A climbing log of my recent ascent of Mt. Rainier.



What have I taken away from this experience? Many small practical lessons were learned, valuable experience was gained, limits were pushed, and we accomplished our goal. In particular:

  • 55 lbs is a LOT more than 40 lbs
  • stair climbing is the way to go for training
  • altitude sickness drugs are your friends while you are at altitude, but back at sea level the side effects are damned annoying. speaking of which, I need to pee...
  • never use metal stakes to anchor a tent in snow
  • tents pitched in snow actually do need footprints
  • tents pitched in snow can benefit from wind walls erected around them
  • Rainier can be climbed without plastic boots -- the right leather boot can stand up to crampons and keep your feet dry and warm with the proper care.
  • wind, while unnerving, is not inherently dangerous, until you leave the ground
  • sliding down a glacier on your ass, while fun, yields large bruises on said ass
  • you need 2 pulleys, 9 carabiners, 8 assorted cords and slings, and at least one anchor, on your person, to effect a realistic crevasse rescue
  • it takes a long damned time to boil water at altitude
  • boiling water may not be as hot as you think it is
  • you aren't really living until you can't take survival for granted
  • it was all worth it!

The day after

Why am I awake at 7am? I can only posit that my body has rejected the idea of getting more than a few hours of sleep at a time, but nevertheless I get up and try to sate the burning thirst for water. After a huge breakfast we both went back to sleep for most of the day, and so Tuesday was really not worth mentioning at all, but for the fact that after weighing myself I discovered I'd left 10 lbs of myself on the Mountain somewhere; I stared at the scale reading 183 and wondered how long it had been since I'd weighed that little.

Coming down

I was still apprehensive about our situation as we turned to come down, the wind was as strong as ever and I wondered what it would blow our way. I soon found out. The wind started whipping small clouds at us and visibility quickly decreased to right around 30 ft, which was an easy measurement as Matt was at the end of the rope, 30 ft in front of me, and when it became difficult to see him, I knew we were in the soup. The high winds kept everything in motion so visibility remained greatly variable, though Matt remained confident he could spot the upcoming crevasses even when it got thick, so we continued on.

The farther we got down the hill, the better the weather got, until at about half way the sun seemed to burn through the intermittent clouds and it seemed almost balmy. The snow underfoot really softened up and we both shed a few layers, loping down the hill. Matt took a few unscheduled shortcuts down the side after losing footing, but I managed to arrest his fall and belay him over to the trail below us. At this point the only thing left to consider was getting off the hill before it got really slushy, so we stopped and snapped pictures of some of the snow features we'd passed on the way up.

Finally we got down to the cleaver, negotiated it and ditched our crampons, and the slid and skated down the rest of the hill toward the flats. I was really looking forward to collapsing in our tent safe and sound and forgetting the idea of moving down to Muir that day. I didn't think the rangers would raise any alarms if we didn't' show up right away. We had spotted our tent from higher up earlier in the day and ever since I'd been eager to crawl in my bag and get some sleep.

As we arrived on the flats a man popped out of the lone tent on the field and inquired, "you two weren't the one's camped up there were you?"

I turned to glance up at our campsite and realized that the tent was in fact not there anymore. This is not good.

"It blew away a bit ago in a particularly violent wind gust. We managed to toss a rock on it when it landed in this pit."

It seems our tent stakes in the snow routine was insufficient for the day's wind, and we found our tent in the bottom of a hole in the snow, broken tent poles bristling. Luckily Matt had tossed everything in camp back inside the tent before we left. [Aside: out of the 110 lbs we were collectively carrying, we only took the rope, our rescue gear, a bit of food, 3 liters of water, and whatever clothes we weren't wearing. I'd say that left at least 50-75 lbs of gear in the tent. That must have been a serious wind "gust."]

So, we emptied out the tent, repacked all of our gear, roped up, and set out for Camp Muir. The thought at this point was to either see if we could find a spot in the public shelter at Muir since our tent was hashed, or if possible get to a pay phone at the bottom of the mountain if the visitor's center stayed open long enough. The trip to Muir was quicker going back, being mostly downhill, though Cathedral Gap was still a dirt skating rink. We beat feat across the rock field in the warm afternoon sun, hoping nothing melted out an fell on us. The rangers at Muir told us that the Hotel at Paradise had a payphone in it, so we could call my parents whenever we made it to the bottom. So after a quick break, we set off down the hill to descend the rest of the way to Paradise.

