Building Experience on DC

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Trip Report
Washington, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Aug 29, 2009
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72.92% Score
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Building Experience on DC
Created On: Aug 31, 2009
Last Edited On: Sep 15, 2009

Building Experience on DC

This trip report may sound unduly harsh but if the saying "good judgment is the result of experience and experience is often the result of bad judgment" then this is a story of developing better judgment. I'll apologize in advance for the length but even at over 2300 words it still does not encompass the entire trip.

I recently moved to Seattle from North Carolina. One of the toughest things about moving is that you have to develop new climbing partners. I use the word develop because more likely than not the first time you go climbing with someone your styles won't completely mesh, but given a couple of adventures your styles will start to blend and you develop a partnership that works. This is all based on the assumption that both you and your newfound partner are safe and have good judgment.

This past weekend I took up an offer to climb Rainier with two guys I didn't know. A guy I met on SummitPost, Josh, was organizing a trip and was looking for a third. I gave him a call and he assured me that he had years of experience on glaciers and was competent with crevasse rescue though he had never done it in real life. I'll give him credit because he went for full disclosure and said he was young. I have no problem with people being young because I only have four years experience in the mountains so if someone grew up in the mountains who am I to say that their years of experience are any less valuable than mine. In talking to him I came to the understanding that the third person on the rope team would be a very experienced, in shape climber and I would be a team member as opposed to a team leader.

I agreed to go on these assumptions and the next day Josh and I carpooled to Rainier and would meet the third guy at Paradise because he was coming from Portland and we were coming from Seattle. When we got to Paradise Bill, the third guy, was waiting for us and ready to go. I'll put this out on the table, Bill is deaf. I have absolutely zero problem climbing with someone with a physical limitation but I want to know about it before I agree to tie in so I can make an informed decision about the mountain, the route and the general safety of the team. Since Bill was ready to go and we still had to sort gear he took off and said we would probably catch him on the way up. I was a little miffed that Bill was leaving without us but he is 60 years old and I figured he knew what he was doing. I was also a little miffed that Josh didn't tell me about Bill's hearing situation but I kept that to myself.

Since it was late in the season the hike to Camp Muir was not in the greatest shape. Instead of a snow slog all the way up, the route was melted out and from 8500 feet to Muir it was crevassed alpine ice. I wasn't expecting crevasses or ice this low but I was already prepared with ice screws for higher on the mountain so the ice wasn't a deal breaker. My first justified misgiving was when I gave Josh an ice screw and he looked bewildered by the need for a screw, why there was a plastic cap on the bottom and what the attached runner was for. I didn't like this one bit but I gave him a quick run down of how to place an ice screw and off we went.

The first hour or two of the hike was pleasant. Manicured trail, luscious scenery and the foggy mist was keeping me from sweating all that much. It was all around fantastic except for the fact that every time Josh needed water we would have to stop so he could take off his pack and get a water bottle. It was time consuming but we were in no rush. On one of these stops I noticed that he brought an insulated cooler lunch box. This seemed odd to me for an experienced climber but to each his own I thought.

We didn't hit snow until pretty high on the "snowfield." I find walking in snow a little easier than walking on broken rock so I was happy that we were finally there but well aware that now that we were on the snowfield we would have to take heed to the warning signs about crevasses. Josh was moving a little quicker than I was and started blazing a trail through unbroken snow even though there was a clear, kicked out trail. At this point I made the decision that he had overstated his experience and I was compelled to say something. An experienced climber would know that you should follow the kicked out trail because it is both less tiresome and safer. Josh was receptive to the advice and things were still moving along ok. I was slightly concerned that we hadn't caught up to Bill but we were moving at a slow but steady pace and I wasn't too worried about it.

When we finally cleared the mist it turned into a glorious day. Josh and I were feeling strong and we were making good time. Also with the mist gone we could see how broken up the snowfield was and that from 8500' up it was going to be wet, broken up ice. When we arrived at the ice I decided that it would be easier to put on my crampons and I suggested to Josh to do the same. They weren't necessary but it made walking easier and I would hate to find myself in a situation where I need my crampons but it is too nasty to put them on. Josh decided not to put his on and I didn't think much of it.

