This trip started as the result of a tourist type visit to Mt. Rainier in the summer of 2002. I was doing my annual windsurfing trip to Hood River Oregon and trying to see more of the area. I had heard about Mt. Rainier for years, but never visited. We spent a couple of days hiking around Paradise and I kept looking up at Mt. Rainier thinking, "I wouldn't mind climbing that".
Well that got me back into climbing after a 20 plus year layoff. It started with backpacking, then rock climbing, then of course mountaineering. I took a refresher (for me it was a refresher, for others it was the new stuff) course with AAI on Mt. Baker. My goal was to get onto Mt. Rainier before I turned 50 (fall of 2004) which was rapidly approaching.
I contacted my mountaineering partner Andrea and asked her if she was interested. Andrea was up for it, but we both felt as a two person team the only route that would be feasible would be the DC route due to the number of climbers on it and it being fairly well marked. Andrea was excited about this trip, but this would be a 2nd ascent of Mt. Rainier for her. She went up Disapointment Cleaver many years ago. But we felt a larger team would be good and allow us more options. I contacted my rockclimbing partner Gail to see if she was interested. Gail felt her mountaineering skills weren't completely up to full glacier travel, but wanted to travel up to Camp Muir. One more climber answered the call to climb Rainier. This was Pat from Kentucky. Pat was a prior student of AAI having taken both their 12 day course and their 6 day ice climbing course. I felt our team was complete and started the planning stages.
Unfortunately due to delays in getting approval from work for our travel dates (part of my 4 week vacation) I was too late in being able to reserve a permit for Rainier. Both Muir Camp, Ingraham Flats, and the Emmons Glacier route were full. Our team talked it over and decided to try to get a "first-come, first-served" permit the day before our trip. This would allow us a 3 day ascent (Fri - Sun). If we couldn't get this, then we would get a 2 day permit (Sat-Sun) and do a two day trip.
Andrea, Gail, and I arrived at Paradise on Thursday, 7/8/04 at about 2:30 pm (after driving for 2 days from the San Francisco Bay area). We were in luck and there were permits still available for Camp Muir for Friday - Sunday. We took care of the paperwork, paid the dues, and sat around looking at Mt. Rainier (it was a clear day and it was out in the sun). We then headed back to Cougar Campground to meet up with Pat and to prepare our gear.
Friday came early and it was time to start heading up the mountain. It seemed the weather was not going to be our friend and we got the thrill of hiking in the clouds. After about 5 hours of climbing we made it to Camp Muir. We set up our tent along with several others in tent city. Most of the time we were in the clouds, but the sun did break occasionaly. We quickly set up camp and I found myself feeling dizzy from time to time. We orginally planned to climb on Saturday and then hike out on Sunday, but after feeling dizzy a few times I thought it would be best to take a rest day on Saturday and practice setting up a crevasse rescue system and walking as a roped team. My team agreed and it was off to bed.
Sleeping was fun since camp was quite noisy around midnight. With the tents so close together you could hear almost every conversation going on. Eventually the teams headed off for the summit and we were able to get back to sleep. Morning came and we had a nice slow morning. Once again we were in the clouds (drizzle, clouds, snow flurries, etc) so we decided to rest until later in the morning. Around noon we headed over the ridge back onto the Muir Snowfield and practiced walking as a roped team. We then spent some time setting up a crevasse rescuse system and then headed back to camp. Pat wasn't having a good time. First his backpack belt buckle broke on the hike up yesterday, then he broke the buckle in his helmet, then he discovered that one of the flexible water canteens had leaked in the tent and got his sleeping bag (and other stuff) slightly wet. Pat wasn't feeling confident and felt perhaps the mountain gods weren't on his side. A bunch of tent pow-wows were held (me walking back and forth between the two tents) and the final decision was for Andrea and I to attempt the summit as a two person team. We all headed off to bed around 7pm for a 11:30pm wakeup.
Sleep was near impossible with our "neighbors" who had summited earlier today sitting around and LOUDLY talking about all the food they were going to eat when they got down. A note to all, PLEASE be considerate of others when in a confined space camp! Wakeup time came without me ever getting to sleep. The weather wasn't helping any with the wind really blowing hard. I wasn't feeling confident and went over to Andrea's tent to discuss things. I felt with our reduced team strength and the bad weather, maybe we should side on caution and not attempt the summit. Andrea was okay with either decision but brought up a point that perhaps the wind was local to the canyon we were in and not any worst up higher on the mountain. We decided to go back to bed and check in with each other again at 1am. This was our cutoff for heading up to the summit. I went back to bed (to warm up) and sat around thinking for about 10 minutes then though, this is crazy. I came all this way and didn't even attempt going up. I yelled to Andrea (okay I wasn't considerate either) across the tents (between wind gusts) to suit up. We quickly suited up and headed for the summit at 12:30am.