And so the hunt for glissading tracks began; we spread out looking for the best ones, and found more than a few. It made the trip down a lot shorter, at least on the snow, and we had a great time. I patented a new sliding technique where I used my ice axe to pull my heels up off the snow while I leaned forward to distribute the pack weight across my legs, which seemed really get my going down the hill quick.

At Pebble Creek we left the snow and started along the path. The beautiful alpine meadows that were so inviting on the way up were now shrouded in mist and cloud, and the whole scene was gray and oddly quiet with all the tourists evidently gone from the mountain in the inclement weather. After descending 8,000 ft from the summit, the last several hundred feet of lost elevation on the paved trail seemed particularly bothersome to the knees and ankles, Matt's plastic boots were once again working against him.

Finally we made the bottom of the hill and walked over the the Paradise Inn. We dropped our packs and went inside to find the phones. After a quick collect call to Mom we set about waiting outside, since I was fairly certain they didn't want two highly smelly backpackers stinking up their family friendly lounge. We sat outside on their patio, and squared our gear away. While we waited various and sundry tourists happened along to ask us about our trip, a curious vacationer from Minnesota, a bored father trying to escape his children, and a nicotine addicted army communications officer killing time during a smoke. The conversations were actually pretty entertaining.

After a 2 hour wait, Mom and Dad finally arrived, we tossed the gear in the car, and collapsed in the back. Another 2 hour drive back home and a hot shower and it was Midnight, making Monday a 24 hour day.

Sleep came very quickly.


The longest day

Monday morning at Midnight my watch alarm went off, which I had been waiting for some hours to hear, as my heart had been pounding too hard all night to get any sleep. We woke up, packed what little clothing we weren't wearing into our packs along with food for the day, roped up and set out for the summit in the pitch black. The night was clear, cold, and silent. We were the first in our camp to get on the move, and were some way up the route before we saw other small snakes of headlamps moving up behind us. The sky was crammed with stars I'd never seen before, devoid of any light pollution, and a sliver moon of a bright fiery peach color had just risen over the horizon. We headed straight up the glacier and made a hard right turn into Disappointment Cleaver to avoid the Ingraham Glacier's massively crevassed ice fall directly ahead. The cleaver was just like Cathedral Gap, only much bigger. Making the footing even more treacherous were the crampons we now wore on our feet to keep traction on the hard icy snow. After quite a while on the cleaver we finally escaped out onto the Emmons glacier. Here we were beset at every turn by ghostly snow formations and gaping maws in the ice, each more awe inspiring and dangerous than the last.

Perhaps my favorite part of the whole climb was the intense feeling I got being 1,000s of ft above the thick cloud cover that had moved in over night, blanketing everything below our camp for as far as the eye could see, with Little Tahoma thrusting through in the foreground and Mt. Baker reflecting dimly on the distant horizon. It was like we were totally alone in the world, and God had decided to give us a little peek at how things looked from up on high. It made the climb itself seem like a distraction between times when I could look over my shoulder and marvel at how high and isolated we were.

We were climbing steadily and all was going well when one of Matt's crampons failed. A screw was coming lose from the underside of the connector plate between the front and rear spikes, causing the whole thing to fail. This required semi-constant fixing about every 300 yds and plagued us for the rest of the day. While we waited another two man team caught up with us, and we traded the lead on the trail back and forth for the next hour or so.

All the while we are passing and crossing enormous crevasses every so often, some particularly precarious. One that sticks out in my mind was an area where one crevasse was perpendicular to the path and another's terminus was coming in at a 45 degree angle and ending just on the other side of the perpendicular crevasse. This left a what appeared to be a free floating triangle of snow in between, which the trail clearly proceeded across. I stopped short of this and said something to the effect of, "no $%ing way" it was clear the route crossed at this very point. After signaling Matt I made my way onto and off of this "floating" island of snow in one step and was glad to be off of it at that.

