Jumping the Void - Success and Failure on Rainier - Part 3 of the Road Trip
I don't care what anyone says but climbing Rainier by any route, technical or not, is tough. It's like climbing 2-3 14'ers in two days with an approach bag on the first day. It has over 9,000 ft. of elevation gain. It's a total different game then what we have in Colorado. You have to worry about huge gaping crevasses while the weather is a totally different game. Yes, we do have 54 14'ers and that's great! But there is so much climbing outside of Colorado. A lot better climbing is out there. Whether that is rock/ice climbing or alpine climbing. It's about the adventure. Personally, Rainier is one of my favorite peaks. I think it just about beats out any 14'er. It's the perfect training ground for bigger peaks which is what I want.
I have never been a fan of guiding. Sure, I would love to be a guide for RMI or something but being guided seems to be totally against what I believe climbing truly is – adventure. I have always had Rainier in the back of my head. I think every climber does. This mountain is huge. It stands out so much. It looks quite intimidating in so many ways. I had been eyeing out so many routes on it. I wanted something technical to satisfy my vertical needs. I had three routes in my head – Liberty Ridge, Ptarmigan Ridge, and the Kautz Glacier Route. At the same time I wanted a route that my two partners wanted to do. I didn't want to do something that was committing above their comfort. We also needed to move efficient if we were to do the Liberty or Ptarmigan which I didn't have confidence in with our roped team.
I originally planned to head to the Cordillera Blanca in Peru in July/August but things changed since I don't have all the money in the world. I spend it all on climbing. I chose Aconcagua instead this next winter to prep for Everest. I think every climber wishes he could have all the money he needed to support his/her trips.
To sum things up, I ended up choosing the Kautz Glacier route. It has two easy "ice" pitches on it. After me and Jeff got done rock climbing in Smith Rock, OR we headed to Paradise to meet up with Michael who drove separate. He just wanted to climb Rainier. I drove to the limit and soon noticed the gas light came on close to the trailhead. I knew there was no gas station in quite a while. Me and Jeff ended up driving to Ashford in Michael's truck for my mistake. There I got my food for the climb. The forecast looked interesting. It was not good but not bad. We chose to go for it after we got our permits. The rangers told us there was 140% more snow than usual. We were excited.
When we started the approach the next day it was quite long. Crossing the Wilson glacier was easy but not the 40 to 50 degree slopes with a 60 pound pack on my back. The day was hot with what seemed to be 90 degree weather. I forgot to put on sunscreen on top of that.
Crossing the Wilson Glacier
We got to camp at about the Turtle snowfield and it was a clear sunset. The summit was looking good.
Sunset at Camp
We went to bed and I woke up at about 2 for our starting time to only my tent being blasted by high winds. My hopes for the summit were going down. I got out of the tent and it was a whiteout. We talked to a couple guys saying the weather forecast went for the worst and is going to be this way for the next couple of days. The wet snow was starting to collect and we instantly starting packing up . . . depressed. It was like getting slapped in the face. That ended up being a very smart choice. A few days later there were some slides covering the route. I knew we needed to get down the steep prone parts fast. That's the day one climber unclipped from the rope and was never seen again sadly.
The descent was pretty miserable but pretty interesting. We navigated the glacier and were soon back at Paradise soaked. Everything was drenched. We were all pretty sad. The main goal of the trip and we did not make it to the top. As I later found out the weather this last winter on Rainier has been better than this Spring/Early summer. Every week it has been plastered by a storm is what many said. I felt like I was doing a winter climb of this peak with this horrible weather.
I was then shocked to hear that Michael was already leaving after only two days out in WA. He stated he wanted to get back to climb some 14'ers in CO. He is planning on finishing all the 14'ers here soon. But we had been planning this trip for months and for him to go back so soon shocked me. Everyone has their own priorities and maybe he did not want it as bad as me and Jeff. We asked him if he was sure he wanted to do that. We were planning to head to Forbidden Peak to do an alpine rock climb but me and Jeff canceled it to make another attempt of Rainier as a two man roped team. We wanted Rainier bad.
After a couple days of eyeing the weather very closely and drying out everything we decided on two days that had good weather. We chose the Ingraham Glacier direct. It was not that hard of a route and it was really crowded. We didn't care though. We wanted to make another attempt of that mountain by the easiest way.
I was daunted those two days of rest of this mountain. I wanted to go on with the road trip with a summit. We finally found the weather window and headed up to Paradise from Tacoma. I was nervous. We got our Permit again and relaxed the rest of the night in Paradise Inn. Many of the climbers there hated me for this but I slept in "paradise" that night. We asked the front desk and slept in the nice couches in the lobby in a nice warm room for FREE! We woke up at 2 the next morning and starting making the approach to Camp Muir. It was a whiteout on the way up until we excited the clouds at about 8500 ft. We then got all the sun and warm weather. The views were tremendous. I felt like I was on Denali with the cloud formations.
