2. Summit Mount Rainier
In the Summer of 2005, I lived in Seattle while interning at Microsoft. Weekend trips to visit Rainier and the Olympic National Park were frequent. So when I was putting together the list and wanted to have a few things that I never thought I would be able to do, climbing Rainier was near the top. I used to see hikers and climbers heading up the mountain and the idea of me doing that sort of thing was so foreign that I couldn't even conceive what it would be like to train nor attempt a summit.
Over the past year, I trained quite a bit for the summit. In fact, some of the other 30 for 30 items helped (like ski touring while in the Alps and running the 10k). I booked a guide with the RMI climbing guides and flew out to Seattle.
The first day we met up in the evening for a brief equipment check and briefing on the trip and route up. The next day we spent on the mountain doing some skills training with the group - learning how to arrest falls with ice axes, walking properly in crampons, and walking together with a rope. Thankfully, my training on Mount Washington in New Hampshire already had me up to speed with all the techniques. After returning to base camp, our crew headed out for a dinner together before we headed out the next day. Did final packing and got some restless sleep in the hotel before waking early in the morning and grabbing a last breakfast.
The anticipation was palpable the next morning as we gathered at base camp to depart. We rode together in a van up to Paradise at 5,400'. We departed each with 40lb packs on our back up the first leg of our trip. We spent maybe 4 or 5 hours hiking up the lower slopes of the mountain through snow fields. The day wasn't at all technical and we took a break an hour for calories, water, and a brief check of the view. We reached Camp Muir a little after 2pm and began the preparations for the next day; plenty of eating, drinking, and then repacking our summit packs with quite a bit less gear. While I thought I got little sleep the night before, the night at Muir was even less restful, between going to bed at 6pm and waking at midnight, struggling to breath at 10,200', being swaddled in a bag amongst many other noisy sleepers, and of course the anticipation of the climb ahead.
Hardly the morning (1am), we donned crampons and harnesses and left from Camp Muir. Lines of hikers with headlamps looked like strings of pearls headed up the mountain as we joined fellow climbers in the trek. The first two hours were tough but relatively non-technical as we crossed a few snowfields and crossed underside rockfalls. When we started traversing the switchbacks up Disappointment Cleaver, the going got tough - not only was the altitude much more impactful, but the steps were more treacherous. As we made it to the top of The Cleaver and took a much needed break, I had the sense for the first time that there was no way I wasn't going to make it to the top of the mountain.
The next few hours were spent traversing glacier fields and hiking up snowfields. We were using running belays and ladders across the ice while crossing the glaciers, and the hiking took plenty of duck walking and pressure breathing. The monotony of climbing gives way to a meditative state - just counting steps and watching your feet, looking up every once in a while to checkout the view.
After a few more breaks, without any advance notice from our guide, we rounded our last corner and were no longer anticipating false summits - we crossed over the crater rim and were on top of Columbia Crest. It's a sight that few people get to see and you'd never know from the foot of the mountain that the summit looks so crater-like. After more much needed eating and drinking we took the last 500 meter hike across the crater to get to the highest point on the summit at 14,411'. I signed the guest book on the way (30 for 30 shoutout included) and marveled at the steam vents keeping parts of the summit clear of snow.
We snapped only a few pictures on the summit before it was time to head back down again. At some level the summit is a bit anti-climactic as it's only half the journey and like going to the top of any tall structure or formation, once you've seen the view, there's little more to revel in. We attached our packs (ever lighter as we drank and ate) and headed back down the mountain. While the pace was much faster and easier heading down, we were constantly reminded that most accidents happen on the descent. Losing footing from time to time and still perched on the side of a massive volcanic mountain, the descent was as harrowing as the ascent was exhausting. But a few hours later, we made it back to Muir.
It was time for celebration. With a safe summit accomplishment and increasing oxygen levels, we packed up our remaining gear and headed back down to Paradise. Glissading was all the rage as we looked for ways to shave more time off the descent. Still watching our water and calorie intake, we rested a few times and joked with each other now that the stress was behind us.
The last mile was the least enjoyable part of the whole journey. With tired legs and sore feet, walking in mountaineering boots down stairs and the paved tourist paths into Paradise was excruciating. But the feeling didn't last long as we piled into the van and headed to base camp to celebrate our accomplishment.
Looking back on the trip, I want to summit other peaks. I've caught the bug. Mont Blanc is in my sights for an unguided climb and I'm scoping some other peaks to add to the list. See you soon 31 for 31 :).