I am indeed powerless to describe
the enchantment and the instinctive love which drew
me to the mountains.
Benoit Marti of Berne
June 3, 12:15 pm - The big day is finally here,
and so are the butterflies. Months, in fact years, or
preparation, have led up to this climb. The last few
days at home have been a frenzy of activity with me
organizing gear, trading phone calls with Randy, organizing
gear again, packing and re-packing. The excitement has
been building for the whole family. I am sitting at
Chicago Midway waiting for the plane to Seattle. Nervousness
running through me: Am I ready? Can I do this (I CAN
do this!)? Did I remember everything? What will the
weather be like on the mountain? Will my backpack make
it to Seattle (It WILL!)? The plane leaves at 1 pm and
makes two stops, Kansas City and Salt Lake City. Right
now, 5:40 pm seems like an eternity. Randy is flying
a different airline, so Ill be meeting him at
the airport in Seattle. From there, well head
to Ashford, WA and Rainier Base camp.
Kellie and the girls dropped me off just about an hour
ago. They were very happy and full of good luck wishes.
Ive got my usual array of good luck pictures,
courtesy of Rachael, and a special good luck quilt from
Kellie. I miss them already, but Ill be carrying
them with the whole way. I cant wait to tell them
all about the big adventure.
June 3, 9:00pm Sitting on the porch of
Whittakers Bunkhouse watching the clouds swirl
around the area mountains. Weve got a full moon,
nice skies, and fresh air. I cant believe Im
here and were starting our climb tomorrow. On
the drive in from Seattle, we were able to see The Mountain
a few times, mostly obscured by clouds. Its enormous
size dominates everything around it. Theres no
snow on the ground here but were told that several
feet are on the ground at our training site tomorrow.
We find out who our guides are tomorrow morning.
4, 9:45pm Its the end of the first
day and Im even more excited about mountaineering
and climbing Rainier than before. We spent the day today
learning basic skills: ice axe arrest, team arrest,
roped travel, stepping and crampon techniques, and much
more that Im forgetting. We left Ashford at about
9am heading for Paradise. The drive was beautiful, passing
through lush rainforest, glacier-fed rivers, winding
up into the mountains. As we started walking from Paradise
to the training site, the cloud cover rolled in blocking
our view. For a few minutes, we could see Edith Creek
Basin, where we would train. They recommended coming
back here later in the season, as the area would be
consumed by wildflowers.
After todays climbing school, we came back to
Ashford and spent time learning different knot tying
techniques. We reviewed gear and made our final rental
and purchase decisions before heading to the mountain.
There was some initial concern by the guides about the
hood on my down jacket being too skimpy, but I think
weve resolved it. I bought another Gore Windstopper
hat that should calm their fears.
5, 7:00am Activity has started at the bunkhouse
with climbers packing for the day. Its raining
not good news. We dont know what
the weather is like at Paradise, but people are pretty
quiet here. Were hoping its better up higher.
I just spoke with one of the employees here and hes
hopeful that its better at about 8500. However,
there are no guarantees. I need to finish packing and
get ready to go.
June 5, 6:00pm Weve had a long
hard day hiking to Camp Muir. Whiteout snow conditions
the entire way with a stiff wind blowing. It took about
6 hours, an hour longer than expected. Two members of
the team turned back at our second rest stop at about
7,500. The hut at Camp Muir is, well, pretty nasty.
It looks to be about the same quality as a fort I built
as a kid. Wires spanning the width of the building are
holding the building together. Its very crowded
with 22 people stacked three high, but quite an experience.
Well be good friends by the end of the trip.
Paul Meier and Tim OBrien, two of our guides,
are giving us a rundown of the next few days. Tomorrow
will focus on skills practice and learning about crevasse
rescue. The expectation is that we wont beat ourselves
up too bad on Wednesday, as Thursday is the planned
summit day since the forecast is getting better throughout
guides are really good and very attentive to their clients.
At each break, they are reminding us how to keep in
control of our bodies, stay warm, eat right, and drink
regularly. They spend a lot of time telling us about
the terrain, glaciers, etc.
