Peak(s):  Mt. Rainier - 14,411 feet
Date Posted:  06/16/2009
Date Climbed:   06/11/2009
Author:  Aubrey
 Mount Rainier  

Mount Rainier is the highest peak in the Cascade Range, the highpoint of Washington, and the tallest volcano and fifth-highest mountain in the contiguous United States. Its 26 glaciers – covering 35 square miles – make it the most glaciated peak in the lower 48 states. The mountain was originally known as Tahoma, which means "mother of waters." It has a topographic prominence of 13,211 feet, which is greater than some Himalayan peaks.

Starting Point: Paradise
Basecamp: Camp Muir
Ascent Route: Ingraham Direct
Descent Route: Disappointment Cleaver

*Most photos, especially pans, look best when viewed large.

My headlamp was just bright enough to illuminate a few feet of the glacier right in front of me, while the waning moon cast an eerie blue glow on everything else. It felt like we were walking in a different world.

As we slowly marched up the Ingraham Glacier, I planted steps carefully and deliberately. The only thing I could hear was the sound of my crampon spikes scuffing into the ice.

Jen and I were in the middle of our four-person rope team, with our guide, Erik, in the front and Bruce, a Forestry Service retiree, in the back. Communication was simplified to one- or two-word shouts, as we were each separated by about 30 feet of rope.

Behind us, the sun slowly rose above a deck of clouds.


When I saw the rope slacken in front of me, I knew Erik was either encountering an obstacle or steeper terrain. While waiting for the rope to tighten back up, I took advantage of the extra seconds by checking out my surroundings. It was incredible, and unlike anything I have seen before.

Photo of the Ingraham Glacier (our route went up somewhere in the middle of that mess), taken later that day from Disappointment Cleaver:


We continued up the massive ice palace as gravity continued its relentless tug to tear it all down. We crossed over bottomless crevasses, zigzagged around tall seracs, and climbed over washing machine-sized ice boulders – the violent remains of previous icefalls. It was a serene and peaceful environment, yet I knew at any second it could flip the other way and become one of the most dangerous and destructive places on earth. Aside from the threats of icefall, rockslides and avalanches, we were, after all, climbing up an active volcano. After Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier is the next most seismically active volcano in the northern Cascade Range.

Four days earlier we met our three Rainier Mountaineering Inc. (RMI) guides and seven other climbing partners for the first time. It was an eclectic group of people from states like Oregon, California, Arizona and Georgia. There was a neurosurgeon, a police officer and a computer programmer, as well as other various engineers and scientist types. Nerds surrounded me, but they were all very friendly and everyone had a great sense of humor.

Late morning, June 6, we started our climb to Camp Muir, our base camp, from the Paradise ranger station parking lot. Paradise, by the way, has been named "the snowiest place on Earth where snowfall is measured regularly." The area averages 630 inches of snow per year, which is much more than even the snowiest Colorado ski resorts. During the year of 1971-1972, Paradise received 93.5 feet (1,122 inches) of snow!


Other than a few short sections of dry trail, the route to Camp Muir was covered with snow. Our lead guide, John, set a slow pace up the Muir Snowfield. It was slower than Jen and I would have preferred, but at least it was easy on the feet, reducing the likelihood of blisters, plus we never had to struggle to keep up. On the downside, going slow meant we had to wear those heavy backpacks for a longer period of time.



It took us just over five hours to ascend the 4,500 feet to Camp Muir. The camp consists of just a few simple shelters and four solar toilets perched on a rocky ridge.

Upper-left: RMI hut (shared with AAI and IMG), two solar toilets and guide/park service buildings. Upper-right: community hut and a couple solar toilets. Bottom-left: view from our sleeping area (only the top two of the three levels can be seen). Bottom-right: our "honeymoon suite" sleeping area on the third level (note t-shirt):


As we moseyed into Camp Muir, it finally donned on me that we just might make it up Rainier after all. Many of the extraneous "summit blockers" that I had been worrying about were, thankfully, no longer an issue. I was feeling good and I was healthy, I didn't have any injuries, I had all my gear with me, and the weather was looking mighty fine.

Of course, the weather changed often … for the worse ...


… and for the better (view from Camp Muir) ...


I have had the itch to climb Rainier for many years, but I kept putting it off for one reason or another, the main reason being that it's a difficult and dangerous mountain. Only half of those that attempt it make it to the top (weather and poor conditioning being the most common reasons for failure), and an average of three people die on the mountain each year, usually due to rockslides, icefall, avalanches, falls and hypothermia.

By going with RMI, and arming ourselves with the proper gear and training, we felt we could mitigate the risks to acceptable levels.

Alternating between the French technique and the American "duck walk," I kept pace up the steep, icy slope. Switchbacks on the Ingraham were far and few between so, for the most part, we had to tackle the 45-degree slope head on. All the training (cramponing, self-arresting, anchor placing, crevasse rescuing, etc.) we received over the previous two days came in very handy. And for the things we already knew, we honed and fine-tuned our techniques.

