Friday, September 19, 2008

Bub and Bubba's Turnagainhouse Trot, Part 1 - The Vision

The Turnagainhouse Trot, which I hope will become an annual event (however with a different outcome than its inaugural trip), began a little over a year ago when I called up my friend “the Whale” to go for a hike. I’ve known Whale quite literally since I was born, and let it be known that she resembles nothing of the noun which she has adopted as her name (in fact, she resembles quite the opposite being a land-based bipod with a tall, thin stature). Whale suggested that we climb Flattop together “going up the back-way”, and I readily agreed on as 1) I’d caused permanent emotioinal scarring the last time we’d gone hiking together when she found out that when I said “a couple hours – nothing too bad” really meant “we’ll be back in about 6 hours if we keep a nice fast pace, and jog the flat bits”, and thought it would be good to placate this with a mild Flattop hike - and 2) the traffic up “the back-way”, or “back-side” is typically much more modest, and the path much steeper, less defined, and quite frankly – fun.

Unfortunately, upon arriving at the beginning of the “back-way” on Highland Rd., Whale and her friend Hollie whom was supposed to come along, were nowhere to be found. I was about 10 minutes late, and couldn’t remember what either drove, nor could get cell reception, so, not seeing them, jogged up the first half of the trail to try and catch them as I assumed they’d already gone up. Above “brushline” (treeline would be a generous term here), I still couldn’t see them for sure, but continued to go as fast as I could to catch a group a ways in front to see if that was them. I caught this group about ½ -2/3 of the way up, and not being Whale and Hollie, decided to turn back around and check the parking lot again. Arriving at the parking lot, I again saw no sign of them, and so stood on my truck trying to get cell reception and call them. No answer? Okay, up again we go!

Arriving at the top, solo, I pulled out my phone I had brought along on the second time up, and gave them a ring. It turns out that they were on their way down, having gone up the “old-way” on the front side! However, I still had a lot of energy left, and decided to tackle a couple more peaks. It was probably around 8 at night or so in July so daylight wasn’t going to be a problem, and off I went jogging up Peak 2, Peak 3, and Flaketop Mtn. By that time I was really moving strong, and running down to the pass between Flaketop and Ptarmigan Peak, decided to see how fast I could go up Ptarmigan. Ptarmigan is a pretty steep hike, but I kept a jogging pace up it until arriving at the scrambling part near the top, and was excited as could be feeling the blood flowing, and energy running as I cruised up. It was one of those ecstasy moments where your body is 110% alive, active, alert, exhausted but charged, and ready to take on anything.

When I made the top of Ptarmigan, I looked along the ridgeline as it continued away into the distance, and imagined how fun it would be to continue running and scrambling it… eventually reaching the ridgeline jutting from North Suicide, over the two Suicide Peaks, then up Indianhouse Mtn., and eventually dropping into Indian. At the time it seemed a bit crazy, but absolutely irresistible. I sat at the top of Ptarmigan for a while, thinking about what it would be like to continue on that path through the night. I didn’t have a headlamp, water (my small bottle was quite empty by now, and the ridgeline was rather bare) or food though, and was wearing only synthetic shorts and a t-shirt. Reluctantly, I turned around, jogging and boot-skiing down Ptarmigan to Canyon Rd., where I jogged the couple miles back to the car – excited about the possibility of completing my envisaged ridgeline link-up. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to implement it that summer, nor could I find anyone to go with me, but the trip stuck in the back of my mind over the coming year – and all I could think of when I went home this past summer was trying to attempt it in full.

(Maps courtesy of Google Maps.)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Bub and Bubba's Turnagainhouse Trot...

Coming soon, along with "What to do with a broken climber?". Stay tuned...


