Perfect weather window so why not go on a conditioner to the summit of Mt Rainier? I say conditioner because, well, attempting Rainier was to condition for the high altitude of climbing in the Teton Range in two weeks. So basically Rainier was training this time around, but we also really wanted to not just summit the crater rim this time, but to also get to the very tippy top “Columbia Crest”.

There was computer glitch in the reservation system for Mt Rainier National Park this year so all permits were walk up. At the last second Damien decided that instead of taking a 1/2 day off from work he would take a full day. He wanted to camp outside the Wilderness Office to make sure we had the best chance for getting a permit (and hopefully he would be able to get one without the entire climbing party being present). I would be available to drive over early afternoon just in case there was any issue the rangers issuing a permit to just one party member.  Damien’s Black Friday Technique of sitting outside the office in his camp chair  with his Ipad at 5am and waiting for them to open at 7:00am worked. He secured a permit for Ingraham Flats! I drove out after work to meet him and sleep! We would start our day before the next day technically began. At 10:30pm!

By 11pm we had our packs shouldered and we were walking up the pavement from Paradise. After some star gazers yelled at us for messing up their night vision with our headlamps as we were trying to locate the trail we finally moved away from civilization and onto the dark slopes of Mount Rainier. We like to approach Rainier in the night for two reason. We like to avoid the powerful sun rays that bake the trail and snow slopes to Camp Muir by traveling after sundown. The other reason is so we can arrive to basecamp in the morning and spend the rest of the day sleeping in preparation for an extreme alpine start. We moved surprising well through the night. Normally sleep deprivation gets to me on these star-lite approaches, but for some reason it wasn’t as difficult and although my pack weight upward of 50lbs I didn’t seem to notice that either. I guess training was paying off.

The thr sky was painted with pastel colors as the  sun began to rise. We were at 9000ft by then and looking at Camp Muir ahead which never seemed to go closer no matter how much we walked. It always seems to be just right there, but it never is until you’re 100ft away! We did eventually climb up the steps to the alpine basecamp at around 7:00am. Damien immediately settled down for a nap. We han’t stopped much during the climb up. I was pretty hyper so I talked to a RMI client for a bit. Our journey for the day was not yet over though. We still had about another 1000ft to climb.

After Damien woke up we roped up and began to cross the Colwitz Glacier to Cathedral Rock. The crossing was well maintained with an obvious beating trail as usual thanks to the hard work of the guides. There was one step/jump over crevasse, but nothing more exciting than that. The snow level was up pretty high, but the rocky scamper to the top of Cathedral Rock Ridge was still rather tiring and unpleasant. I’m not the biggest fan of scrambling over loose volcano crud in crampons. I don’t think it was more than 600ft though. From the top of the ridge we continued to climb across the Ingraham Glacier. We passed areas were the glacier was broken up pretty good, but one had to step over a few thin cracks until we reached Ingraham Flats: a flat sheet of ice with no crevasses and our basecamp.

It wasn’t very crowded and we found a nice pre-dug platform secluded off to the side and away from the other private climbers and guided teams. We spent some time melting water and eating oatmeal before putting up our tent. By the time we were all done it was about 10:30am. Clearly that is bedtime! The rest of the day was spent napping, filtering water, enjoying the view and snacking. We needed to be ready for our alpine start… and when the alarm rang at 9:45pm we were ready.

We were the first team to leave camp at 10:45pm. We crossed  glacier though some broken up ice and seracs toward the Disappointment Clever. There was only one short ladder more than 3 ft across that had just been set earlier that night. In fact a whole long of route work had been done by the guides earlier and we were the first ones on the freshly shoveled revised route up. The claim was that the DC route was in the best shape its ever been in history, I think the statement is correct. We followed the tread until reaching the base of the Cleaver. We stepped onto the loose volcanic rock and unroped making it easier to scramble up the rockfall hazard of a feature. The trail up is well marked with flagging this year and pretty easy to follow, but its still not fun to climb. Luckily the route doesn’t stay on the spine of the cleaver, but goes off to the side and follows snow up for the final 300 or so feet. That was a nice surprise.

