On Our Way to Mt RainierWe had three weeks to do a Canadian Mountaineering trip inspired by some of the climbs in Steve Roper's 50 Classic Climbs book. On our way there we first climbed Mt. Hood's north face and came down Cooper Spur. While climbing the face, we saw the Lute Jurstat Climbing school's camp on the glacier below and watched off and on over the course of an hour, two small specks move to it and then back where they appeared from. When we returned to the parking lot at Clouds Rest, we found out that those specks had looted the camp while the school was up climbing. If we had only known perhaps we could have done something.
My friend Tom (and I cannot remember how I met him) had an old BMW that we drove only in the daytime because the chrome reflectors of the headlights were rusted out and the only light came from the bulbs inside. My other friend Cary I had met as a mailman. I had delivered a lot of backpacking and climbing stuff to the address and thought it might be some good-looking babe. One day I knocked on the door with a package and this tall bearded man answered. Oh well, at least a new climbing partner.
We ate dinner and then drove on to Rainier as the sky darkened. We stopped at a liquor store and bought some snacks and a six-pack of beer and then proceeded to drive around looking for a side road to park and bivvy. A spot light from behind hit us along with the flashing red & blue lights. The officer came up and shined his light inside the Beemer at Tom. He asked for Tom's driver's license and disappeared. Coming back he asked Tom to get out (seems Tom's DL was suspended) and another officer now shining his light through the passenger's side at me asked if I was flaunting the law. I asked what he was talking about and he said my sitting there drinking a beer wasn't exactly the best thing to be doing when stopped by the police. That was the absolute first time I ever had an open container in a car and hadn't even realized what I was doing. He asked me to pour it out (no problem). Tom came back and said the officer said to drive a mile down the road and we could camp there. Seems they were just about to get off duty and didn't want to fool with us because they felt sure some other law enforcement agency would be hauling us in down the road.
Day 1, To the Trail HeadWe got our permit for climbing Liberty Ridge and the ranger said it should be in great shape and that we would be the first of the year on Liberty and they had just opened the road up to Sunrise. When we got there that evening, is was drizzling and not wanting to start the next day with wet gear we laid out our sleeping bags in the ladies restroom (the men’s was padlocked). The next morning we were awakened by two angry ladies that turned around and left. I had gotten up and dressed when a female ranger the ladies had gotten walked in and wanted to know what the heck was going on. She checked the men’s side and said the maintenance crew apparently forgot to open that side and we needed to get out…no problem.
Day 2 The Hike InWe set off for Mystic Lake campground where we would make camp before heading up the Carbon Glacier to Thumb Rock the next day. Since this was my first time at Mt. Rainier I was simply spell bound with the area (I live in Southern California). The low clouds and fog made the trek surreal but the on and off drizzle I could have done without. When we arrived at Mystic CG we met a climber, Gary, who wanted to do Liberty Ridge solo but had second thoughts and asked if he could join the three of us. Later that evening as the light was fading the clouds parted and we could see the Carbon Glacier and Liberty Ridge in an eerie violet glow. Cary got psyched out and announced that he didn’t want to climb it and would hike back, and drive the car to the White River Campground to pick us up on our descent down the Emmons Glacier.
Day 3 Crossing the Carbon Glacier and Climbing to Thumb RockThe next morning we set off again in a fog. When we got on the Carbon Glacier, we were able to follow the tracks of a group of four that left Mystic just before us. When we got to our first crevasse we decided to rope up (I preferred that to carrying the rope in my pack). We meandered around for a while and began wondering if the group we were following knew where they were headed. Soon we got to the base of Liberty Ridge and suddenly all was fine. We caught up to the group who were then having trouble finding the route in the thickening fog.
After a couple of hours, a decision was made to turn back since we didn’t know where we were. “But I don’t want to turn back!” was my answer to this. I keep looking back up as we descended and through a break in the fog, I yelled “Look, there’s Thumb Rock”. Immediately, we turned around and headed up to what would be our camp spot.
The group of four were carrying this humongous 12-pound 4-man tent while we had bivy sacks and had planned to build an igloo. As we unpacked, the sky opened up and we were able to see the spectacular Willis Wall and an avalanche peal off every now and then. The snow was quite hard for building an igloo but in the time it took them to cut out a suitable platform for their tent, we had constructed our three-person igloo. Gary was 6’5” so he slept in the middle with the end of his sleeping bag in the igloo tunnel.
Day 4 To Rope or Not To Rope...SummitingWhat a gorgeous morning! Since we didn’t have to pack a tent, we ate and then said good-by to the group of four who were going to descend cause one of their group wasn’t feeling good and they thought the ridge above looked over their abilities. We made good time cramponing up on the hard snow/ice till we started to traverse right to scale the steep cliffs near the top. I was last and after sliding about 30 feet with my pick scratching the surface a quarter inch or so in the whole distance, I looked up and asked if we could use the screws we were carrying and rope up. They agreed and we belayed from that point on up to the summit.
Beautiful conditions on top. We headed for Columbia Crest and saw some other climbers descending as we approached it. Since the surface was so gentle and we had tracks to follow down the Emmons Glacier, they decided it would be faster to go unroped. As I coiled the rope they took off and after tying the rope to my pack they were nowhere in sight. I followed the tracks for a few thousand feet when I came upon a black hole down in the snow about two feet in diameter right in the path of the tracks. “Tom, Gary” I yelled into the black hole. No response.
It could only have been made by a person punching through into this, until then, hidden crevasse. I thought there would be no way both fell into it one after the other but didn’t know what other surprises waited ahead crevasse wise this early in the year. Over the horizon another group was heading up to the top. We greeted and I asked if I could tie into their rope when they returned from the summit. “Sure, no problem”.
When they returned, I tied in and we continued down. Before long I could see Camp Schurman and what seemed like hundreds of climbers all over the place. I looked around for a long time before I found my two companions basking in the sun. I told them what had happened and they said the ranger had chewed them out royal when they came “running down the Emmons unroped”. Said it was a bad example for the other climbers!
Cary decided to hike up to Camp Schurman to meet us since he had very little to do at the parking lot and the four of us set off across the Inter Glacier “unroped” because, as Tom said, look at all the footprints and not a crevasse in sight. Right about in the middle of the glacier Tom fell through with his pack catching on the lip of the crevasse and saving him from who knows what below. We helped pull him out (his legs were hanging free) and roped up for the rest of the glacier. We survived our first Rainier climb and were ready for Mt Robson and the Canadian Rockies.