Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mount Rainier

My brother, Matt, and I signed up with Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (“RMI”) to do a guided mountain climb of Mt. Rainier. I rented a cabin in Mount Haven, for the rest of the family, a mile or so outside the Nisqually entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. From there it was 22 miles to Paradise, where the Guidehouse is. Below, a picture of Mt. Ranier from our flight to Washington.
On Wednesday, August 2, 1995, we drove to the Guidehouse, rented boots (Raichle Avanti), ski poles, an ice axe, and crampons (SMC) and participated in the RMI Climbing School. We were put in a group of about 25 people and hiked to some snow. There we learned how to use the ice axe in a fall, how to hook on our crampons, the parts of an ice axe (adze, spike, shaft), how to breathe (like blowing out a candle, it allows more air), roping up, rest-stepping, and other things.

On Thursday, August 3, 1995, we met at the Guidehouse in Paradise for our hike to Camp Muir at 9:00 a.m. Below, Matt and I before leaving for Paradise and our climb.
Matt in front of the Guidehouse.
A guide met with us in small groups (Matt and I met with Jason Edwards) to go over equipment items. Then we went through introductions. The main guide was Jason Edwards. There were other guides. Then he introduced a special guide, Joe Horisky, chief guide for Mt. McKinley, scheduler of guides for all RMI trips and an owner of RMI.

The experience of the guides was amazing. Jason Edwards had made two attempts on Mt. Everest and had been stopped short at 28,000 feet both times. Jason had nearly broken the speed record for RMI guides on Rainier. He had gone from Paradise to the summit and back in just over 5 ½ hours (an absolutely amazing feat). Joe Horisky had been to Mt. Everest at least once, in 1982, in a trip with Jim Wickwire (I don't believe he summited). Joe has been on about 25 trips up Mt. McKinley and summited it 13 times. I don't remember any of the other guides names. At least one other had been to Everest, I believe all had been to McKinley, and one was heading up climbs in Europe. The guide Matt was roped up with was named Jeff, and it was his first year as a guide. Even then, he had climbed Rainier 27 times previously, and had done McKinley.

A map of Mt. Rainier and our route highlighted on it.
The trip up to Camp Muir (10,000 feet), our first day’s destination, does not look very far when you look at the mountain. It is set on some rocks right at the side of the Nisqually Glacier, just to the right of the Nisqually ice fall, and to the left of the Cowlitz Glacier. It is about 4.5 miles and an elevation gain of 4,600 feet from the guidehouse (5,400 feet). The summit (14,411 feet) is another 4,400 feet of elevation gain. They stated it was another 4.5 miles or so to the top, although that would be difficult to measure, and it is certainly a more difficult climb. It took us 5 hours and 5 minutes to get to Muir. In contrast, it took us 2.5 hours to come down from Muir when we were dead tired and trotting like crazy people.

Below, beginning the hike up to Camp Muir before hitting snow.

Mt. Rainier from near Panorama Point. The heavily crevassed Nisqually Glacier is center. Gibralter Rock is top, far right. Camp Muir is to the right, below Gibralter Rock. The Muir Snowfield, our route up to Camp Muir, is out of the picture, to the right.

A closer view of our route up Mt. Rainier.

Below, me near Panorama Point.

In front of me, in the opposite direction, is the Tatoosh Range. This was our first break.

Farther up the mountain, Matt with Rainier in the background.

Two climbers further to the west, also hiking up the Muir Snowfield.
Another rest, further up the Muir Snowfield. Note, Gibralter Rock is now to our left.

From the same resting spot, Jason Edwards, the main guide, in the center with an Orange Crush can and yellow boots. Anvil Rock is to the back right. Gibralter Rock is to the back left.

One of the guides hiking up the Muir Snowfield to our resting spot.

A higher resting spot. Gibralter Rock is now closer and Camp Muir is to the right outside the picture.

Me, standing at Camp Muir. The RMI cabin is to the right. The Cowlitz Glacier is to the left and the Muir Snowfield is to the right. Behind me, a toilet and bunkhouse for those that are not with RMI.

Matt changing at Camp Muir, with an outhouse and Cowlitz Cleaver behind him.

Below, Muir Snowfield. The RMI bunkhouse at Camp Muir is to the right.

We arrived at Muir shortly after 3:00 and were put to bed at 6:30 in a stuffy little bunkhouse with three levels. We had had a prep talk, with Jason Edwards giving a quote by Theodore Roosevelt about how failing was not bad, the shame was in never trying, and he related the fact that disappointment was a part of mountain climbing. He had been cut short of Everest twice, at 28,000 feet. We were given our assignments of guides and I was excited to get Joe Horisky. Jason stated that he intentionally split up family member and friends and intimated they had had problems with those situations in the past. We were given hot water for our meals. I had a chili and beans meal that was just awful, I couldn't eat it all. We had to adjust our helmets to our head and attach our lights to them, attach our climbing belts and try on our crampons one more time. We were told to drink a lot, so I drank at least two quarts of water and suffered the consequences that night as I had to get up at 8:00 to go to the bathroom. However, the sun was starting to go down and the night was clear and the valley was beautiful.