To be able to partake in this trip up Rainier with my friends from the San Diego Mountain Rescue Team (SDMRT) was a fantastic experience, and I'm thankful to all of them for having me as part of the group. We couldn't have asked for better conditions on the trip, and the group was a real pleasure to climb with. This trip also opened up something a little bit new for me as a climber. I have a tendency to try to push myself sometimes so that half of what I take from the trip comes from my own internal battles, and trying to push myself to my limits. However, in this trip I found a whole new outlook that I don't normally experience - I'm not a fast climber by true alpinist standards, however I do like to push myself hard and therefore don't often get to enjoy the surroundings in the same way that can be done on a more mellow trip, or perhaps just in a different way than this trip. Being in the alpine is where I feel most alive, and most in tune with my surroundings, and slowing down a little this trip really helped expand on those thoughts. I would still like to go back and do a "car-to-car" trip up a technical route on Rainier, but this trip will probably be the most satisfying I'll have in a while. Not only was it a great group to be with, but we had a relaxed and fun time, and got to see Sharon succeed in her dream of climbing it, and having her with us really added a special note to our success. Thank you Michelle, Brian, Sharon, Dan and Amy for having me as part of your group. Your enthusiasm and good nature really made this trip, and I can honestly say I enjoyed spending time and sharing this trip with every one of you.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Mt. Rainier, Part 4 - Ingraham Flats and back...

We woke up around 0530h Friday morning with the sun beginning to warm the tent as it made it's way above the clouds and across the sky. About a thousand feet below us a thick cloud layer billowed out from the mountain, covering up everything below, and giving Ingraham Flats a magical feel. Above there was nothing but blue sky, and with this beautiful view to wake up to none of us were too enthusiastic to leave camp that day, and took our team getting ready. I think it's safe to say that we would have been pretty content to just stay there another day, enjoying the view, and relaxing on the sun in the glacier - unfortunately our planes' all left at 0600h sharp the next morning, so we needed to get off the mountain some time that day...

Not wanting to carry down more than we had to, we went ahead and made a breakfast fit for champions - using up the remainder of our freeze-dried meals, including a tasty cheescake dessert of Sharon's! Slowly packing up, we took our last pictures of the area, re-hydrated, and tried to keep from leaving too soon. Sarah, a guide from Alpine Ascents Intl. came up to our camp looking for a lighter for their stoves, and it was great to talk to her about her experiences as a guide, especially because she typically does at least one trip a year to Alaska to climb Denali (and I, of course, am from Alaska... though have unfortunately yet to climb Denali - perhaps next spring, anyone interested?). We had fun chatting about Alaska, skiing in the Tetons (where she spends most of the year), etc., and she invited us to come check out their guide/meal tent which they share with one of the other guide services (each group rotates their days on the mountain, and thus who gets to use the tent). I eventually made it down there to check it out, and it was pretty slick - they had 8 MSR whisperlights set up in two groups of 4, on top of which sat two large pots. This allowed them to make a enough water at a time for their meals for their entire group - it was great! The tent was floorless and dugout to allow people to stand inside, and their were seats dug out all the way around. She was a great gal too, and reminded me of some of my favourite friends b
ack home (for those from Alyeska, she reminded me of a young Alex Von Wichman). Anyhow, once again, I digress... bottom line - mountain people rock, and I miss spending more time in the hills...
Eventually, probably around 0830 or 0900 we began making our way off the glacier, past the Cathedral gap bowling alleys, down the scree of the Cathedral Gap, and across Cowlitz Glacier to Camp Muir. As we descended, the cloud layer below us began to burn off, and by the time we had arrived at Muir, there were only spotty clouds left that soon also broke up. Muir was packed with people hoping to make it up over the weekend, and we were happy that we had decided to do our trip during the week, and spent two of our nights at Ingraham Flats instead of Muir. After chatting with some people about the route ahead, we made our way down the snowfield, boot-skiing and glissading our way down on our own, until we met up again at Pebble Creek. Dan and Amy had mentioned they might come up and meet us here, but not seeing them we re-hydrated at the creek and continued down.

