MT. RAINIER: LIBERTY RIDGE
Another foot of powder snow fell last night. We awake to find a
world of blinding sunlight above a sea of clouds that extends
beyond the curve of the earth. It is bitterly cold. As we emerge
from the tent, blinking in the brightness, we can see that we are
camped at the very summit of Liberty Cap; fifty feet in any
direction the mountain drops off in ice cliffs, rock bands and
steep snow. It's so good to finally find out where we are, after
so many days of storm, even though the calm will not last.
Standing at the highest point, we can look down the west face of
the peak to where a circular rainbow frames the mountain's shadow
on the clouds. Since the stove is still iced and unusable, we
head out into the morning cold without breakfast. The water
bottles are frozen shut. It takes a half hour of work to put on
boots and tighten the frozen laces.
Columbia Crest. Whiteout: Ground blizzard and fog. We're blind.
The iced, soaked rope is almost impossible to pull. A thousand
feet down the Emmons Glacier, we pick up a trail of wands leading
down into the clouds, wrong side of the Mountain, but down,
broken crampon, but down. Skirt a crevasse, traverse, winch 50
feet of slack into the kink-frozen rope so I can move again, and
look for the next wand.
Tomorrow we will reach Paradise, 50 miles from the car, out of
food, out of money, with the Mountain shining in the sunlight of
the first clear day in a week. Tomorrow we will hitchike back to
Quesadillas, beer, a hot tub, and a steak dinner. But for now, I
search for a solid snow bridge across the next crevasse, chew a
filthy Starburst, and look for the next wand, down into the cloud
and swirling snow, out of the endless sky.