This labor Day weekend, Sept. 4th to 6th 2010, I attempted to climb Mt Rainier along with 10 other Team Asha climbers to raise funds for Asha for Education, Seattle Chapter. Please sponsor my climb to support Asha Seattle from my profile page. My goal is to raise $5000 this year.
At 14,411 ft Rainier is the highest peak in Washington state and also in the Cascade range. It is an active volcano that last erupted approximately 150 years ago. Last year, one Asha volunteer summited Rainier to raise funds for Asha. This year, Sandeep Nain and his climber friends offered to guide other novice climbers including me up Rainier. This is my story of our climb. This is the culmination of our 6 month or more of training through all kinds of weather.
Four of us decided to stay at a lodge near the trail-head to get a few hours of additional sleep before we start our climb the next morning. While driving to the park on Friday night we saw sunset on Mt Rainier!
Saturday morning at the paradise parking lot, we did our final gear-check and distribution.
That was a lot of gear and packing. Our Backpacks weighed from 30 to 65 lbs!
Finally, around 8:30 am, we were all packed and ready to start our journey. Starting elevation: roughly 5500 ft.
The first part of the trail was through the meadows on a very well maintained path. There was not much snow on the trail.
There were also some rocky sections.
Rainier was mostly not visible - but we had a few glimpses through windows in the clouds!
Beyond 7200 ft elevation (pebble creek, last running water stop), the trail was all on snow and we were still under cloud cover.
Finally, as we approached Camp Muir, we started to emerge from the clouds into sunshine!
Behind we could see Mt Adams and Mt St. Helens rising above the clouds.
We took a short snack break just before Camp Muir - that's the base camp for many climbers. But we wanted to go to high camp at Ingraham flats.
Finally we reached Camp Muir little after noon (elevation roughly 10,000 ft).
The trail from Camp Muir to the Ingraham flats involve glacier travel - so we had to rope up.
Leaving Camp muir behind - this is Cowlitz glacier. You can see the trail that we took. From here we go through Cadaver Gap to the Ingraham glacier.
In front of us emerged Little Tahoma peak - it's a rugged beauty! You'll see the other side of this peak in the following pictures where this face will mostly be covered in clouds.
We reached Ingraham flats (on Ingraham Glacier, elevation roughly 11,000 ft) around 4:30 pm and setup our tents. You can see "Asha for Education" banner painted on my tent - that was our art-work the night before we left!
Our plan was to stay in this camp Saturday night; Sunday do some climbing training, eat, hydrate and sleep early. Then wake up around mid-night and summit early Monday morning. Then we would come down, pack up and go all the way to the trailhead.
We had dinner, saw sunset from our camp. See the shadow of Mt Rainier stretching to the horizon! The night was extremely cold and windy. Freezing level was at 7500 ft and we were about 3500ft above that! Especially with the high wind doing the simplest of the tasks like tying our shoe-laces, was an effort! You can't do it with your gloves on and without the gloves your hands would freeze!
In the morning, Sandeep was trying to make chai! We managed to carve out a small cave in the snow to protect the stove from the high winds.
Morning view from out tents. The views were gorgeous - if not for the extremely cold temperature and high winds, we would have really enjoyed this better! We woke up lazily since the plan for the day was just training and sleeping! And who really wants to get out of the warm sleeping bag to face high freezing winds?!
Enjoying warm chai from a gatorade bottle! At that sub-zero temperature - a bliss!
Our climb-leaders looked at the weather report, talked to the rangers / IMG guides and found that Monday weather was going to be worse - more high winds, possible snow storm etc. So, there were really two options for us - cancel our plan and go back or make a summit attempt right then! But it was already late (10:30 am) and it'd take a lot of time for us to get ready - so it was almost impossible for all of us to do the summit attempt. There were some hard decisions made and we decided on two rope teams of 4 climbers each who's attempt summit and the other 3 would stay back. We started to get ready.
What took most time and turned out to be the bottle-neck was melting snow for drinking water. Climbers who were to stay back helped with the water while others got ready. IMG guides also helped us - they gave us 4 liters of water. Finally we were on our way around 12:30 pm. Soon (though not soon enough) we were on Disappointment Cleaver - a loose rocky section.
