A couple months ago, when my friend Kevin Shon brought forward the idea of climbing Mt. Rainier, I was a little skeptical, and VERY excited. Would there possibly be the chance that "fate" would work out that a number of my friends from West Virginia would have the same period of time off, that we could engage in an epic adventure? I knew that there was a small chance. but, small is better than no-chance. And, to increase the chances, it would be for me to say "yes." I knew for sure it would be something I would love to do.
and, it came together. 5 Friends: myself from vancouver, Sam and Gretchen from Alaska, Kevin from.... everywhere, and Corey, from North Carolina. As I was driving down to Washington state to meet them, it occured to me, that it was essentially a 10-year friend reunion. I would have met S&G at WVU during my freshman year at WVU, through Intervarsity (and, Sam lived a floor down from me in the dorms). The year later, I met Kev. Corey is a Outward bound instructor with Kevin, who easily got along with the group. We were happy to have him a long!
Day 1 Defeat: We had met in Tacoma, at my Papa's place on Tuesday, driving down towards Mt Rainier, shortly after lunch, and hunkering down in a small hotel, right outside the park gates. It was raining, so we were happy to have a warm place to sleep the first night, and sort out our gear. Early enough (at least we thought) we got up, to head to the ranger station at Paradise, and start our hike. That being said, since we had 5 people, loads of gear, and only a honda fit, there was some shuttling to be done. A longer road than thought, with slushy conditions, led to the shuttling, and starting off on the mountian to be later than planned. But, we were excited. Here we are, at the ranger hut, about to head off.
The distance between paradise and Muir Camp is 5 miles (8Km) and elevation gain of 4600ft (1400m). We are quite fit, thought this should be pretty manageable to do in an afternoon. Boy, were we wrong. The weather was TERRIBLE. complete white out conditions; our trails would be covered in hours & there was no way to see surrounding landmarks. it was impossible to even see contour of the snow, which resulted in both sam and I (at different points), walking straight forward, only to walk straight over (very large) snow ridges. Kinda scary, but at this point in the mountain, the terrain is pretty predictable.
Long story short of day one was bad weather, no visability, steep approaches (because we were hitting the wrong one!), and the decision to turn back, and head back to the hotel.
Points for day 1: Mountain 1, group 0. but, another night in a cute little cabin, more beer drank, and another good sleep to be had.
Day 2 Camp Muir: Weather was *significantly* better, but not perfect. We were able to get a good start on the day, see some of the mountain, and hike in long sleeve tops. Our bags were *heavy.* this was my first mountaineering trip, and the gear that you have to take is a bit ridiculous: snowshoes, tents, pickets, ropes, crampons, ice axes, etc. etc. etc. it was the heaviest my bag has ever been, but, we used pretty much everything we brought! This day was longer than expected, with an estimation of 4-8hrs, we liked to think that we would be able to make it in the shorter part of that range. 7.25 hrs later, we arrived at Camp Muir. The hardest part was probably the last 2 miles, when you can see the camp, but there is a LONG (fairly steep) snowfield leading up to it. There was no complaining though, as we were going to make it! point: MOUNTAIN, 0; GROUP: 1
when we got to camp, we got to setting up tents and cooking dinner. This was the first time that I experienced extreme cold. I wasn't expecting it, which was annoying. I think the combination of being tired, having put snow (with bare hands) into the pot to melt for water, being hungry, led to me just shivering and shivering. I wanted to help with set-up, but was.so.cold. I ended up burrowing into my sleeping bag, eating my warm dinner in my tent, and just taking care of that. It took about an hour, but I finally warmed up, and was able to join the group again. Eventually went to sleep, thinking that the next day we would have our first summit attempt. POINTS: MOUNTAIN: 1, GROUP 0
Points for day 2: Mountain 2, group 1. total: Mountain 3, group 1
day 3 Camp Muir: After a sleep in, and wait for the wind to continue to blow through, we finally were able to stay out of the tents/hut in early afternoon, without extreme winds. the sun came out (to a degree), though it was still pretty windy. we were feeling a bit antsy, so, decided to practise "skills." Since Kevin & Corey have some pretty solid mountaineering experience, we learnt things like self arrest (ha! hurray for trowing yourself down snow slopes, armed with an axe!), walking while roped up, walking over glaciers with crampons, communication across distance. despite being "stuck in camp," it was still kinda nice to be able to do some stuff, and nice to be able to have decent conversation with everyone who is around! points: mountain 1, group 1.