As the early morning wore on the wind started steadily increasing and the temperature steadily dropping. We again took the lead and continued on, though still hampered by Matt's ongoing crampon issues. By the time the sun had come up it was clear that the weather had changed, the wind was high and buffeting, and small clouds were blowing up and around the mountain. Visibility was still good, but it was clear that the wind could blow anything our way very quickly. We met two other teams on the trail, and both indicated they were packing it in, one team saying they were "beat" after hoofing it up from Camp Muir that morning. Obviously in catching up to us they'd been working a lot harder, and it seemed that between their burnout and the wind, they'd had enough. The older team we'd been trading the lead with since morning quietly turned back without a word. We continued on without much discussion, though as we ascended things steadily got worse in the wind department. It was necessary to keep moving a fairly rapid pace just to keep warm, and with Matt's boot issues I was wondering if we'd be smart to turn back as well. At a break point we talked it over, and agreed that though the wind was very high, it wasn't blowing us off the mountain (yet), it wasn't making us cold (unless we stopped moving), we had food, water, and enough clothing, and visibility was still clear. So although the wind was weighing on us physically and psychologically, there wasn't any reason at the present to abort the climb. We both felt good, so we continued on.

You may notice there are no pictures for this section of the climb, and for good reason. As we continued to ascend the switch backs on the glacier, it was a constant battle to remain upright, and every third step was to brace against falling down. We quickened our pace and finally caught site of the crater ridge at the top. The route put us into the crater at the low side, we dropped our packs and caught our breath. The summit lay a few hundred feet across the crater and up the far ridge. We dropped everything and set across, determined not be denied the very top when we'd come this far. The crater itself offered some respite from the wind, though that disappeared as soon as we crested the ridge on the far side. Here the wind was the strongest either of us had ever experienced (Matt later told me he'd been in verified 50 mph winds on a different climb). To say we had to lean into the wind to walk would be a gross understatement. We frequently had to dive to the ground to keep from being swept off our feet. Moving along the ridgeline to what we could only assume was the highpoint, we were faced with a predicament, as the wind was blowing straight at us over the lip of the crater. We would have taken shelter just inside the lip of the crater had it not been riddled with ice crevasses. Our only choice was to battle the wind on the outer side of the crater ridge. Laying next to each other and screaming in each other's ears to be heard, I told Matt I thought there was a register at the high point. We agreed there must be a metal box anchored to the rock, and spotted a square shape at what looked to be the highpoint. We stumbled, fell and crawled our way over to it, foot by foot, wind howling in our ears, slapping our hoods against our helmets, invading every tiny seem in our clothing and chilling us to the bone. When we finally arrived we were greeted by an almost perfectly square rock. I was dumbfounded! Where was the highpoint? How could it not be marked at all? In vain I searched the rocky ground for half buried box, a flag, anything.

Finally my eyes fell across something round, perfectly round. I did a double take. It was the US Geological Survey Benchmark for the summit, the only permanent sign marking the fact that were 14,410 ft above sea level. It looked like a copper relic from another century, and blended in with the surrounding rock so well I'm surprised I found it. We took each other's picture with our heads next to it, did a high-five (laying down) and decided to get the hell out of there.

Once back inside the crater we realized we'd burned 45 minutes getting to the benchmark. It was nearing 9 am and we needed to beat the sun and the incoming weather down the mountain.

And so up had finally turned to down...

The "Short" day

Sunday morning we woke up just before the sun rise, and witnessed the odd phenomenon of a visible mountain shadow of the sun cutting through the air in front of us. Imagine the air in front of you being two different colors. Very cool. We ate a quick breakfast, put on our climbing gear, and headed up to a nearby incline in the Muir snow field to practice self arrest and rescue techniques. As I've described the ice axe and the self arrest process before, let me just say that when you are attempting it in early morning frozen hard pack snow, it's less like playing in the snow of your youth and more like being drug through an old parking lot on a rope behind a car. After that, Matt once again played the victim while I had to arrest his fall, set protection, and set up a system to rescue him. I actually pulled off a bomber system I was quite proud of, and both of us put our full weight into jumping against the rope on the anchors and they stood fast. My confidence was renewed. What you are looking at is a buried fluke anchor backed up by an adjacent bollard (snow/ice horn cut into the snow). The bollard isn't very big, but I bet it would have held on it's own.

