July 26, 2004


Wednesday night we drove out to Ashford, WA, and stayed at a quaint little hotel run by our guide company (RMI Inc.). Thursday morning we got up and went to climbing school. Get up at 8am, take a shuttle up to the base of the Mountain, hike up to the snow fields, and start class. Some of the stuff was pretty basic, like how to walk up/down a hill with crampons on. Some was more fun, like ice-axe arrests. You have to learn to stop yourself if you're falling feet-first face-down (easy), or feet-first-face up (more challenging), or head-first facing up or down (way fun). Inspired by the DVD, Everest, which showed people practicing ice-axe arrests before their summit attempt, I entertained myself by finding the steepest section of hill I could and running to a full sprint diving on my belly while careening downhill, axe in hand, and then pulling the arrest -- it's like being a kid on a slide again. Anyway, we were done and back at the lodge by about 4pm for an easy day.

Thursday we met our guides at 8:30am, this time with full packs. Knowing that my sister has just finished her residency program, and had no chance to sleep, much less work out, for the last four years, Scott and I each carried some of her gear. A 50+lb pack is no joke when it's on your back and you're heading up hill. Starting at 5400' at about 10:30am we climbed up to Camp Protection, just below Camp Muir, at 9800' by 4pm. The pack made it a little challenging but it was a straightforward hike.

Then things start to get interesting. We went to bed at 7pm, but, of course, there's no way to sleep that early. By the time it got dark, which was after 9pm, and I finally started to really start sleeping, it was time to get up again at 11:40pm. Left camp by midnight, donned our headlamps, and hiked up 200' to Camp Muir. The only good news is that our packs were a little lighter w/o out sleeping bags etc. that we could leave back at camp. Here we got helmets and harnesses, tied ourselves together with a rope, and were at the start of a very long day by about 1am.

We had four segments on the way up (three stops, then you're at the summit). Our guides worked things out so that each segment was just over 1000' of elevation gain and took about an hour, plus time for each break. It gets hot really fast from all the exercise and sweat is something to avoid when you're on the mountain, so I was only wearing two pairs of tights over shorts, a wicking t-shirt, a thin silk long sleeve shirt, and a thin running fleece. That's fine while your humping your way up the mountain but as soon as you stop the very first thing you do is whip out your big thick down parka and put it on, hood and everything -- standing around in 15mph wind when it's below freezing out, wearing the above list of clothes cools you off fast.

We followed a narrow trail, and at least at first we could see a row of headlamps winding up the mountain ahead of us. We passed about a half dozen teams during the day and never got passed ourselves, so we were making pretty good time and I could really feel/enjoy the workout. Our guides later told us that only about 60% of the people they take are even able to make it up at all, so my sis really kicked butt for being out of the fitness loop for so long (one telling sign of her condition was that her hands got abraided easily, from things as simple as lacing her boots, as they've been doing surgery and little else for four years).

We crossed rock gardens (challenging while wearing crampons), hopped over crevasses, wound our way over narrow ledges, ate and drank hurried snacks on the snowfield, saw the sun come up in the most brilliant display of "red" (can't really describe it) I've ever seen, while breathing crisp clean air and working our butts off.

Finally, around 7am we made the summit. We walked across the crater and signed our names in a book kept there, when it fills up it's put in an archive, took some glory photos and explored some steam vents -- Rainier is still and active volcano and it was plenty warm in some of those ice caves.

We got back to Camp Protection by about 12:30 and the base by about 4:20 -- a great adventure and a long day. As I sit here and type the next day I'm sore, to be sure, but it wasn't the craziest workout I've ever had ... though it might be the longest on the least amount of sleep. I was afraid I might get bitten by the Mountaineering bug, I've got kind of a compulsive personality, but I'm not jonesing for the next climb yet. Maybe it takes time.

Enjoy the pics.

Posted by rick at July 26, 2004 12:07 AM