Sunday, August 20, 2006

Mount Rainier, Washington (14,411)

21th High Point Visited
4th Highest State High Point
4th Most Difficult

Since moving to Seattle 12 months ago, there is not a single sunny day that passes when you can’t help but admire Mount Rainier in all it’s brilliance standing proudly above Seattle’s southern skyline. For the past year, not a day goes by when I see “the mountain” and don’t think about checking it off my 50 state list. However though summiting Mount Rainier is no walk in the park and requires significant training and preparation.

Mount Rainier, at 14,410 feet, is the most extensively glaciated volcanic peak in the continental United States.  It offers limitless mountaineering possibilities to both aspiring and experienced mountaineers.  The combination of high altitude, various route choices, and Northwest weather make this a truly unique experience. 

My only previous glacier climbing was Mt. Hood two years prior. I choose to climb Mt. Hood with the guide service of Timberline Mountain Guides. Not living in the area and having no real mountaineering experience, I am very glad I used this service. Now that I’m local to Rainier, I’ve been exposed to many more opportunities for meeting climbing partners and not having to pay the hefty price tag to use the Rainier Mountain Guide service.

My parents had visited in June and we decided early one Sunday morning to drive to Mt. Rainier for the day. This would be my 2nd visit to the National park, I did a winter backpacking/snowshoeing weekend and climbed Castle Rock, or sometimes called Castle Peak. (8,306 feet).
Our trip started out sunny and we had great views of the mountain all the way to the park, but about the time we made it to the National Park entrance clouds had rolled in and it had began to rain. The park still offered great vistas and wet my appetite to come back later in the summer for my summit attempt. As luck would have it, in the little town of Elbe outside the park entrance I ran into Adrian, an IT director at a local Seattle company.  I had met Adrian while going about my business a few weeks earlier.  He was visiting the park that day and had climbed to Camp Muir with a few of his friends as a training climb for a summit climb later in the summer.

I met for lunch with Adrian a week later and we talked about our past climbing experience as well as made plans to climb together later in the summer.  I was in full training mode for Ironman Couer d'Alene, so already had a great base.  I would miss out on another great opportunity to climb Mt. Baker, which Adrian and his friends did the same weekend I was in Idaho.  They had a perfect day and I was jealous after seeing the pictures from their day which brought them perfect weather for climbing.

After I returned from Ironman and had a week to recover, I began a new type of training to get ready for hoofing up a big mountain with a back full of gear.  There's a great stairway close to my house that I could do repeats, each night adding a few pounds to my pack.  This was summer, and a hot one for Seattle, so this was not easy training but knowing full well this is one of the things I needed to do to prepare.

My first great training weekend Adrian & I met up with Ed who would be one of the members of our Rainier team and planned an ascent of Mt. Pugh, just north of Seattle.  June 4th weekend we headed off to Mt. Pugh 7,224 feet, which doesn't seem that high compared to Rainier, but the trailhead begins about 1,900 feet which makes for over 5,000 feet of vertical gain.  We climbed into the clouds and only got a glimpse of the beautiful views the summit usually offers.

Finally after a year in Seattle I had a chance to make climbing Mt. Rainier a reality.  Here's a brief description of my climb.  Rainier the route we were climbing is best done as a 2 day ascent.  Day 1 is climbing from Paradise 5,400 ft to Camp Muir at 10,188 ft.  We carpooled and left Seattle early Saturday morning.   We checked in and got our permits at the ranger station up at Paradise. 
The 4.5 mile hike and vertical gain of 4,700 feet took us nearly 5 hours.  With any climb managing your load and having a good supply of water is critical.  There first part of the climb this late in the summer is along a trail.  There are creeks to get water up to the snowfield, but after you're on the snowfield you have to melt snow for drinking water.  If you manage your supply of water on the way up, you have to refill at a creek before the glacier and then refill at Camp for the evening and entire next day.

Carrying a heavy pack is hard enough, but add a heavy pack and elevation and you finally know what all the hard work training was for!  There's really no easy way to get acclimated from going from sea level one day to 14,000 ft the following day.  Whenever I get to 9-10,000 feet the elevation even being in great shape takes it's toll on you.

Adrian pushed forward from start to to finish with a fast pace.  Anytime he stopped for a break I was so in the mood to just stay put for as long as possible.  No break we took was ever long enough.  Keep in mind this is coming from a guy that doesn't usually take a break.

The whole trek up the lower half of the mountain was exciting, especially not knowing exactly what to expect with each new step.  There was a boot track worn into the glacier which we pretty much followed all the way up to Muir.  The first glimpse of Muir
e summit usually offers.

We made camp on the Muir snowfield for the evening and began our climb to the summit at 1:30 a.m. This climb took us up another 4,200 vertical feet to the summit at 14,411 ft. I think we were on the summit by 8:30 a.m. which made for about a 7-8 hour hike. The weather was perfect, but even so, the
terrain is brutal, especially above 12,000 ft!

On the summit I walked across the crater, about 400 yards, then around the rim of the crater, spent about an hour relaxing, and then headed down. I finally made it back to Paradise about 5 p.m. Sunday. What a great and challenging experience! Hope you enjoy the photos!

Mount Rainier (14,411) Washington - State Highpoint #21

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