Little Tahoma was looking gorgeous - with one side completely covered in clouds and the other face clear!
This is from high up on Disappointment Cleaver. You can see our tents - those tiny dots on the Ingraham glacier.
We had to make another hard decision at this time. It was already 2:45 pm and we still had to go a long way to the summit. We would have day lights only until 8:00 pm and at that rate we wouldn't be making to the summit in time to get back safely. So one of the rope teams were called off and after some reshuffling, 4 of us continued on our way to the summit while the rest turned back.
From that point on there were very few chances for me to take any more pictures - we had to hurry and I had no energy in that cold & windy weather to take any pictures! The worst part was, I had kept my water bottles outside my backpack very intelligently only to realize later that they both froze! We had very little water to drink and I was almost dehydrated. My face was also frozen! When we stopped to take a quick snack break, it was hard for me to eat a cereal-bar - the bar was frozen hard and then I was not sure if I was chewing the bar or my lips! I could barely speak legibly (some people might argue if I ever do!).
Pretty much all the way to the summit the wind kept blowing at us, many times literally throwing me off the trail. As if working against gravity was not hard enough for me, the strong wind added another dimension!
This is a picture I borrowed from the web - this is a ladder at roughly 13,900 ft elevation to cross a crevasse. Only few more hundred ft to the summit!
I had to push my limits to keep climbing - Sandeep was ahead of me and he was almost pulling me with the rope! I was struggling to keep pace. Only thought in my mind was that I was very close and I knew I could do it! Once we reached the crater - it was a great feeling! The true summit (Columbia Crest) was on the other side of the crater - for that we had to cross the crater and climb the last few ft! We left our backpacks in the crater and went for the summit. At that point I just cried - not a cry of pain, but of mixed feelings.
We had to try hard to stand up at the summit - at 50-60 mph gusts the wind was almost blowing us away. But I still managed to smile (though I was not sure how my expression was coming out to be since I hardly could feel my face!). It was almost 6:00 pm - very late to summit and obviously no one else was there at that hour!
Finally a little stable pose! You can see the crater bowl behind us. I had no energy to take photos. I gave my camera and Veera and Miles were taking all the photos then.
This is the Liberty Cap from the Summit.
Looking South from the Summit - you could see Mt Adams in the background.
Back at the crater bowl, Team Asha climbers trying hard agaist the blowing wind to keep the Asha banner down while Miles was also trying to share his sandwich!
We had to get back soon since it was going to be dark and we had to go down the tricky rocky section. We hardly spent few minutes on the Summit. We saw beautiful sunset colors while we were climbing down. You can see the shadow of Mt Rainier.
Captaan Sandeep in sunset glory!
We were finally back at our base camp safe and sound around 9:00 pm. We had no energy or enthu to cook / melt water at that time - we ate whatever we could get hold of in front of us including some snacks & cheese and went into our sleeping bags!
That night there was a period of calmness for couple of hours or so - with no winds. But that was the silence before the storm! By 1 or 2 am at night, the snow storm started. With the fluttering of the tent, it was hard to sleep. I kept wondering when the wind would blow up the tent! By the time there was some light in the morning, there were already a few inches of fresh snow on the ground. The wind was still blowing very heavily. Somehow we managed to pack up our bags and tents and we headed back down to Camp Muir. Once we were on the Cowlitz glacier, there was no more crazy winds.
Here's me pretending to fall in a crevasse!
Finally we were back at the trailhead around 1:30 pm. The first order of business was to head to a restaurant and have a heary meal! Pretty much all of us would have lost some pounds over the last few days!
Looking back, it was an experience to remember and there were many things to learn from this. I had run couple of 1/2 marathons before and also biked more than 200 miles in STP to raise funds for Asha. But nothing really challenged my physical as well as mental limits quite like this. This has to be the hardest thing I've ever done in such rough conditions. While I was hiking up, if you would have asked me if I'd consider climbing Rainier again, I'd have emphatically said never ever would I even think of doing this!! But there is something called the call of the mountain and if you ask me now, my answer would be different!
So long Mt Rainier, but for now! I'll most likely be back!