The snowfield was pretty broken up and as we continued it required some mild route finding. The widest crevasse was about five feet across and maybe 20 feet until a dirt bottom. Not a man-eater but definitely enough to ruin your day.

Nothing all too exciting happened the rest of the way up but seeing the condition of the snowfield and seeing the condition of the route above I was teetering towards calling Camp Muir our "summit."

Josh and I got to Camp Muir, set up shop, ate and took a nap. Bill was nowhere to be seen but there were a lot of people there and he could have been nestled up in his bivy sack having a mid-day snooze like I just did.

One of the best things about Camp Muir is that everyone congregates around the hut and just sort of sits around and bullshits. In bullshitting with the other guys and gals I found out that the route was pretty beat up. Instead of the slog to the top that the Disappointment Cleaver normally is, it was as the ranger said "sketch factor 12" and "the wild west up there." RMI had hauled some ladders up there to cross some wide crevasses but the glaciers kept moving and bending the aluminum ladders. To me that kind of action on a glacier requires confidence in yourself and confidence in your team. The pit of my stomach said no and after figuring out that it was the logical side of my brain and not the fear side saying "no" I told Josh and Bill.

Bill tried to convince me to go just around the corner of the cathedral to check out the rest of the route. I immediately thought this was a bad idea. For one, Bill had left half an hour before Josh and me and arrived two hours after we did. He was not a speed demon and in the few hours at Camp Muir I had heard multiple non-trivial rockslides coming from up above. If you've ever climbed the Disappointment Cleaver you know that even under the best conditions the cathedral drops fist-sized rocks down and these were not the best conditions. I would want to turn the corner on the cathedral quickly and I did not see that happening. I also knew that it would be night when we turned the corner and even under a half moon I could not properly evaluate the route above.

I stuck to my guns and Josh and Bill respected my decision. If you two are reading this, thank you. The rest of the evening went fairly smoothly with only little things irking me like Josh asking for half of my last liter of water even though I found out later he had a liter and a half left that he forgot about. Or Bill asking me how to get water and then finding out his lighter didn't work and his stove was non-functioning. I felt like I was guiding them and that is not what I signed up for.

The next day we headed down. I gathered clean ice and brewed water for Bill and Josh while they packed. We were going to head down the now hard ice together at a safe, leisurely pace with another team of four. After filling their water bottles I started to pack. A little while later I discovered that Bill had decided to leave without us and was now the sole spec moving through the crevasse field. He didn't tell Josh or me that he was leaving and all I could think was "mother-f**cker, if I have to pull your body from that field I am going to be so pissed."

Josh and I started down with the party of four as planned. We got to the ice and I told Josh that he should put on his crampons. He said he was fine and I relented. After about 100 feet and a few slips Josh decided to put on his crampons. He sat down, pulled out half his pack on the ice slope because his crampons were towards the bottom of his pack and started putting them on. I stood there and watched patiently while he adjusted their length and tried to strap them on. It was pretty obvious that these weren't his crampons because they were not sized for his boots and because they were the kind made for boots with heel welts and his hiking boots did not have heel welts.

After a little fiddling with the crampons he made the best of it and we kept moving. Soon enough a crampon popped and he bit it. At this point it was safer to have them off than to stumble with them on so he strapped them to his pack and moved very cautiously down the ice field. As the field got steeper we moved slower and slower eventually to the point that Josh was not going to be able to continue safely.

I thought about numerous scenarios including short roping him but what turned out to be the best solutions was eating my pride and catching up to the party of four and asking if one of them had strap on crampons and would trade with Josh. In that party of four was quite possibly the kindest soul I have ever met. She was willing to trade crampons and hiked back up the ice field, strapped her crampons to Josh Cinderella style and was pleasant the entire time.

Bill was nowhere to be found and I could only assume the worst. Eventually Josh and I caught up to him and after a few small misadventures we made it down safely.

In reading this I realize that I am using harsh words but I want to make sure my message is clear to Bill and Josh. It is extremely easy to get in over your head in the mountains. You need to have the gear, the judgment and the team to tackle a big mountain. It is like the poker saying, if you don't know who the sucker is at the table it is you. In the mountains if you don't know what the risks are and what to be worried about then you should reevaluate your plan.

