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Trip Report

Return to Rainier

Return to Rainier

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Washington, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 46.85280°N / 121.759°W

Object Title: Return to Rainier

Date Climbed/Hiked: Jun 22, 2001


Page By: iamaclimber

Created/Edited: Jul 7, 2005 / Jun 16, 2006

Object ID: 168824

Hits: 3637 

Page Score: 72.08%  - 2 Votes 

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Preparation and Persistence
by Archer Bell copyright 2001


On June 21, 2000 my long time friend, Bob Deevey, and I decided to come off a rope team on an expedition that was climbing Mt. Rainier. It was two o-clock in the morning and we had reached the Ingraham Flats section of the Ingraham Glacier. We had left from Camp Protection at 9,600 feet two hours earlier and had sprinted, climbed, scrambled, and fallen over ice, snow, and rock to the Ingraham Flats at 11,000 feet. We were winded, wet from sweat, shivering and at that moment not having any fun. We were about to reach the point of no return and decided to come off of the rope team to avoid the risk that the other members of the expedition would have to turn back because of us. One of our guides put us in a tent from another RMI expedition group and told us that they would be back in seven to eight hours. It was during those hours that the question of whether or not we could have made it with the rest of the group crept into both of our minds. At that time it was a question that I could not answer and it would take one year and one day before I would know the answer.


Bob and I returned to our homes from that week on Mt. Rainier much wiser and with a newfound respect for the sport of mountaineering. Susan, my wife accompanied me, when I flew out to Washington for the weeklong expedition seminar on Mt. Rainier. Susan planned on sightseeing with her youngest brother while I was on the mountain. On this first trip I was pretty sure that I would reach the top of the mountain if the weather cooperated. The weather cooperated better than we could have wished for, but Bob and I never saw the top of the mountain. Both of us wanted to see the view from the mountaintop. I am not sure if we decided that we would go back or if we ever doubted that we would go back, I just know that we wanted to stand on the top of Mt. Rainier. I was not ready or willing to admit defeat. I viewed this as a postponement of our summit. We also had a much better idea of what to expect and how to train for a return attempt.

Bob and I had purchased all of our personal equipment for the climb and that equipment supplied by Rainier Mountaineering Incorporated (RMI) for the expedition was not that different from the equipment that Susan and I use when we winter backpack in the Smoky Mountains. The only equipment stumbling block was that Bob refuses to sleep in a tent with me. He claims that I snore so loud that he gets no sleep. We would need separate tents when we returned.

I had enjoyed the alpine experience of just being on the mountain. I explained to Susan how I had seen views from the mountain that no camera could possibly capture and I wanted her to climb up to Camp Muir at 10,080 feet and experience the alpine environment first hand. We could spend some time together while I acclimated to the altitude. I was sure that she would enjoy the experience and it also gave her a goal to attempt. She accepted the challenge with some reservations. One of them was that she wanted to loose ten pounds of body weight before she would even attempt to climb. I agreed and we started to watch our diets more closely as I also wanted to loose some of my body weight before I got back on Rainier. I now had commitments for another climb attempt, setting a date was the next step.

The week of June 18-24, 2000 had almost perfect weather on Mt. Rainier, I thought that there was a chance for a repeat in 2001 so I planned the trip so that we would be on the mountain June 17-23, 2001. I called and made our airline reservations. This would allow us to fly into the Sea-Tac Airport on Saturday and spend the knight at the Paradise Lodge next to the trailhead that leads up to Camp Muir.

I was confident that Bob and I could climb the mountain on our own if we properly equipped and in good condition. As I have previously mentioned I knew that a lightweight tent that could stand alpine conditions would be needed. I knew of an outfitter in North Georgia that had a lightweight single wall tent that weighed less than five pounds. It would be perfect for my return to the mountain if I was going to have to sleep solo. The first time I got back to North Georgia after the trip I purchased a Garuda, Kusala single wall tent to use on Mt. Rainier and hopefully other alpine climbs in the future. This tent is light enough for me to carry by myself yet large enough for two people if necessary. I also started to research lightweight mountaineering ropes. There was no rush on the rope. The later I bought the rope the better because of the limited shelf life.

Although I have an ice ax it is not the ideal tool for driving in snow pickets. I had selected one of the lightest ice axes available and therefore I didn’t think it had the mass to drive a snow picket into hardened snow. I thought that an ice tool with a hammerhead would be ideal to supplement the light ax and would also make a great emergency anchor in the event a crevasse rescue was needed. I added the ice tool, a snow shovel, and pickets to my Christmas wish list in hope that Susan and my Mother might help out. Beyond what I had read in books like Freedom of the Hills and the RMI expedition seminar I had no other alpine experience. Before I purchased any other gear I decided to contact Adam Clark who is much more experienced than myself.

Adam Clark was one of the guides on the RMI expedition where Bob and I had gotten our initial alpine experience. Adam is young in years but I quickly realized that he is very experienced in mountaineering. I decided to contact Adam for advice on additional equipment recommendations. I was able to get in touch with him at the University of Montana where he was enrolled as a freshman. In my initial letter I had inquired if he ever just climbed for fun or if all of his climbing time was scheduled through RMI? Adam contacted me by letter and replied that he did in fact take some days off and spent some of them climbing for fun.

