Thursday, September 25, 2014

TBT Hiking Post From Hubby - Climbing Mt. Rainier

It's Thursday!! That means another Throwback Thursday post from Hubby. Today's post is a very special post. If you live in Seattle or have ever been to Seattle, you most likely have heard of Mt. Rainier. It is the highest peak in WA and it is a beautiful mountain especially on a clear sunny day. Below is our experience climbing the massive thing. This was by far the hardest thing I had ever done at the time. I felt it (fatigue probably due to not much sleep and my adrenaline wore off) especially on the way down from Camp Muir to Paradise (the parking lot). However it was well worth it and an experience I will never forget. Sometimes when we go back to Seattle, I look up at the mountain and can't believe we were at the top! 

Mount Rainier, August 1-3, 2007

Just about every hiker in the Pacific NW aspires to climb Rainier at some point in their life. Sharon and I are no different. I had wanted to climb it even before I moved to Seattle. The problem is that Rainier is not an ordinary WA state mountain. It is glaciated volcano with steep slopes and large crevasses. This makes Rainier a technical climb rather than a hike. Fortunately, Sharon and I were able to go with a group of friends and friends of friends with vastly more experience than us. The three rope leaders had approximately 80 successful summits combined. Sharon and I also spent the months before our attempt "training" with appropriately difficult hikes (I use quotes because we would have done these hikes even if not planning our Rainier trip) and general aerobic work at the gym.
We started our trip Wednesday morning, gearing up at the Paradise parking lot, elevation 5400 ft.
Rainier is 14410 ft. This is the view of the south side of the mountain as we went up towards our first camp, slowing eating away at the 9000 ft. of elevation necessary for the climb.
The first night, we camped at Anvil Rock. This is just a little below Camp Muir, with the primary advantage being that you escape the crowds there.
Sharon smiles even while lacing up her plastic mountaineering boots at 6 AM. (She didn't even know I was watching and she was still smiling!)    
The second day, we made the short hike from Anvil Rock to Camp Muir. That is Mt. Adams behind Sharon in the distance.
Almost at Camp Muir, approx. elevation 10000 ft. The primary advantage of Muir over other possible high camp locations is that Muir has a pit toilet. Other places, you have to go in a "blue bag" and pack it out.
Thursday was a short day. We spent most of the time resting at camp and getting prepared for the summit attempt.
A little after we dug out tent platforms, a group that included Ed Viesturs set their camp up just below and next to us. Here's our group with Viesturs in the middle.
After we got to camp, we saw a steady stream of climbers coming down from their summit attempts. You can see some of them on the rock of Cathedral Gap heading towards the trail that traverses the glacier leftwards toward our camp.
After crossing over Cathedral Gap (out of the picture to the left), you have to ascend the eastern slopes (shown here) towards the summit. The typical route for this time of year is to take the rock cleaver (Disappointment Cleaver) just left of center to avoid crevasses on the intermediate slopes. Unfortunately, there are some huge crevasses at the top of the cleaver as you can see in the next picture zoomed to that region.
You can see the standard route switchbacking up from the bottom left of the picture and then you can see two climbers just right of center, in the middle of the sea of crevasses.
Here are two pictures from a week beforehand, showing ladders that were being used at the time to span the crevasse system above the cleaver.
Apparently, the crevasses got too wide for the ladders, though, so people were using this alternate route that goes down and around the cleaver and up the Emmons glacier on the other side (I took this map from someone else's trip report from this week). There are a few problems with this route change. It adds significant distance to the climb. It requires more glacier travel. And worst of all, since it drops down on the way to the summit, it means you have to climb back up when you are totally exhausted on the way back to camp. This all meant we had to start earlier to get off the mountain at a reasonable time. So, with this knowledge, we ate dinner at 4 PM Thursday and tried to get to sleep at 5 PM.