I can't end this trip report on a critical note so I'll end it with some unsolicited advice to climbers looking for experience. One) take a climbing course. If you are going to pay a guide service go on one of their skills courses and not on just a summit climb. I took AAI's Alpinism I course and really liked it. I'm going to take an avy safety course soon because I don't know enough about avalanches. You can never have too much training. Two) climb "boring" mountains with experienced people. The conversations alone will improve your climbing tremendously. Three) don't overstate your climbing abilities. Four) check your gear before a climb. Make sure it works properly and is packed correctly. Things like crampons, harness and rope should be at the top of your pack for quick access. Go over your gear with your partner if you're not confident. Five) know your knots, know your safety system, know your exits to the point where it is not a thinking process it is just a reaction. I have practiced crevasse rescue on my living room floor with an ice ax and rope. I looked ridiculous but I know what I'm doing. Go to a local crag and prussic up a fixed rope. You'll soon figure out that it is exhausting but can be made easier with practice. Six and final) be patient. Just like medieval battlefields were littered with the bodies of mediocre swordsmen, mountains are littered with the bodies of mediocre climbers. You'll get there in time so don't give up.



Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-8 of 8

billisfree - Aug 31, 2009 5:32 pm - Hasn't voted

Rather Sarcastic

Hi Jon, I'm "Deaf Bill"

You sure have me smarting over the matter.
I'll give this thing thought before I open my mouth.

vancouver islander

vancouver islander - Aug 31, 2009 10:07 pm - Voted 5/10

I think you should....

...shit on people in private before you do so here.

Your report has limited value as beta and is generally offensive in its tone. I can't think why you bothered writing it.


EastKing - Aug 31, 2009 11:15 pm - Hasn't voted

Lots of Learning Lessons here...

You make some good points here, but there are things that you have learned here as well.

1) Take a good hard look at summit logs, posts and TR's before you blindly go up something like Rainier with people you haven't climbed with yet. Research them well because your life is on the line with them.

2) When you and the others have established an interest with a potential climber do a number of warmups hikes/scrambles with them. Mailbox Peak, Mount Adams, and South Sister are good climbs to bond on.

3) Look at the seasons for the volcanoes. You can probably climb these volcanoes at anytime but knowing the best time will give you the best result. Though Rainier is doable, the best time for Rainier is early July before there are any crevasses on Camp Muir snowfield. Mount Hood the season is April and May. Baker is June and early July.

I have made excellent friends from this site including Gimpilator, Redwic, Natreb and Magellan. I think what has led to our success and friends is by doing lighter than Rainier stuff before jumping in the hardcore.

Both Josh and Bill definitely have there strengths and I wouldn't all around dismiss them. If Josh is up to your speed than he has improved dramatically from when I hiked with him last in April and many times before then. He would be a good companion to bring on South Sister, Maude, Seven Fingered Jack and Dragontail-Colchuck.

Bill specializes on Hood and Adams from what I have read and would be good on hikes and smaller scale snow climbs.

Hopefully everyone here has learned from their mistakes and thankfully everyone is alive. Put up some pics.


Klenke - Aug 31, 2009 11:53 pm - Voted 5/10


I'm with Vancouver Islander on this one.

Everyone's climbing prowess is a matter of relativity: we all fall into the "echelon" somewhere.
Everdayexplorer: one day you might join up with a group who could climb circles around you and make you look like a gumby. Should we expect that they will write a TR on some website somewhere merely for the purpose of crapping on you from great heights?


calebEOC - Sep 2, 2009 3:27 pm - Voted 10/10

I have kind of enjoyed this little bit of drama

This reminds me of some other trip reports I have seen submitted to summitpost over the years where facets of the community are upset with the content, but each and everytime its been fun to follow. Reading some of these critical or wreckless trip reports is what makes this site so much fun, and its great seeing how people respond to these situations when they are the target. Ultimately I hope there is some greater benefit to be found here than my entertainment though!


billisfree - Sep 4, 2009 9:58 pm - Hasn't voted

Unfair criticism...

