Yes, the world does look different from 14,000 ft. or, Mt. Rainier, step by step
Traveling above the clouds for a few days sets the surreal mood. That is, if you’ve already forgotten that you’re living, cooking, sleeping, walking on a glacier, a slowly moving mass of perennial ice! But I get ahead of myself.
Slaterville might as well be at sea level, but Seattle definitely is. Chris and I met Justin there a day before the rest of the party arrived to get set up for the climb. Chris, Justin, and Tim would guide Jim, Terry, Mike, Al, and me up Mt. Rainier, so there was some preparing to do: buying essentials and parceling out food for breakfast and dinner so that it would be easy to find and cook when we wanted it. Let’s just say you don’t dally too long over the menu on the mountain. You want to break it out and eat! Lunch, if you’re wondering, is an ongoing snack period that lasts from about an hour after breakfast until dinner’s ready, consisting of whatever energy bar-nut&fruit-cheese-GU-cracker-candy bar concoction fuels you best!
This climb would take us up (and down) approx. 9,000 ft.
We would hike from the Jackson visitor’s center, sitting at 5,400 ft, up to and through the Muir Snowfield and on to Camp Muir, a gain of about 4700 ft. and 4.5 miles. After a rest and a visit to the last enclosed outhouse, we’d rope up and strap on crampons for the first time (the REAL first time for most of us!) and start across the Cowlitz glacier, through the steep chossy rock of Cathedral Gap to reach our camp at Ingraham Flat, on the Ingraham Glacier, at about 11,000 ft. With generous rests, that took us about 8 hours.
The next morning, Summit Day, we’d head down about 400 ft. to pass below a ridge called “Disappointment Cleaver,” then back up onto the Emmons Glacier and up up up, looking for the summit at 14,440 ft.!
Day 1, Seattle:
We found a decent diner–the Pancake Chef!–right up the road from Sea-Tac airport, but the diner-flavored coffee would have been labeled poor even if we were not in the coffee capital of the US. Sadly, the only thing we could find on our search for a grocery store was Starbucks! There is no photo documentation of this travesty…
Here’s our neatly labeled bags for mealtime, 1 per 4-person group. Note the pink scrubbies–no scrimping on cleanliness!
Rolling little bags of TP for everyone…Oh no! It’s only 1-ply!
Spent the afternoon with a quick trip to the “flagship REI” for stuff, then a trip to the Queen Anne neighborhood and Puget Sound with friends from Ithaca.
The guides acclimatizing to the cold…water temp approx 55°. It was a short swim.
Digital Zoom is very cool…
Day 2, Getting there:
Jim, Terry, Mike, and Al have arrived, and after a quick trip to REI # 2 for gear rentals & lunch stuff, we’re off to Rainier to camp & practice some skills before going up. We saw the peak in the sun yesterday, but this day is cloudy, and the new arrivals get no visual sense of what they are about to undertake.
We get a teaser view of the moraine. This is the huge load of rock and water flowing out of the enormous Nisqually Glacier. Still no view of the peak.
As we drive up the switchbacks, the pines become more and more streaked with moss, the understory full of enormous plants reaching toward the light, and the climate is how I imagine the cloud forests to be. It’s totally hobbit country. Getting to explore Middle Mountain will have to wait for another trip.
Day 3, Finally, the Mountain:
Early Saturday morning we are suited up, feet taped with duct tape to ward off blisters, heavy boots on (mine are comfortable leather at least, not plastic–thanks for the loan, Lorie!), backpacks loaded and ready to go when the mountain reveals herself to us at last. She’s a looming surprise, a mix of delight and dread. She’s an enormous bulk and she’s also RIGHT THERE!
Head em up! Move em out!
Clouds burned off quick, leading to a very warm day. Still on pavement at this point. Do these people look like they know what they are in for? 3 of them do! The characters: Justin, Al, Terry, Mike, Jim, Chris, and Lynn (Tim is taking the pic).
Looking up at the glaciers, a frozen cascade glowing blue.
Looking down at the moraine we saw on the drive up. Haven’t we come further than this?
