"Do not wish for easier lives, wish to be stronger men" -John F. Kennedy
"I am not an adventurer by choice but by fate." -Vincent van Gogh
This was quite the undertaking. The previous year I climbed Mount Rainier in two days which was a little bit tiring, but not a big deal. This time it was both physically and mentally challenging due to the high altitude. We would be heading up from Sea level to 14,411 feet in about 14 hours which I had never done anything like this. Though out the summer I had been climbing so many mountains that you get to a point where nothing is hard anymore, you find yourself wanting a new challenge, something completely new. On this trip I got more than what I bargained for.
My buddy Eastking introduced me to his friend Jordan who turned out to be a nice guy. Jordan called me up asking if I wanted to climb Rainier, his work had his free time limited which I purposed the idea of doing it in a single day. My brother Michael decided to join on this trip making us a solid 3 man rope team. The weather at first was looking quite questionable, but every time I've been on Rainier I was above the clouds. This was perhaps the hardest climb I did all year.
A Day AttemptI started off my adventure hiding multiple buses to get to Jordan's house in Seattle. From his house we took off towards Paradise for our Rainier climb. Although it was misty, I was pleased that it was not raining on us when we first stepped out. The snow had been long since gone in comparison to my previous attempt. On our way to Camp Muir I saw some Lupine Flowers, Marmots, and some nice clearings though the clouds. As we near Camp Muir we get above the clouds just in time to see the alpenglow of sunset. It was quite rewarding just getting to Camp Muir.
At camp Muir we decided to take a rest and have dinner before we got up into the higher altitude. My brother noticed that he was running low on head lamp power which he was forced to ask the ranger for extras. The ranger then told us all about the mountain conditions and was nice to us. After getting tried in we were ready to cross the Cowlitz Glacier.
Crossing the Cowlitz was easy as expected, the altitude was not effecting me so far. The Cathedral Rocks were a bit of a hassle because the rope would get caught in the rocks making us have to slow down and whip the rope out of them. As we got near Ingraham Flats Michael was starting to feel the altitude which I kept in mind but did not think much of it. As we got higher breaks became more frequent, but still at a decent pace.
When ever I went to get a drink of water I would have ice chunks making it less desirable to get a drink. But I forced myself to because I knew it was necessary. As we got onto the Cleaver I started feeling sleepy. I've always heard about warnings against headaches, dizziness, and other sick feelings when at high altitude. But rarely do I hear about people complaining about getting ridiculously sleepy. I was feeling strong in my legs and in the lungs, but the altitude was starting to get to me. There is a point where we should have turned around sooner, but the ambition and that strive for pushing a challenge compelled us to continue. It wasn't about making the summit. Both Jordan and I have already summited before. Michael's physical condition was deteriorating quite rapidly and I silently nodded knowing that we wouldn't make it. Jordan wanted to see at least how far we could make it. This was now beginning to be a challenge because you just become so tired that you look at a pile of rocks and think to yourself "That would be so nice if I could just for sec lay down and sleep" but I knew how dangerous that would be. You tell yourself things like "Get a hold of yourself, we got a climb to do". After pressing on for what seemed like hours we were near the top of the Disappointment Cleaver. Michael finally announced that he cannot press on anymore in the condition that he was in. So we finally decided to call it quits and save this for another time.
Descending DownGoing down was a bit frightening. I was so sleepy that if we even as much as stood there for a few seconds idol, I would instantly fall asleep. The scariest moments are when you wake up to plunging in your ice axe and feeling like you could have slipped just then down the steep icy slope below. Staying awake was not easy to do when the altitude is effecting you more than you had anticipated. I would end up having to do everything I could to maintain a focus on what I was doing. When we got down lower it was a big releaf. After crossing the Cowlitz Glacier we rested for a while and watched the sunrise.
The weather now was nearly perfect. The snow was a bit icy on the way down but manageable. After an hour or so we were back to the car. This was quite a tiring trip. But my Rainier goal was not complete yet, a few weeks later I returned.