After that, we went back to break camp, pack everything up, and move up to Ingraham Flats. This high camp doesn't enjoy any buildings or support, but does have enough flat glacier area for folks to camp on, and many share our view that they might as well camp as high as they can before a summit attempt. Besides, we were using Sunday to acclimate to altitude (more on this later as well) and practice, so a quick move up the mountain sounded logical.

Beyond Muir you travel roped up for protection as this is the zone where crevasses and other dangers come into play. Immediately departing from camp we had a brief crossing of a field of small crevasses that was littered with rock. When you see a lone rock sitting atop a field of glacial snow, you wonder to yourself, "where did that rock come from?" Then you look up to the shear rock wall immediately to your left and realize you are in a frequent fall zone, and that the faster you move the less danger you are in. That is exactly what we did. From there, it was through Cathedral Gap, or first move "around the back" of the mountain, moving from the southern side we'd come up around to the eastern side where the flats on the Ingraham glacier are. As the gap had melted out, it was slow and treacherous going, with every step half lost to sliding dirt and unstable rock. The ropes were essentially useless here as it would be impossible to arrest one's self or a partner's fall, so we traveled on a "short rope" where the following person coils the rope up for ease of travel and you both just pray you don't fall. From an absolute safety standpoint it would make more sense to unrope completely, but this takes more time than any team would want to spend.

After emerging from the gap, we found ourselves on the Ingraham glacier, with a gentle uphill toward the flats, and a totally new view of the mountain and our surroundings. We now had a breathtaking view of "Little Tahoma" a giant rock ridge jutting out of the side of Rainier, and had Mt. Baker to the North to gaze at through the crystal clear sky.

After climbing up to where the other tents on the flat were camped, we were directed by a nice camper to an excellent pre-existing site that had just been dug out, and we set up camp. This time I set up snow walls around the outside of the tent that rose just above the level of the rainfly to try to keep the force of the wind from flapping violently against the tent walls as it had at Muir. It was a great site and the only draw back was that we didn't have any rocks to use to guy out the lines for the rain fly of the tent, but with the windbreaks and the position of the pad cut into the slope, we figured the actual stakes would hold just fine. After melting 9 Liters of water and boiling water for dinner, we hastily ate and tried to turn in as soon as possible for our planned Midnight rise and 1 am departure for the summit.

Today (cont'd)

Camp Muir is home to both a public shelter (for the ignorant masses) and an RMI (Rainier Mountaineering Inc) shelter and cookhouse. RMI had up until recently an exclusive license to guide on the mountain, and their clients have their own setup. Everyone else gets a spartan bunkhouse and outdoor toilets. We opted as many others to pitch our own tent. After talking with a very helpful rangerette, we decided to pitch our tent and stay in the Muir area the next morning to practice our rescue techniques before we moved onto Ingraham Flats, a higher camp at 11,000 Ft.

We set about digging out a spot for the tent, intent on setting camp and getting to sleep for an early start. No sooner had we leveled our spot than life at Muir began to wind down, and by the time we'd pitched the tent almost everyone else had turned, no doubt to prepare for an alpine start at the summit. We melted snow for water the next day, boiled water for dinner (though for some reason we couldn't get the pasta in our dehydrated meals to soften, perhaps the altitude had the water boiling at too low a temperature), and turned in just as the sun was setting. The wind however had not been advised of our plans and persistently blew all night, flapping the tent walls violently and making sleep all but impossible. On top of that, when the RMI group got their start at 1 am, they felt the urgent need to chant at the top of their lungs, no doubt urged on by their money grubbing sherpas. More on this later. I was pleased, on the other hand, that my new sleeping bag kept me toasty warm in the sub freezing temperatures wearing a "bare" minimum of clothing.


Today is the day

After months of preperation, acquisition, conditioning, and planning, we finally arrived at the Paradise Wilderness Information Center on Saturday morning at 9 am, right on schedule. It was exhilirating just to be there, we'd climbed over 5,000 ft in the car already just to get there, so we were greated by beautiful alpine meadows and impossibly clean air. I was also very relieved to finally switch modes from worrying about what needed to get done before we could go to actually just doing it.

