Mt. Rainier July 2017 and 2018
Anyone seeking the ultimate Cascade adventure need look no farther than Mt. Rainier. In July 2018, Peter Urban will lead another group of lucky SAC climbers on a summit attempt. This follows last year’s successful summit via Disappointment Cleaver by 10 SAC members. It’s an experience you won’t forget, and for me the highlight of my short climbing career.
Standing on the summit of Mt. Rainier is no easy feat. In addition to the things you can control (conditioning, gear, clothing, climbing and crevasse rescue skills), an improbable set of variables must coalesce on summit day. Foremost among those is weather. The t-shirt temps and blue skies in the Paradise parking lot have little relationship to the wind, cold and sudden weather changes on the summit. I learned this the hard way when I foolishly shed extra layers at my car to reduce pack weight, only to beg and borrow an extra layer on summit day. Without the kindness of another climber my summit bid would have been over.
(From left to right: Peter Urban, Eric Gran, David Meixell, Harish Koka, Elysabeth Cummings, Adrian Pruincut, Andy DeGregario, Dan Scofield, Lorraine Parkinson, Mark Barnard, Sara Ludeman)
The other big lesson of climbing Rainier is that no matter how fit and prepared you are, the mountain is bigger and stronger than you will ever be. Approach Rainier with utmost respect. Just as the godess lulls and entices you with it’s unfathomable beauty, it will also heartlessly swallow, crush, or sweep you away in a dozen different ways. Giant crevasses, rock and ice slides, massive hanging seracs, and sudden weather changes are just a few of the objective hazards along the way. Be as prepared to turn around and climb another day as you are prepared to push on to the top. The mountain will always be there. Make sure you will be too.
After a quick group pic in the parking lot we set out for Camp Muir at 10,188 ft. It was a good way to stretch my legs and lungs, and ample time to ponder how I would lighten my pack for future climbs.
You might also find that Muir camp is as far as your conditioning can carry you. There is no shame in staying put on summit day to enjoy the views. There is always next year and many, many climbers have gotten into trouble exhausting themselves getting to the summit only to have no strength left for the perilous descent. Congratulate yourself for climbing as high or higher than many other challenging Cascade peaks!
Arriving at Camp Muir in the early afternoon allows time to get ready and get some rest before the big day. You'll need to pitch camp if you're not staying in the bunkhouse, melt a lot of snow, eat, prepare your ropes and gear, and get as much rest as you can.
Tip: Anchor your tent well. Winds can pick up unexpectedly and blow away even securely attached shelters. Just ask David Meixell who was nearly flattened by a flying dome tent on the Ingram glacier. And you certainly don't want to arrive back at camp exhausted after climbing 12+ hours to find your tent and belongings have blown away into a distant crevasse. Now that can definitely harsh your mellow!
Summit day started around midnight. We roped up in teams of 3 and 4 and climbed in the dark across Ingram glacier and up through Disappointment cleaver.
As the sun came up, I was suddenly able to see the huge craveses at our feet and giant seracs leaning perilously above the climbers’ path. We jumped across the cravesses we couldn’t navigate around, and shimmied across makeshift boards that bridged bottomless cracks in the ice. At one point we shortened our rope and sprinted as fast as the altitude would let us past a massive serac that leaned above looking ready to collapse at any moment. And we climbed, and climbed, and climbed, up and around the mountain. You will get to know the others on your rope team well. Keep a steady pace and manage your rope.
Finally, we arrived at the summit crater around 8 am and hiked across the caldera to the true summit. Time for high fives and summit photos and smiles as wide as the air was thin. What a great feeling and sense of accomplishment. And oh the views on a crystal clear beautiful day! It's another world up there, and we were lucky to have the chance to visit, even if only for a few precious minutes.