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).


Mark said...

Love it...especially the pictures of my tent...hope to be in it there next year!


MB said...

Wow!! This brings back memories...can't wait to hear the rest!! ==>:> Michelle