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...

1 comment:

Tara said...

Amazing pics, you definilty have me inspired. Maybe a brother and sister climb should be in the works. Love you T