Mt Rainier (14409')
Number of Days: 4 (May 22-25 2015) Memorial day weeked
Route: Paradise -> Muir Ice Fields -> Camp Muir -> Cowlitz glacier traverse -> Cathedral rocks -> Ingraham glacier -> Disappointment cleaver -> Columbia Crest -> Crater Rim
Mountaineering school/outfitter: RMI Expeditions
Itinerary: Day 1 - Orientation; Day 2 - Mountaineering school; Day 3 - Approach to Camp Muir; Day 4 - Summit and descent to paradise
Difficulty: Difficult (Glacier traversal involved - Crevasse rescue skills required)
Altitude gain/change: 5400’ to 14409’
(My guide) Alex Barber's blog: here
This trip was booked almost 6 months in advance and I was looking forward to it. But it so happened that I had to leave to India the next day I got back from this trip for my wedding. That’s added motivation to come back in one piece. So after a couple of thoughts about whether to postpone this trip I decided to just go for it. I wasn’t quite in the best of my physical form as well. Flights were booked and everything was already arranged. After packing all the stuff needed for the climb I got dropped at the airport by my at that point “Fiance”. We reached the campsite in Ashford late night/the next morning after picking up the rental car. We camped at the Big Creek Campground close to Ashford.
Glaciers - Representative map of Mt. Rainier (credits: Paradise Visitor Center - Model)
After a sleeping in till 11am we drove an hour to get to Paradise (the visitor center). It was then did I get the glimpse of Mt. Rainier standing majestic raising above the clouds and fog. The weather around Ashford and Paradise was wet and we were told that it was one of the good days up above the clouds. At 3pm, we went to RMI for our briefing and gear check. We met up with our guides - Eric Frank and Alex Barber. We met up with Lance Colley the day of the climb. The gear check left me with burnt pockets that day having to buy a parka and rent out more stuff for the climb. Having done with that we headed back to our campsite for the night.
The following morning we reported with our gear for Mountaineering school at RMI. We took the RMI bus to Paradise and from there hiked up the mountain for about an hour and to my surprise we were above the clouds and the drizzly climate. We walked up the mountain with blue sky above us. It was getting very very hot now. Sunscreen was a must and we started dabbing a lot of it. Mountaineering school consisted of rest-stepping, walking in the mountains, crampon climbing, walking, glissading and rope work. Sequence climbing practice was a lot of fun and is a necessary skill for safe glacial traversals. At the end of the day, I was pumped up for the summit climb. I was a little scared about the altitude and it’s effects on me. I’ve gone up that high before but I tend to acclimate slowly. Having said that I was ready to give it a shot as safely as possible. I did not want to push myself especially during this particular trip.
Sunday the 24th was the day we started our summit climb. That day’s itinerary was to walk a 1000ft an hr and get to Camp Muir by 5pm. Along with the heavy backpacks and steep incline it was quite demanding. The secret to mountaineering as Alex and Eric put it is to set milestones that are near - 1 hr, 500 ft and so on, get there and to evaluate if you could do it all over again. It’s the same principle that we use to run a marathon for example or swim. Trudging slowly up the mountain and taking breaks, we gradually gained elevation. Once we got above the clouds, the weather drastically changed to be a very hot clear day. Temperatures were in the higher 50’s but it pretty much felt like 80 when walking up the slope. It was a 5 leg journey up to Muir camp (5000’) with 15 minute breaks every hour. The last break was pretty much with the visibility of camp Muir. It looked so near but yet so far. We took about 40 mins to get up to the camp over the last leg. Camp Muir is a couple of shacks built way up in the mountains at 10080’ over a ridge. It overlooks the Muir ice fields to the south, the Cowlitz glacier to the east and ridges to the west. The north (upward) direction, we could get the glimpse of the crater rim of Mt. Rainier. The 4000feet looked so near. It was as if we could just waltz up to the top in no time. The summit attempt from here is actually a 8hr climb up the glaciers on a good day.
Mt. Saint Helens from Mt. Rainier - Camp Muir
After getting to the camp we quickly took off the stuff, rested ourselves and made our dinner. We were served with hot water and all I had to do was to mix it with the freeze dried food that I had carried up for dinner, breakfast and lunch. Dinner was super tasty owing to the fact that I was hungry after all the climbing I had done that day. We were asked to get to bed and try to get some sleep. We were to start our summit bid by 1:30am in the morning so we had to get up and get ready in the night. Having placed everything in order and getting ready for the climb, I decided to get to bed. However, I had severe headache from the time we got to camp and it wasn’t going away. Even after the 3 hr rest I took from 8pm to 11pm I was still having this headache. I let Alex know about my condition and took a pain killer for the same. I was now debating whether to push for the summit or just stay back at camp Muir. It was a very difficult decision to make. I knew as Eric told me that I’d feel good once I started climbing up to the summit but I very well knew that the way back down would just be extremely painful. The heart rate not so high on the way down along with all the blood rushing to the feet to keep me stable would increase my headache. I was quite confident of making it to the top but I did not want to risk fumbling around on the way down.
We were woken up at 12:30am and were to get ready. Everyone else around me started moving around getting their gear in order and preparing themselves for the climb. I was twice inclined to put on my stuff and get out there. I even did gear up but decided that it was best for me to relax here than go up 3 - 4 legs and then decide to turn around. After informing Eric and Alex, I just went back to bed to the world of imagination. I only got up at 7am missing the sunrise but feeling really good. My headache had finally subsided and I just had the entire morning and afternoon to pretty much myself enjoying the fresh mountain air. Chatting with the rangers up there I spent my noon waiting for the rest of the team to come back after summiting the crater rim. The only sure thought that ran through my mind and that which also is running while writing this now one month after the trip is that I should and will go back and get to the top of Mt. Rainier. @Jugal: When are you going to try the route again? July or August? Maybe I should join , I do have the permit :)
It was almost 2pm by the time everyone got back to camp Muir. Half of the team looked worn out but had the sense of accomplishment in their faces. They packed up all their stuff and we started our descent to Paradise. Camp Muir to Paradise is an easy walk down if you know where you are going and most accidents apparently happen because people wander off in a different direction due to whiteout like conditions or almost no visibility due to clouds and fog. It was also a lot of fun going down with some places where we could just slide down. We got to Paradise by 6:00pm and back at RMI at 7pm. Returning the rental equipment and certificate distribution took a bit and we were on our way back to Seattle. I had to take a flight out of Seattle the next morning being back at work only to get going to India the very next day.
In totality this trip was an amazing experience providing me with the opportunity to meet great people out there who love to climb mountains. I end this write up with the promise of going up to the top very soon.