Im very tired. I did well but could feel myself
weakening through the climb. The upper mountain (above
Camp Muir) is significantly more difficult. Im
trying to pay attention to regular, strong breathing,
drinking, etc. I can feel a headache coming on and Im
trying to fight it. Its about an hour since we
arrived at Muir and they said to begin to feel the effects.
June 6, dinnertime Another big day! I
woke up with a wicked headache and feeling a bit nauseous.
It made me pretty nervous as I thought altitude sickness
was taking over. I fought it hard and drank as much
water as I could, ate, and started to feel better. When
I woke up, I went outside to use the bathroom and was
amazed at the view. Were well above the cloud
layer at 9,000. Off to the South, we had a beautiful
view of Mt. Adams, St. Helens, and Hood poking through
the clouds. All around Camp Muir, we could see the Cowlitz
Glacier, Gibraltar and Cathedral Rocks, and part of
tomorrows route to the summit.
we started learning crampon techniques on harder snow,
climbing Muir Peak along the way. We had a great view
of the crevasse-filled Cowlitz from this point. Next
we move on to practicing various anchor techniques in
preparation for the afternoons crevasse rescue
practice. After lunch, we roped up and practiced hiking
with crampons over a rocky ridge. Very unnerving as
I looked down the ridge to either side. Oh, I forgot
to mention that the clouds rolled in again and the snow
started, whiteout conditions again prevailed. After
the ridge, we crossed the Cowlitz Glacier and even hopped
two very thin, but very deep crevasses. We were roped
up for safety, but again innerving. We finished the
day practicing crevasse rescue, in an actual crevasse.
One by one, members of the team were lowered into the
crevasse and hauled out by the rest of the team. Randy
got a chance to go in. I might have a chance tomorrow
after the summit climb, but that seems a bit unlikely.
As we were on the glacier, I was amazed at how quickly
the temperature changed. As the clouds, and resulting
snow, moved in and out, changes of 20 or more degrees
occurred in seconds.
7, 7:30pm I stopped writing suddenly last
night because Art, one of our Senior Guides, joined
us to talk about the Summit Day. After he left, we scrambled
to get our gear together to prepare for the summit attempt.
Two AM this morning, Art came in to wake us up. We gathered
everything and left at 3:45 am. We would be attempting
the Disappointment Cleaver route. We began by crossing
the Cowlitz Glacier and headed up a steep rocky area
named Cathedral Gap. Rest stop 1 was at 11,100
at Ingraham Flats. Randy and I were on separate rope
teams so we met up at the rest areas. We were both feeling
good at this area and continued on. After the rest stop,
we crossed the Ingraham Glacier, right under the Ingraham
Icefall. I was amazed at the size of the seracs in the
icefall. Between Ingraham Flats and our second rest
stop at 12,500, we met with probably the most
difficult part of the route
The DC is a high ridge of mixed rock and ice terrain
and highly exposed. It was both scary and exciting.
Walking on rocks with crampons is difficult and unsteady.
Add several hundred feet of exposure on either side
and the scary part is magnified. However, being up on
the ridge with the wind whistling and the glaciers to
either side and the clouds floating by below us made
it very dramatic. We took our second break at the top
of the cleaver and I was feeling pretty beat up at this
point. The rocky terrain took its toll, but I knew that
there was no more rock and only snow, so I keep moving.
Randy was feeling good too and opted to join a different
rope team. The climbing was steeper in this next section
and started to get quite windy. Up until now, the weather
was perfect, and even now it was still very good. Leaving
Camp Muir at 3:45 am in a full moon was awesome. The
moon reflected off the snow and lit everything up to
the point where we didnt even need headlamps.
The sky was cloudless which made it fairly cold at the
start. The trip all the way to the summit would be cloud
next rest break was at 13,500 and I came in feeling
even better than at 12,500. Although the climbing
was steeper and very windy, I was doing well. When it
was Randys turn to leave the rest stop, he turned
to me and gave the thumbs up/thumbs down signal, as
if to ask how I was feeling. I gave enthusiastic thumbs
up, thinking he was just checking on me and he returned
with a thumb in the middle. Randy was iffy.