We went inside to verify our climbing reservation (which I'd made in advance to ensure we'd be able to climb on the days we wanted and camp in the right places when we needed to). We got a bit more intel on the recent weather and our intended route. We were told the weather was supposed to hold through the weekend, and that Cathedral Gap, one of the cols (mini-mountain passes) we had to cross through, had completely "melted out." Which was fine, it just meant that we'd be climbing on scree (exposed, lose rock) instead of glacier.

From there, we hit the head one last time, downed a liter of water each, hoisted our insanely heavy packs, and started up the trail. Mom and Dad decided to join us for the first bit, which is actually paved. The entirety of the mountain is ringed by trails that are used by 10s if not 100s of thousands of people a year, so in order to deal with erosion issues the lowest and most populated trails are paved. I didn't mind a bit, since it meant I could get used to hiking with the pack without having to think about foot placements, though I'm sure Matt was less enthused as he was wearing plastic mountaineering boots with solid plastic soles (think lowered ski boots with hinged ankles and you're pretty close). Matt and I limited ourselves to an extremely slow pace in order to get used to the heavy loads and ensure we had enough stamina for the long haul up to Camp Muir at 10,000 ft. So the for of us trudged along, taking in the scenery and greeting the people going up and coming down, all asking what our plans were, etc. After 1,500 ft or so of elevation, Mom and Dad had had enough -- we said our goodbyes and we continued up, leaving the pavement and getting onto a dirt trail, all the while being eagerly passed by scads of tourists in tennis shoes and t-shirts. Our route took us up a very popular trail that is frequented by a lot of tourists before it hits the glacier. We took a little break off to the side as the trail dead ended into a glacial stream, then set up the snow. The route was well broken in so following foot steps was fairly easy, though careful foot placement and the occasional kick step was needed. At first we encountered waves of kids playing in the snow, but soon they all fell away, and it was just us and others who were either outfitted for glacier travel or who looked like they were headed for the summit. We also got our first preview of what I was hoping would be our post summit treat, "glissading," or the intricate art of sliding down a steep glacier on your ass. It looked like a lot of fun and a quick way to descend hundreds of feet in a few seconds. We also started quizzing people who were obviously coming down from the top. In the beginning it was mostly, "how was it?" To which everyone responded very informatively, "great."

Eventually we got more specific, "how was the route," "how was the summit," "how do you feel," to which we got fairly homogenous responses. The route was great, well marked, trodden in, with nothing "out" or "gone" as can often happen on glacial routes when snow bridges collapse or yawning chasms open up where the path was supposed to lead. Everyone also said it was "windy." We heard this several times, and started leading our questions with it. One guy actually stopped to say, "it'll blow you right off the cleaver," referring to Disappointment Cleaver, a ridge of exposed rock in our route we would have to climb onto and then ascend to get to the upper glaciers that would take us to the summit crater. This of course was very heartening, but I supposed at that point since they all summitted all would be well. Cavalierly we kept asking how the summit was, and occasionally we'd get a dirty look instead of a hearty reply, and I realized that not everyone coming down had actually made it. And on up the snow we trudged.

Along the way we scrambled over a few patches of exposed rock and stopped on one section for a quick lunch. I was surprised to see a full blown river appear out of the glacier at one point, pour over some rocks, and disappear immediately again under the glacier, directly adjacent to our path. It made me think about exactly what I was walking on.

Finally in the early afternoon we spotted the collection of small buildings that make up Camp Muir in the distance. This actually seemed to make the climb harder, as we now had a concrete landmark to show us just how slow the going actually was. As the day wore on into late afternoon, we finally made it to the rock outcropping and dropped our packs. Hallelujah!



Getting in gear

Friday morning we woke up and assessed our gear situation. After laying out everything we'd brought it became clear this was going to be a big haul, at least to the base camp(s). We reconciled overlap gear, cobbled together a first aid kit, and decided we needed more cord, more webbing, more carabineers, fuel, food, and odds and ends. Off to REI we went, the Tacoma store, not the flagship.

I rented an ice axe, a wicked looking implement that has an adze one side and a pick on the other, used for digging, self arrest, etc., and a helmet. More of a hard hat really, not what you're used to seeing in a bike helmet or a sporting style brain bucket. The only thing it could possibly save you from is a rock falling on top of your head, and even then one wonders if the odds are worth the hassle. The folks working there were characteristically helpful but I found the store to be woefully under stocked. Selection was pretty limited in a few key areas, but we managed to get what we needed.