Crevasse rescue training:


Photo I took while hanging out in a crevasse and waiting to be "rescued":


Jen taking her turn in the crevasse:


All the training we did on some of Colorado's 14ers over the previous months was paying off. The weekend before attempting Rainier, the fifth-highest mountain in the lower-48, we climbed the second- and third-highest (Massive and Elbert). We also spent a couple nights acclimating in Leadville, Colo., which has the same elevation as Camp Muir.

As we continued our push toward Rainier's summit, I felt completely acclimated, my heart rate was well below its max, my muscles had plenty more power and stamina to give, and my breathing was under control. Ironically, the most difficult thing for me was managing the hot-cold fluctuations and moisture. My feet were cold – even in my double boots – yet my head was sweating so much that icicles formed on the brim of my helmet (the following photo of my sweat icicles was taken later in the morning; the white stuff on my face is 70 SPF suntan lotion, which never really absorbs into the skin).


We started our summit attempt from Camp Muir at 1:45 a.m. and our first obstacle was to get across a recent rock/snow slide debris field (photo taken later that day):


Beyond the Ingraham Flats, we approached our first crevasse crossing and my mind focused all its attention on just a few things: foot placement, balance, and possible "escape" scenarios should something go wrong.

The scenery was breathtaking. Unfortunately, the best photo opportunities were in places where it wasn't safe to stop. When passing under sketchy terrain, speed and efficiency increases safety, and you can't arrest with an ice axe if you have a camera in your hand.

My pupils dilated when I tried to see the bottom of one crevasse. When I redirected my attention to the top of the crevasse, where we would be crossing it, it was difficult to tell if the overhanging lips were solid or not. Erik was adamant that no one jumped across, but Jen didn't think her legs were long enough to step across. After some reassuring words that the edges would hold, she moved to the right and made a successful step across an overhanging ledge above a deep-blue gap. I waited for the slack in the rope to tighten before following with a big, deliberate step.

When we came to a ladder spanning one particularly wide crevasse, it made me think of the Kumbu Icefall just above Everest Basecamp. Worried that I would drop my ice axe while climbing across, I tucked it into my shoulder strap and carefully made the crossing.

Beyond the danger of the Ingraham Glacier, we took our second break, which gave us a chance to quickly eat, drink and adjust layers. My feet were finally beginning to warm back up.


Above the ID and the DC, the steepness of the slope did not relent. Our route, however, did begin to switchback more, making things a bit easier. It was still pretty steep, though, and once again I employed the French technique along with a rest step for most of the way.


From there, we encountered a couple more obstacles. One of which was a one-boot-wide ledge traverse that I found very interesting. Another was a short but steep slope that dropped away into a deep crevasse. This terrain trap prompted John to set up an anchor with a running belay to provide us with some back-up protection.

The exposure was pretty healthy in many places, but having climbed many exposed peaks in Colorado, none of it really concerned me too much. I just made sure that I didn't slip anywhere, and I concentrated on my steps.

At one point I noticed what appeared to be a small rock shooting down the slope toward us. It turned out to be a sunglasses case from a group taking a break on the slope above us. Erik tried to stop it with his axe but it just shot past into the abyss below. "I tried," he said, "but it's not like I'm gonna dive for it."

High up the slope we dug in and took our third break. Everyone was careful to not drop anything, especially after seeing the sunglasses case rocket down.


Shortly after continuing on and just after I achieved flow and got a good rhythm going, our rope team had to navigate around a "struggling" rope team. Seeing their lack of cohesion and obvious exhaustion as we passed by made me appreciate my team even more.

"See those rocks up there," a descending climber told us, "that's part of the crater rim."

Excitement sprinkled through my body. The summit was so close … yet our pace was so slow.

A little more than five hours after leaving Camp Muir we finally gained Mt. Rainier's upper crater. It was an awesome feeling but, in my mind, the climb wasn't over until we gained Columbia Crest, which is the highest point on the crater rim.

A short hike across the crater and up the ridge, past some steaming fumaroles, was all that was left, and we made quick work of it.


Gaining the summit felt awesome. All our dreaming, planning, training and gear shopping finally had some closure.


Jen eating Combos on the summit:


All nine of us made Camp Muir; eight of us made it to the register just above the crater; and seven of us went up to Columbia Crest.


John, our lead guide, looking over the crater:


Speaking of John, we were lucky to have such a world-class climber leading us, and we thoroughly enjoyed hearing about all his exotic adventures in Antarctica and beyond. Katy and Erik were also exceptionally skilled and professional guides. All three of them added to the memorable experience.

In some ways, the descent was just as challenging as the ascent, though it went much quicker.

Jen and I had at least one interesting moment on the descent. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Bruce slip on his butt. Without hesitating, Jen and I both dove immediately into the arrest position and dug into the slope. His fall didn't end up being that bad, but it still gave us a scare. Regardless, I was proud of us for reacting so quickly and instinctively.

