I will make no bones about it; the first half of 2013 has been a nightmarish year in mountaineering for me. From last minute cancellations, change of plans, illness or weather; something has really stopped me this year from going out and doing the mountains I really wanted to see. To say that it has been utterly frustrating is an understatement. But this trip report will not focus on the disappointment of the past 6 months but over a great success for me and my rapidly developing mountaineer friend CascadeCohen. For him he has successful made up a number of marquee scrambles as well as finally broke the 10,000 foot barrier. I am proud of what he has done this year and hope to support him in his attempt to summit Mount Rainier.
It was late May and one of our friends was trying to get us up Rainier in mid-June. CascadeCohen was asking me if he thought he was ready for Rainier. I serious had my doubts because he has never been above 6500 feet and his preceding hike up Mailbox gave him a lot of pain (though he was successful). We were also going have a later than average start because he had to work the day before. Add on to the fact that was raining in the parking lot while I was waiting for him to pick me up and now I really had my doubts. But just after he picked me up the weather slowly cleared. By the time we reached Paradise there were only some pesky clouds on Rainer. The only major concern was that we were starting at 12 noon. With our time window we only had 6 hours to get to the summit of Muir Peak. I really did not like our chances at the time due in part how much out of shape I was and how this was CascadeCohen’s first time on this mountain.
Heading Up Through the FogWe got off to a very good start on our leg up to Camp Muir and Muir Peak. At first we were passing a number of groups who were apparently training for Mount Rainier later in the year. It helped both Joel’s and my confidence to know that we were going up faster than these groups. It also installed hope for us in that we had a chance to make it to the summit of Muir Peak and visit with enough time. But we got past Panorama Point the pace had to slow down considerably. Both of us had to adjust to the higher altitudes. The weather was also an issue on this trip up the mountain. It seemed to fog up from time to time ahead of us. Even though we did slow the pace for all of these cautions we were still making a great pace to Camp Muir.
But one particular fog bank nearly caused us to turn around. The fog became so thick that it caused a near whiteout at around the 8000 foot level. At that point Joel and I seriously considered turning around. The last thing I wanted to do was get us in serious trouble while we were going up to camp Muir. We discussed this for a little bit and took some time to make our decision. But with such a large crowd ahead of us I felt that we were safe enough to continue. On the way up I went past a number of climbers that I went with to the summit of Mount Rainier four years ago. It was good to see them and catch up with them. I stayed with a number people and continued up the mountain at a moderate clip. We decide there that there was no turning back and both of us toughed it out from there on.
At about 9000 feet the fog cleared and soon we could see the great Camp Muir and Muir Peak. It looked so close from where we were but I told CascadeCohen not to look at it because it was going to take us 30 minutes to get to it. That last little bit to Camp Muir was a serious grind but for me it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I think my trip to Little Annapurna a couple weeks before really helped me here with this mountain. For CascadeCohen though it was a bit more of a struggle. But he did make it to Camp Muir and both of us made it to Camp Muir in four and a half hours.
Camp Muir and Muir PeakOnce we got to Camp Muir CascadeCohen told me he was really beginning to feel the altitude. He was very tired and was feeling weak from his trip up and he wanted to take a 10 minute break before we continued to Muir Peak. I was concerned about him but once he found out we were 150 feet from the summit of Muir Peak he put himself back together and we headed for the double summit of Muir Peak. To get to the double summit from Camp Muir we followed the booted snow patch up to the scrambling spot. From there we scrambled to the southwest summit of Muir Peak which is hinted on the SP page as being the summit but once up there from what we saw from there the northwest was clearly taller. This was later confirmed by a mountaineering guide we ran into on the northwest summit and by the fact that I could see 7000 foot peaks over the southeast summit. They both looked close but the northwest summit was clearly ten feet taller.
After reaching that summit CascadeCohen and I took a break on northwest summit of Muir Peak where we sat to relax and take in the views around us. CascadeCohen was happy to finally break the 10,000 foot barrier and do it in style. As for the views, they were very mouthwatering to say the least. It was great to get a different vista of people coming up to Camp Muir from Paradise. Also the views towards Little Tahoma and off to the east towards Mount Aix and the others are something I will never forget. But it was now a little after 5 pm and it was time for us to head down the mountain as quick as we could so that we could beat sundown.
Glissading Back to ParadiseHeading down from Muir Peak and Camp Muir was a whole lot easier than heading up; especially because the fog has cleared from the mountain. Luckily for us the fog cleared for us which gave us a straight shot down the mountain. The only problem was the snow was now soft which made any glissade a slushy and slow one. On the way down we did manage to do a number of great glissades down the mountain. It might have taken us four and half hours to get up to Camp Muir but we were making great time getting down the mountain. With the skies now basically clear we were really able to get the most of this trip down. In total we were able to do last least ten glissades despite the crappy snow.
The final major glissade from Panorama Point was clearly the best glissade. That glissade made us drop 700 feet and a little over two minutes and was a lot of fun to go down the mountain. It might have been the final glissade but clearly it was the best. The rest of the way down was really uneventful except for the fact that the sun angle was now much lower which was giving us great shots of the nearby Tatoosh Range which lies just south of Paradise. The night pictures from Paradise were a great final treat to what turn out to be a great day on Mount Rainier.
ConclusionOverall this was a very fun trip in what has begun off being a crappy year. What we concluded is that CascadeCohen will be ready for Rainier provided he was with a good group of experienced climbers. He will also need a good heads up course in Z-pulley and prussiking as well. With a little more experience and a good rope team there is no reason why he can’t get to the summit of Rainier. Hopefully the in next couple weeks we will be able to do Adams first and then take it from there.
Another thing we discovered is SPF 50 is often not enough coverage on this mountain. The case in point was the nasty sunburn my legs and to CascadeCohen’s face. I had shorts on going all the way to Camp Muir and despite layering it with sunscreen they fried up so bad that they were severely swollen the next day. In fact even a month later they still have not recovered. Both of us luckily wore sun hat and sunglasses but even with that and sunscreen we both took a beating in the face. From now on I will never wear shorts on a Rainier trip no matter how strong that sunscreen is.