From there it was off to the school where Mom and Dad work to practice protection systems and self rescue. Using the swing sets we were able to set up a top rope belay and practice ascending the rope with prussic knots. It was awkward at first but after getting the rhythm it wasn't too bad. After 15 minutes of huffing and puffing I announced I had this in the bag, and Matt looked at me and explained that the only rope I'd actually ascended was the slack currently in the rope. I looked down at the 2 feet of rope or so that lay dangling around my harness and thought, oh great.

We moved on to arresting a fall and placing protection. I discovered that the one shouldered harness we had decided to use was out of the question, seeing as the entire force of the victims fall would be placed on one of my shoulders. It was either the full chest harness or nothing, and as it turned out, that was exactly the case. In the process of setting up our systems we discovered we were still short on gear, so yet another trip to REI was made, and more rope and carabineers were acquired. A final stop at Safeway (can I just say, since when did a half pound of cheese cost $7) for some jerky and batteries and we were headed home to pack up and try and get some sleep.

When all the gear was stuffed into our packs, we decided to weigh them to make sure we'd divvied up the load equally. I stepped on the scale at a sprightly 195 lbs, and the pack brought that up to 250 lbs. Matt's was roughly the same, so we called it a night.

Getting there is half the battle (Prussicks are your friends)

On Thursday Matt and I departed from Dulles Airport, and as fate would have it, though we both connected through Salt Lake, I had a 3 hour layover and he did not. So we both got a lot of reading done. Which was good, seeing as this was the allotted time to brush up on (in his case) or learn about for the first time (my case) glacier rescue. Basically, what to do when one finds oneself or one's partner dangling from the rope in a crevasse. The whole subject is rather more complex than I could have imagined, but to boil it down, you are either the rescuer or the victim. If you are the victim, you are responsible for recovering from your fall, righting yourself on the rope, and if possible, ascending with a system of knots tied on smaller auxiliary ropes. This of course assumes you are conscious and not seriously injured, or that you don't freeze to death in a dark crevasse while your partner tries to figure out how to extricate you. The rescuer is responsible for arresting your fall by digging his ice axe into the snow and hoping he can absorb the shock of your fall. Once he's stopped your downward descent, he has to place "protection" in the snow. Protection is anything you can tie the load on the rope onto that will hold. There are various ways to do it, but basically you've got to put something in the snow and then tie the victim to it. For example, using a "snow fluke" (picture a shovel head turned backwards with a wire tied to it) carve out a trench for the fluke and the line coming from it, bury it, then clip a rope to it. Anchor the other end of this rope to the main rope with the victim on it, and gradually shift the weight from you to the fluke. Assuming it holds, build some other mode of protection and either tie it inline with the first one or ideally equalize the load between the two. Now you can actually unclip yourself from the main line, and repel down the rope and see what kind of shape your partner is in. If he needs immediate attention, you have to repel down to him to administer it. Once he is stabilized, you have to ascend the rope yourself in the aforementioned manner. After that, you need to set up a pulley system to pull him out.

There are several methods for doing this, and I found it particularly interesting that after they painstaking explained all of them, the casually mentioned that unless you are directly related to He-man or your partner is significantly smaller than you, most of the methods are completely hopeless because they only multiply your pulling power on rope by a factor of 2 or 4. Not only do you have your partner's weight to haul up, but also his pack, and the friction caused by the rope moving over the surface of the snow and invariably the deep groove it cut into the lip of the crevasse as your partner careened into it. So unless you can flag down some help, your only hope is to use a combination of techniques with multiple pulleys that only a sailor could properly appreciate (you know who you are).

So I'm reading through all this material, while practicing tying all the knots I'll need to facilitate them. I'm sure everyone the plane thought I was crazy, with a carabineer locked into my seat belt and ropes of every size and color tied onto it, each other, my legs, the seat in front of me, etc. [Aside: besides the actual climbing rope, I ended up with 8 other ropes of my own. More on this in the "gear" post.]