Me at Camp Muir
The approach to Camp Muir was long but we soon reached it and were very happy with how the climb was going so far. We went into the bunkhouse and placed our sleeping bags in them. I was all for using the tent but I knew it would be loud with the wind. I was all for a better nights rest for summit day. So I took what I got. I felt like I was abusing what climbing was sleeping there. The rest of that day was spent relaxing and me teaching Jeff the complex way of crevasse rescue with a two man team. He learned it quite fast and I put him to work by falling down a steep safe slope while he self arrested and hauled me up. Its way harder doing it by yourself while on self arrest.
Jeff coming up to Camp Muir
I was nervous about the weather and was hoping it would be good. We spent the rest of the day sleeping. I set my alarm for midnight and soon I awoke to it and two other climbers about to get ready to head out. I could hear the wind howling. I soon got sad. Two of the climbers turned back from it. I snoozed my alarm for another hour hoping it would improve. I then decided that the weather is going to get better. I just have to tough these first few hours out. I had looked at so many weather reports and they all forecasted good weather. I had also my friend who specializes in weather telling. He is good and I trusted what he said. We started getting ready and headed out at 1:30.
The weather was not bad at all. It was actually perfect. We crossed the Cowlitz Glacier pretty fast and then up the steep Cathedral Gap. We were soon at Ingraham Flats at over 11k. Things were going good. We were moving fast.
Taken on the Descent. Our Route goes straight up that glacier with many false summits.
We were approaching the guided party. I kept going and Jeff was getting rather upset with me because he wanted to drink water and take a break. I would not stop though and I kept putting one foot in front of the other. Leading a rope team is good in that you get to set the pace. We started up the Ingraham Glacier. I soon looked right off the path and there was a hole someone punched thru. I got nervous. It was the first close crevasse I saw on the route so far. It looked like someone punched thru. I wondered," What's the rest of the route going to be like?" I kept on the going on the steep glacier. Then the crevasses were closer together and huge. I had to jump across a couple and cross a few snow bridges. It was exciting. Me and Jeff were having a blast. I then came up to what looked like a ladder. This was the way - cross a ladder over a huge, deep, exposed crevasse. I got really excited. I told Jeff to be ready to self arrest and to watch me and then made my way across. I could not see where the crevasse bottom was. It didn't end. I got across and yelled," That was awesome." I then felt like I was going up the Khumbu Icefall on Everest with that. Jeff looked at me like I was crazy for walking across it.
We kept going and passed many more crevasses and navigated around or jumped over them. We soon were off the extreme glaciated part and were on the switchbacks to the summit. We passed many more parties and were towards the front of the "traffic" jam. There was a party ahead of us that were stopping after every step. They would take a break constantly. I kept getting upset looking for a way to pass. Everyone was getting upset. Then one of the climbers on the roped team above fell and was sent for a fall with a crevasse below him. I think he tripped. The whole team self arrested and he stopped. One of the guides for RMI got extremely mad and started saying," You guys should not be here, this is serious!" It reminded me of just how serious climbing is. You have to be focused of every step and your surroundings.
We passed them and there had to be a million false summits. It was starting to get on my nerves. But soon we reached the crater rim with many more crevasse crossings. We ditched our packs and the rope and headed over to the Columbia Crest – the summit. When we got there we were so happy. It was so gratifying.
Summit! A bit cold
The views were stupendous! It was all worth it and we did it. We got to head out with summit. Soon after a break I told Jeff that we needed to head down before the snow got too soft. I wanted to avoid going over a glacier with sun baking snow. The descent was quite harsh on my legs. I had Jeff lead the way down and followed. After slowly inching our way down we got to the ladder crossing. There was a couple parties on it. They offered me a belay over. I didn't deny the offer. It also provided me with being able to shoot a short HD video of crossing it. You have to watch it!
After another hour we reached Camp Muir. We went to bed and slept for a few hours. We wanted to get down. I packed up and glissaded just about all the way down. Everyone kept asking," Did you summit?" We kept replying yup! We were very happy. We got to Paradise and were starting to realize were going back to Colorado victorious!!!!
We celebrated with a cigar. It was the best one ever on such a good road trip. We met many new friends and many nice people. I'm going back. Now we headed to Wyoming for the last stop on the trip. The Tetons have so much snow right now so that's out of the option since our route focus was alpine rock climbing. All the alpine rock climbing was out of the question so we went with Vedauwoo - the most hardcore sandbagged rock climbing out there I've heard. I'm ready to be humbled! A perfect ending to this road trip. I only want to travel more.
"Jumping the Void" (Crevasse)
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