On the way down, I found myself doing something that I seem to always do when leaving the alpine. I searched for every inch of snow possible to boot-ski, and really just wanted to be on my own, relishing these last moments on the mountain, and listening to the silence of the hills. I took off ahead of the group in spurts, boot skiing, hiking back up, and boot skiing again at times, but normally just trying to stay out of talking earshot, and on the snow. It's sad to have to return to reality and everyday life, and it's during these moments that I wonder why I have chosen the academic route instead of sticking to the hills. I sensed that Sharon must have felt a similar sadness to the thought of leaving the mountain, and as Brian and Michelle walked ahead to the parking lot, her and I fell farther behind enjoying these final moments in heaven.

We were met in the parking lot by Dan and Amy whom had just come up from below, sporting left-over steak goodies from the previous evening's dinner, and a wide variety of brews that they'd picked up during the previous days after their hikes around the Snow Lake area, Tatoosh Range, and Box Canyon. We hung around the parking lot for a while, sharing our adventures, and then eventually packed up around 1630h and made our way back to Seattle, only stopping for dinner along the way. We got to Seattle late, and only had time to pack and clean up, before catching about 2 hours of sleep, and heading to the airport first thing... I on my way to Alaska, Michelle on her way to an adventure race in Nevada, and the rest on their way back to San Diego.

Mt. Rainier, Part 3, Summit Day

Thursday, July 17th, we woke around midnight to the sounds of other climbers already passing by the Flats, on their way up to the Disappointment Cleaver. As we rubbed the sleep from our eyes (the little of it we'd had - between the sun and our excitement it was hard to fall asleep, and I definitely got a little snappy at Brian and Michelle's excited chatting as Sharon and I tried to crash out), we could see a couple strings of headlamps approach the base of the cleaver, and begin the zig-zagging,
snow to rock, and back to snow, up the arete.

As others melted water and got breakfast ready, I untangled the rope - we'd left our knots and prussicks on from the day before, but packed it away for the night - so that everyone could easily clip into their spot. We had paired down our packs as much as we could, each bringing our down coats, a few extra layers, and our personal technical gear, snacks and water, and divided a couple sleeping bags, a single pad, an emergency bivy, and the team's technical gear (a couple ice screws, 2 pickets, and one extra ice tool) amongst us. Clipping into our crampons, and ditching extra layers (this time I would sure be glad I left the long johns on) we tied in and began our slow slog up Rainier at about 0130h. I've always been amazed at how long it takes to get moving in the morning while camping - even when all you have to do is eat breakfast, make water, and possibly pack up, and this day was no exception.

Shaking out the muscles from the pervious day's labours, we started slowly up the Ingraham, sticking to the climber's left in order to skirt a large crevasse that split nearly the entire upper reaches of the flats. We picked up our pace bit by bit, warming up like a diesel engine - stopping everyonce in a while only to quickly refuel and catch our breath. The well beaten path up the glacier soon began a traverse across and slighlty down towards the base of the Dissapointment cleaver, and after a moderately exposed, but short section, we were on the arete of the cleaver. There wasn't a large amount of moonlight that night, but the glacier dropping off below was still lit up in a dark subtle glow. Night is a special time in the mountains, and their beauty takes on a whole new meaning in it's darkness - the darkness that in the end highlights the mountain mystique that speaks to the alpinist. Behind us, other teams we slowly catching up, having started from the Muir hut that morning, and their headlamps looked like a broken string of christmas lights snaking up the far side of the glacier, until eventually coming even with us across the glacier and traversing our direction.

We didn't want us to rest too long at any of these lower spots, because we knew we were moving slower, and wanted to make sure we weren't below too many groups in the looser rocky sections that mixed in above. Moving on, we made our way up, always leaving our crampons on in the rocky sections, their scrape in some strange way comforting as we moved along. Mixed snow to ice terrain is probably my favourite place to be in the mountains, and I was loving every minute of it.