We crossed the Cowlitz Glacier and headed up Cathedral Gap. Once on top, we took a 10 minute break and noticed that it was quite calm outside. We had nice crisp air (freeze level around 10k), good snow, and saw a long line of lights heading for the summit. A group of four had caught up to us, so we allowed them to pass us which gave me a group to follow. I was a bit nervous about finding the correct route since this was my first time on Rainier, but that wasn't really necessary in the lower area due to the HUGE path that RMI maintains. We traveled across Ingraham Glacier to the icefall area. This was the same area that claimed the lives of so many years ago. As we (both Andrea and I, and the group of 4 ahead of us) were right under the icefall we came to a complete stop. A guided group of 12 (3 ropes of 4) was on Disappointment Cleaver right in front of us and completely stopped. I don't know if it was the exposure of the cleaver, or climbing on rock, but they were not moving. We sat under the icefall area for over 15 minutes and were not moving. This of course prompted some complaints from the group in front of us and myself towards the guided group. The guided group CRAWLED along and we finally were able to get onto the cleaver and out from under the icefall. We contantly asked the group ahead of us to allow us to pass and never received an answer. There was plenty of room, yet they wouldn't pull over (in all fairness I'm not sure if the message got to the front guide all the time). Eventually they pulled over. This was very near the bottom of the cleaver while still on the horizontal traverse before heading up. We all quickly passed the group and thanked them and headed up the cleaver. We continued up the cleaver to the top and I looked back at the guided group. They were still very near the bottom of the cleaver.
Although not quite sunrise yet, the natural lighting was increasing making the headlamps no longer necessary. Also my GU seemed to run out. This was my first time trying GU, but after getting turned around on Mt. Shasts two times around 13,000 feet due to "bonking", I was willing to try anything. It was quite cold out and the water in my platypus bladder was freezing despite me blowing into it after each drink and having an insulated tube. Fortunately I also had a 1 quart wide mouthed bottle that I could drink out of. My Luna bars were very solid and difficult to eat (okay I know Luna bars are for women, but they taste MUCH better than the Cliff bars!) so eating was getting difficult. We however were feeling strong and continued to push on. Eventually the group of 4 in front of us (they all had prior Rainier experience) was slowing down to the point that they were asking us to pass them. I thanked them for all their help and Andrea and I pushed on heading up the upper part of the mountain around sunrise
We were getting higher on the mountain and the air was getting thinner. I was no longer able to maintain my step, step, ice axe plant, breath method of travel beyond about 15 steps. I had to hang over my ice axe and breath after about 15 steps. We continued to crawl our way up the summit. Another guided party (smaller) came along and we allowed them to pass. I noticed the guide was using step breath, step breath, and tried to copy them. This allowed me to stay close to them for quite a while, but eventually I had to rest. Fortunately they pulled over and sat down on the snow. Andrea and I also sat down and just breathed for about 5 minutes. Another group behind us was doing the same thing. It was strange to see about 10 people sitting on the snow just breathing. Eventually we decided to push on and 10 minutes later we were in the summit crater . at 7:10 am Sunday morning. After the usual celebration and picture taking we decided to call this the summit. We had the energy to go across the crater to the actual summit. We had discussed this beforehand and decided if we were tired, or concerned about time, we would be satisfied with this as the summit. After looking around for a few minutes we started down at 7:30 am. It appears that we were the first group heading down, but we had the ranger's words in our ears to be off the mountain by mid morning. With a small party of two, we thought this would be a good thing.
We continued down the mountain with great views of the area. We passed the 12 person group about 1/2 way between the top of the cleaver and the summit. But the group was now reduced to 8 people as several had turned back. Along the way we did an "end run" around one of the larger crevasses. We continued pushing on until we reached the top of Disappointment Cleaver. We took a long needed rest and started sheading our layers of clothing (it was getting quite warm on the glacier despite the early hour). We saw another group of 2 coming down from above and decided to get onto Dissapointment Cleaver before the other group was close enough to induce rockfall. The snow was quite slushy now but once again we were back walking on rocks in our crampons. We continued down the cleaver and got great views of the Emmon's Glacier, Mt. Adams , along with the large crevasses just below the icefall on the Ingraham glacier.
We reached the area just before the icefall on the Ingraham glacier. I talked to Andrea earlier and we decided that once we got to this point and both of us were back on the glacier that we were going to move fast till we were completely past the icefall. At this point I heard the sound of rockfall above us and saw two very large boulders (think medicine ball sized!) heading down from above. I yelled to Andrea to move and we quickly started moving across the glacier. I looked back and saw the two rocks falling right into the area of the two climbers that were behind us. After we crossed the icefall area I looked back and saw both climbers starting across the icefall area very quickly. We continued down the Ingraham glacier to Ingraham Flats (a high camp on the glacier) and said hi to the climbers camped there. We continued to Cathedral Gap where we took a long needed and deserved rest. The two climbers caught up to us and told us that the rocks actually hit one of them. He used his arm to defend himself from the rock and also was struck on the helmet! The two climbers continued down to Camp Muir while we rested. Finally in an effort to get back to Camp Muir we started again. As we crossed the Cowlitz Glacier we heard Pat yelling in the distance. How he knew it was us I have no idea. We made it into camp at 11am.
Pat and Gail were awesome in helping us get settled in and rested. 2 hours later it was time to break camp and head on down. Andrea was showing signs of extreme exhaustion and Pat was great in sneaking stuff out of her pack while she was in the bathroom and putting it into his pack! We all headed down to Paradise arriving there around 4:45pm.
All in all, great weather, good conditions, a fantastic trip, and a great climb. Pat started his trip back home and Andrea, Gail and I went out for an great dinner in Longmire. Monday we dropped Andrea off at Sea-Tac and Gail and I continued our climbing trip in the Cascades.