He sat down for a minute, and then got up to make a
go for it. I gave the thumbs up signal again and was
looking forward to seeing him at the top. As his team
headed out, he took a few steps and I could hear him
call to Art. He couldnt go on, and he returned
to a small group of others in the same situation. It
turns out that he hadnt brought enough water,
although he followed the guides recommendations,
and got dehydrated. At this point, we had lost 7 climbers
on the mountain to various things, from dehydration
to altitude sickness and physical and mental exhaustion.
One other climber unfortunately had altitude sickness
get the best of him at Camp Muir and was unable to leave
with the rest of the group earlier this morning. It
had been a pretty tough day for all and tougher for
next, and last, 1,000 would take about an hour
and was just as steep and windy. The terrain become
more gradual as we approached the crater rim. As we
neared, we came across several false summits and I kept
thinking, its just around the next roll. Suddenly,
we crested the top and were looking at the crater rim.
It was amazing! To enter the crater, we crossed an enormous
steam vent, although I didnt see any steam at
the time. (We did smell a very strong sulfur odor at
about 13,000, which reminded you that the mountain
is truly alive). The crater is about ½ mile across
and ringed with a rock and snow wall. Our rope teams
crossed to the windless center for a well-deserved rest.
In all, 14 of 24 original members of the team made the
summit. As soon as we crested the rim, the headache
hit so I was feeling drained. Despite that, I hiked
across the rest of the crater with a small group to
sign the summit register and stand on the true high
point, Columbia rest on the mountains west edge.
(Reaching the crater rim counts as an official summit).
I thought the climb was windy, but it was nothing compared
to the wind raging up the western side of the mountain.
I could barely stand but it didnt matter because
the view was magnificent. To the south, we had a view
of Adams, Hood, and St.Helens. It was most definitely
worth the trip. Before leaving our spot in the center
of the crater, I took a picture with the quilt Kellie
had made for me and the good luck picture from Rachael.
The last part was the hardest and by far the most important:
getting down safely. The sun had been warming the mountain
all day long and as soon as we got out of the wind up
high, the heat took over. Not only were we warm and
continuously shedding layers, but the snow as softening
making it harder to come down. My crampons kept balling
up with snow and I had to knock it out with my ice axe.
Looking at the terrain that we had just come down was
even more exciting from this direction. The entire east
and south sides of the mountain were laid out for us
and we could see the glaciers and the path they weaved,
like a spider with its legs going in every direction.
The steepness was magnified in this direction, and this
was the easy route! The guides were great though, continuing
to remind us of proper walking and breathing techniques.
Victor, our rope team leader, was especially proud as
this was the first rope team he had led and his entire
team made it to the summit, an accomplishment that no
other guides would have this day. We were all quite
tired on the way down and ready for this adventure to
end. One member of our team was having particular trouble
and slipped a couple of times on the descent, but remained
in control and never created any added danger for the
team. It took about 3 ½ hours to come down to
8, 6:00 am The wind is blowing hard and its
snowing again. In fact, its snowing right up the
route were planning to descend to Paradise in
a few short hours. The plan was to spend time this morning
at Muir learning rappelling, fixed rope ascending, and
other rope techniques. It doesnt look good if
the weather stays like this. God was looking out for
us yesterday, giving us a dream summit day and holding
this weather off. This cabin stinks of 22 climbers and
their gear. I stink. Ive been wearing the same
shirt and long underwear since Tuesday. I suppose a
hardcore climber would think thats
no big deal, and maybe someday Ill think the same.
I stink! Ive hardly slept
over the past three days and I keep tossing and turning.
Each morning I wake up with a raging headache. I woke
up this morning, ate a Pop-Tart (a Camp Muir staple),
drank some water, and Im feeling better. Just
about everyone is awake now and looking at the mornings
weather. Were starting to talk about ways to manage
our packing without having to spend much time packing
in the wind. I think well be bringing our packs
in in shifts to load up. In guide terms, the weather
is nuking and were heading into it.
9, 8:00 am Were back at Ashford at
Whittakers Bunkhouse. We got back yesterday at
about 1:30 pm and havent stopped talking about
the week since. The trek down from Muir started out
in a blizzard. We put on the ski goggles, balaclavas,
and everything we could find to cover exposed skin from
the wind. We began the descent with Art leading and
watching his compass and Tim following to make sure
we didnt lose anyone on the way down. Not even
1,000 into the descent, we came out of the clouds,
quite unexpectedly to the entire group. The view of
the valley below and the distant mountains was perfect.
