June 13, 2016
With all the posting we do about Rainier climbs, we don’t always provide a blow-by-blow for every trip. Luckily, I got the chance to jump on a trip myself last weekend. We ended up with beautiful (read: warm) weather, way more photos than anyone should take in a three-day period, and now a detailed report of our trip.
Our climbers showed up to their half day on June 2nd right on time with all of their gear. Needless to say, we were off to a great start. After everyone got their gear all sorted out and knew how to use it and pack it away, everyone (or at least most of us) went to sleep early to prepare for the climb.
Our second day was where the fun really began. We gathered together bright and early, introduced ourselves, and took a group photo. After our photo, we drove off to Paradise, where we unloaded our van, laced up our boots, and made one final stop to a flush toilet. Then we headed uphill! Because it’s relatively early in the season, very little of the trail is melted out, so we walked on snow the entire first day. But just because it was snowy, doesn’t mean it was cold. In fact, our trip up the Muir snowfield was hot and sweaty, even with thin clothing and sun protection. Luckily, we moved fairly quickly into camp and we got to spend a couple hours relaxing before dinner. Our dinner was excellently prepared (credit to guides Betsy Dain-Owens and Dan Zokaites), and we all agreed that all burritos should have snap peas in them to provide additional texture.
The next morning, after another lovely meal of pancakes and bacon, we had a mellow few hours of training at Muir. The group learned cramponing techniques, self-arresting, and how to travel together on a rope, all invaluable skills for the upper mountain. I have to say, it looked pretty nice to slide around in the slushy snow on such a hot day. Once everyone had honed their skills, we roped up and headed through Cathedral gap and onto Ingraham flats, a short journey. At camp, we moved into our tents and discussed our upcoming summit day. We ate an early dinner, which was again excellent (Betsy is just really good at cooking!) and went to sleep. “Sleep” is used loosely here, as it was broad daylight for about four of the seven hours before we had to wake up again at midnight.
Summit morning is my personal favorite part of every climb. It’s certainly not fun to wake up in the middle of the night, crawl out of your warm sleeping bag and walk for several hours in the cold and dark, but it’s what carries you to your ultimate goal. Beyond that, a group that suffers together stays together! Summit day is where you really get to bond with your fellow climbers, even if it’s through commiseration.
On our summit morning, we woke up at midnight, ate a little breakfast, drank some coffee (mercifully), packed up and headed uphill. It happened to be about as warm as it gets on a Rainier summit day, although that’s not saying much. After about an hour and a half of walking, we made it to the top of the Disappointment Cleaver, which was only about a third rock (because it’s early in the season and it hasn’t quite melted out). A few turned back but the rest of us continued on towards the summit. Because two of our guides, Dan Zokaites and Eric Schafer, had done some route work the day before, our path was nicely shoveled out and smooth. At around seven in the morning, we arrived on the crater rim, tired but thrilled to be there!
Three of us walked across the crater to the summit register, where we signed for our group, and then walked up to Columbia Crest, which is technically the highest point on the mountain (although anywhere on the crater rim is officially the summit). Once we had taken a few pictures, we started walking back down. Descending, in my mind, can be the worst part of climbing, particularly if you have my knees. It does, however, go pretty quick, so we made it to the top of the cleaver and down to Ingraham flats in a relatively short stretch of time.
At the flats, we made a quick stop to pack up our gear, get some water, and put on some sunscreen. The trip to Muir, where we had a longer break, went quickly even though it was roasting hot outside. After we’d disposed of our blue bags (yum) we started back down the snowfield. The conditions on the snowfield were perfect if you like boot-skiing and glissading: just perfect slushy snow all the way back down to the parking lot. Hot days do have their upsides!
Even though we had a great climb, it was nice to make it back to the parking lot and back to HQ. In celebration of our summits, we received summit certificates and signed IMG’s 2016 summit board. That’s a perfectly good way to celebrate an accomplishment like climbing Mt. Rainier, but my personal favorite post-climb treat is trading in my wet mountaineering boots for some flip flops. Ultimately, the satisfaction of a successful climb comes from the actual act of putting in hard work, not whether or not you reached the summit. Fighting through the cold, tiredness, and type 2 fun is both the accomplishment and the reward, along with the satisfaction of looking up at a mountain and knowing that you were there.