As we moved up the cleaver, some guided groups caught us, and passed us by relatively quickly. Although there is a relatively well beaten in path up the cleaver, the previous days' melting and deterioration of the trail caused me to strike out and form a new trail in places, and it was satisfying in my own mind to see the guides catching us following our new route to bridge certain sections - this wasn't difficult terrain by any means, only steep hard snow up a face with large sun cups, but sometimes it's the little things that count. It also made me glad that we were our own team, as the "mushing" of the guides wasn't at all what I like to experience in the mountains. A team should be exactly that, a team, and the dialogue between clients and guide of "when do we get to stop..." (cut off) "we'll stop soon, we didnt' stop that long ago, and we need to make it to the next point - I'm hungry and thirsty too, but we need to keep moving..."(said while the guide seems to nearly be dragging the client up), didn't at all mirror the team nature that I think adds a big part to alpinism.

As more groups caught up with us about 2/3 of the way up the Cleaver, I led our team out off the snow path to the rock edge of the arete in order to let the other groups pass more easily. Here we again took a quick break, before continuuing on, now behind most of the guided groups, back to the snow field and up to the top of the cleaver. As we arrived at the top of the cleaver, the guided groups (I believe all from RMI) finished their own break, while a small contingent waited to start down - either because the guides told them they needed to, they decided it wasn't their deal afterall, or perhaps because of some sort of physical ailment. We decided that this must be where the term "Dissapointment Cleaver" came from.

The RMI groups headed up, and we sat at the cleaver, watching the first rays of sunlight begin to peak over the eastern horizon and light up the hills below. Looking down at glaciers around Little Tahoma Peak, a beautiful dawn glow began to expose each and every part of the tortured glacial surface, broken and sweeping along it's slow path down. Brian and I took some pictures, and soon it we were back on our way up, trudging along the ice towards the summit above. Distances between points were deceiving, and I found myself setting too lofty of goals between each one of our brief breathers. Unfortunately, although we had a very good chance of making the summit still, I knew we were falling behind the optimum schedule, and tried to drag out the distance between breathers as far as I could - possibly pushing Sharon a bit to far at points, but she always dug down, found the strength, and kept pushing on hard. (I'd like to emphasize that as we were a climbing team, decisions on where we stopped, rested, etc. were actually team decisions, however being at the head of the rope I definitely tried to use that minor leadership role to subtley (I hope) affect when and where we stopped.)

The route up the ice had many small crevasses, but nothing very large ever had to be bridged, and there were only a few small seracs to work around. The texture of the snow on the lower reaches, however, was incredible, with deep suncups forming ridged spikes (I believe the correct name is neve penitentes) across the glacial surface, dirty with a thin coating of dust, and glowing in the morning light. At one point a swiss couple passed us (my own guess - sometimes people just fit the image, their accent, clothes, facial features and manerisms all brought me back to my time living in Switzerland), but from that point on we would be on our own heading up, now the last group in the long chain towards the summit. The glacial travel on the upper reaches continued to be uneventful, with only a few fun sections where we got to step across deep chasms, jump, or climb around a small serac, but it was a fun slog, working our way back and forth, up the slightly tapering hillside. Around us blue skies showed no hints of weather ever even existing on the mountain, and a cool breeze kept our bodies at the perfect temperature (though my hands would freeze every time we stopped if I didn't immediately put gloves on).

After a few hours, another group who was descending with big grins on their faces, told us we were getting close "about 15 minutes", and that when rocks came into view above we would be looking at the edge of the summit crater. Their premonition about the rocks soon turned true, but those 15 minutes soon turned into an hour. Sharon and the others were doing great, but it was important that we got up soon as everyone was starting to show small signs of tiring, and I wanted to save any significant food and resting until we were in the lee of the summit crater. I also wanted to make sure that we finished on the still hard snow, before it warmed and became soft and slushy. Soon enough we were there though, and were all filled with elation as we crested over and into the summit crater at about 0830h (basically a large snow filled bowl, perhaps 200 feet deep at most). Another group was here, getting ready to head down, and as they took their pictures and packed up, we snacked, joked, and got ready to ditch our packs for the quick jaunt over to the true summit.