In reply to Jon's post:

I sent Jon a personal message - which he never responded.

Now I intend to answer his remarks:

The report looks very straight-forward and honest. I suspect
he has since edited the report since my e-mail to him.

I agree with Jon on the majority of his report. Yes, know
your equipment... such as test stoves the night before the climb.

Jon originally claimed that I had "a tendency to wander off".

From my previous climbing experiences, I'm well aware I have
a "slow and steady" attitude. And Josh was informed of this.
I've climbed with both slow and fast climbers. Being 61 years
old and judging from these two young climbers... it seemed wise
not to hold them up with my potentially slow pace.

Why not go ahead and take a SLOW walk ahead of them? Jon didn't
object and I was not aware that I was offending him.

Did I go wrong here?


As fate would have it, the trail signs giving directions to Camp Muir
were not all there when we needed them. The fact that it was foggy
was a contributing factor here. I didn't take chances -
I asked around and eventually fell in with another group led
by an experienced guide. Unknown to me and my partners,
we almost DID meet up... just before this "experienced" guide took a wrong path.

Did I go wrong here?


I have no objection to the condition of the Muir Snowfield. Several
cramponless hikers were climbing it. I try to stay within
sight of others and take no chances. I always follow the
track of others when possible - extra insurance that if there
is there is a hidden crevasse in my path - somebody would fall in before me.

Throughout this walk up, I assumed my partners where behind me,
they assumed I was ahead of them. They climbed fast, I climbed

Once at Camp Muir, Jon and I met up. He claimed he got there
two hours before me. Josh disputes this. The time difference has not yet be resolved. Futurmore, Jon
claimed I was an "out of shape" climber. (Jon has since
edited out that statement.)

Based on what Jon KNEW that evening, he probably made the right
decision. Of course, I was exhausted, very hoarse, didn't feel
like talking until my throat recovered some.

What more - still more climbers who started at same time I did,
where arriving at Camp Muir an hour after me. I was not the fastest nor was I the slowest. What more, even the slower climbers made the summit the next day.

What can I say? I arrived at camp in questionable condition, left
me considering my own abilities. I still had good strong legs but
was very low in body energy reserves. I promptly prepared
my supper and ate ASAP. There was only a mere 5 hours before the
11PM summit start. Could I recover in time? Since we didn't
try, I will never know. Jon never asked how I felt about my abilities.

Did I do wrong?


Camp Muir was colder than anything I experienced on any of my climbing
adventures - in the mid-30's.

I am no stranger to cold weather, I grew up playing in the snow at 20 below
and delivered newspapers in deep snow and sub-zero weather. It's sure
is murder when the chill factor is added in and the roads aren't plowed!


Jon eventually got the glacier conditions from the ranger and decided
not to go. Did I care? I don't take chances. ANY climb is a fun
climb, summit or no summit! I cancelled solo climbs before and am
willing to do it again.

Since I bought a summit permit and came all this way, why not at least
TRY? We can always turn back if conditions got too dangerous. Why
not at least, hike around Catheral Rocks for a look? I think Jon
thought I meant TONIGHT. Again mis-communtications got in the way.

Did I do wrong?


As for melting ice for drinking water - I never had to do this before.
All too many times, I never drank enough water. I'm wiser now.
Jon and I melted ice together a nice experience. Jon had a Jet-boil
kit while I had a pot and small burner which I bought on e-bay for $10.
It was interesting to compare the speed of the different systems. Jon's
Jet-Boil melted a smaller amount of water and had to be emptied more
often. My system held three times more water and seemly melted ice
slower. I would say the Jet-Boil is twice as fast overall. And yes
I DID light and test my burner before the climb.

Jon says my lighter didn't work... well yes and no. I had two lighters,
one which I threw in without testing. The 2nd which I was more familiar
with, worked fine.

Also, the wind gusts sometimes blew out my flame. More lessons learned!

Jet-Boil has my vote - costy toy, tho.