Rainier in a DayFrom my previous day attempt I knew this would be a challenging climb. This time my brother did not come in knowing that it would be too much for him. For the approach Jordan invited a friend who had little mountaineering experience. I was fortunate enough to get a hide from Jordan this time which meant no hours of busing and waiting which was nice. Like the other times, the weather was not looking so good, it was raining on the ride in which I was starting to estimate that we had between a 10-33% chance of making it. "What food will I need for the trip?" asked our driver. Jordan replied "Oh just a subway sandwich" which I laughed at this comment. "What would say say for a winter ascent of Rainier?" I asked. "Perhaps a second subway sandwich".
When starting out on the trail my boots felt quite tight making my feet have a pulsing feeling. This worried me, but fortunately this went away after a while of hiking. This was once again the usual hike up through Panorama Point, Pebble Creek and up the Muir Snow field in the fog. Near Camp Muir the fog started to clear up some revealing Rainier although some of it still lingering and rising. This time we made it to Camp Muir at about 3:20 p.m. which we rested for about an hour and started the crossing of the Cowlitz Glacier.
Scrambling the rocks during the day is much easier considering that you don't go off route. During the night some of the rock looks similar to the trail making it sometimes slower going. When we got above Cathedral Rock we were officially above the clouds. I suddenly became a lot more optimistic about us making it.
We were making great time, from Camp Muir to Cathedral Gap in about 20 minutes. But just as the weather was getting nicer above, as we cross over to Ingraham Flats the winds start picking up. At this time of year the Ingraham Glacier is quite broken up requiring us to go up a little bit of the Direct Route and then back down in order to get to the Cleaver. There are a few minor crevasse jumpings along the way. Before crossing onto the Cleaver there was perilous section that went over a snow bridge. There was no margin for error here, one one side you have a 50 foot drop below you, if you step in the wrong spot on the bridge it might collapse, and to your right is a very large cliff making this section the second most dangerous part of the climb. Also this spot has rock falling hazard as well.
The winds returned making the puffy jackets very nice to have. The sun had long since passed beyond the mountain making the air much cooler and giving the landscape an evening like feel. We had to make the best of our day light situation which is why we rushed up the Cleaver. Once we got above the Cleaver we were back on the glacier which was heavily broken up. We ended up having to curve far over to the right to avoid an impassible crevasse field which for the most part there was a pathway. But every now and then we would come across a section that you would ask yourself "Is this the way?".
Darkness came over the mountain, it was time to turn on the headlamps. There were now numerous crevasses that we passed by and step overs that we had to be careful. One of the latters to avoid a crevasse section was out of commission due to the glacier being to broken up. A moment later we came across what I consider the most dangerous part of the route. Most people who climb Rainier won't have to deal with this part as long as they don't climb in late season. The pathway suddenly seemed to have vanished, Jordan and I had to descend in a bowl like section. As Jordan took a few more steps I could head crackling noises and what sounded like we were going to break though! I instantly was in a bit of a panic wondering what would happen next. We spotted a set up rope that crossed over a very precarious crevassed section. It certainly would not be ideal to travel in the same way that the rope was set up. After hearing more crackles and seeing the icicles and the over hang behind us I realized we were on a ice shelf. Fortunately it was so compact and icy that it remained solid. If I recall correctly there was a jump that we had to be very careful about and make a big leap. After the Ice Shelf section and a few mini crevasse crossings things became a lot safer. But at the same time we were gaining altitude.
I was becoming very thirsty from the climb, every time I got a drink it was less and less desirable with the fact that the lid and the water was freezing over. It got to the point where I couldn't get the lid off until I banged it on a rock, then I had to use my ice axe to chip out enough ice to get a few sips of water. Looking to the East we could see the moon rising in a bright glorious red color, Jordan asked me "Wow! Is that the sun?" which I found humorous because it resembled it quite a bit. Getting up to 14,000 feet was fairly easy with little obstacles. I managed to find a spot that was out of the winds to capture a 60 second shutter speed shot of the view to the East. But the down side was that it made my hands very cold.