Unfortunately, my stomach was a bit upset about this time and was giving me some issues, but we ambled over to the summit to take some summit pictures, and admire the view from above. Oddly, it actually took us a little while to figure out what exactly was the "true" summit, as each about three points all seemed to be about the same hieght, but we eventually figured out which was the true summit, and soon had the amusing time of trying to get just the right group shot on auto-timer there. Luckily, at the same time that we were trying to get our pictures, another group came in from Kautz Glacier guided by RMI, and they took a picture thus eliminating our amusing "self-timer" shots with missing heads and the like.

Looking out from the summit of Rainier offers gorgeous views, and the perfectly clear sky with allowed us to see until the roundness of the earths surface blocked our view. Factually put by Sharon "Seattle is socked in w/ marine layer, but the Olympic Mtns. can be seen beyond Puget Sound to the NW. To the North – Mt. Baker & the Canadian Cascades. East – looking down on Little Tahoma & the Tatoosh in the SE. To the South – Mt. Adams, St. Helens, and down into Oregon – Mt. Hood & Jefferson. We spent almost 3 hrs. walking around the crater rim, checking out the steam vents, then melted snow for drinking water before heading back down." Unfortunately, part of this three hours was my taking part in joining Dan and Terry in what must be the SDMRT (San Diego Mountain Rescue Team) curse (to which they participated in years ago during a seperate ascent), as my stomach finally decided it had suffered enough, and I was forced to leave something on Rainier that I truly had no desire to leave behind, or the blue-bag available to avoid doing so... I blaim it purely on my dedication to SDMRT.

The way down was relatively uneventful - during our time on the summit, the snow on the mountain had gradually warmed up and began sticking to our crampons, and a few of the short snow bridges had begun to give, but we made our way down to the Dissapointment Cleaver with only a few short breaks for the knees, before packing up and heading down the rest of the way. I was still leading on the way down, and it was definitely comforting having Brian in the back to help arrest the group should someone slip, or have their legs give out. Our legs were pretty worked by this time, and although we never needed it, Brian did a great job making sure we wouldn't go far if one of us slipped.

The unfortunate part, however, about traveling on a rope team is the constant pull felt on the rope due to the differing walking speeds of the group. Being in front, I couldn't see when someone was stopping behind me, and even though I kept one hand on the rope as a feeler, would still get caught by surprise mid-step, and have to often stop with one foot in the air on a moments notice. I did my best to keep my pace slow enough so that these tugs weren't to often, but unforunately had a tendency to slowly increase speed with time. Michelle, behind me, probably had it the worst as she had me always pulling away at the front, and Sharon moving the slowest of us directly behind her, so she would get the pull coming from both directions. (Both of their patience when roped up was incredible) I felt bad, however, when only about 500 feet from camp Michelle stopped to joke with Sharon and Brian, and I, getting stopped mid-stride, yet again, and uncessarily, snapped at her for not being able to talk and walk at the same time. I'm normally a pretty patient person, especially in the hills, but being so close to camp, and wanting to keep moving (and feeling a bit like a dog on a leash) I wasn't able to contain my quick jibe back to her... soon, after I'd become the brunt of the joke though (if you dish it, you'd better be able to take it), we were back in camp at around 1500h, and happy with our fantastic day of climbing.
Not being in a rush to move on, we stayed in camp the rest of the day, enjoying the sunshine, and a gorgeous view. We couldn't have asked for better weather - in fact a few teams had turned back earlier in the week due to high winds - but we had steady winds of perhaps only 10 mph on the higher parts of the mountain, and probably only 15 on the summit. It was great. We enjoyed our view, looking out past Little Tahoma, and had an early dinner (I definitely learned this trip that I should bring more food - thank you Sharon for only needing 1/2 a ration each time compared to my 1 and 1/2!) and were sacked out by 1930h, this time having no problem falling asleep.