we went to sleep early (7pm), as the next day, we were going to check weather at midnight, and at 1:30 to see if it seemed reasonable for a summit attempt. The choice would be made then, for an "alpine start" at 4/4:30am. At midnight, the wind was still blowing, but, at 1:30, things had settled down. There were some stars out... So. it was as good as it was going to get. Time to GO! points: mountain 0, group 1
points for day: mountain 1, group 2. total: mountain 4, group 3
day 4 Summit attempt: We were up, and gathered all our stuff, ate breakfast, and greeted one other group who was going to also attempt to summit.
and, it is hard to describe this day. The weather was "good enough." Light was starting to come up when we were off, so we didn't have to have the headlamps on for too long. Hiking attached to a rope was not terribly challenging, but having 5 people really slows you down. The terrain was not "challenging," but we also got stuck behind the other group, which also slowed us down. At this point, no one had summitted in at least 10 days, which is rare for Rainier, but speaks to the uncertainty of the conditions. No one was sure what would happen, as we continued to go higher.
it was at this point, when we saw tahoma peak, and the sunrise, and the clouds, where things were pretty amazing. There is something about standing on mountains that takes your breath away. this was one of those moments. Mountain, 0, group 1.
we continued up towards the top of ingraham flats, found out that our "planned route" (Disappointment cleaver) was not going to be possible, as you could see large chunks of ice had fallen recently. Guided groups had been avoiding that route for a while, as the stability of the glacier above was unpredictable. The other route (ingraham direct) was what seemed to be the possibility. At this point, we had been caught by 2 groups of 2 skiers, and the other "on foot" group was close as well. People were hesitant, and in the end, only the skiers when on to push for the top. One group succeeded, the other group turned around early.
We dug a snowpit to assess conditions, listened in to the guides, and... once again, the mountain won. There would have been a slim possibility that we would be able to continue, but the fact was that it was uncertain. no one knew what the avalanche conditions would be like higher up, and the weather was starting to turn a little sour. After some deliberation, the decision was to head back to camp. mountain, 1, group 0.
We arrived back to Muir camp at about 9am. At this point, I felt quite defeated, but knew it was a reasonable decision. I am a baby at mountaineering, this was my first major trip. But, I am also a "goal oriented individual." I technically know that there is a lot to be said about the journey. But, I also don't go into things, thinking that I am going to pull out 1/2 way. If our stated goal was "lets make it to ingraham and reassess" from the start, I think i would be feeling better about our decision. But, we left camp muir with a "summit attempt" goal~ despite the an unstated "Sense" that no-one thought we were going to summit. Despite knowing it was the right decision, I was still very disappointed not to summit. mountain 1, group 0.
rest of the day was spent hanging out in nice weather, and watching more and more people arrive at Camp muir. In fact, one group of about 30 people arrived with a keg in "hand." The camp got *super* busy this day, so it was a fun atmosphere! I was sure glad, though, that many were day trippers, and would be heading down that day. It can sure get crowded up there! mountain 0, group 1
points for day: mountain 2, group 2. totals: mountain 6, group 5.
Day 5: Descent
We woke up nice and early, to blue-bird skies and no wind. We were about 3000 ft about the tops of the clouds... it was sunny, warm, and beautiful. There was a bit of a feeling of melancholy, as this would be the perfect weather to attempt to summit again... but, commitments are important. we said to our loved ones that we would be down on sunday. and, so we were heading down.
and, man did we have a blast! we slid, we laughed, we talked to loads of people coming up, we enjoyed the day. We saw many groups going for the summit (tiny little black dots, far far away on the mountain!)... and despite the fact that we were denied the experience, there is something to be happy about for them. We can't control what the mountain gives us, or when. Our day was to enjoy the descent, and the company that we were in... as it will be a while before we are able to experience this company again.
points: mountain 0, group 1. totals mountain 6, group 5.
there is something to be said about fun. Ive read about 3 types of fun. and, this trip consisted of all 3 types of fun. overall, it was amazing to know that you have no control over what is going on in nature... there were 3 definitely points (day 1 whiteout, day 2 windstorm, not summiting), where the mountain kicked our asses. we can't change that. and, it is hard to fail. failing sucks.
but, the mountain will still be there in the future. One thing is for sure... I gained confidence. I have now learnt that I can push myself, and that I *would* be able to summit something like this, given the right conditions. I would like to try again.
and, there was just plain old type 1 fun. The type where you know that you are loving life, and life is good. when you are in the company of good friends and god's creation. you look around and you think.... DAMN. this life. how could I wish for anything more?!?!?