Last Saturday the team gathered for the half-day orientation and instruction day here at HQ. Guides: Brian Warren, Andy Polleczek, Karl Rigrish and Austin Shannon. Our climbers were from all over the place but several of them already new each other so that made for a pretty fun group. The others who came independently fit right…throw me into the mix and you’ve got quite the team!
After the gear check we all went our separate ways for the night. Several members of the team stayed in the tents here at HQ and were awoken for breakfast by the resident alarm clock a.k.a. the peacock across the street – yes a peacock!
After breakfast the team reassembled at roughly 8am. We loaded the van and trailer then hit the road. About an hour later we arrived at Paradise in some marginal weather but it wasn’t too bad (yet)…
About an hour into the hike we pulled off the main trail and roped up to begin our glacier travel across the Nisqually Glacier and up the Wilson Glacier to our first camp at roughly 8500ft or “Lower Castle”. The weather during the day was extremely varied – I put on and took off my gore-tex jacket at least 4 times! In about a 30 minute span it was blowing snow sideways then sauna like conditions in the clouds and right back to snow. Once we got to camp, Mt. Rainier turned up the weather dial to sustained heavy winds and snow. We all hastily put up our tents. By now it’s 5:30 or 6:00. Austin and Andy drew the short straw that night and had to cook dinner and fill up the water bottles. On the menu was cous-cous, sausage and stirfry veggies (not freeze dried!). Andy and Austin took the food from tent to tent to make sure everybody was fed – thanks boys! Just a crack in the zipper meant endless snow would blow in so a quick unzip, fill up the bowls, drop the water bottles off and zip er back up was about it.
Twelve hours later we awoke to beautiful weather, hot drinks and breakfast – again prepared by Austin and Andy. The goal for today was to breakdown camp and get moving up to High Camp at roughly 10,700ft at the top of the Turtle Snowfield. Not a huge day vertically which is great as we would be getting up early the next morning for our summit attempt.
After a few hours of some relatively standard glacier travel we pulled into camp -this time the weather was perfect. We made some nice tent platforms and got settled. Karl and Brian would be on dinner that afternoon and summit morning breakfast. We hydrated and dined on some pasta, meatballs and veggies around 4pm. After dinner we topped off the water bottles, had a hot drink and tried to get some shuteye. The plan: wake up at 12:30am and be walking by 2:00am.
Summit Day: 12:30 Brian shakes the tent and jumps in on top of Andy, Austin and I – Breakfast & Hots – come and get it! We moan & groan in general disgust. The temps were moderate and the winds weren’t too bad…yet. The team once again efficiently got ready and we were off close to 2:30am.
Directly out of camp is low angle terrain to the first challenge – the rock step. The guides lower everybody down the 25-30ft step to a moderate snow slope where we put on crampons…
After a quick uphill and a short traverse we find ourselves at the base of the Kautz Ice Chute. The type of climbing from here reallly depends on time of year and general snow conditions – for us we had some great conditions with the recent snow covering the ice giving us some nice hard snow to dig the crampons into. Mixed into the snow was some hard ice where front-pointing was necessary. Above the first ice section we found some good snow and moved quickly through to the next ice section. The ice was in great shape so the team moved efficiently through these two pitches. Above the ice we took our first real break. By then it was 6:30 or so and the sun was just out of reach behind the top of the Wapowety Cleaver and the wind was picking up.
After a break we extended out into glacier travel mode to the sunny side of the Wapowety Cleaver for our next break. Even in the sun folks were getting pretty chilly so we moved on up through the upper Nisqually Glacier to our High Break at about 13,800. Winds were steady but the sun was out and the summit was in sight. We made the final push in about a half-hour and made the summit at about 10:30. After a quick walk to Columbia Crest we loaded up to get out of the winds and back down to High Break for some food and water.
We made quick work of the upper mountain on the way down and back at the ice the guides lowered everybody two by two down the Ice Chute. Back at the bottom of the ice we traversed back to the rock step and after some mild rock climbing we regained the step and made our way back to camp…2:30pm. 12 hours round trip – nice work everybody!
Once back at camp we radioed to George Dunn back at HQ, he promptly told us of an expected windstorm coming in that evening. After some spicy rice noodle stir-fry, story-telling and some hot drinks we tightened up the tents and readied for the storm. Windy it was indeed! Ear plugs sure came in handy that night, but we all made it through the night – and so did the tents! We awoke to some great weather and were able to see Paradise 5000ft below us. After about 4 hours of walking we pulled into Paradise to our awaiting van, cold soft-drinks and some salty snacks!
Mt. Rainier let us sneak one in and we were all grateful – and hungry! After some hugs, hand-shakes, and signatures on the summit board we once again went our separate ways.
A big thanks to Andy, Karl, Brian and Austin for a safe and successful climb!