(Thanks again to Brian for some of the pictures, including the team travel shot from the rear, and the summit shot.)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Mt. Rainier, part 2 Little Africa to Ingraham Flats

Waking up Tuesday morning a little before dawn, we started packing up for our day's goal - Ingraham Flats. Sharon had luckily decided to join us at least as far as Camp Muir, and would see how she was feeling there. So we bid goodbye to Amy and Dan, wished them well, and saddled up, happy to be a team of four instead of three, but sad to see the others go.

Heading up, it wasn't long before we were shedding layers even though we had started out a bit cold and shed a few to start. I quickly regretted having forgotten to take my long-johns off during the initial shedding, and sweated it out until we found a good resting place later on. The morning sun soon turned the snow around us soft, we ditched out crampons, and thereafter crested a rise so that Camp Muir came into view. At this point we started to spread out and all laughed at how far away it still seemed. Slogging our way up the upper reaches of the Muir Snowfield to Camp Muir (10,188'), we took a long break to get out our glacier travel gear, and prepair for our second short push of the day to Ingraham flats where we would camp for the night.

While hanging out at Muir, we had the opportunity to chat with a new RMI guide about the conditions ahead, and were happy to hear that the route was in excellent condition. We had some previous concern about rockfall in Cathedral gap, but watching groups come through we were able to see the danger zones to move quickly through, and that it was nothing to be overly concerned about. Teams coming out reported great climbing, beautiful views, and amazing weather - something which was forecast for the rest of our trip - and we were excited to move back along. Brian also had the chance to briefly meet Lou Whitaker as he emptied water from his pack on a training climb to Muir, and was pretty excited about this!

Packing and roping up, we saw two Park Rangers moving fast, back in from a summit that morning. These guys were pretty cocky, but amusing to watch as they nearly jogged to the ranger shack, while shedding gear and layers, to report a roundtrip time of around 4.5 hours from Muir to the top and back again. Breaking out a bottle of wine, they turned on some Bob Marley over the loud speakers, and we left camp with his slow, but grooving regae rhythms going through our heads.

With myself in the lead, followed by Michelle, Sharon and then Brian, we made our way across the upper reaches of Cowlitz glacier, to the small bowling alley of Cathedral Gap where we short-roped up the scree to the top of the gap. Here there was a small area where we could catch our breath again before trying to move quickly through a another bowling alley protecting the entrance to Ingraham flats. Although numerous rocks fell from above in these two sections, nothing was ever close, and we escaped with nothing but smiles on our faces. Below us we could see the reaches of the Ingraham glacier breaking into numerous seracs, and flowing over the rolls of the mountain, while above the upper reaches stood as a broken obstacle to the Ingraham Direct.

Arriving at Ingraham flats we set up camp a small distance away from a group from Alpine Ascents Intl., and a few other independent climbing teams who were in the area. We had hoped at this point to get some crevasse rescue training in, but a lack of time and desire to rest for the next mornings push to the summit kept us from doing so. We relaxed there in the sun, refueled, and reorganized our summit packs for the next day. Above us sat the upper reaches of the broken Ingraham glacier with its intimidating seracs, bordered on one side by Gibraltar rock, and the other side by the Dissapointment Cleaver (which was the current route up). Below, a few wispy clouds swirled around the mountain, and Little Tahoma Peak stuck out dramatically splitting the panorama cleanly in two. Perhaps Sharon described it best in her post-trip report to SDMRT when she said "Crevasses & Icefall are spectacular as is view of nearby Little Tahoma Peak. Misty clouds blowing in & out of camp make it feel otherworldly."

