“I just want you both to know that I did not really think that was fun.”
12 hours prior I had loudly exclaimed “I love mountaineering,” after 6 hours of hauling a heavy pack up to the Ingraham glacier on Mt. Rainier. I was psyched for the adventure of tying into the rope, showing new friends a beautiful mountain, and sleeping on snow. After a beautiful sunset and a few hours rest, Abigail, Paul, and me summited in a 40mph, freezing rain whiteout. It was the second time I’ve summited Rainier, and my second time being totally shut out of the view. On the way up, we had been led to believe otherwise.
We got started under clear skies and warm weather. The forecast looked in our favor, and we got some of the last un-reserved permits to get up high on the mountain. While we regretted the longer walk, I was happy to camp away from the crowds at Camp Muir, and show Abigail a proper snow camping experience. The view from camp didn’t hurt my case:
Mt Rainier, like the rest of Washington (and the west coast) is way below average snowpack this year. The route is much more in late July conditions and made for scrappy climbing. We were more than happy to follow the guide service flags up the long walk to the summit. We left much earlier than I expected, at 1am, and I made a point of watching for stars against the black sky. All seemed well.
We passed and got passed by various parties, and started the last 1000 vertical feet around 445am. The wind was picking up and the high grey cloudband caught my attention- and I didn’t choose to bail. So we walked, and the guided parties walked, and we all ended up at the top around the same time, and it was whiteout. Whiteout like a golf-ball, and windy like the inside of the ductwork I design. Paul ran off for a quick trip to the true summit and Abigail and I hunkered down to try and stay warm. It was not a fun summit experience.
We raced for lower elevations, only to find the storm chasing us down the mountain. Just above the Cleaver, the clouds flattened their descent and we rested to take in what little view we got.
Further down, we found loose slush and snuck past enormous cracks we hadn’t noticed in the predawn black. We collected our camp and despite dreams of hot drinks while up top, the impetus to beat the heat on the way down prevailed. Travelling downward, your pack gets heavier as the crampons, then rope, then skins get piled on, but once we picked up our skis at Muir we made good time.
Driving back, the satisfaction of hard work and sweat mixed with the simple dejection of a bitter summit. Kudos to Abigail for absorbing a huge amount of new information, gear, and harsh conditions. I can’t honestly say that it gets easier with time, but I want to believe that it does. Kudos to Paul for charging into the next phase of his outdoor skillset and making all the water for our crew. There’s more to be done on this particular bump, but that can wait for next year.