As for the going down criticism... wait a minute! Nobody informed me
that we were going down with others. I assumed it was just me and
my two partners. I waited... and could see they were packed. Clearly
they would follow after me once I started. I always try not to
rush myself when going down - especially at the beginning and at the
highest, riskiest parts.

I took my time and care. With my GPS, I followed the EXACT same path
that I came up. Of course, with ice and the thin layer of snow on ice
our previous tracks were rarely there. I do not JUMP any crevasses
and always step over them with great care - often planting my ice
axe on the other side beforehand.

The top part of the glacier was pretty much melted down to the bare ice.
I didn't see the relatively level glacier as dangerous nor risky.
Any fall on the ice would have resulted in a very short slide - maybe
2-3 feet. Sandy residue covered a lot of the ice.

The ice was highly fractored and majority of the few crevasses were less than a foot wide.

Jon must have thought otherwise. Prob, within 15 minutes we were
out of sight - by a rock pile... then I was over the curve of the
glacier, so we didn't see each other for an hour. I took my
time, had time to pause and change out of my hot clothing and sit around waiting for my partners to catch up.

If Jon was worried - I didn't know - sorry.


As for Jon's account of the crampons problems with Josh. I wasn't
with them at the time. I prob would have given Josh my own crampons
and walked down on my own boots. Crampons seemed to make things a
little easier and a little safer. But the glacier was clearly hikeable without crampons.


And like all my previous climbs, I'm pretty sure-footed going down
steep rocks and glaciers. I more than hold my own against younger
men. But once down on level ground, the younger people quickly pick
up the pace - leaving me behind. I have to RUN to keep pace.
Often times, I am with low energy at that point - stumble more. So
I pace myself. Overall, I'm trying to take care of myself and not be a burden to others.


And lastly, Jon claimed I was a risk since I was "unable to hear rope commands".
He appears to have edited this out since.

What can I say? They let deaf people drive, don't they? Deaf people
as a rule are more observant and safer drivers.

True, I might not hear rockfalls, avalances or noise of other climbers falling.
So, in my situation, I should not be the lead climber. Any sudden action
by the climber in front of me would alert me to something amiss.

Like any adventure - we strive for perfectly safe fun. Still things go
wrong - they always do. Be prepared and take it on the chin.


And at the summary of Jon report, I agree with him. Jon probably doesn't know
this, but I took two certified mountain climbing courses and climbed with guides
before. Like Jon, I don't have any avalance training or crevasse rescue training.
Like Jon, I too, practiced crevasse rescue and pussiking up the rafters in my

I agree with Jon, the least-likely needed equipment is packed at the bottom of the pack. Who doesn't know this?

EVERYBODY in our group was cordinal, tactful and polite THROUGHOUT the climb. I've been with groups where tempers have flared. Apparently, Jon wanted to express his feelings afterwards - which is good.

The REAL learning comes through experience.


EverydayExplorer - Sep 6, 2009 11:00 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Unfair criticism...

These are my public thoughts. My private thoughts on Bill's lengthy comment have already been sent to him.

1) The report is straight forward and honest, period, end of story. Some of my more blunt, but truthful, opinions where in a thread that has now been deleted because the originating member is no longer part of SummitPost. It is a cowardice act to edit the substance of words already spoken and I would much rather apologize than retract opinions already voiced. In this case I have neither apologized for nor retracted a single word I have said.

2) While in many other facets of life it is better to be lucky than good, in the mountains that does not fly. Sure the guided climbers with rented crampons and axes made the summit under the careful supervision of a AMGA certified guide, but should they have? Just because you summited doesn't mean that you should have summited.

3) On a personal note. I have taken formal skills courses through AAI. I have formal instruction in crevasse rescue including "live" practice. I read back issues of Accidents in North American Mountaineering and I am resolved to never grace those pages.

The drama associated with this TR has gone too far and frankly I am tired of it. A TR is simply the recounting of one's trip. I wrote my experience and what others decide to take away from my experience is up to them.

Cascade Scrambler

Cascade Scrambler - Feb 16, 2010 9:23 pm - Voted 10/10

A lesson lived is a lesson learned

Your trip report may save someone in the future from taking the same trip you did. With that in mind, I appreciate your report and your honesty.

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