That night we tried to hit the sack around 1900h in order to get up at midnight for our climb (got to love alpine starts), this was easier said than done with 4 teammates crammed in a 3-person tent, the excitement of what was to follow, and the persistent daylight that didn't subside until nearly 2200h. Personally, I had become the most experienced in technical ascents and glacial travel once Dan had left the team, and I found myself feeling a little more focused on what we would need to do the next day, and how best to stay on top of my own game. Thankfully, there is a well beaten path up Rainier due to the hordes who climb it, but I still found myself reviewing rescue procedures in my head that night, things to watch for, and a gaining a more focused outlook on the situation around us. In some ways I might have been a little more edgy and stressed, but I knew deep down that there wasn't any reason for this as we were on only easy-moderate technical terrain, and I was with 3 other very competent teammates, who would prove well in any situation we might find ourselves in. A few years earlier while traveling in thick fog on a glacier below Pza. Bernina on the Swiss-Italian border, I had followed the rope in front of me (which led to my friends Andrea and Simone) and punched through a few different unforseen crevasses until my pack caught and I hung there with my feet dangling, luckily never punching all the way through. The chances were poor, but I didn't want this to be the place where that happened. I'll be honest though in also in saying I actually enjoyed this little bit of extra "responsibility" (if I can call it that since those behind me really were well qualified, even if not extremely experienced), and just hoped that everything would go well the next day.

(Note: The photos of camp at Ingraham Flats, and of my sorting gear are thanks to Brian).

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Climbing Mt. Rainier, Part 1, Seattle to Little Africa

About halfway through last year I was lucky enough to be asked by my friend Sharon from the San Diego Mountain Rescue Team (of which I am a member) if I would be interested in climbing Mt. Rainier with her and some other members of the team (Dan, Amy, Brian and Michelle). Being a junior member on the team, I couldn't believe I was so lucky to be asked to join them for such an opportunity, and was extremely happy to accept. Sharon was great, organizing the trip for a total of six of us, getting the permits, and getting everyone organized and working together before taking off... but why the trip in the first place you might ask? Well... Sharon just turned 50, and what a better way to celebrate than to go climb beautiful Rainier! Ironically in the end though, although we did the trip in honor of Sharon's birthday, in reality it would be a birthday trip for a bunch of us... my 25th birthday was 2 days before we started, Brian's 30th was on our first day on the mountain, and Dan's repetitive 29th birthday shortly after we were due to be back!

We all met up in Seattle on July 13th, and spent all too many hours at Pike's Market (OK, not too much time here, I wouldn't have mi
nded hanging around longer!), REI (not quite as impressive as I thought, but wow), Feathered Friends (these people ROCK), and Albertson's, gathering last minute mountaineering gear, fuel, and food before heading south to Mt. Rainier's Cougar Rock campground (3328') to spend the night. At cougar we worked as a group to decide our final plans dividing up the gear, pack up, talk more about team travel, and of course had a general toast to our trip with some RAIIIIIINNNNNNNNEEEEERRRRRR BEEEEEEEERRRR... Brian and I also had a fantastic opporunity to test out the acoustics of the local wash room (they were of the flushing variety, so breathing was safe...), with a great duet of "I can't stop this feeling" while sitting on the john... can you hear it? ooogachacka, oogachacka, ooogachacka... Iiiiiiiiii'mmm stuck on a feeeeeling, Hhhigh on beelllieving... Unfortunately, try as we might (and we tried often much the chagrin of the rest of the group), we never could produce those great acoustics on the mountain, but enough... I digress...

Waking up Monday morning, we threw our packs in the car and headed up to the Paradise Ranger Station (5500') where we would begin our climb. Soon we were packed up, and moving along with our various packs weighing in anywhere from 60-72 lbs (GO Dan!). We were trying to keep gear relatively light, and cut our gear down accordingly. I, as always, was trying to use a smaller pack than I probably should have in order to save pack weight, but managed to get everything in there just fine, and strapped my rope, sleeping pad, and helmet to the outside. I also considered myself lucky, because I knew that even though I was weighing in at the mid-range of about 64 lbs, I would lose 10.2 lbs. worth of rope (which would become distruted among us... probably leaving me with about 3 lbs. of it) once we got going... but, for the meantime, it was mine until we reached the glaciers above! I also had my big camera as usual, but in order to trick my mind, didn't include that when weighing in...

