And these are some of the most beautiful photos I’ve ever taken.
The following trip report and photos are from June 2009. Randy, one of my climbing partners that you see in the photos, took his life earlier this year. He was a great guy and I’m glad I got to share a rope with him on such a stunning mountain.
Mt. Rainier. June 14-15, 2009
Crisco, Matt, Dave, and I had been planning this trip for several months. The plan was for me and Crisco to get rides up to Washington with Matt. Up there we’d meet Dave and Dave’s brother-in-law, Randy (henceforth referred to as The Randall) and spend a couple days climbing Mt. Rainier (the tallest mountain in Washington), then play tourists for the rest of the trip. We’d even climb another mountain if we had the strength. Seemed reasonable enough.
The drive up there was long and not terribly exciting. We left Provo late on Friday afternoon and stopped for food in Twin Falls, Idaho at 10ish. We were feeling dangerous, so we went to Sonic. Bad idea. I got some sort of chili dog and it was the gnarliest thing I’ve eaten in a long time. The hot dog was synthetic and the cheese was plastic. The rest of the drive passed without too much incident. I spent a few hours proofreading and editing James’s guidebook, Matt drove, and Crisco played some war game on his laptop. We did stop in Baker City, Oregon long enough to make fun of it. I got a few hours of sleep and when the sun came up it was my turn to drive. My sister (who we were going to stay with) lives southeast of Seattle and we had to drive through the Cascades to get there. Man! What a beautiful mountain range. So green and lush, with really cool craggy peaks. I was amazed that there were mountains that cool that close to Seattle.
When we got to Kara’s, we spent a few hours lounging around and napping, then we headed off to meet Dave and The Randall at the REI store in downtown. We got some supplies and decided to head up the mountain the next day, Sunday, instead of waiting for Monday. We spent the rest of the day packing and getting ready.
We woke up early on Sunday and drove the couple hours to Mt. Rainier National Park. The park felt very dramatic; lots of mist shrouding everything in mystery. We arrived at the ranger station at the designated time and waited for Dave and The Randall… and waited… and waited. We ended up waiting two hours for those punks. It took us all another hour or so before we were ready to go.
A little bit of background on our group: Matt is a database engineer for some big company. He’s single, he’s rich. Christian (Crisco) loves his nickname to death, is the guy I climb with most often, and is married. His wife was pregnant at the time of our trip and this was to be his last big hurrah before being homebound for a while. Dave works for the same company that Matt does, except that I’m not entirely sure what Dave does exactly… Something with computers… I’ve climbed and hiked with these guys on several occasions. They’re all ten years older than I am and can’t get out to climb and hike as much as I can. The Randall, Dave’s brother-in-law, is a marine who just finished with his tour of duty in Bahrain. The Randall is a hardcore boxer. He’d never climbed a mountain before.
We were walking on snow starting at the parking lot. The hike took us up and through a couple broad valleys and eventually we made it onto the Muir snowfield. This long, broad snowfield would take us all the way to Camp Muir, where we’d spend the night. Up to this point, The Randall and I were out ahead of everyone else and we had to stop every once in a while to make sure they were still coming. I was also going slower than I normally would have so that The Randall could keep up. After a while though, I decided to just head out by myself. I felt like the snowfield would never end! It just kept going and going and going and going. Up to the base of the snowfield, we had had cloud cover, but the higher we went up, we actually hiked through and above the clouds. I love that. It’s an amazing feeling to be on a mountain and to look around and see nothing but a fluffy white sea interrupted only by the islands that are other peaks. Simply beautiful.
Eventually I made it to Camp Muir, after about 5 hours of hiking. It seemed like a lot more than that. I pulled out my foam sleeping pad and took a little nap and just rested for a while. After about two hours, Crisco and The Randall showed up. Another hour after that and Dave and Matt appeared. We set up camp, melted snow for water, had dinner, and went to bed. I went to bed first because I was faster at setting up camp (I only had a bivy sack to sleep in) and eating than everyone else. Before I went to bed I asked several times, “So, we’re waking up at 1, right?” “1 o’clock, yeah?” “So I’ll see you at one?” I just had the nasty feeling that somehow I’d wake up at 1 and no one else would be awake. I think it got to the point where the other guys were kind of annoyed with my constant confirming of the 1 o’clock wakeup schedule.
Well, it turned out exactly as I’d feared. I woke up at 1 and no one else was awake. I went over to Dave’s tent and woke him up. “What? We agreed to wake up at 2” was Dave’s mumbled reply. Of course. Apparently they’d decided that while I was asleep. Punters. They all got up though. It took everyone forever to get up and going. I had finished eating and getting ready after about half an hour. Crisco and Dave weren’t feeling well (Crisco had had a panic attack in his tent that night) and it was decided that The Randall was in the best shape to go up with me.
We didn’t end up leaving till close to 3. It was still very dark and very cold. Since it hadn’t snowed for a few days, though, we could easily see other peoples’ tracks through the snow. The first glacier we had to cross was the Cowlitz. Since it was still early in the season, pretty much all of the crevasses were filled in. This took us to Cathedral Gap and on to the Ingraham Glacier. This is right about when the sun started to come up and it was absolutely stunning. The early sunlight illuminating the glacier was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever witnessed. The Randall was going really slow at this point and we had to stop and rest every 15 minutes or so. It was excruciating. I promised him that if we made it to Disappointment Cleaver itself, we’d stop and rest for an hour. Traversing across the glacier and some fixed ropes on steeper sections got us to the Cleaver in short order.
After sitting there for about 45 minutes, a party of four caught up with us. Turns out that one of them was Matt. This was perfect because The Randall was completely knackered and I could tell he didn’t really want to go on. So he went back to camp while Matt and I roped up and continued on to the top.
To make a long story short, here’s how the rest of the climb went: very, very slow but steady progress, first up the rocky Disappointment Cleaver and then onto the glaciers and snowfields above that. The glaciers never ended, and even though it was beautiful and it was fun to hop across some of the larger crevasses, it was really tiring and kind of monotonous. This whole time we’d been pretty close to the other group of 3. Near the top, two of them decided to stop going because they weren’t feeling well. So their third guy roped up with Matt and me. At this point it was also getting pretty chilly and windy. At about 2 o’clock (thirteen hours after I’d woken up! Like I said, we were going slow) we made it to the crater rim, and by 2:30 we were on the summit.
Mountain climbing is a silly thing. You spend all of this time, effort, and money to climb a giant zit on the earth’s crust, just to spend 15 minutes on top and come right back down the way you came. That’s pretty much exactly what we did. By 3 o’clock we were heading down.
The descent to Camp Muir was uneventful. It took us about 3 hours. Dave and The Randall had already descended. Crisco was at camp waiting for us and he was pissed. He said he was mad that it took us so long, but I think he was more just mad that he hadn’t felt well enough to join us. Either way, it was rather unpleasant. It took us about an hour to pack up camp and then another two or three hours to get back down to the car. By the time we got back down, I’d been awake and on the move for something like 21 hours. We stopped at a McDonald’s once we got out of the park but it was the worst thing I’ve ever eaten.
Worse even than Sonic.
[As always, click on a photo for the larger version.]