Mt. Rainier
July 2-4, 2013

Mt. Rainier is a pretty high profile volcano.
It is a National Park and the tallest peak in the Cascades at 14,410 feet.
In terms of topographic prominence, Mt Rainier ranks highest in the lower 48 states.
It ranks forth highest in North America, after Denali (Alaska), Mt. Logan (Yukon), and Pico de Orizaba (Mexico).

A famous picture of Mt. Rainier over Tacoma, WA.

This is what Mt. Rainier looks like from my hometown of Olympia, WA.

Day 1: Cougar Rock Campground to the Muir Snowfield

From here on, all photos link to larger images. Photos by Kevin Raudebaugh and myself (mixed).

This is what Mt. Rainier looked like from the Paradise trailhead on July 2, 2013.

The climbing team and the packs, at the Paradise parking lot (5400 feet).

The first few steps were up these stairs, engraved with a quote from John Muir.
If you haven't heard of John Muir, I recommend a quick read sometime. He's a famous American naturalist and one of the founders of the conservation movement.

The hiking on the first day consisted of a fairly long trudge up the snow covered lower portion of the mountain.
The crowds thinned out after the first hour or so.

The photo on the right shows the route and the goal for the first day.
We were trying to get to just below the prominent rock knob on the horizon, near the center-right of the picture.
That entire strip of snow along the horizon, from near the center of the photo to the far right, is called the Muir Snowfield.

We had lots of great views of the Nisqually Glacier (left) as we climbed up and onto the Muir Snowfield.
The picture on the right is pretty cool if you enlarge it (click). You can see a couple of hikers in the distance who provide a sense of scale.

By the late afternoon, we were about half-way up the Muir snowfield and had climbed to about 8600 feet.
A cold wind had picked up in the late afternoon and was blowing pretty hard out of the west.
We had met our goal for the day and were ready to make camp. We saw this small moraine to our right (left photo) and made for it, hoping to find a wind break.

Kevin shot this cool photo (right) of a hiker making his way down the Muir Snowfield.

The rocky moraine provided a great wind break. We dug out a flat spot in the snow and pitched our tent.
We typically prefer to bivouac, but for Rainier, we thought it was wise to rent a good tent.
In hindsight, that was probably the right choice.

The alpenglow that evening provided some beautiful sights that these photos hardly do justice to.
Left: Mt. Adams
Right: Mt. St. Helens

Left: Mt. Hood (Distant)
Right: The shadow of Mt. Rainier cast on the sky by the setting sun.

We were only one day in, and we had already found ourselves a pretty classy alpine campsite.

Day 2: The Muir Snowfield to the Ingraham Glacier

In the morning, after a bowl of granola and some instant coffee, we were back on the Muir Snowfield and hiking up through the snow.
The next stop was Camp Muir, at the top of the snowfield.

We reached Camp Muir around noon.
Camp Muir (10,188 feet) is the standard base camp for most climbers who go with guided groups.
There are a few shelters there, some trash cans, and a foul-smelling outhouse.
It is located between the Muir Snowfield and the Cowlitz Glacier.

A view from Camp Muir looking back down the Muir Snowfield.

The way ahead:
Everything from here on was on glacier. We put on harnesses, pulled out the ice axes, and roped up.

The route is across the Cowlitz Glacier (above), up that snow patch that climbs Cathedral Ridge on the far side, over the ridge, and up to the left.

Kevin took the lead on this climb, and set a nice steady pace. He looked back when we were most of the way acros the Cowlitz and took this shot (left).
From the same position, he then looked ahead and took this shot (right) of the steep snow and talus ramp that leads up Cathedral Ridge on the far side of the Cowlitz.

Once we climbed up onto Cathedral Rocks, we stopped to have a quick breather, and I pulled out the map.
I had to confirm that the spectacle before us was indeed...

Little Tahoma!
Little Tahoma is a prominent feature of Mt. Rainier that I had seen from Summerland while hiking with my family the year before.

What a jagged terror it is up close! From what I understand, the rock (andesite) is so rotten and crumbly that the peak is just about impossible to climb.
Little Tahoma lies across the Ingraham Glacier from where we were standing.

Our route was up the Ingraham Glacier, staying to the ridge and the left side of the glacier as we climbed.
Some huge crevasses split the Ingraham Glacier near the center, gaping open wide enough to swallow a truck.
We stayed well away from these as we climbed.

Our goal for the day, Ingraham Flats, came into sight in the mid-afternoon as we ascended the ridge and the side of the glacier.
The camp is situated in a flat spot right in the center of the glacier! It is also shown in the center of this photo. I recommend enlarging the photo so you can see.

We pitched the tent on Ingraham Flats and basked in the view of Little Tahoma (above) and the summit of Mt. Rainier (below).

This stitched photo (above) isn't real pretty, but it serves to show the view upslope from camp.
The photo of us climbing up the Ingraham (two above) is a good one for seeing the route ahead as well.

Now... How the hell are we supposed to climb that mess of broken ice?
I guess it'll become clear tomorrow morning.