Taping up the feet again. The real slog begins as we hit the snow field.
Resting and eating somewhere mid-snowfield. It’s a big, big hill.
Captain Chris and Jim
Justin, Lord of the Clouds!
Mike and Jim, ready to roll!
Reaching Camp Muir. Chris welcomes the crew, headed by Justin & Al. I am in the teeeeny little white hat bringing up the rear!
Humanity and outhouses at 10,100 ft. The question I know you’re all dying to ask is, “where are you gonna ‘go’ after you leave outhouse territory?” and that answer will come later. Those of you who walk dogs with a grocery bag in hand already have experience with this sort of thing.
Leaving Muir with crampons on for the first time, and starting across the Cowlitz Glacier toward our camp. That’s me in back. With an ice ax.
Everybody hates going up and over the choss of Cathedral Gap, but Terry hates it the most! expletives deleted…
Camp at Ingraham Flat finally!
There are good tent platforms already dug in, so we get to work setting up. We’re exhausted from 8 or so hours of slogging, and now there’s the work of unpacking, digging snow to heat, filter, and make fresh water, heating up dinner, and heating up us. My fingers are freezing, and I know everyone else is cold, too. It’s chillier than we thought it would be, but there is no wind, and a few hours of daylight left. All in all conditions are fantastic.
Chris and Justin making use of the dinner packets–cous cous and sausage tonight. Thanks for cooking, guys! I am staying right here in the tent.
Panza llena, corazon contenta. Justin, me, and Terry tired but warming up and well-fed.
The sun sets on Little Tahoma and Day 3.
Sunrise, Day 4:
We got going at 4:30, waiting for the guided groups from Camp Muir to pass so that we would not risk bottlenecking. The hours between midnight and 2 a.m.-ish were filled with the noise of other groups from our camp talking, packing, and leaving; voices of the roped groups passing through from Muir; and the fears and calculations in my own mind keeping me awake, convincing me I was unprepared to undertake such an unknown. Cold and alternately doubtful and excited, I roped up with the rest, and we started down the 400 feet or so to take us around to Emmons Glacier, and toward the top.
So happy I cow-girled up! I would have missed this.
Very short section of almost vertical with a fixed rope. After this, we’re on the Emmons side.
Terry passes a crevasse in front of Chris
Circumnavigating a larger crevasse via a bridge just out of frame
Me and Chris at the summit crater!
We hit the rim with Jim and Al at 10:06 a.m. Sunday, and spent an hour in the sun with lunch on the warm volcanic rocks. The true summit was still across the crater and a few hundred feet up maybe, but this was good enough for us. We were happy to hit our goal of arriving at 10 a.m.
During practice, Chris talked to the group about truly being “on the mountain” even as you take every little (aching) step, as a way to show how imperative it is to watch every step and not sight-see too much, but also as a way to describe and appreciate the experience. I’ve climbed a lot and felt deeply honed in and connected to my climbing partner, the rock, and the task immediately ahead, which brings a beautiful focus and clarity that is one of the things I love about climbing. This was clarity x1000.
Maybe it was being so ridiculously far out of my element, but never has being mindful and “in the moment” brought together for me such practical safety issues and a connectedness to all the life around me–my partners, my husband, nature, God. There was a point during the climb when the group had to decide who felt like continuing and who wanted to return to camp. Going to the summit mattered to me, but having been there, I see it was just one of many little steps.
Especially since we still had to get down. The way up took 5 hours, and the return took 3.
Money Quote, Chris to Lynn: “You’re a real mountaineer now; you’ve pooped on a marquee summit!” And then he was love enough to carry the blue bag back down!
Captain Tim back at camp!
Underwear Man digs snow for water
¿Que onda guero?
gettin silly at camp
oh right, then it hailed.
Justin cookin away. Man, I feel sort of bad for being in here while they’re out there…
Day 5, back down:
home sweet home. Feet taped and getting ready to go back the 6000 ft. No significant blisters yet!
Ingraham camp site, last morning
Camp Muir and Mt Adams
Leisure tour never ends
I am le tired. Commence glissade!