At 11:52 p.m., still Thursday night, we were woken by Jason and told we had an hour and ten minutes to get ready to climb. We had to have breakfast and get our gear on. I wasn't very hungry after the lousy meal I'd had that night, and just had one cup of hot chocolate and one instant oat meal. We roped up in the dark. Joe Horisky was the lead of my group, and he was followed by Carli, a girl who worked in the RMI office and had been stopped short previously in June at Disappointment Cleaver, then me, and then Jonathan.

We started at 1:15 a.m. out over the Cowlitz Glacier. We had been warned earlier that night not to go onto it because of crevasses. We then crossed over the Cathedral Rocks, no small fete in crampons, to the Ingraham Glacier. Below, Cowlitz Glacier from Camp Muir, with Cathedral Rocks in the background. We hiked from the left side of the picture and crossed Cathedral Rocks in the center of the picture. This picture was taken the afternoon before the climb the next morning.
We did not really realize it at the time, but we were going through the most dangerous portion of the hike. The Ingraham Glacier was substantially broken up and we were going under and over substantial icefalls and crevasses. We did not really see it at night, but in the day on the way back, we could see that the small ledges we were traversing, if we had slipped, or if they had given away, would have dropped us into deep crevasses. We stopped on the Ingraham Glacier for a rest and one person elected not to go on. They put him in a tent in a couple of sleeping bags. Then we walked under Disappointment Cleaver with substantial danger of falling rock.

Below, the Cathedral Rocks from the other side, as seen from Disappointment Cleaver later in the day on the way back down.
The heavily crevassed Ingraham Glacier as seen from Disappointment Cleaver later in the day. Unfortunately I was not able to take any pictures from the bottom of the Cleaver as they were interested in getting us through that area as quickly as possible.
I asked, later, if the main reason we got up so early was because of ice and rock fall and was told that was the only reason. As it warms up, the snow loosens and the danger increases dramatically. They were much more careful over the route on the way back than on the way in and the snow was much looser and slushier. They stated that even another hour and the route would be substantially more dangerous. People were pointing out crevasses that had not been there earlier on.

We went up Disappointment Cleaver. It was difficult climbing in the dark over the rock and a howling wind. It seemed to take forever and I was freezing. My head was very cold, to the point of getting a headache. We had a second rest stop at 12,300 feet, the top of Disappointment Cleaver. Another person elected not to go on. A guide took him and went back to pick up the other person left on Ingraham and they all went back to meet with a person who stayed at Camp Muir. At this point they asked if anyone else wanted to stay behind. That from this point on, everyone else needed to summit, so had to have the strength to go to the top and all the way back out. I was miserable. I was feeling a little nauseous and I was freezing, even though I was wearing thermal underwear, top and bottom, a pile shirt, my jacket shell and a parka. I wasn't sure I could make it all the way and back, but I determined I hadn't come this far to turn back and kept my mouth shut.

We started out with a straight shot, as far as you could see, over Emmons Glacier. On the way back in the light this route was obvious, as we missed heavy crevassing, top and bottom by this route, and went over some very dangerous crevassing on little ice bridges just feet wide. No wonder they want to do it when the snow is firm. Incidentally, about a week later, two National Park service rescuers were killed on the upper Emmons Glacier rescuing a hurt hiker. They apparently slipped on ice after a bad storm and fell about 900 to 1,200 feet to the 12,000 foot level. That would have put them just about where we were in this narrative, near very significant crevassing.

Below, a close-up of this section of our route.
Below, heavy crevassing on Emmons Glacier, as seen from Disappointment Cleaver on the way back down.
Below, crevassing above Disappointment Cleaver as seen on the way back down. If you look closely, you can see climbers on the snow above Disappointment Cleaver in the center of the picture.
Then we started traversing, back and forth, up the mountain. We stopped about an hour and a quarter later at 13,100 feet. I felt much better at this point, as I had put on the hood of my jacket and covered my face, keeping the wind out. At this point, I finally felt I could do it. Matt, on the other hand, said he was most miserable there.

We eventually wound around the mountain all the way back to the top of the Nisqually Glacier. I kept looking up and seeing that the mountain never ended. It seemed that we would be hiking forever. The trail we were following got more difficult as it was 2 or 3 feet deep in places and I was not able to walk along on the side like I had earlier.

My ankles were very sore from rubbing on the boots. The way I survived was by altering the way I walked to avoid the front of the shin from rubbing on the front of the boot. When I could walk with my left foot at a 45 degree angle pointing out on one side and my right foot at a 45 degree angle pointing out on the other side, I had no pain and I could get into a rhythm that made the climb much easier. When I got out of that rhythm, the climb got much more difficult.