Roped up again we continued to follow the track. Unlike last year when the route traverse seeral miles to the left before going back right to gain the crater rim, this years route pretty much straight up. A good path was cut into the glacier and it zigged zagged directly up and over several huge and very steep slopes. There were 3 different places were clips were available in the snow for a running belay due to the steep grade, but I;m not sure they wee really needed. We were trailed for a bit by a soloist, but we let him pass us. Still no other teams caught up to us. We could see them below though, huge conga lines of guided teams. We took a quick break at 13,000ft, but other than that we pretty much kept moving. Even when we finally crested the Crater Rim  we didn’t pause. Damien  walked straight across the crater. Last year we had stopped climbing at the rim which is considered a summit, but not the technical high point. We had severe altitude fatigue due to breathing in cooking stove fumes in the Muir Hut (no one went outside due to the 80mph winds last year) and the smoky air for the forest fires. This year both of us felt great and getting to Columbia Crest (the true summit) was a big goal for us.

We reached the base of the final climb before sunrise, but a small glint of pink was on the horizon. We unroped and made the final climb over the pumice to the true summit with 3 soloists. We were the first team to summit that morning at about 5:00am! It was windy, about 30mph, but no unbearably so. The expansive crater was just beginning to get illuminated in the blue dawn light and the lights of Seattle twinkled in the distance. We were on top of Washington on the most perfect morning! And then Damien looked at me with an intensity I had never witnessed before. And, well, I knew immediately what was about to happen. There on the mountain that more than any other mountain in WA is a symbol of determination, fortitude, perseverance and shear beauty he proposed. I cannot imagine a more perfect moment in the mountains…and of course I said yes. well what I said was “Damien I would love to marry you” to which he clarified “so is that a yes?”

Newly engaged we retreated from the windy summit to the shelter of the large rocks near the summit register about 40ft below where the soloist we hanging out. The ground was actually warm there from the thermal activity. Columbia Crest is full of smoking fumeroles, but it surprisingly did not smell of sulfur. Huddled together we all watched as the colors of the sky grew more vivid and finally the sun peaked out over the horizon and illuminated the frozen glacial world around us.  We had arrived to the crest at the perfect time.

We stayed until the guided groups arrived and things began to get crowded. Then we roped back up, crossed the crater and began the descent. It a bit annoying trying to pass all the teams going up, but luckily I was so enamored with the view and being engaged that I didn’t bother me much. Last year we hadn’t been able to see much due to all the forest fire smoke. But this time were were able to see far and wide  as far as Jefferson in Oregon! And Little Tacoma which is as big as Mt Hood looked so tiny below us! We were back at camp at about 10:30am. Most folks descend back to Paradise the same day as their climb, but we preferred to stay on the mountain and had a permit for an extra night. We spent the rest of the day visiting with some other climbers, making up for lost calories and napping. The winds had picked up so we secured the tent more our pickets. It held up well, but it always does. No noise and not flapping from the BD Eldorado!

High winds battered the camp throughout the night. Probably 40mph gusts. Teams still began to depart camp at around 11pm. We woke up to watch their headlamp light ascending the Clever. Its always a beautiful sight. It was cold the next morning when we woke up to watch the sunrise. Another display of beautiful colors. We were reluctant to leave, but after some hesitation and procrastination we packed up camp headed back down to Paradise.

The descent was much nicer than last year. We didn’t enter a cloud of smoke this time around and were weren’t totally exhausted. In fact we both felt rather energetic! As it turned out, Mt Rainier was the easiest mountain  we’ve climbed this year. I guess we’re doing something right with our training!

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Congratulations! Thanks for the report. It will help us on our climb this next week. I hope conditions continue so well. It is almost humorous to see the groomed trail there below the crest. I liked the idea to climb from Paradise through the night to adjust to the schedule and avoid the conflicting snow-sun temperatures I haven’t considered that before. The trouble must be with getting enough shut-eye in the day at base camp and not baking in the tent. Have fun in the Tetons and congrats again. The proposal sounds perfect. This guy seems to have class 🙂

  2. It was fantastic meeting both you and Damien this weekend on Ingraham. We should get together and have a beer sometime! I mean, we have shared water and electrolytes, after all 🙂

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