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 12:07 AM

July 25, 2004

climbing Mt. Rainier

I grew up on Mercer Island (adjacent Seattle), until the 7th grade, in the shadow of Mt. Rainier. Mt. Rainier is an icon of the Seattle area, you can see it from anywhere (at least you can when it's not overcast and/or raining). My mom calls Mt. Rainier "her" mountain and everyone here seems to have a special attachment to it, my sister included.

My sister (mountain over her shoulder) decided a while back that when her residency was over that she and her husband would take about a year off and travel around before they both got back on the career track. Climbing Mt. Rainier was near the top of her list, so about 6 months ago we signed up for a summit climb.

Mt. Rainier is 14,411' tall, is the 5th tallest peak in the lower 48 states and the most glaciated as well. This means that you need to wear crampons and carry an ice axe, though there is no real ice climbing involved (you carry the axe as a cane, and would use it to arrest yourself if you fell, but you don't swing two of them over your head like you would climbing a vertical ice sheet). There are other 14,000' peaks in the lower 48 states, but most of those climbs start at 10-11,000'. The Mt. Rainier climb starts at 5,000-something feet -- so it's almost 3x the vertical gain and considered to be the most aerobically challenging climb in the lower 48.

Before you can rope yourselves together and head up the mountain you need to know a few things, like how to perform an ice-axe arrest. You've probably been skiing, fell, and found out how slippery your nylon/gortex suit is -- with out an ice axe you might not stop before the next crevasse. So my sister (Lynn), brother in law (Scott), and I did a one day school, followed by a two day guided climb -- just got back. Stories and pictures to follow.

Posted by rick at 06:13 PM

July 11, 2004


I swam from Alcatraz to SF today in an event called "Sharkfest". It's my second time doing it, though this was a slightly different route.

The big factor in swimming from Alcatraz to SF is the currents. The races are all setup around which way the current is flowing. The race I did last year was from Alcatraz to Crissy Field -- done on an Ebb tide (you're "blown" west). Today's was from Alcatraz to Acquatic Park -- starts just before the end of the flood tide (start out being blown east) and ends just at the start of the ebb tide (you finish being blown west).

In either case your normal component that you actually swim is about 1.5 miles, though the one that goes with the tide carries you about 2x the distance. The fast guys are faster on this, more direct course, as they're so fast that they have to swim with the current on the longer course and don't have to on the shorter course. For the rest of us schmucks we just swim the normal component and it pretty much works out.

Anyway, I shaved 7+ minutes off my time today (from 55min to ~48). At this rate I'll win the race in ~4 years ... though I doubt, even with my (imagined) super-hero powers that the improvement is sustainable. I mean, if I shaved off 7 minutes every year, then in 7 years I'd have to start moving faster than the speed of light, which I'm pretty sure would be hard.

Anyway, it was a blast and I'm looking forward to the next one. I've got a lot more time to shave just to catch up with some of my friends.

Posted by rick at 06:40 PM

July 09, 2004

Space Ship One

I didn't go, and I don't know the author of this article, but it is very very cool: Space Ship One

I started to plan to go to see this but I think I'll wait for the first private flight into orbit. 100,000m just seems a little bit arbitrary to me, and if you're sub-orbital then you're coming back down whether you want to or not -- which doesn't quite seem like you're slipping Earth's surly bonds any more than you are in an airplane. That said, I applaud the fact that private industry is finally getting into the game.

Now the goal is to make enough money so that I can be sure to afford a space tourism flight someday. At least the chances of that (unity? :-) are better than those of getting selected by NASA to be an astronaut.

Posted by rick at 09:37 AM