I once once again feeling quite sleepy, but unlike last time I felt as though I had a bit more energy in me and by this point we were almost there. Before getting to the crater rim there was a latter that goes over a big crevasse. What made it feel a little worry some was the fact that as you got on the ladder, it slid as you climbed across it. I held onto the provided rope just in case the ladder slid too far and fell in. After the ladder crossing it was a walk to the crater rim.
At the crater rim many people unrope here, but we were so tired and the fact that the winds were blowing hard made the idea unappealing. As we crossed the crater rim I started realizing why it might have been a good idea because the rope was constantly catching on Penitentes (ice spikes) making travel a bit more difficult. But soon we were out of the snow and onto the final rock section. I was feeling the altitude more than ever, but with us being 200 feet from the summit we slowly scrambled/hiked to the summit at about 11:20 a.m. I was excited to have completed this challenge.
Going Back DownWe stayed on the summit for about 2 minutes because the winds were blowing quite hard making us feel quite cold. The night sky was so beautiful, like being on top of the world. We could see distant city lights while at the same time being above the clouds with the moon shining brightly above. Every 1,000 feet of altitude we lost I felt much better and became less sleepy. My headlamp was semi low on power which for much of the way down I turned it off to save power. The moon light was so bright with the reflecting snow that I could see quite fine. The only real worry some parts on the way down were coming back through the ice shelf and getting off the Disappointment Cleaver. It was kinda funny running into the guides and such at 2 a.m. and telling them that we summited hours ago. The way down was pleasant in the sense that the winds stopped and it seemed warmer than before. After passing through Ingraham camp for some reason we got a little lost looking for the pathway. We had to walk over more mini crevasses looking for the right way until I finally decided it would be best to go towards the ridge of Cathedral Rock which eventually brought us to a boot path.
I considered taking off my crampons for the rest of the trip, but kept them on for the Cowlitz Glacier. This turned out to be a bad idea on my end. I was so tired that I kept tripping over my own crampons. I became heavily sleepy and was in a state of stumbling, partly because my ankles were giving way. "Hold yourself together, maintain focus" I whispered to myself. A second later I instantly lost focus and nearly fell on my face. This was one of the more miserable moments on the mountain were you start thinking to yourself "I need to take a break from mountaineering for a little while". Or at least those are your thoughts on the mountain when your exhausted. Part way across the Cowlitz Glacier I finally decided to take off my crampons because it was too painful to keep stumbling and nearly twisting my ankle on each step. Seeing Camp Muir ahead was such a teaser because I knew our pace was slowing down to a dreadful pace.
A while later we arrive at Camp Muir at about 3:52 a.m. and finally take a rest. I'll admit I was not soar, but was mostly sleepy. We decided it would be best to rest for a few hours before going back down. Just getting into my bunk was challenging because every time I did anything, it made quite a bit of noise which people were trying to sleep. I had to make very slow movements but eventually had myself situated. Then I instantly fell sleep.
Waking up 2 and a half hours later we decide to finally to pack our gear and head on down. The Muir snow field was a bit icy. I did not feel like wearing crampons again, so what I did was I used the textured snow field where it dips in to help me slow down as I went down hill in fast motion. After getting out of the snow I ran much of the way down in order to get to the parking lot in time to get an official less than 24 hour ascent and descent. On the way I saw some beautiful flowers and marmots. I made it down with time to spare.
I was disappointed that I had no victory treat because my crampons had punctured a hole in the soda can that I was looking forward to. This happened earlier on in the trip. On the way back home I once again had to take multiple buses. When I got home I could finally get some well deserved rest. Doing this mountain in a single day makes all the difference in the world in the difficulty.