From the initial planning stage of the climb, it had been coined the "Dream Weekend". We'd picked a time of year that was very likely to have good weather and that the Disappointment Cleaver route, that we were taking, would be in great shape. We had three members on our team: Peter, our leader had been up the mountain a half-dozen times, Greg and myself who had not yet been up Rainier.
We also had a plan that would ensure our Dream Weekend would be a good climb. We all took Friday off of work and drove up to the trailhead/Climbing Information Center in Paradise (aptly named) on Thursday evening. We spent the night in the parking lot at 5,400 ft. partly to acclimate and partly to help us get an early start on the mountain in the morning. I rolled out my sleeping pad and bag, stuffed them in my bivy sack and slept quite comfortably on the asphalt.
We woke up around 5 am to have breakfast, pack, and pick up our backcountry camping permits. By 7.30, we were on our way up the mountain. We were on snow from the first step out of the parking lot, which is great, because it's much easier to walk on than the paved or gravel trail we would have otherwise been on. The weather and snow conditions were perfect. It was cool and sunny and the snow was firm, but not icy, allowing for good traction in our mountaineering boots.
On the first day, we climbed from the Paradise parking lot at 5,400 ft to Camp Muir at 10,080 ft. We reached camp around 12.30 pm and spent the remainder of the day enjoying the gorgeous weather, napping, and eating.
Solar toilettes may not smell great, but they are a luxury at 10,000 feet.
After talking with the climbing ranger on Friday evening, we'd decided to start our summit attempt at 2:30 am Saturday morning, after all of the other guided and private groups started (typically12 - 1:30 am). We hoped this would allow plenty of time so that we wouldn't get stuck at the bottleneck spots behind any of the other groups.
That night, Peter and I slept in the Muir hut, a public first-come, first-serve shelter while Greg slept in his tent.
When we woke up at 1.30, we could see a trail of headlamps from the mass of other climbers already slowed down at the first bottleneck, Cathedral Gap.
We ate breakfast, got dressed, and were roped up and on our way up the mountain by 2.30 am. The temperature was below freezing, but the night felt warm and we each soon shed layers to keep from sweating.
Making our way through Cathedral Gap, we passed two separate guides leading down clients that had to turn around. We kept a steady pace, making good time and not taking our first break until we made it to the top of the Disappointment Cleaver, about three hours after we'd left camp. We watched the sun rise as we made our way around the nose of the Cleaver.
We'd made it through the two rocky, bottle-neck sections of the route, and had another 2,000 vertical feet to climb. The rest of the route traversed up a large glacier, winding around large crevasses and going straight over the smaller ones, which we could step over.
Four miles, 4,300 vertical feet, and seven hours after we'd left Camp Muir, we reached the summit. And the weather couldn't have been any better.
We spent a few minutes relaxing on the summit, but because of our late start couldn't spend too much time up high. We still had to get down through the the Cleaver and Cathedral Gap before the heat of the sun released the rock and ice that was precariously frozen above the route.
Though we were moving quickly, the descent was particularly enjoyable because we could finally see the beauty of the mountain that we'd missed during our ascent in the dark.
Cathedral Rock in the background, Igraham glacier in front, with some massive crevasses the route winds around.
We made it safely back to Camp Muir shortly after noon and spent the next several hours resting and eating. Though our original plan was to spend one more night at Muir, we decided to take advantage of the soft snow and descend all the way to the parking lot Saturday Evening.
Our total climbing time for the trip was 16 hours, covering 14 miles, and gaining and losing 9,500 feet of elevation.
Peter's plan for the Dream Weekend unfurled to a "T". We had perfect weather, perfect route/snow conditions, and all of us were in good health and fit for the climb. It will be very hard to beat my first trip up Rainier.