| || || Alexei Akolzin and I (John Wang) attempted to climb Rainier from March 26 through March 29, 2003. Although it had been raining in the Pacific Northwest for the past 2+ weeks and the rangers told us that no one (registered climbers) had reached Camp Muir in 2 weeks, we were undaunted. We had arrived at the park on March 23 and had originally planned to spend the entire time on the mountain but some mishaps with our initial climbing team meant that we would only get 2 full days and 2 half days for the climb. We ended up reaching just ~12,550 feet but still had a great time. Since we didn't summit, the mountain is still calling for both of us. |
On March 23 our initial team of 3 made our first attempt to climb the mountain. Only I had snowshoes but we quickly decided it would be a good idea to rent them for everyone. On March 24, we came back with snowshoes for everyone and did some practice hiking since Alexei and our other partner had never used them before. Alexei and I made it up to Panorama Point. Although our team of 3 had been having some serious interpersonal problems up until now, at night our team fell apart when the third member refused to let us use the group stove for dinner. That was the last straw for Alexei. After Alexei and I finished dinner at our car in the Paradise overnight lot with our backup stove (my Dragonfly which ended up dying) this third member refused to have everyone sleep the same direction in the tent. This was even though our three sleeping pads didn't overlap and the tent was rated for 3-4 people (or even 5 according to Russian standards). This person wanted me to sleep with my head downhill for no good reason (since Alexei had already refused to sleep that direction) so I went to sleep in the car and that was the last straw for me. On the morning of March 25, we decided to part ways and spent the day driving to Seattle to rearrange the gear situation (buy a $25 Camping Gaz Turbo 270 stove from REI and rent a Sierra Designs Tiros Assault tent from Feathered Friends) before dropping our partner off with some friends in Portland.
Needless to say, the Rainier NP rangers were a bit surprised to see us filling out another climbing permit less one teammate. Since the 23rd a few groups had attempted to summit but still no one had reached Camp Muir including a team of 7 that had already come off the mountain. On the 24th we had seen a party of 2 heading up to Camp Hazard and on the 26th the ranger told us there was another team of 2 (Eric and Paul) heading up to Muir to attempt Gib Ledges. We saw them at the parking lot on the afternoon of the 26th as we arrived and they were heading up the mountain. Once Alexei and I loaded our ~50 lbs packs we headed up the trail. It was just our two teams plus a snowboarder and his dog. Since it was Wednesday and it had been snowing since the weekend, Erik and Paul had to break trail which we took advantage of. We caught up to them at the flats right before the rise to Panorama Point. We intended on sleeping in the shelter so went ahead but they declined to use our trail and headed back down to camp in some trees.
When we got to the shelter, we pitched our rented Sierra Designs Tiros Assault tent inside the roof-less and door-less "shelter" before deciding that it was a bad idea and moved it outside. We staked and guyed down the tent before retiring inside for the night. With about 40 mph winds outside, we decided to cook inside the tent placing the Gaz canister stove on Alexei's RidgeRest. We did that again for breakfast the next day. Luckily I had guyed down the fly on my side of the tent because in the morning so much snow had blown down against the tent that the entire side of the tent collapsed under the weigth of the snow when Alexei took down the guy line as we broke down the tent. We spent the 27th snowshoeing up Little Africa to Camp Muir. Visibility remained very low until we got to Anvil Rock so we stayed near the rocks on the Little Africa ridge and I took GPS points along the way. Halfway through the day we saw two guys below us (Eric and Paul as it would turn out) but were surprised that we didn't see them again throughout the day as we made it to Camp Muir by sunset. Above Anvil Rock, we finally got some clear views of Rainier and Adams.
At this point we had to decide whether to attempt a summit on our third day, Friday March 28th, or take a rest day. Since I had a flight out Sunday morning and we didn't really want to change it we decided to make a summit attempt on the 28th. Also since we hadn't wanded the route, we decided to get up a bit later staring our climb at a late 6am. The morning of the 28th turned out to be gorgeous and the morning light on the Cowlitz Glacier was simply amazing as we made our way across to Cathedral Gap on snowshoes. We switched to crampons as we rounded the corner and climbed up a snow and rock chute to the Gap. Then it was back to showshoes. It took considerable effort to break the trail with the new snow however the weather was holding as we made it above Cathedral Rocks. We crossed over a small 1.5 foot wide crevase and wanded it. As we made it up the Ingraham Glacier beside Gibralter Rock, the wind started picking up with gusts up to 60mph and it had started snowing. By 12,550 feet, it became difficult to continue on snowshoes so we switched to crampons. If you have seen the movie Vertical Limit, at this point, the scene was just like just before the avalanche struck with wind blown snow gushing down at us in heavy waves. Just looking down at our feet, we could see 10 layers of snow blowing by between our waist and snowshoes forcing us to plant our ice axes for a self-belay over and over again. Unfortuantely, I was too busy trying to make upward progress and not get blown off to contemplate taking a photo at the time. As we looked for a way through the crevasses on the Ingraham Glacier above Gib Rock, the weather continued to close and we decided that it would be safer to descend rather than come down late in a worsening white-out. It was 1pm already and we had spent 7 hours mostly in snowshoes. As we descended, we felt we made the right decision since by the time we got to the top level of Cathedral Rocks, our trail had been completely wiped clean and it was hard to see our wands. We occasionally (3-4 times on the climb and descent?) gave each other an ice axe/boot belay but never placed any pickets or screws. We arrived back at the Muir Hut at 4pm to find Erik and Paul inside the cabin with some hot water waiting for us. They were concerned about the weather and joked that had we not come back soon they were going to radio down to the rangers.
It turns out that Erik and Paul had met on an Alpine Ascents International (AAI) Denail Prep class and had reunited to do Rainier. Even though we had started after them, we arrived at Camp Muir a full day earlier as they spent the previous night camping on the Muir Snowfield. Alexei and I considered pushing my flight out until Monday and attempting a second summit attempt but since it was snowing neither of us was too keen on breaking trail again. As it turns out, Saturday March 29th would be another gorgeous summit day. We snapped a ton of photos Saturday morning at Camp Muir and on the way down. Paul wasn't feeling well and they would come down behind us on Saturday without going higher than Muir. As we made it down below Panarama Point, low level clouds came in to block the view of the mountain. When we got to the Paradise upper overnight parking area, it was no longer winter but a gorgeous spring day with 18 cars there as opposed to the 2 when we had gone up. On the descent we passed a number of people heading up to Camp Muir, but only a solo skier attempting to go to the summit (via Gib Ledges). We used the GPS only once to find the direction for Panorama Point on the descent and made it back before 11am. Since my flight was early Sunday morning, we were quickly off to Seattle to return our rented tent to Feathered Friends before they closed.
We got several recommendations to eat at Mama's Mexican Kitchen (http://www.mamas.com) so we went there for a combination lunch/dinner. I got a spinach/black bean quesadilla and chorizo con huevos with the cadillac margarita which really hit the spot. It was an excellent setting for discussing our Latin American adventures (Mexico, Equador, and Peru). Then we went to Sea-Tac to change Alexei's flight from Monday to Sunday and crashed at the Motel 6. From talking to the manager, we found out that it's called Motel 6 because when they first opened you could get a room for $6/night. The first one was in Santa Barbara in 1962(?). In 1995, Motel 6 was acquired by the French conglomerate, Accor Hotels. In the end, although the trip had an unfortunate beginning, Alexei and I had managed to salvage enough of it to have a great time.
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