Mount Rainier

This entry almost read as, “Mount Rainier, the trip that didn’t happen.”

As I’ve mentioned in my Mount Baker post, after climbing Baker, I just was not sure I was ready for Rainier three days later. The weather on Baker was so harsh it was mentally draining fighting it, and I was so sunburned my puffy skin was oozing liquid, which later formed into big scabs across my cheeks, forehead and nose.

Still…this was RAINIER! How does one say no to a dream climb?

In the end, I felt that I would hate myself for not giving Rainier a try.

 

DAY 1

On Thursday June 30, 2011, bright and early, 8 of us packed into two cars and drove away from Seattle towards Rainier.

As we were driving, I thought about the new down booties that I just dropped a hundred bucks for. I thought about how those booties would be soooo worth it, if only to keep my feet from the mountaineers’ torture device (AKA mountaineering plastic boots) for even a few minutes. Then I thought about how much I really hated those plastic boots and how I did not pack my boots with me.

I left my boots at home. I screamed.

I told my driver what happened, who then called the trip leader in the other car to let him know what happened. I called the boyfriend to see if my boots were right by the door and asked if he could run it out to us. We pulled off the highway and found a spot to park and waited for the boyfriend. I felt like an ass. We all sat around for the 20-30 minutes it took for the boyfriend to catch up. Everyone nervously checked their gear to make sure nothing was missing and we split up whatever team gear there was and repacked.

After I got my boots and apologized profusely to everyone broken-record-style, we got back on track. We got to the ranger station around 10 to sign in and pick up our climbing permits. I did not know this, but the permit was good for the entire year of 2011, which made sense because climbs of Rainier has a 50% summit rate, so people might up their odds of a summit with more attempts especially with each permit costing $43.

We got to the trailhead around 10am and strapped on our stupid heavy packs. The day was overcast to keep the long hike in mercifully  cool. After a couple hours of trudging on dirt trail, we hit snow. Once we got to Inter Glacier, we stashed our trekking poles under some rocks and roped up for the long grueling hike towards camp.

I thought roped up hiking with a full pack was going to suck. Oh, did it ever. Luckily, everyone felt the suck equally and we moved at a pace that didn’t leave me panting and begging for death.

At about 6:30pm we were on the final narrow stretch near camp. It was here that we got our first good look at Rainier which revived us with excitement.

 

We finally made it to Camp Schurman around 7pm. This meant we were hauling our heavy ass packs for close to 9 hours halfway up Rainier. Being Thursday and not the most popular camp spot, we had our picks of a few deserted tent platforms.

We converted part of one deep dugout platform into our kitchen to keep the windchill out with large benches around a snow table. Our kitchen was the envy of all camp with each group walking by to peer into it, some stepping so close to the pit edge that we feared giant plastic boots caving onto our heads.

I shared my tent with the only other female in the group, Christa. We were so happy to have each other’s company, if only to have someone to confide about our female problem and curl up against each other when the frigid wind dug right into our tent the first night. That first night was the coldest night. Every time the wind howled, we felt the chill in our tent. It made our 4 season tent feel like a mesh tent without the rainfly.

 

DAY 2

Rest day.

It was such a beautiful sunny day. We ate. We napped. We complained about the humbling effects of altitude. Sure we were able to haul 50-70 pounds halfway up Rainier, but suddenly we could not walk the equivalent of one flight of stairs with our little food bag without gasping for air. We sunned on the warm rocks (although I could not sun too much because my face was still scabby and scale-like). We watched tiny dots of people climb. One group in particular looked like it had a member in trouble. They were resting more than moving. One group got turned around early by the wind.

I drank so much water that I worried if I brought enough toilet paper. The best thing about Camp Schurman was the outhouse so that we would not have to carry around our own poop. The worst thing about Camp Schurman was the outhouse. Think about where unicorns and rainbows could possibly come from and think about the opposite of that, that is the outhouse. It is vile and disgusting and you smell like feces for a good half hour after being inside. Still, it provides a much needed private space in the middle of a tightly packed place so it’s a strange love-hate relationship. One that forces a person to stand outside of their tent to air out before going in.

Both Christa and I did not sleep well the first night due to the wind so we napped in the middle of the day even though we knew we were supposed to head to bed extra early to wake up at 1am. In the end, we didn’t sleep as well the second night, but we still felt well rested.

 

DAY 3

As with Baker climb, the moment I woke up, I sat up in my sleeping bag and crammed a breakfast bar in my face then got dressed. It’s such a jarring way to wake up, I didn’t think I would have the will to do the same if I was alone.

I will admit now, by my own device, I am a wuss when it comes to waking up to cold, doubly so if it’s at an ungodly hour. If there is no one else there to answer to, I sure as hell will not wake up at 1a.m. to shove cardboard in my mouth and dress while my teeth can’t stop chattering. I know, it sounds like joy, but I can only deal with such joy when shared.

The sky was clear, we could see the lights from cities far below.