Getting going was a little amusing because none of us knew exactly what trail to take, and were joking around too much to think about asking someone. Being slightly off the usual path, we got a few funny looks from some of the guides who were teaching their glacial travel class to clients, but eventually found our way to the main path - heck, all the trails were going up anyhow, and were bound to intersect! It was fun watching the excitement throughout the group though, and everybody settle into a rhythm and learn how to adjust pace to stay relatively together.

That first day on the trail was absolutely gorgeous, and our team was in high spirits as we slogged up the mountain with the hopes of reaching Camp Muir for the night. We were moving slow, but steady, and had numerous stops to admire the views of a perfect day on Rainier, rehydrate and stay fueled up. We spoke to numerous groups coming down from above, and were amused by the quietness of the guided clients who had been drug up the mountain by guide teams, and been on the move (from Camp Muir, to the summit, and now on their way down) since midnight. Our path was probably the most common on the mountain, taking us up the Muir Snow Field, and I was amazed by the shear number of people - both day hikers and mountaineers - who were out. Across a large gulley we could see a long string of other climbers working their way up Nisquilly Glacier to the west, and above we'd often glance up to see rock or ice fall from the glaciers above and to the west of the Muir hut. At one point when I'd gone up ahead I saw two guys coming down with skis who had just gone up the Muir Snow Field to ski for the day - I was jealous of their skis, and laughed pretty hard when they looked at me and asked "who are you guiding for?" - me, a guide? Right... I wish!

Our group was moving slow, but the day was gorgeous, and it was pleasant going. Temperatures were warm enough for short sleeves, but the breeze kept us cool enough so that we didn't over heat too badly. The hours went by quickly though, and soon dusk was approaching, our group was knackered, and we were still about 1400' below the Muir hut when we decided to dig in and camp in the middle of "Little Africa". We were only at about 8,800', and below the "recommended" camping limit, so Brian, Michelle and I went looking for a nice spot to set-up tents off the beaten path of the Muir Snow Field. Brian found a great spot tucked away in the lee of the nearby ridgeline, and we dug out some tent platforms for the night, made dinner, and rehydrated. While boiling some water though (it's a good idea to boil the water on Rainier, even when you melt it from snow, as you never know what's going to be in it with the amount of traffic in the area), I realized I had left my camera a few hundred feet below. I'd set down my pack when we'd gone in search of camping spots, and quickly sprinted down to pick it up...

Unfortunately, during our day up, Amy had come to realize that she really didn't feel comfortable continuing the climb, and she and her boyfriend Dan elected to go down and enjoy some of the local hiking trails over the next couple days instead. This left us at a slight prediciment though, as we had divided our team into 2 three prerson teams previously, each of which would share a single tent and rope. Due to our mixed experience throughout the group, we would need to travel as a rope team of four now (two teams of two wouldn't have been safe), however there was still the conundrum of squeezing Sharon into Michelle, Brian and I's three person tent! Sharon was pretty concerned about Brian's reputation for HAIF (high altitude induced flatulence), and contemplated retreating with Dan and Amy due to this concern, and the nagging in the back of her mind that she might not be able to keep up with us younger lackies.

Talking amongst Brian, Michelle and I we all agreed that we very much wanted Sharon to continue with us. She was the very reason we were lucky enough to be on the mountain, and we all knew that it would mean the world if she could make it to the summit. Although she had had a little trouble that day due to her smaller stature and heavy pack, we knew that she had the physical and mental fortitude to continue on with us. We weren't going for a speed ascent (obviously), but rather just wanted to enjoy eachother's company on the mountain. Furthermore, the summit would mean that much more to each of us if we had Sharon as well. After voicing this to Sharon, she agreed to give it some thought, and let us know in the morning what her decision would be. We crossed our fingers, and lay down for the night, wondering where the next day would take us to, and how many of us would be there...