I knew I wanted to climb Mt. Rainier; I just wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. Being in the northwest for only a couple of weeks hadn’t allowed me to meet many people. So, using the SP “Plan’s and Partners” page I linked up with “jrowe025” or better known as Jess. We started planning for Mt. Rainier the weekend before we actually left – luckily for me, Jess already had the information on administrative stuff we had to complete before climbing. He sent in for climbing passes and took care of all of the route info work. Basically, all I had to do was show up and climb.
I met Jess in Toppenish, WA on the 23rd of August, 2008 at 4:00am. We made the two and half hour drive to Mt. Rainier National Park. I knew the boots I had gave me severe blisters but I was going to try and tough it out. I talked to Jess about this and he had an extra pair of Sportiva’s that he offered me. After wearing them around for a few minutes I found they were way more comfortable than my boots. I figured “what the hell, they can’t be worse than mine”, and decided to wear them. After signing in with Ranger and changing our tentative camp spot from Muir to Ingraham Flats we were off at 7:45am.
Outside of Paradise
We made good time on an empty Friday morning. There were a couple of other pairs of climbers going up that morning but no one coming down. Two miles in we were off the tourist path and onto the Muir Snowfield. Despite the couple of inches of fresh snow from the previous two days there were a few tracks leading us up the slope. It was a straight forward path up. Camp Muir appeared over a crest and we slogged out the last of the 4.5 miles to Muir. Both Jess and I were carry 45lb packs, despite the relatively low weight we were both ready for a good break. At this point I was contemplating talking Jess into staying at Muir and going from there in the morning. After a brief discussion I decided he was right we should get as high up as possible now and rest later. My feet were feeling really good anyway. After about an hour break we put on our crampons, roped up and headed out for the Flats.
Below Ingraham Flats
We crossed our first glacier and headed up the ridge leading up and away from Muir. Maybe an hour after we left Muir we got to Ingraham Flats and started looking for a camp spot. It was about 2:30pm and the only other people there were two guides for Alpine Ascents. They told us that the area around their three tents was basically reserved for a guided climbers. I thought, “That probably isn’t true” but we started looking elsewhere anyway. During our wandering around looking for a somewhat flat spot one of the guides came over and suggested an area. Alpine Ascents forgiven. After talking with the guide for a few minutes we found out he was a Sherpa and tried to set the Rainier speed ascent record earlier in the week. He said he didn’t quite make it – he did it in 5 hours. We also found out he owns the Mt. Everest speed record, and has summitted Everest 13 times! He gave us his card for Super Sherpas and told us if we ever needed anything to let him know. He was a really nice guy and it was cool meeting him. We set up our camp and boiled water then tried to get some sleep.
I slept surprisingly well and got an off and on 5-6 hours. Jess said he got about the same. We were going to get up at 12:10am and head out by 1am to beat the crowds. At 11:15pm I rolled over because my hip was hurting and heard “Hey, Russ, uh, do you want to start now?” coming from the bivy a few feet away. I thought, “Not really”, but said “Give me 10 more minutes and I’ll get up”. “Ok Russ”. After ten minutes I was true to my word and started getting ready. We were dressed and headed out at 12:15 pm.
One pair was on the Cleaver already but no one was right behind us. The path winded through the crevasses and then traversed over to the bottom of Disappointment Cleaver. We crossed a pretty exposed spot immediately and then started the climb up the ridge. At the top of the cleaver we caught up to the pair that was ahead of us. We would play tag with them for the rest of the day. Jess said to me “I’m not disappointed, I knew there was a lot more mountain after the cleaver.” I thought that was funny. Up and up we went. I wasn’t looking around a whole lot – just concentrating on the stepping. The moon was so bright we didn’t need headlamps almost the entire night. The other Alpine Ascent guide said there was a ladder across a crevasse at 12,800ft. I thought we were way above that height and started to think she actually said 13,800. Well, we finally hit the ladder and I thought – only another six hundred feet. Needless to say, the ladder was at 12,800 and I was in for a really, really long 600 hundred feet. After another hour of slogging up the hill I knew I made a mistake in the elevations and resigned myself to the pain. Meanwhile Jess was marching up the hill and not even looking phased. I had to ask for a “10 second” break every few minutes. I don’t think he minded the breaks though. After one false summit after another we finally hit the crater rim and started the walk across to Columbia Crest. We didn’t know which one it was so our plan was to walk to each high point on the crater rim. We made it to our second high point and were debating whether or not we were there when the pair behind us caught up. One of them took out his GPS and said “Alright, we made it!”. I was happy to hear this because I was getting really cold. We took a couple of pictures and started heading down. It was 4:30am – we made it from Ingraham Flats to the summit in 4 hours 15 minutes.
Mt. Rainier Summit 4:30am, August 23, 2008
The whole way up we had seen an endless stream of headlamps heading up and we were hoping that they would be past the cleaver before we made it there. We started to hit the guided groups right on top of the ladder. There were only a couple of spots that we had to wait for them to clear especially sketchy places before we could go. Almost everyone headed up seemed in good spirits and we were probably motivation for them. After passing about 40-50 people we made it to the top of the cleaver and started down – we only passed a couple of independent climbing pairs coming up at that point. That was good news because there isn’t much room on that section. We stumbled into camp at 8:00am. We were tired but knew that after half an hour of laying down we would be good to go.
Ladder at 12,800ft
Descent on Disappointment Cleaver
Around 8:30 we packed up and started down to Paradise. We passed though Camp Muir and took our crampons off and put away the rope. This was a relief to my feet because I was developing some extremely painful areas from down climbing. From Muir down to the trail we glissaded at every possible chance. That is always fun and this time was no different. We trudged it out for the last two miles through the Saturday park visitors and made it to the car at 11:30am. I thought my feet were going to be hamburger but they didn’t look too bad. I was amazed that boots I’ve never worn previously treated my feet so well. This was definitely the climb of my short climbing career. I can’t wait to get back out there soon. And to Jess, Thanks for setting it up and I look forward to future climbs with you.
I was on a trip with Alpine Acents last summer and my guide was the sherpa you were speaking of. His name was Lakpa sherpa if I remember correctly. He is an amazing guide and great to be around.(He also made an awesome burrito). Anyway congrats on the summit