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Well, the time had come. I haven't been this excited about anything in a long time. Me and a couple of close friends were meeting in Seattle to climb Mt. Rainier. Justin has been living there for the past year and Rayner flew in from Austin while I met them in Seattle from the old E.P.
We spent our first evening making final preparations and just messing around. We hit the sack around 2 am and rose at 4:30 to make the drive to Ashford and the RMI headquarters. We checked in and then headed up to Paradise (the parking area/visitors center) at the base of Mount Rainier. This was to be our "training" day. Basically learning basic mountaineering skills such as self arrest and roped team travel. We also learned some interesting breathing and stepping techniques that were really helpful.
This was a fun and relaxing day. We hiked a couple of miles up the mountain to a very small, and dirty, glacier to do our bit of training. We spent a few hours out there and then headed back to Ashford for a night at Whittaker's Bunkhouse for a good nights sleep before the next days hike to camp Muir.
I had been to this area before, but only made a quick drive through the mountains. I was, once again, blown away by the beauty there. Not only by the sheer size and beauty of Rainier, but of the surrounding mountains as well. What a truly special place.
So, a terrible dining experience later, we were in bed and excited about the coming events. We were able to sleep in a little bit and were up and ready just in time to get on the vans to head up to Paradise.
With heavy packs we took our time getting to camp Muir. We made our way up and over moraines and onto the Muir snowfield, taking a few breaks along the way. The day was absolutely beautiful and it was such a thrill to be actually heading up this mountain we have been waiting so long to climb.
The hike to Camp Muir is amazing in itself. Especially once you get higher on the Muir Snowfield and you have good views of of some of the surrounding glaciers. The Nisqually Glacier and ice fall is especially impressive, even from a distance. I have always been intrigued by glaciers, and getting my first views of some pretty large ones was very exciting.
We continued up the gentle snowfield and soon Camp Muir was in view. Before too long, we were unloading our packs and getting ready to pig out and hit the sack. The bunkhouse at Muir is nothing more than three stories of thick plywood platforms with sleeping pads scattered around. You grab a spot where you can and throw you bag down. We explored the area around the camp, had some dinner and tried to go to sleep. I actually slept for a couple of hours and slept pretty well. I had good dreams about climbing.
The lights came on at 11:30 pm, we were up and I was so excited about what lay ahead. We threw our gear together, had some breakfast and before we knew it, we were roped up crossing the Cowlitz Glacier in a near full moon with Gibraltar Rock and the Cathedral Rocks towering overhead. It was such a serene feeling watching other climbing teams heading up toward Cathedral Gap. All that could be seen in the moonlight was the glacier, the outline of the rocks above and headlamps of other climbers in the distance. It is a sight that I will never ever forget.
About a quarter of the way across the glacier, I got my first glimpse into a crevasse. I had to leap the gap, which was only about two feet wide, but as I did, I could see into the depths of the glacier for a split second with the light of my headlamp. It wasn't until the return trip in the daylight that I could get a good feel for the beauty of these amazing features, but I was overly excited nonetheless.
Up and up and up, pressure breaths and rest steps. Again, the pace was pretty slow, but that made the morning very enjoyable. I was able to concentrate on my foot placement a little better, and was able to enjoy my surroundings more to my liking. An hour after leaving Camp Muir, we were through Cathedral Gap and onto the Ingraham Glacier and taking a little break on the Ingraham Flats. This is a relatively flat section in between crevasses. Here, the wind really began to pick up and there was some light moisture blowing in front of our headlamps. This was a precursor to the storm that was on its way! A few of the climbers had had enough and opted to turn back with one of the guides, the rest of us were on our way to Disappointment Cleaver (the rock cleaver that separates The Ingraham Glacier from the Emmons Glacier).
Crossing the Ingraham Glacier was absolutely amazing. We had to pick up the pace a bit as we passed underneath an ice fall. It was like being on a different planet. We were weaving in and out of huge ice blocks that had fallen from the steep glacier above. Some as big as houses, but most the size of small cars. We walked along side some more crevasses and hopped another one in order to gain the Cleaver. The temperature really started to drop at this point and the light moisture turned into freezing rain. By the time we were on the rock of Disappointment Cleaver, we were all coated in about an eighth of an inch of ice. Zippers didn't work to well, and I had to keep scrapping ice off of my goggles. This all wouldn't have been to bad if it wasn't for the constant gusts that were throwing everyone off balance. The terrain was so steep that if a gust had hit at the right time and knocked someone over, it could have been a very bad situation. I was being excessively careful with each foot placement, kicking my crampons in and making sure my footing was rock solid before taking the step. And I think everyone else was doing the same thing because the pace was slowing even more.
We passed a few climbers that had decided to turn back, but continued on. On a set of switchbacks near the top of the Cleaver, everyone started yelling "rock" as one climber above had dislodged some ice. One of these pieces hit Justin in the chest and one hit me in the knee. Luckily they were small and only got our attention, causing minimal pain. I'm glad they weren't rocks!
The wind kept on coming and the temps kept dropping. Now we were in a pretty intense ice storm. I figured we would have to be close to the top of the cleaver by now, it had been two hours since we left the Ingraham Flats. For a split second I notices stationary headlights in front of me and knew it was time to take a little break. At this point it was hard to do much because it was so windy. I managed to get my parka on, but that was about it. I also ate a couple of pizza rolls quickly and hunkered down trying to stay warm.
At this point, one of the senior guides came over and let us know that we were turning back. We were all very disappointed, but we knew it was the right call. We were sitting at about 12,400 feet, just above Disappointment Cleaver. Rayner, Justin and I immediately looked at each other and said that we will just have to come back and make it to the top. So downhill it was. Soon, the sun started to lighten the surrounding clouds and we could see the terrain around us. Wow! None of us realized how steep the mountainside was that we were climbing.
Once we made back down to the bottom of the Cleaver, the wind died a little bit and it started snowing pretty hard. The huge crevasses on the Ingraham Glacier below were a truly inspiring sight. We got to cross a few smaller crevasses on the way back to Muir. I can really describe how amazing these are. It's just a beautifully empty void. I have never seen so much beauty in a hole before. There is the white snow/ice mix near the top, the deepening blue of the glacial ice below that fades into the blackness that is the soul of the crevasse. Yeah, that sounds kind of cheesy, but I don't know how else to try an explain it. One needs to look into one for themselves to really appreciate it.
The way down was a lot of fun and the weather got a little bit better. We had some nice glissading on the way down the Muir snowfield and before we knew it, we were back at Paradise. What a day! I wish we would have summited, obviously we all did. But I can not tell you how much I learned and how valuable the experience was. I can not wait to get back on that mountain!
|until next time...|
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