(See Mt Baker trip report for details leading up the Rainier Climb)
Saturday July 5th
In what was anticipated to be the longest day I have ever had climbing we were awoken at 2am to driving rain and wind that was shaking the tent. I put up with it till about 3:30 and then donned what I could find that was waterproof and set out to reattach the anchors and re-secure the tent vestibule. Getting out and looking into the vestibule confirmed my fears (Our packs were sopping wet) the re-secure went without and hitch and before I knew it I was sleeping sound again. I heard the alarm sound at 5 am but also heard the driving wind and rain also. Around 6 it slowed enough to begin breaking camp and the trek across the state to Rainier. The descent down was rather boring considering it was a light drizzle and we were fogged in. Arriving at the car at 10:30 we stowed the gear, chugged a beer and were on our way.
The trip across the state was non-eventful, aside from Super-Dave pulling a Super-Dumb move and locking his keys in the car. Preliminary calls to the Ranger Station indicated that we were not dealing with the sharpest crampon of the group. When Brian asked the question, “What is the weather forecast?” and received a response the “You know it is a big mountain that makes it’s own weather”, we knew it may be a painful experience. Arriving we discovered great weather and also Ranger No Brains. The only mountain reports we could get from him were “Windy”, and “Great Climb”. Luckily we encountered some people in the parking lot who were more help. We arrived in the parking lot and set about tearing our bags open and arranging the clothes throughout the entire parking area, it looked like a misfit garage sale.
Rainier Summit Push
We set to packing for 16 hours of climbing in weather ranging from 20 to 80 degrees and cramming as much food as we thought we would need. The targeted departure time was 8 pm from the White River Campground and we were planning to climb the Emmons-Winthrop glacier route climbing all night and reaching the summit around 7 the next morning. This is a climb that takes people 2 to 3 days usually. With the Camelbak fully packed and looking like some sort of white trash artwork, I laid down to get some sleep. 45 minutes later it was time to go (Phew too much sleep) At 8:10 pm we set out, the hike involves 2,000 vertical feet of hiking through the trees before emerging and beginning the ascent on the glacier for a additional 8,000 feet. Right after departing Brian informed us that his throat had been hurting among other bodily ailments. We joked that if the advice he received from his doctor when he was coming down with a cold was to hike 10,000 vertical feet in 16 hours that he should probably look for a new doctor. My stomach was bothering me and continued to plague me throughout the climb . . . but nothing that would send me turning for home. Shortly after 10 is when the temperature dropped, and soon after we strapped on the crampons. The major benefit of hiking at night is you don’t have to see how far you have to go, and the snow is much more firm that enables more stable steps and less fatigue. As we hiked up the Inter-glacier, we had some nice steps that were carved into the snow. The only problem was that the right ones went up about 6 inches and they left ones went up over a foot. We speculated that the guys left leg must have been at least 6 inches longer than his right to make these steps. We arrived at Camp Schurman a little after 1 am and saw a few rope teams that had already started up. This was the half waypoint and the only place we could safely turn around. We shoveled down some food made some final joking remarks about the absurdity of this endeavor and we were off.
The first 500 feet were a gradual climb and then it hit us . . . the straight up we had been dreading . . . no switchbacks just in your face up the mountain. This was about the time we started to overtake the rope teams that had set out before us. Within 2 hours of starting we had passed every team on the mountain and were stuck with choosing the trail. Shortly before 5 was when the sun rose and we were able to see the area we had covered under the cloud of darkness. Holy s**t that was a long way, the distance we were above everything else and the terrain we had gone through were incredible. There were huge crevasses and seracs, coupled with sharp drops and rock outcroppings. Not longer after the sun hit us, we were faced with a choice 1) Go straight up the face or 2) Traverse across the liberty cap. Going straight up although more difficult would consume less calories than a long traverse. So we set out (up). Within about 30 minutes we hit the bergshund (A huge gap), the snow bridge that had been there previously was gone and we were mentally preparing to backtrack and do the traverse, when Brian got really excited, he started switching ropes and exchanging pickets and before I knew it we had a rather stable anchor system in place to allow us to comfortably cross.