I called Bob and ask him what he thought of asking Adam to join us on our summit attempt. Bob was as excited as I was at the prospect of having an experienced mountaineer join us for the summit attempt. I wrote Adam and gave him the dates that we would be on the mountain and asked if he could take some time off and join us. Adam replied that with this much advance notice he was pretty sure that he could get a few days off and climb with us. Adam explained that it would not be like a guided trip, we would have to supply all of our equipment and planning. Adam would meet us at Camp Muir and we would then cross over the Cathedral Rocks onto the Ingraham Glacier for our start. I was ecstatic over the possibility of Adam joining us. I called Bob with the good news and we started our plans to return to Rainier.

Equipment and the trip itinerary would be the easiest part of the preparation, the hard part would be to get Susan and me physically prepared for what we had to do on the mountain. I knew from the previous attempt that you couldn’t fake it on the mountain.

Fortunately the county recreation department had recently built a gym complete with an exercise room full of machines designed to build strength and endurance. Susan and I got a membership and began working out several times a week. I also checked out my twenty-eight year old bicycle and after replacing the tires it was ready to ride. Susan’s seventeen-year-old bicycle only needed air in the tires, so we now had two roadworthy bikes.

By alternating between bicycling and the gym we were on our way to shaping up for Rainier. There were several evenings when one or both of us really didn’t feel like exercising but I would remember how exhausted I felt when I decided to drop out from last years climb and was determined not to let that happen in 2001. The recreation department also had racquetball courts where we were exercising. I called an old friend, Jim Roussos, who used to play racquetball with me years ago. Jim agreed to start playing again and we started meeting twice a week for a few games. Jim always won the games but it was fun and great exercise. I could tell that my endurance and speed were being helped by the routine.

Bob had reached the point in his police career where he was eligible for retirement. An opportunity to change jobs presented itself and Bob decided that the new job plus his retirement pension would allow him a welcome change in lifestyle. Bob started a new job and retired from the police department. Unfortunately his new job would not allow him to take any time off for ninety days.

This change meant that Bob would not be able to get off for our scheduled climb. This was a big disappointment for me, but as I told Bob the mountain will still be there for a future climb. I was not sure if this change would jeopardize the planned climb due to it only leaving two people on the proposed rope team. I called Adam to inform him of the change and ask his opinion. He said that he would be comfortable with just me on the rope with him and that the climb could still be made. I mentally went through a list of my friends to determine if any of them might be interested in making the climb with me. Most of them thought that I was crazy for climbing mountains and had no desire to join me on a climb. There was one exception however, Jonathan Evans. Jonathan had actually done a good bit of alpine climbing; he had been on Mt. Rainier several times and had also climbed in Canada a few summers.

The next time I was in A.W.O.L., our local outdoors outfitter where Jonathan works, I ask him if he might be interested in climbing Mt. Rainier with Adam and me? Later he got back with me and told me that he just might be in Washington around the time I planned to climb and he thought that he could join us. I was excited about the idea of him joining the climb. It wasn’t a commitment but a probability.

I called the park information number and made reservations for a climbing party of four to be on the mountain for the chosen dates. I also learned that the park had not received the normal six hundred inches of snow that normally falls. Only half of the usual snow had fallen. One of the climbing rangers told me that due to the lack of snow on the mountain that some glacier crevasses that normally aren’t visible until August could be seen early in May. I wasn’t sure just how this would effect our climb.

The planning was coming to a close. I purchased a new rope and added it to the other alpine equipment that had accumulated. I strongly believe in testing out equipment before you actually use or need it. I started rigging “C” and “Z” pulley systems and rescuing my garden wagon by pulling it up a stone ramp in the yard. It took me several attempts before I could get it right without consulting a crevasse rescue booklet that I had purchased.

I also loaded all of the equipment that I would need into my pack. It was heavy! I didn’t want to load Susan’s pack with anything except what she would personally need. With Bob dropping out of the trip I now was going to have to carry all my personal gear plus all of the group gear. With everything loaded my pack weighed NINTY-SIX pounds! I called Adam and went through the group gear list. He told me that I had too many carabiners and sewn slings. Other than those items I needed everything else. I started going through my personal gear and pulled a few items that I could do without. Re-packing the pack and stepping on the scales showed that I had reduced the weight by nine pounds.

I started walking around a trail that we have on the property with the pack for sessions up to an hour. I knew that when we got on the mountain that I planned rest breaks after each hour of climbing. This was the heaviest pack that I had ever put on my back.

Susan and I packed everything we would be taking into duffel bags that we hoped would survive the airline baggage handlers and loaded them into the car. We were ready to fly to Seattle.

Saturday June 16, 2001
Susan and I headed to the Augusta airport early that morning for our flight. Once at the airport we discovered that I had made a mistake about our departure time. Our plane had already left! The ticket agent noticed that if we left for Atlanta immediately by automobile we could catch our connecting flight in Atlanta. We loaded our bags back into the car and headed to Hartsfield-Atlanta International Airport. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t re-checked the departure time, there was also another change made by the ticket agent. We were not flying directly to Seattle as originally booked; we were going to change airlines in Denver. We made our connection in Atlanta and found ourselves in the first class section of our Delta flight. When we landed in Denver we were directed to a United Airlines gate at another concourse.

I went to get our boarding passes when we got to the gate and was told by the United employee that she couldn’t enter our Delta tickets into her computer without a number she needed from Delta. I found out what I needed to do and went on a mission. I ended up running from one concourse to another talking with people that were clueless about what I needed. I finally found a Delta employee that could help me and got what I needed. Returning to the United gate I got in line and was told that the plane was full. I felt a major temper eruption starting to surface but before it took place the first United employee that I had talke