My Father's Day giftMy summer goal of 2008 was to attempt Mount Rainier. After months of assembling a team through Summitpost and emails, Mike, Khee-gan, Jason, Chris, Tom, and myself (the old man of the mountain) were ready to go via the DC route. But the spring weather was terrible. So bad, in fact that just 3 days before we were to fly out, the mountain claimed a climber who sacrificed himself to keep his two partners warm enough to survive a blizzard. Several of us married guys had some smoozing to do with the wives to convince them we'd be OK. But the weather window opened up just as we got to Paradise. High pressure and clear skies made the views spectacular. In fact, it was a bit too warm. The plan was to camp at Ingraham Flats the first night. But due to the 60+ degree heat, and the fact that we only started with 2 liters of water each, two members of our 6 person team started cramping on the snowfield to Muir. The ascent was slowed because of this, so we decided to stay at Camp Muir to enable us to rest, eat, set up camp,melt snow, and prepare for the summit attempt.
So we got three hours of fitful sleep, woke about 11:30 PM, melted snow to top off water bottles- 3 liters each. Roped up,and geared up with 2 three person teams, we started the slog about 1AM. The temps had dropped to about 15-17, so it was near perfect with just a base layer and shell.
The trail was easy to follow - well booted in and wanded by the RMI guides. The Cowlitz Glacier up through Catherdral Gap were also a relatively easy climb. Due to the heavy spring snowfalls the crossing of the Ingraham Flats glacier was also a pretty direct route because the snowbridges were solid. There was evidence of house-sized snow and rock falls in this area so move fast if the sun is up. We missed the spectacle of Gibralter Rock looming over us on the way up while in the dark, but were able to take in it's massiveness on the descent.
We continued through the Disappointment Cleaver and did not feel a need to use the fixed lines near the top. We kept moving, one foot in front of the other, up to the Emmons Glacier. The Catabatic wind hit us somewhere around here so we had to stop and add a layer. Face masks/balaclava's were very welcome at this point. The route continued to be easy to follow, although narrow, so watch your step.
We spied the rim of the crater about 4:30AM, just as the sun was coming up. We could now see the awesome wildness of the glaciers, cravasses, and Little Tahoma below.
As we crossed over the rim into the crater, the sun was up, the wind stopped and we dropped our packs to push on up to the true summit. This took another half hour or so. Weather conditions continued to be extremely favorable. It was about 7 degrees at the top, with a 20-25 mile an hour wind, so the wind chill was probably somewhere around minus 15.We could see for miles. After the summit photos were taken, we geared back up and headed down.
Due to us being tired we did clip into the fixed ropes on the Cleaver. I wouldn't want to completely trust them however. Just be careful through here. One of our guys tripped near here. The shout, "falling" got my attention. As I turned, I saw Tom and Jason lying on the ridge in full belay position. Khee was arrested about 8 feet below and was able to get himself back up. His adrenaline must have been pumping! It would have been a long slide had he not been roped. While assembling the team I had to reject several people whom I did not feel had the experience. You've got to trust that the guy (or girl) on the rope will know what to do. Those guys all did the exact right things and it impressed on me that we had assembled a strong team. We got a taste of what a fall would look like a bit later. While taking a short stop to remove some of our outer layers a gust of wind sent my goggles and Khee's helmut to climber's Valhalla. Watching them bounce down a 45 degree slope, and disappear into a cravasse was enough to point out that this is no place to get sloppy.
The rest of the descent was text book. The snow below Muir was very soft. We were not able to glissade. So we slogged down, post-holing regularly. The success rate for Rainier is only 50% so I felt blessed to have made it the first time. We had ideal conditions. This would be a very scarry mountain in rain, snow, or whiteouts. Many thanks to the guys who responded to my "plans and partners" requests to make this trip a reality- Mike, Khee-gan, Jason, Chris, and Tom. I hope we can climb again. (I'll add some photos as soon as I have time)