and warm. The time was 9:30 am and we were finally ready to go. The guides kept the pace very reasonable knowing the round trip distance was 17 miles and there was over 9000 feet of elevation to gain. They kept the group going at a slow and steady pace for about an hour after which time we took a 10-15 minutes break.
The group heading out of paradise.
The destination for Day 3 was camp Muir at ~10,060 feet. At our first break the clouds suddenly lifted and Rainier revealed itself to the group for the first time.
Our first look at Mt. Rainier as the clouds lifted.
We all stood in awe as this giant stood towering 8000 feet above us, I think for some of us the reality of the difficulty of this climb had finally set in. The rest of the morning/afternoon went by fairly routinely, hike for an hour and then break. Down low the trail was mostly snow covered with an occasional section of exposed rock until we reached the Muir snowfield at ~8300 feet and then it was continuous snow to until we reached camp Muir.
George, J.D., AZScott, and CODave follow our guide up the trail with Mt. Rainier in the backgroud.
The sun was unrelenting as we hiked up the snowfield, it seemed like we were in a solar oven and at each stop off came another layer until finally I was down to the base layer and I couldn't take any more off; I don't think I have ever applied that much SPF 50 sunscreen and still got burnt. Alas we had finally arrived at camp Muir, a mere 5 ˝ hours since we had left the Paradise trailhead. The weather was perfect and we all unpacked for the night, let boots air out and took in the late afternoon sun as we prepared to eat our freeze dried meals.
Our group eating dinner and relaxing at Camp Muir after a good days backpack.
R to L - Cindy, sdkeil, George, Marty, J.D., CODave, Alex
After dinner was finished we got an update from our lead guide about tomorrows summit climb and then it was off to the bunkhouse for a restful 4 ˝ hours of sleep.
John, Alex and Cindy all comfortable in their bunks.
This day began at 11:40 am (technically Day 3 for another 20 minutes) when the guides turned on the lights to the bunkhouse; it was at that time we all came to realize our summit day was before us. We all hopped out of our bunks, got dressed for the day, donned our avalanche beacons, topped off our water bottles and grabbed a quick breakfast.
AZScott and Cindy enjoy breakfast before heading out for our summit day.
With boots laced up, crampons attached and climbing harnesses securely fitted we met our guides at the edge of the Cowlitz glacier and prepared to make the final push to the highest point in Washington State. It had been decided the day before that Dave, Scott and I would be on a rope team with the lead guide and our group would be leading the four other RMI groups out of camp Muir. We clipped into our rope and we were off for the summit at 12:40 am. We quickly crossed the Cowlitz glacier and began our accent up to Cathedral Gap and as we looked back across the glacier we saw an impressive line of headlamps leaving camp Muir, each light representing months of training and preparation pushing towards their summit goal. The remaining ~4400 feet from camp Muir to the summit was broken down into three breaks, one at Ingraham flats (~11,200), the next above Disappointment Cleaver (~12,300) and one last break on the open slopes of Mt. Rainier at 13,500. The hike to the first break point was pretty uneventful and went by relatively quickly. As we stopped for our break we soon learned why RMI required people have a heavy down parka. The air was quite brisk and we rapidly cooled down as we sat there refueling and hydrating during our 15-minute break. The start of the next section of the hike was the traverse across to the bottom of Disappointment Cleaver, the most technical/exposed part of the climb. There was a fixed line available for protecting the traverse however our guide was against using it, in fact he cursed its existence. As we made the traverse it was hard to tell the magnitude of the exposure since it was still the middle of the night and our headlamps were not strong enough to illuminate the void that lay below us. The path itself was a thin boot pack of snow, ice and the occasional rock move. The traverse seemed to last no more then a few minutes and then began our ascent up the cleaver. For the next hour we switch-backed the steep snow slopes of the cleaver arriving at our second break a little beat down. This was also the break that the guides huddled up and made a decision about who they thought should turn around. Unfortunately for two members of our group of nine, the guides felt they had reached their high point. Both Alex and Cindy were encouraged to turn around at this point and reluctantly agreed. After another quick 15 minute break we stowed our down parkas and moved onto the upper mountain where the Ingraham and Emmons glaciers come together. Here the slope angle eased a bit as we steadily climbed to our last break. As we made it to our last break the sun was just starting to rise and I couldn't wait for the warmth of the sun's rays to hit me.
The sunrise as seen from our high break at 13,500. Little Tahoma can be seen below.