After a last visit to the beloved disgusting outhouse, I finished dressing and walked out to the rope that was laid out before we went to bed and tied in. From this point on, it would be 8 hours before I got off the rope. I’ve never been more grateful for my bladder of steel which will surely one day land me in the hospital with bladder infection, but really, from the moment I roped up at 2am until we got back to camp around 2:30pm, there was not a moment of privacy. It’s a giant freaking mountain that’s incredibly exposed and people that survived the climb up did not want me to moon them. They earned that right.

Because of how warm it was the day before when the sun came out, I stupidly didn’t put on every layer I owned. The climb up was frigid. It started cold and never got really warm until we were halfway back down around noon (which in hindsight, was what we were aiming for, so the snow bridges would hold up during the climb up and down). I didn’t put on my balaklava with face mask, I didn’t put on my wind-blocking rain pants. I was obviously suicidal and decided slow death by hypothermia was a good idea.

We climbed many hours in the dark and slowly the sun crept in. Oh it was so glorious! Sunrise on a mountain.

We saw a few crevasses on Baker, but Rainier has some crazy massive crevasses, it really doesn’t compare. There was a spot where we had to double jump over some crevasses. At one point while I was balanced on a few crampon points, the snow was too iced over for my ice-ax to dig in, our group took an emergency break.

I looked at the crevasse next to me and asked if we could move up a little. Negative. Our climb lead came down with a bad case of diarrhea and had to take an emergency dump. His stomach had been bothering him for at least a couple hour by then, we were worried about him. If he had gotten worse a couple hours ago, we might have turned back, but by this point, we were not that far from summit.

At 800 ft from the summit (which is at 14,411 ft), the air got really thin and walking became extremely difficult. There’s a little hypnotic chant going on in my head for most of the climb: out, in, move ax, out, in, move ax. It’s to insure a constant 2-point contact at all times between the 2 feet and ice ax. I think I had mostly 3 points of contact by the end and a lot of trying to suck in oxygen.

Despite the difficulty in breathing, I was giddy. I was in awe of the fact that I was that close to Rainier summit. It felt surreal and a new chant came in of, “I can’t fucking believe I’m really here.” At 10am, the last 100 ft to the summit was a long stretch of flat. We finally un-roped from each other. I was huffing for life, but had the biggest shit-eating grin, “Fuck yeah, I’m almost there!” The climb lead, who had recovered from his stomach problem, came by to talk me to the summit.

We watched as one teammate, who was obviously delirious from seeing the summit, decide to make a run for it. He took a few steps and toppled over. His brain obviously decided to over-rule his plan. Breathe. He slowed his pace.

When we got to the summit, the sky was perfectly blue. Video here.

It was definitely windy and cold but gorgeous. It just felt like such a privilege to be there. It’s a huge sigh of relief of a longstanding goal achieved that boiled into a jumping desire to scream with joy. Giddy. Shock. Disbelief. So many emotions. After freezing our ass off for a bit, we headed back down to sign the summit register.

I did not know what to write, my mind was still chanting, “FUCK YEAH!” I eventually thought about how this trip would not have happened had the boyfriend not driven my boots out to me, so I thanked him.

After everyone signed the register, we roped up again and headed back down. Downhill was pretty uneventful except for a point where some skiiers were hogging the path, they wanted to wait for their friends, but wanted to use our pickets that we had put in for safety across one sketchy snow bridge. Also, Christa had a bad case of fear of heights coming down. I was in front of my rope-team going down and I was antsy to get back once we started downhill. It’s hard to gauge the speed, when people want to go down fast, but someone on the rope is a bit freaked out and trying to pull back.

They say going back down is the most dangerous part of a climb because people are tired and trying to rush through things. I followed the footpath the best I could. At one point footprints were everywhere then converged off to the side. I asked the person behind me if I should follow, and he told me to just go straight and get us home. I decided to follow the footpath, which lead us to to a small crevasse jump. After I jumped over and looked back, I saw that if I had gone straight, I would have stepped right onto an overhang over a huge gaping crevasse.

We got back to camp around 2:30. We lined up for the outhouse then went back to our tents to crash. By the time we got up for dinner, Camp Schurman was a freaking zoo with all the people there for the long weekend.

 

DAY 4

It’s Sunday, the day before 4th of July.  The weather was not terrible but it was cloudy and wind was going crazy. We packed our stuff quickly and roped up to get out.

On our way out, the wind did this crazy on/off thing. One minute, it was calm, the next minute, I was flat on my face with my full pack crushing me beneath it. I was so worried about getting knocked of the narrow trail back.

Then once we got to Inter Glacier, we took off our crampons and found ourselves a nice glissade trough. It took us four hours to hike up, and only ten minutes to glissade back down.

It felt like a roller coaster ride that looked big and impressive but lasted a few seconds. I wanted my money back. Even if it was fun.

The rest of the hike out was nice and uneventful. All in all, an amazing trip.

One thing mentioned during this trip, Rainier was the big big goal of a lot of people on the climb, with Rainier checked off after many years, what now?

Slideshow of the climb here.

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