We got out of bed at 11 PM without sleeping much, got some "breakfast", and geared up for our climb. We were roped up and on our way at 12:30 AM, early Friday morning. This is us at our first break along Ingraham Flats after passing over Cathedral Gap. The wind was very strong and pelted us with ice and small rocks (the Camp Muir telemetry station measured max wind speed at 57 mph for the midnight hour, the strongest winds there for the week). It was bad enough that some people were already turning around.
Since it was the middle of the night, I'm also including daylight pictures. Here is the trail just after Cathedral Gap as you approach Ingraham Flats just before our first break (taken by another group the prior week).
And here is where we took our first break, near the high part of the route above the tents.
From there, the route drops down below the cleaver. The cleaver is the rock on the right side. The route goes left to right in the picture. You can actually see three climbers passing below the cleaver and a faint path to its left.
After passing below the cleaver, you start along the LONG route upwards, marked by the stream of climbers in this picture (this is the afternoon, so they are actually headed downwards here).
After gaining about 1000 ft. of elevation, you approach this tricky step with a medium-sized crevasse beneath it. It wasn't too bad going up, but a little scary coming down.
We kept slowing winding upwards, avoiding some nasty crevasses as we went.
This picture gives you an idea of the typical views on the route when light. You see some climbers just down and left of center. You can also see what I think are the remnants of the standard Disappointment Cleaver route on the upper right side of the picture, above the broken up glacier.
This is about when the sun started to rise, as we started the steep traverse at an elevation similar to the top of the cleaver. There were some huge crevasses downslope of us, so we walked carefully, following our fearless rope leader, Cara.
She followed the steady stream of rope teams in front of us. We had been watching the headlamps of these climbers above us on the route all night before daylight finally revealed their bodies. The crowds bogged us down a bit, but the reduced pace was a nice relief to me.
Sharon's silhouette at sunrise. At this point, we are exhausted, feeling the effects of fatigue, lack of sleep, and altitude. I remember hoping that the sun and coming of daytime would reinvigorate me.
Fortunately, it did. We also knew that the summit was within reach, so that gave a further mental boost. I concentrated on deep breathing and tried to enjoy the views as we trudged upwards.
An interesting vantage point, towering over the 11000 ft.-tall Little Tahoma. You can also see the heavily crevassed lower section of the Emmons glacier down there as well.
And of course, Sharon is still smiling. We were particularly giddy at this point, because we both were confident that we were going to make it.
The top of Rainier is a large crater. After a long and exhausting traverse for the final 1000 ft., we finally reached the crater rim. It was cold and the winds were strong, so we quickly dropped into the crater for a well-deserved rest.
Happy with our achievement, we hung out in the crater. Somewhat surprisingly, the views of the distance from Rainier's top actually aren't much better (and perhaps even worse) than the views as you climb it. First off, the top is a crater, so if you are inside, you can't see much of anything. You can see better from the crater rim, but Rainier is so massive, with large shoulders that at any one point, most of your view is obscured by the mountain itself. I read that the head climbing ranger at Rainier said that the best views from up high are looking towards the mountain, rather than away from it, and I have to agree. Towards the top, you get an incredible perspective of the rest of the mountain below you. Then again, once we made the summit, we were mostly just happy about our accomplishment rather than thinking about the views.
After reaching the top, Sharon was also quite keen to get back down to safety. The dangers of crevasses and rockfall worsen in the afternoon. So, we fired off one last shot of us in the summit crater and got down as fast as possible. I still can't quite believe we did it!


  1. That's so cool that you guys climbed Mt. Rainier! I like the sunrise picture!

  2. Gorgeous! I love the sunrise picture. The ladder over the crevice looks scary!

  3. Thanks! It was pretty tough but definitely awesome!

  4. Thanks! The sunrise pic is one of my favorites! As to the ladder, yeah, I'm so glad we didn't have to deal with ladders as the climb would have been a lot more scarier!

  5. Wow Sharon, I am so impressed as this seems like such a challenging climb! I can't even imagine doing something like this. My favorite part is that you are still able to keep that beautiful smile! So glad you guys shared this awesome experience together :)