Mt Rainier (14411 ft)
July 9-11, 2010
Our neighbors in Lake City were guides with RMI and they told stories of climbing Mt Rainier with lawn chairs, newspapers, and water melons. While other climbers were losing their breakfast or doubled over wondering where all the oxygen was, they would be having a picnic. Stories such as these inspired my older brothers, Mark and David, to test themselves against other tall volcanoes such as Mt Adams, but it took until this summer for Mark, Kim and I to climb Rainier together.
We started at the White River Campground around 9:30am and made our way through the jumbled mess of a trail. Storms from years past had wreaked havoc, washing away about 1.5 miles of trail. We found ourselves meandering from beautiful forest, to rocky stream bed, back to an abandoned mining road, eventually arriving in a beautiful meadow, Glacier Basin. The Avalanche Lilies were out in force covering the hillsides with their delicate yellow blossoms. Normally it isn't until the hike out (and I'm dead-dog tired!) that I start paying close attention to the wildflowers, but these little beauties had my attention early. Near one of the stream crossings we spotted several clumps of Shooting Stars! Incredible!Once on the snow we caught up to several parties who were roping up for the Inter Glacier. We continued up the snowfield to Camp Curtis where we would be spending the first night at around 8500 feet. Our good friend, Scott Streett, had lent us his three person tent so we were able to enjoy this great lightweight tent!
The next morning we slept in to around 8am, and they got up, boiled some water for tea and oatmeal, then broke down camp and headed down a nice snow ramp to the Wintrop Glacier. We crossed a few small crevasses on our way up to Camp Schurman. We stopped by the Ranger hut to talk with Ranger Jeremy about securing a camping spot on the Emmons Glacier. We hadn't made a reservation ahead of time, so most of the campsites had already been booked up. Jeremy reminded us that "it's a big glacier" and instructed us to camp anywhere we wanted just as long as we packed everything out. Rangers on this side of the mountain are much more laid back than on the Paradise side!
With the assurance of a camping spot we roped back up and headed up the Emmons in search of a level platform. There were several open platforms at Emmons Flats, but we wanted to sleep a little higher since we had already been at 8500' the night before. The snow was pretty slushy at this point so it was slow climbing up to 10,300 feet where we found a platform that someone had built right on top of a crevasse depression line. If you looked left or right 50 yards on either side there were open holes. I told Kim and Mark that it was probably solid enough, but I just wouldn't sleep very well knowing I was on top of a huge crevasse! So we continued up about 100 yards to a somewhat flatter spot where we dug out a new platform. While digging and stomping our attention was drawn to a small ice fall that occurred about a thousand feet above and to the right of our camp.
We were glad we had selected a spot that was free from such objective hazards. While Kim and Mark secured the tent, I went to work boiling water for us. It was early afternoon, only about 3:30pm, but we decided that we were hungry enough to eat something so we feasted on Chicken and Rice, Lasagna with Meat Sauce, and Sweet and Sour Pork! While I continued to boil water, Kim dug out bathrooms for both "Him" and "Her"! We had quite the comfortable camp when all was said and done. Kim and Mark had both worked hard to ensure a flat and level platform for the tent so we wouldn't roll into each other. We turned in with the hopes of continued, clear, calm weather for our ascent the next morning.
I awoke to my watch alarm at one o'clock. The tent was quiet with very little wind. The thermometer on my watch hanging from the top of the tent read 43F. I woke Kim and Mark up and started putting in my contacts. We had decided the night before to forego any use of the stove so we could get a better jump on the crowds coming up from Camp Schurman. Once we were out of the tent I enjoyed the incredible display of stars, then I quickly put on my harness, crampons, threw on my pack and tied into the rope. I was anxious to get started since we could already see several headlamps coming up the glacier from below.
With the late heavy snows we had this spring, the route was in great condition with enough snow coverage to allow a boot pack 20 feet wide nearly the entire way up. It had been nearly 8 years since I'd been on this route, so I forgot that the Corridor (a long crevasse free part of the route) had plenty of room to pass slower parties. I remembered the Disappointment Cleaver route where there is a single boot pack for much of the way, where passing is virtually impossible. That isn't a problem on the Emmons route this year. We passed and were passed in return. Our 2am start got us ahead of most of the parties, but every rope team we met were friendly and courteous.
Around 13,000 feet we crossed a severly undercut crevasse. When I stepped across I made the mistake of looking down. Both sides were undercut about 10 feet! I could see about 50 feet down then it was black. Kim and Mark made the crossing with no problem, but in the back of my mind I was thinking about how stable it would be on our descent.
We took about 5 breaks on the way up to the summit. My altimeter was reading low, but around 13,800 ft the angle of the slopes eased back and we knew we were getting close to the summit. At a rocky section below the edge of the crater rim, we stopped and unroped. The three of us walked together up the final slope to the summit. It was 8:30am.
The wind had picked up considerably and it was difficult to take breaths - not because of the altitude - but because of the 35-40 mph winds! There was another party taking a timed picture of themselves as we arrived. We asked them to snap one of us and they did! It was great to be on top of the mountain with Kim and Mark! Kim started feeling a little sick to her stomach, so she sat down out of the wind and rested while Mark and I explored the crater rim. Although Kim wasn't feeling well, she was happy to be on top again with such great visibility! We could see north to Mt Baker, south to Mt Jefferson, west to the Olympics, and east to beyond Yakima. We spent about 40 minutes on the summit before we headed back down. Mark had planned to call his wife, Penny, from the top, but his phone battery had died.
On the way down we came upon a party of two being assisted by a team of National Park climbing rangers. A climber had been stricken with H.A.P.E. and need to descend and quickly and as safely as possible. Two climbing rangers were on either side of the man, lending assistance as he went in and out of consciousness. The further he descended the better he did to the point where he could glissade by himself down the last snowfield to Camp Schurman. We were all glad for his recovery.
Once back at the tent, Mark said he was feeling a little heat exhaustion from the blazing sun, so we went back into the tent for about a 45 minute cap nap. We all felt better afterwards. We broke down camp and then headed back down to Camp Schurman. We met many climbers who asked about our ascent in anticipation for their summit bid the following morning. We wished them luck then continued our long hike out. We were benefitted by some long glissades down the Inter Glacier. What fun! It was amazing how much snow had melted above Glacier Basin since Friday!
Everything was going well for us until Kim bruised her leg about 3 miles from the trailhead. With Kim limping, I offered to carry her pack and Mark went ahead with the car keys to go drop off his pack and to come back to get Kim's from me. Slowly but surely was our mantra as we made our way down the variable trail. We had to break out our headlamps for the last 40 minutes or so but eventually came upon the White River Campground with Mark and the car waiting for us!