View looking toward the summit (crater rim out of view) from the top of the Disappointment Cleaver:


During one break on our descent, Erik told us a story about a climber that dropped a water bottle into a crevasse … and then he immediately dropped his other bottle. It sounded just like the guy on CODave's climb. (Dave, was Erik one of your guides?)

Coming off the Disappointment Cleaver, we had to quickly move through a steep, exposed section that's prone to rockfall. There were fixed lines in place but we didn't use them.

Our route off the DC in the foreground; climbers can be seen in the distance, center-right; Cadaver Gap in the background; Ingraham Flats lower-left, just out of view:


Back at camp, most of the group crashed hard. I couldn't sleep because I was still full of adrenaline and excitement.

The following morning we learned how to climb a fixed line with an ascender and then we rappelled using a Munter hitch.

The hike back down to Paradise was pretty straightforward, and we took advantage of the many glissading opportunities.


That night we had a great time in Ashford drinking beer, wolfing down burgers, and talking and laughing with everyone. And as the beers continued to flow, some of us even talked about meeting up for a future climb in Bolivia. (John - What does your schedule look like next spring? David promised none of us would get jacked.)

After touring around Seattle in search of new beers to try, we capped off our trip with a stay at a swanky hotel downtown.


Through this experience, I came to realize that climbing is just as much about the people you meet as it is about the mountains. I'll cherish the laughs we had and the stories we shared in that small hut – just as much as the climb itself.

URL to all of my Rainier photos:

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

02/05/2011 00:22
That one shot of you in the tent, you look a little cooked. You‘d think after all your summits you‘d remember the sun lotion eehh?? Great trip and congratulations to both of you. Looks like you had a great time and the pictures are awesome!



11/30/2010 17:28
Actually, the photo makes me look worse than than I was. Didn't get a sunburn. Just a little wind chapped from crevasse rescue training, I think. Man, it was hot that afternoon. Some kind of greenhouse heat inversion thing going on.

It was an awesome time, though, thanks!


06/17/2009 12:11
prone2jodl, nothing fancy ... just a Canon Powershot. And I used the stitching feature in Photoshop.


nice photos
06/17/2009 04:05
what sort of camera/lens were you using up there? and are those panoramas that you stitched digitally (the view from camp muir and the crater overlook ones)? if so, what are you using software wise? i‘ve been unsatisfied with adobe elements 5.0 up til now.



Nice report.
06/17/2009 05:07
We skied it two days later and lucked up on weather too. Great mountain.


06/17/2009 07:36
great report the depth of detail is very appreciated ty!


06/17/2009 12:43
Yes, Erik was one of our guides! I‘m sure that was one of our climbing partners, JD who dropped the bottles. Too funny that he still remembers that!!


Congrats on Rainier!
06/17/2009 13:41
Looks like an awesome trip...good weather and a summit. Whats next for you this summer?


Columbia Crest ...
06/17/2009 14:15
Good on you two for going to the actual highest point. The northwest is an odd place for climbing and many people don‘t go to the literal top of a peak (i.e., they stop at the crater rim or register rock on Rainier, they stop below the summit pyramid on Shuksan, etc.). Nice shot of downtown Seattle ... brings back wonderful memories. Thanks for posting. Happy Trails!


Thanks for the photos and report
06/17/2009 14:40
Headed there shortly. It‘s nice to see what we‘re in for. Just makes me more excited. Congrats.


05/02/2011 14:23
Awesome TR. I‘m headed there with Sean ^^ to do the DC next month and this definitely ups my excitement level too.


As if I needed more encouragement . . .
06/17/2009 17:00
My mind has long been made up to attempt Rainier someday but your trip report makes the decision even more certain. Congrats on achieving your personal goal and for writing a trip report that inspires others to do the same.


Awesome job!
06/17/2009 17:25
I like your starting point! Congrats on a well-earned summit. Great TR to depict it.


*Insert adjective here*
06/17/2009 21:48
Beautiful, inspiring, impressive, wonderful, spectacular, fantastic, incredible, unbelievable, amazing, awesome, good, great, nice, sweet, exciting, eloquent, dramatic, remarkable, splendid, thrilling, intense, momentous, impassioned, extraordinary. Oh yeah, well done.


Congrats to you both
06/18/2009 00:40
Good pics and a nice write up. Congratulatory/Celebratory beers in NorCo?


Congrats Aubrey/Jen!!
06/19/2009 22:10
Way to go, man!! A hearty congrats for making Rainier! Good report. It was an entertaining read.
And those pan. pictures are incredible!


A real tribute
06/25/2009 03:46
To how well you can train for stuff like this, right here in Colorado. You guys were all over this - so nice to see it pay off! Congrats to you both on a well-played climb and a well-earned summit. You look good on big snowy peaks :-)

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