After Kilimanjaro, I immediately wanted to climb more high altitude peaks.  After getting some advice I decided that Elbrus (highest in Europe) would be next.  But Marek and some of the other Poles I met on Kilimanjaro wanted me to wait until summer of 2008 so they could climb it with me.  This left me with a huge gap in time and I was psyched to do something sooner.  I decided to climb Mt. Rainier, Seattle, Washington, USA September 8-10.  At 14,410ft, it is the most glaciated peak in the US outside of Alaska, which will come in handy for learning proper use of crampons and ice axe, glacier travel and crevasse rescue for Elbrus and beyond.  Rainier has a topographical prominence of 13,210ft, which is 21st in the world and greater than K2.  I’ll be climbing 9000ft of that.  I chose Alpine Ascents to guide.

Here is a good link to the latest weather report on Rainier.  I checked before I left and it was going to be sunny, clear and getting warmer.  The freezing level was rising from 11,500 to 14,000ft (very close to the summit).  Keeping dry on the glacier will be key.

The plan is a simple 3-day up and down.  The first day is from Paradise (5400ft) to Camp Muir (10,188ft) where we are staying in huts.  The following day we do our glacier training and then go up to Ingraham Flats (11,200ft) and staying in tents, a more relaxing day.  The third day starts at 2am up the Disappointment Cleaver, summiting around 8am, descending back to Ingraham Flats and packing up the rest of the gear and then proceeding all the way down to Paradise.  Plans change.

I flew into Seattle, checked into the hotel and took a walk to the Space Needle and took a trip to the top.  Afterwards I took my gear to Alpine Ascents office for a gear check.  The following day we went back to the office at 5:45am and took their van to the mountain.  The scenery was beautiful from the Seattle skyline to the old growth forest to Paradise.  We started to hike through the alpine meadows and snowfields and then finally up some glacier to Camp Muir, which is as far as park visitors are allowed without glacier gear.  This was approx 4788ft gain in elevation carrying about 50lb packs, which is brutal day and it was going to get harder.  This is not like Kilimanjaro, which is a fully supported camping expedition requiring acclimatization days followed by one really hard summit day.  On Rainier every day is a hard day.  Because it is “only” 14410ft they can push you physically without need to acclimatize.  (acclimatization is achieved with a slow pace, extra days and climb high/sleep low regimen).  Rainier is no vacation, you must be in prime conditioning to endure, to succeed.  You hike for 60-90 minutes hard out, sweating profusely...even the breaks are tough.  You might get 10 minutes to put on something warmer (because it is colder after the 1500ft or so elevation gain from the last break) drink 1/2 liter of water, eat 250 calories of food, snap a photo (if you have time) and then repack and get ready for hiking.  If shoe changes or crampons are needed, you’ll get an additional 5 minutes.  One in our group, perhaps the most accomplished climber amongst us, dropped out at about 3000ft gain from cramping.  His 3 climbing buddies on their first major climb were devastated.  At Camp Muir, the guides brought us water (hot/cold) drink mixes, quesadilla appetizers followed by delicious chicken/bean hand made burritos for dinner.  The huts were nice and we went to sleep early, but I was way too hot and didn’t sleep well.  Just as on Kilimanjaro, the pee bottle was a lifesaver.

The 2nd day of the trek we learned about proper crampon use, rope handling, glacier travel, ice axe arrest and group travel.  This was an overview course, not comprehensive, but we learned a lot.  We then packed up, roped up, and headed up to Ingraham Flats at about 11,200ft to the tent camp.  We added helmets, avalanche beacon and climbing harness to our gear.  From this point up, we would be roped together using double plastic boots, crampons and ice axe.  The trip up to camp had some trail that you would not think could be done by novices with 50lb packs wearing all that gear.  We had seen the Muir glacier and Ingraham glacier.  The Disappointment Cleaver was closed due to a huge crevasse at the top.  So the trail from there to the top would traverse down around the cleaver and up the Emmons glacier.  When we got into camp most of the group decided it would be a good idea to do an afternoon climb up to the summit, I was the last holdout for the original plan but decided to just go with the flow.  So we dumped camp gear, grabbed food and water and started up at 3pm with about 25lb packs.  The new schedule was to get to the summit at 9pm (before sundown) and back down by midnight, grab some food and rest and have an easier 3rd day.  Day 2 would end up being 1000ft with full packs and 3200ft with partial packs and back down 3200ft, another brutal day.  Here is a link to a map of Mount Rainier.

We crossed avalanche fields (quickly), navigated small and huge crevasses, climbed beneath mushroom cornices of snow and house sized seracs.  It was beautiful.  Sunset was especially nice creating a gigantic triangular shadow of the mountain.  At this point you probably can guess that we did not make the summit for sundown, but we did make the summit at 9pm on schedule.  I have a generic picture of me at the summit on snow in the dark.  Going down took much longer than scheduled and we got down (and back up the other side of the cleaver to camp) about 2:30am, grabbed a quick bite and took in 1 liter of water overnight.  I was exhausted, but for some reason sleep escaped me (again).  The guides said we would get up at 8:30am and we all laughed.  But when the sun hit the tents and heated them up to saunas by 7:30am we had all had enough so we packed up and went down.

After the climb we went for pizza and beers to celebrate our success.  While there a bus pulled up with a group of climbers that had started for the summit 2am that day (as we were arriving at high camp).  They could not walk and the most they could manage was diet pepsi.  We could not help but grin and offer another toast.  We felt we did Rainier our way and did it with style.  The certificates were passed out, we said goodbye to our guides and headed back to Seattle for showers, dinner with a couple beers, and a warm comfortable bed.  My gear smelled so bad I had to go buy some Febreeze just to get it so that I could pack it up and bring it home without attracting flies.

Mt Rainier, Seattle, Washington

September 10, 2007

The value of our life is not solely measured by its length, but also by the depth of our hearts.

And breadth of our experiences.  And indeed the heights that we achieve.