We widened out from our single file line into a large
group, talked, and enjoyed the hike. The snow was soft
and as we reached a few rolls in the terrain, we took
the opportunity to glissade. (Basically sledding without
a sled). It took about 2 ½ hours to return to
Paradise at 5,400 from Camp Muir at 10,080.
The difference between the two places was amazing. Not
only were we now in a populated area with tourists and
school busses, but also the snow was very different.
Up high, everything was white and felt remote. We felt
as if wed been away for weeks, months even. Down
at Paradise, the snow was dirty. It hadnt snowed
in a few days and the crud from peoples feet coming
off the parking lot turned the snow black. We snapped
our few final pictures, climbed on the bus, and headed
for Ashford. The bus ride was chaos of conversation
as friends shared the experience and talked about the
next adventure. We talked with the guides about Mexico,
Everest base camp treks, and why they guided. At times,
you envied the fact that they are doing exactly what
they love to do and are getting paid to do it. Then
you realized that the lifestyle comes at the cost of
living in a 76 Mercury Zephyr and eating beans
from a can 5 days a week. There are exceptions to this
rule, like Tim OBrien, who guides part time and
works with the outdoor education program at Oregon State
University the rest of the time. Tim was a real down-to-earth
guy who truly enjoyed being in the mountains with a
group of like-minded people. It was nice to be treated
as a friend rather than a client. I would
look forward to the chance to climb again with Tim,
wherever that may be.
June 9, 7:30 pm CT Ive gotten onto
the second plane of the day, this one in Kansas City.
Our flight out of Seattle was delayed an hour, making
the connection in KC very short. I made it and Im
truly hoping that my backpack made it too. I called
Kellie from the Seattle airport and it was so nice to
talk to her again. I didnt want to get off the
phone. I wanted to tell her everything that happened
during the week and tell her all about my adventures.
- As Im writing, the memories of different events
during the week keep popping into my head:
Randy arriving at 12,500 at the top of the Disappointment
Cleaver. Tim is leading his rope team with Randy immediately
following and Tim asks, hows everyone
doing? Randy blurts out, Im getting
pulled backward and forward and something needs to
change. A team member behind Randy was having trouble
on the DC and ended up stopping for the day at this
point, as did a few others. A good effort on a very
Art about the weather conditions at Muir on Friday
morning. When asked if the weather qualified as nuking,
he replied by saying, When we need to run a
line from the bunkhouse to the outhouse so you dont
get blown off the mountain, thats nuking.
I believe theyve seen that weather before.
- The confidence shown by the guides in their abilities,
knowledge of the mountain, and their experience. You
never had the impression that they were making things
up, even though thats often the nature of climbing
when you cant control the mountain. They provided
a lot of positive reinforcement as a group of novices
learned the ropes. No superiority complex!
- Standing on the crest of Cathedral Gap watching
the sunrise along side Little Tahoma.
- The lush rainforest on the drive between Ashford
and Paradise. Ive never seen a forest as green
and as full. The size of the trees was incredible.
- The walk from Cathedral Gap back to Camp Muir. Muir
seemed so close, yet the closer we got, the farther
away it seemed. It was like the scene from Monty Python
and the Holy Grail where Camelot keeps getting farther
away as they walk towards it. I finally had to yell
to Victor that I couldnt walk that slowly. He
started blazing a new trail alongside the other rope
teams so we could get back faster.
- The fun our entire group had on Friday morning taking
pictures in the bunkhouse after naming the shelves
the Basement, Mezzanine, and the Penthouse. The fact
that there were no arguments while crammed into such
a small space for 4 days is impressive. I hope the
group stays in touch.
- Going to dinner (real food) on Friday evening with
Mark and Tonya, Bill, and Randy and laughing about
the week, learning about each other, and talking about
pilot just announced that were about 15 minutes
from Chicago. The adventure is over
Mountaineers in print
rarely do justice to themselves or the dignity of their
- Robin Fedden
(Thanks to Lyndon Gritters and Randy Bauer for the use
of a few photos).