The adrenaline of crossing, coupled with being able to see the summit enabled us to push through and hit the top. We were all drained, Eric had led the push up to the Bergshund (Which we now call the E-Simon direct), Brian was fighting the effects of a illness and I was just kinda in a zone (Putting it mildly compared to when Brian told me I looked like crap minutes before). The last hundred feet were on rock and in our zombie like state that was probably good. No sooner had we crested the top of the rock, than we realized we had made it! It was awesome! The emotions that overtook me were greater than any other mountaineering experience I had ever had. We all exchanged a way to go embrace and then to set to looking at the views. It was windy and cold (To be expected when you are above 14,000 ft) but the views of Hood, Adams, St. Helens, and others were crystal clear. The plan was to melt snow and scarf some food . . . the wind and our fatigue levels led us to begin the descent after only remaining on top for a short period of time.
Rather than cross the Bergshund we elected to make the longer Liberty Cap traverse. It was about an hour down from the summit where we encountered the teams we had passed hours earlier on the ascent. They had a couple thousand feet left to go and were moving very slowly. One guy asked us what time we had started and when we told him 8 pm he non-chalantly commented, okay. When we told him where we started he immediately commented, “NO S**T THAT IS INCREDIBLE”. He kept repeating this as he passed Brian and Eric. The snow on the way down was soft and kept balling (sticking) to my crampons, this coupled with the heat was already making for a draining descent. We passed two teams that were only about a 1,000 feet up from Camp Schurman, slogging up a glacier in the heat is not my idea of fun, not to mention a good idea. We arrived at Camp Schurman about 10:30 and set to boiling snow and stretching out a little. I took off my leather Makalu’s (aka the Blister Factories) and discovered a nice set of formed blisters on my heels, time for plastic boots I guess. Leaving the camp we stopped by to see the climbing ranger and discovered that stupidity must be a character trait to get a job for the Rainier National Park. He was rude, and for someone who is supposed to try to gather information about mountain conditions, horribly uninterested.
We proceeded out of camp and made our way back to the Inter-Glacier. We hit the top and all I wanted to do was glissade. Heeding Brian’s advice we stayed roped up till we hit what we determined to be a safe point. Stopping to take off the harnesses and stow the ropes we were floored by the people who were coming by with no knowledge that there were crevasses all around them. One guys comment was “I’m just following my kid”. From here we took of on a glissade (Sitting on your butt, and using your ice axe to control your speed). This is the way to go trust me! We descended about 1,500 feet in 5 minutes. Such a good time J Eric and I waited at the bottom for Brian to descend. . it was there we determined that for all of Brian’s knowledge of glaciers, he needs to work on his glissading skills. Eric and I were all over the place pushing each other back and forth and having a grand ole time . . . Brian’s glissading was textbook form! (NO FUN!)
Finally we hit the dirt and shed as much clothing as possible. We had been on the snow for the past 12 hours and were happy to be back on ground where hidden cracks don’t linger. In staying with our goal of making it back in fewer than 16 hours we took off at a fast walk/slow run. How we had the energy left to do this can only be explained by 2 phenomena 1) We knew there was cold beer at the car 2) We were so sick of being in snow clothing that we figured we should just get it over with as fast as possible. The looks we got were priceless! We passed a group of 4 (2 guys, 2 girls) and got great hellos out of the gals, why the guys just shot us a “You guys suck look” Nearing the campground we slowed to a walk and cruised into the parking lot in 17 hours and 45 minutes. Jen was so happy to see our safe return, and all Dave could say was “You guys rock!” It was a great feeling to have accomplished the task that had seem almost impossible 16 hours ago.
Final Stats for Rainier
10,320 Vertical Feet on Rainier (1/3rd of Mount Everest)
10 packets of Carb-Boom consumed by me alone
6 different blisters on my feet
3 very tired boys
1 AM Arrival in Boise (Again)