Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mt. Rainier via Ingraham Glacier

June 4th I flew out to Seattle to meet up with my climbing buddies; Brad, Brian, Cary, Dave, Katie and Jeff. We all met up at the airport and rolled out to Ashford. We signed up with RMI to climb Rainier, the most glaciated mountain in the lower 48 states. We happened to get rooms for Thursday, Friday and Sunday nights at the Whittacker Bunkhouse, which is on the grounds of the RMI compound. Thursday afternoon we rolled into Ashford and checked into the Bunkhouse, a very minimal motel. Thursday afternoon we had a 3 hour meeting with our guides. We went over our gear and the plan for the next 3 days. After that we ate burgers at the RMI bar and grill and called it a night.

Friday we drove up to Paradise (40min) where we had our skills training. From 9-3 we practiced self arresting, walking roped up, along with other techniques. We were inside a"pingpong ball" the whole time. That means we were in the clouds and the visibility was no more than 40 feet. After the training skills class we all took the RMI bus back to the compound. We walked down the road to some local diner and ate dinner. I had an opened face chili burger which was pretty good. The salmon was less than favorable according to Brad and Katie. That night everyone retreated to their rooms to pack for our climb.

Saturday morning we met up near the RMI bus at 8am. We headed up to the Paradise area where we found ourselves in a light mist and once again inside a "pingpong ball". We scurried off the bus and headed into the bathroom hallway where lots of climbers were getting ready to start their climb. We made any last layer adjustments and met up with our RMI guides outside. We climbed up the Muir snow field for 5 hours and reached Camp Muir, our basecamp, around 3:30. Camp Muir is the most popular basecamp on Mt. Rainier. There is an outhouse along with various huts. We stayed in a hut Saturday night. We ate dinner around 5 and were in bed by 6:15. Yes, it was very light out. It really didn't get dark out until 10, which is when I really fell asleep. I had a dream that I was running a marathon in crampons. I was stressed out and woke myself up at 12:20am, the exact time when our guides were going to wake us up to climb. I thought that was a little creepy.

Soon after waking up from my marathon crampon race Gary our lead guide came in with the wake up call. We shuffled around and took an hour to eat breakfast (smores pop tarts ....yummy!) and get ready. 1:40am, I was rocking my crampons and helmet with my head lamp on. We were split up into 3 teams, 1 for each guide. My team was me, Katie and Brad and our guide was Eric. We roped up and headed out. The first leg of our route was crossing the Cowlits glacier and Cathedral Gap to Ingraham Flats. This took us a little over an hour. We braked for 10 min. We then climbed Ingraham Direct, basically climbing straight up the glacier. This was the hardest and steepest part of the climb. We crossed 4 or 5 crevasses and had no time to stop due to the avalanche danger. We also climbed a ladder and crossed a few snow bridges. This section of climbing was by far and away the most intense. I had never experienced anything like this. The deep crevasses were breath taking. At one point we got on all fours and had to scurry across (using our axes) a narrow snow bridge, while looking down a 50 foot crevasse. Crazy, but also very exciting! In addition to climbing around many obstacles, we were directly below giant blocks of snow. These blocks were huge, one section had broken off 10 days prior. Needless to say we hauled through this section. No time for stopping. We climbed for 80 minutes and took another break. By this time the sun was starting to slowly rise over the clouds. We were just above little Tahoma peak which was jetting through the clouds. From Ingraham Direct we climbed to "high break", this took another 70 minutes. During this section the sun was peaking through the clouds making for a spectacular view. We were now well above the clouds. I started to feel a little sick and light headed. I have felt this way before on steep climbs, it's an indicator my blood sugar is too low. I hurriedly ripped open a pack of frozen jelly bellys and ate them by the mouthful. Since they were frozen I let them warm up under my tongue for awhile. The tricky part about climbing is that my appetite goes away completely so I have to force myself to eat. During the climb I tried to consume as many calories as possible. Above 13,000 feet I love to eat jelly bellys. Feeling a little better though still exhausted we made our way up to the crater. Finally, around 7:30 we made it to the crater rim. From there we made our way into the crater and set down our packs to congratulate each other. After 5 minutes, Brian, Brad, Katie and I hiked across the crater for 20 minutes and climbed about 200 feet to reach Columbia Crest, the highest point on the mountain. It was about 15 degrees with sunny skies. We were very fortunate to have great weather. Once on Columbia's Crest we hugged and took a few pictures. I was relieved and overtaken with a sense of accomplishment. I trained for months leading up to the climb, lost 10 pounds and invested a lot of money in it. We soon headed back and met up with our group. On our way down I recorded a video expressing my thoughts. I called Columbia Crest "Clouds Rest", which is in Yosemite. I was not all there mentally, below is the video.

Around 8:30 we started our descent down the mountain. On our way down we could clearly see the route we climbed up now that is was sunny out. Wow, the Ingraham Direct route with the crevasses and giant snow walls looked even more daunting yet beautiful at the same time. We made two stops on the way down. One just above Ingraham Direct and the second at the Flats. We finally arrived back at Camp Muir around 12:30. From there we packed up our belongings, took off our crampons and headed back down to Paradise. The hike down to Paradise from Camp Muir was super mellow. We made it to Paradise around 3:30. Upon arriving at the RMI compound we ordered pitchers of beer and celebrated with our group, including our guides. After enjoying some beer and a burger we showered up and went into the spa where we continued to debrief and talk/joke about the climb. On Monday we packed up and returned to our residences with a new sense of appreciation for glaciated mountains.

3 days after the climb I am still trying to process my "Rainier" experience. All I can say about it is "incredible". All my climbing I have done doesn't compare to this experience. I was blown away by the beauty and danger of Rainier. What comes next? Maybe a climb out of the states. I know that the gang had a blast. I hope in 2 years we can get another climb organized. Everyone in the group was awesome! Thanks Brad, Brian, Cary, Dave, Katie and Jeff. I couldn't have asked for better people to climb with. I also want to thank my family for all their support and encouragement!

Below is a link to some of our photos:

Paradise: 5,400 ft (5 hrs to Muir)

Camp Muir: 10,100 ft (6 hrs to crater rim )

Crater Rim: 14,200 ft (20 min to Columbia Crest)

Columbia Crest: 14,411 ft

View Rainier in a larger map