...Or actually, tonight at about 1:30 AM when we start climbing!
Damn, we better crawl into that tent and try to get some sleep.
Where'd you put that flask of tequilla, Kevin?

Day 3: The Ingraham Glacier, elevation sickness, and the descent back home

The alarm went off at 12:30 AM.

I hadn't really slept more than a couple of minutes here and there, as I was pretty excited.
The other guys didn't really get much sleep either. Kevin says he didn't really sleep at all, maybe a few minutes. Dan says he got about an hour.
When the alarm went off, we had all been laying quitely for about an hour, listening to the other groups preparing for their summit bids.

We were quick this time, taking about an hour to prepare and get going.
"Just like you've always wanted" Kevin said jokingly to me as we roped up and departed at 1:30 AM.

I love this part.

We climbed for a few hours hours in the dead of night.
The route took us up the Ingraham Glacier past the Flats where we were camped.
It then crossed to the other side of the glacier and and started climbing Disappointment Cleaver, the last bit of rock we would see.
Once we were on the cleaver, the route switched back and forth steeply up the rock and snow to the top, where the route went back onto the glacier.

The air was still.
The crunch of our crampons in the ice, the sound of the rope sliding across the snow, and our own breathing were the only sounds to be heard.

The moon rose after a few hours of climbing. It was spectacular, especially at first, when it was a large red crescent, low in the eastern sky.
The eastern horizon began to shimmer with an eerie light around 4:30, signaling the arrival of the dawn.

The wind began to pick up as the sun rose.
I was in a great mood. Guitar riffs were playing in my head and I was feeling great.

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Once we were back on the Ingraham Glacier, above the Disapointment Cleaver, the route began winding through a series of seracs and broken pillars of ice.
It was truly beautiful and would have been terrifying, if not for the ropes and the sure-footing provided by our crampons.

These photos taken in the pre-dawn light (above) are kind of neat. However, even in the dark, we could see better than this, I assure you.

The sun came up at about 5:30 AM.
When the sun came up, the wind suddenly picked up went from being a little breezy to downright hostile.
The winds must have been going 50 mph by 5:45 AM.

I was still feeling great. Unfortunately, Dan was not.

Dan had mentioned a stomach-ache a few times that morning already.
However, Kevin and I were both suprised to see him drop to his knees on the side of the route and put his head on his glove in the snow.
At first we figured he was just winded and needed a break.
Kevin took a couple photos (above) of the sunrise. He happened to photograph Dan while he was down. I was behind him (also pictured), and oblivious to Dan's pain.

After a minute, we gathered where Dan was laying on the side of the mountain and found out that he was suffering from acute mountain sickness, or elevation sickness.
We were done.

The group behind us was catching up (above) as we talked to Dan and tried to figure out our next move.
Dan was clearly suffering, but really didn't want to give up the summit, as we were so close. Nor did he want to be the cause of us turning around.
We figured that we were at about 13,200 feet, judging from GPS and altimeter readings.
We were about an hour and a half from the top. However, we all knew that the right thing to do, the only thing to do, was to start descending.

It is important for me to mention that Dan is a tough guy and a strong climber. Though this was unfortunate, it could have happened to any of us.
I feel fortunate to have made it this far, and the most important thing to do was to get home safe.
I recall that Kevin was the strongest voice of reason at the time. "We better get back down. We don't want to fuck around with this"

So down we went.

We stopped a few hundred feet down, once we found a wind-break, and discussed it one more time.
These became the summit (or close enough) shots. No shot of Dan, sorry bud, but probably for the best.

Here's the silver-lining. The sun was rising as we descended, and we were able to see the full-on glory of the alpine dawn as we walked down, facing to the south and east.
We got some amazing photos (if I do say so myself).

..and video

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Yeah, we were up there quite a ways...

See the camp down there?

Watch your step!

The sun was up by the time we reached the cleaver.

Once we were on the cleaver, we began descending the mixed ice and rock route back down to Ingraham Flats.
Dan was still hurting, but he pushed on with grim determination.

Mt. Adams in the distance. Cathedral Rocks center. Ingraham Flats, and our camp down and to the left.

That's a nice photo, Kevin. I love how those clouds look back behind Cathedral Rocks. That's the top of the clouds!

The Ingraham Glacier, Cathedral Rocks, Little Tahoma, Mt. Adams.

The route had plenty of crevasses that we had to step over. No slipping!

This one was spooky. You could see a whole ice-world down there.
That's one world I did not want to explore.

We arrived back at camp at about 7:00 AM. Dan was still feeling pretty rough, but was no longer in serious danger.

We spent a few hours at camp, resting and packing up.
We watched a few groups returning from the summit. The group descending in the photo above was the one camped next to us.

Before noon, we were hiking back across the Cowlitz Glacier to Camp Muir.

After some lunch at Camp Muir, we were all ready to get down the mountain and out of our boots and wet clothes.
We packed up the ropes and glacier gear and applied another layer of sunblock.

Our next stop was at about 1:00 PM in the parking lot, somewhere way down in those clouds.
Time to get home and crash.

Mt. Rainier 2013: an unforgettable alpine adventure and a great time.