After my 3 hour lay-over and yet another airplane absolutely full of crying babies [Why is a mid-week flight from Salt Lake to Seattle completely full? Why is the plane full of screaming infants? Why do these people fly with young children? Why do we pay outrageous prices to be jammed into a flying tin can like livestock? Why do you think you can change your child's shit laden diapers in the seat next to me? Why do they only feed you enough food to keep you barely alive? Why is "The King of Queens" the featured entertainment on both of my connecting flights?] we got into Seattle. Matt called me while were deplaning to explain that he already had my bags, evidently they were ok to fly into Seattle with him but I was not. Gotta love the airlines.

Dad collected us at the airport and back to the house. We skipped the late night gear review before the shopping trip to REI in the morning since it was so late. It's astounding really how much stuff we had to cram into our packs for this trip. They both topped out at about 55 lbs when full. It felt unimaginably heavier than the 40 lbs I'd been training with.


Do I need to be in shape for this?

Starting in late April I had decided that I'd need to be in the best shape of my young life if I were to pull this thing off. Of course, I didn't really do anything about it until the beginning of May. Since then I've been on some workout regimen or another. Early on I was focused on cardio-vascular training, trying to make my breathing more efficient to prepare for the very thin air and high physical demands of ascending a 14er (for some reason the climbing community has singled out peaks over 14,000 with this brilliant bit of nomenclature. I'm not exactly sure why those chose that particular elevation, though if it is originally an American aphorism I'm sure it's due to the fact that the highest peak we have in the lower 48 [Mt. Whitney, CA] is a 14er [60 some odd feet higher than Mt. Rainier, I've heard it's a much easier climb]).

So, the focus was on cardio and running in particular. I'd do a half hour of running outside in the morning and try to sneak in at least one other workout in the day. I'd supplement this with weekend hikes, though a Memorial Day weekend trip through Appalachians almost ended my summit attempt all together; longer than expected mileage and some serious ups and downs left me with an overuse injury in my right knee. After babying it for a week or two I realized it wasn't getting better and sought medical attention. Inflamed cratiledge was the culprit, and the only way to fix it was to strengthen my legs without using the knees full range of motion. So modified weight training began, trying to strengthen all the muscles that held my knee cap in place and stay in shape while maintaining a low impact. I turned to riding a stationary bike and treading water (an excellent workout if you hold off boredom in the pool for 30+ minutes).

I also decided to join a climbing gym, I'd gone before with Schild and thought that getting more experience with climbing and ropes would be a plus, though from what I understood there wouldn't be any "technical" climbing on Rainier. It turned out that while most of the safety I learned at Sport Rock didn't really come into play, the climbing itself was a great strength and balance training device and upper body workout to balance the rest of my lower body regimen.

After a few weeks of this, my knee felt almost back to normal. I started heading out to Great Falls park in McLean to build up my leg muscles on the trails there, carrying heavier and heavier packs. More weekend trips included Sleeping Giant in CT and an ill fated Presidential Traverse (hitting all the peaks in the White Mts. of NH named for Presidents). The NH trip was only several weeks before we were scheduled to leave, and we thought it would be the true test to see if we were up to Rainier, since the hiking through the White Mountains is generally considered to be the most demanding hike on this side of country. Bad weather, injuries and hypothermia turned us away from our intended route, however; we decided to bug out after the first 2 peaks when Matt suffered an unexplainable knee injury and another of our party succumbed to hypothermia from the driving rain and low temperatures. On the way down, bad turned to worse, as the unknown route we decided on down the mountain turned into some of the most treacherous terrain we'd ever seen, from traversing wet bolder fields to sliding down exposed rock on steep switch backs. The trail name should have given it away ("Six Husbands" I'm fairly certain it wasn't named for a female bigamist) but we pressed on, hoping to find something flat to camp on. Luckily we got off the mountain before dark but still had to press on until midnight in order to find a place to camp. All in all the experience was a good one in the end -- while harrowing and dangerous, we came out on top and learned a lot of good lessons.

My knee held up throughout this so I decided it was time to get serious about climbing with real weight and so started a regimen of stair climbing (the 19 floors of my building) with 40 lbs in my pack. I figured out that 6 trips to the top was 1,000 ft, so I started there and worked my way up to 12. This turned out to be an all around great workout and I really credit it for keeping me going on the mountain.

Travel log: the beginning

I'm converting this defunct blog into a travel log to detail my ascent of Mt. Rainier. Stay tuned...