Our break site was on the side of the mountain so our guides used a couple ice axes to anchor our rope. Within a few minutes the remaining RMI teams also made it to the break site and started to settle into their 15-minute break. As J.D. dug into his pack and pulled out his down parka a water bottle that had been sitting on top of it fell out onto to the icy slopes. The bottle instantly shot down the mountain a couple hundred feet and slid into a crevasse, it was amazing how fast that nalgene had gained speed. Another couple minutes went by when all of a sudden we hear "shit" in a deep southern drawl, we all look up to see yet another nalgene shoot down the mountain and into a crevasse. Our guide asked whose water bottle was that and once again J.D. answered it was his, so in a matter of a five minute span he had lost all the water he had planned to carry for his summit attempt. Later he joked about how he just wanted to be the first guy to summit without carrying any water. Moving beyond the excitement of watching what happens when a polycarbonate water bottle meets icy snow, we geared up for the last 900 feet of the climb. At this point we all knew we were going to make it, it was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Soon after starting the last section I looked up and I saw bare rock above us, I asked myself if that could be the crater rim. I kept telling myself it couldn't be, it seemed too close to be the summit and at this point I didn't need the disappointment of a false summit. We quickly closed in on that bare rock and I kept waiting to see something else behind it, however it never materialized; it was crater rim. After reaching the rim we dropped into the snow covered crater and took off our packs. The scenery was like nothing we had ever seen before; it was more of like being a different planet and not a mountain. We took a short break, congratulated each other and then made our way over to the far side of the crater and ascended a short slope to reach the highest point on Mt. Rainier, Columbia Crest a short six hours after leaving camp Muir.
Looking towards the east from the top of Columbia Crest, the far crater wall is visible.
Looking to the south the second highest peak in WA State can be seen, Mt. Adams at 12,276 ft.
The sky was cloudless and the sun was warming us with its rays, unfortunately it was accompanied by 40+ mph winds. With our down parkas on you could literally lean back and the wind would keep you standing up right. The views were absolutely amazing, you could see Seattle to the north and to the south you could see Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson. After taking a myriad of pictures we made our way down to the summit register and as I was waiting my turn to sign I couldn't help but reflect back onto the last year and a half. This trip was actually a trip that Dave, Scott and David (TalusMonkey) had planned last year, a trip that never took place because of David's accident. I thought about how thankful I was for my friends Dave and Scott and the opportunity I had been given to sign this register, but yet how it was unfair that David never had the chance. Although it went unspoken, I think as the three of us signed the register we were filled with both happiness and sadness. After signing the register it was back to our packs and down the mountain we went. There were two breaks planned for the descent, one at the top of the cleaver and one at Ingraham flats.
A look back at the upper mountain and the route taken to reach the summit.
The descent went relatively quickly and soon we were at the Disappointment Cleaver traverse, however this time we could see the exposure and I could see why some people might want to use the fixed lines.
A look at the start of the descending Disappointment Cleaver traverse, the fixed line can be seen on the right side of the trail.
Unfortunately this area is also a rock fall area so if you use the fixed line it may reduce the chances of a fatal fall, however it exposes the group to increased rock fall danger since the group has to move more slowly. We again chose to not to use the fixed line and quickly made it across the traverse. Personally other then a little exposure there is nothing much to this section.
Chad, our guide, stands on the far side of a crevasse that had opened up on the Ingraham Glacier. Ingraham flats can be seen in the top left of this picture.
A view of the upper portion of the Ingraham glacier as seen from Ingraham flats. On the center right side a group can be seen finishing the traverse of Disappointment Cleaver.
Our rope team prepares to descend the rocky slopes leading down from Cathedral Gap, as seen from Camp Muir.
At 10:30 am we crossed the Cowlitz glacier and arrived back to a warm and sunny camp Muir.
The homestretch, CODave, AZScott and myself finish the traverse of the Cowlitz glacier and arrive back to Camp Muir.
CODave, AZScott, and I after making it back to Camp Muir.
We took about an hour and a half to rest, relax, soak in some rays, refuel and pack up our backpacks with the gear we had left at camp Muir. The remaining descent was a mixture of slide stepping and glissades down the Muir snowfield followed by snow and broken trail below pebble creek.
The girls enjoying a good glissade.
We arrived back at paradise at 2:30 pm where our bus was waiting to take us back to the basecamp.
One last look back at Mt. Rainier from the parking lot of Paradise, as we exit the mountain it started to head back into the clouds.
After a 9000 ft descent it never felt so good to get out my double mountaineering boots and into some comfortable sneakers. Once at base camp we all showered, changed into some comfortable clothes and walked over to the local general store where picked up some 40s of Rainier beer (we made sure we got the paper bag too, for insulative purposes of course). We met the rest of our climbing group for burgers and pizza and reflected back on the last four days.
Seven of the nine of us had made the summit and through the four days I learned there were many different reasons members of our climbing group wanted to summit this mountain from state high pointing, dealing with life's difficult moments, it sounded cool, to pushing their mountaineering skills to the next level. I think we all left that night knowing it probably wont be the last time we will all climb together and maybe that's the real reason we all climb.
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