We seemed to speed up as we got to the summit. I was exhausted and feeling nauseous. We hit some rocks and there we were, the crater of the summit. It was about 8:00 a.m., 6 ¾ hours from when we left Camp Muir. It was very wide and flat and the wind was howling across it. I felt dizzy as we walked on to it. We were told that the high point (Columbia Crest) was across the crater to the other side, a 40 minute roundtrip walk. That those who didn't hike there would get an hour rest. Those who did would get a 15 or 20 minute rest.

I was very tempted to stay. I felt lousy and felt I needed all the rest I could. I had eaten about one and a half granola bars on the way up and couldn't eat any more. They were frozen and I couldn't force them down. I'd drunk about a quart of water and needed to save some for the way down. Then I decided if I truly wanted to say I had summited the mountain, I needed to do it. I was too close to stop short. I started out, then realized I didn't have my camera. I went back and got it, then as I tried taking a picture, it wouldn't click. I realized my battery was probably dead, so I went back and got a battery. Then I couldn't get it to work, so I turned the battery over and finally got a picture.
Below, looking across the crater. Columbia Crest, the highest point, is the small snow mound to the left of the bare ground in the center.
A close-up of the map showing the summit of Mt. Rainier. At 14,411 feet, it is the highest point in Washington and the fifth highest mountain in the contiguous U.S.
As I reached the other side of the crater and started up the cone, in the dirt, I wasn't sure I had the strength to go on. Shortly thereafter, I found the summit register, in some rocks. It wasn't even close to the summit, but I guess it was the closest protected spot to the summit.

Below, Columbia Crest, with people on top. I'm getting very close.
I cut a switchback that about killed me, sapping my strength. Then I finally made it to the top and had my hand shaken by Jason Edwards. Jeff, a guide, took my picture, once with Mt. Adams in the background and once with Mt. St. Helens in the background.

Columbia Crest, with Mt. Adams in the background.
Columbia Crest with Mt. St. Helens in the background.
Given the shortness of the time I had on top and the condition I was in, I really didn't have a chance to enjoy the view. It was a beautiful clear day and the view was spectacular, but I just didn't have time to. Below, the northeast portion of the crater.
The other side of the crater with Mt. Adams in the background.
A lone person walks back to our group which is located just over the lip of the crater.

Once back to the crater, after a very short rest and a short talk with Matt who was huddled on his pack, feeling as lousy or lousier than I, we started down.
I love this picture of Matt because he looks like he feels lousy and cold (and he did).
The initial portion went very quickly, as we semi-trotted or skated down. For the first time we could really see where we had been. Earlier, in the dark, and even after it got light, all we did was pretty much keep our heads down and our feet moving. Now we had some of the tremendous views.

Below, Joe Horisky and Carli, just past the crater.
Amazing views below us.

The point of Little Tahoma Peak, just visible in the center of the picture, below us.

The exposure at the top did not feel was too bad. I felt that there was a gentle enough slope that I could easily stop myself if I slipped. As we dropped lower on the mountain, the margin of error was reduced. We went by sections just feet away from deep crevasses.

Below, Carli and Joe in front of me and Emmons Glacier below. The bottom portion of the glacier is covered with dirt. Note other climbers coming up the mountain below.

A close-up of the map showing this area of the mountain.

Little Tahoma Peak. At 11,138 feet, some consider it the third tallest mountain in Washington, behind Rainier and Mt. Adams. To the left of it is Emmons Glacier and to the right of it is Ingraham Glacier, both heavily crevassed. Disappointment Cleaver is just out of the picture to the right.
Below, Little Tahoma Peak with Disappointment Cleaver now visible.

As we re-crossed Emmons Glacier, I asked Joe if I could stop for a picture of the beautiful crevasses we were crossing. They were blue and incredibly deep. He said it was not safe to stop, we needed to keep moving. As we got to the top of Disappointment Cleaver, the guides decided to avoid the top portion and traverse down in the snow. Below us the heavily crevassed snow of Ingraham Glacier was a bit unnerving. The snow very slushy and as I put my foot down, it very often slipped forward, even with the crampons. If I had fallen and needed to stop myself, it would have been very difficult.

Then we went on to the Cleaver and down it. Below, Gibralter Rock and the Ingraham Glacier, as seen from Disappointment Cleaver.
At the bottom, they staggered the groups going across the Ingraham Glacier. Joe mentioned that this section, described earlier, was where 11 people died in 1980, when the trail slid into a crevasse. That added a little bit of excitement to our crossing. There were several sections of rock with very little foothold and pretty good exposure below us. There was also a section where the trail had been cut into the snow, about a foot and a half wide. The top portion was too high to really provide a place to anchor if we slipped and too high to be able to lean into it. Below it was a very significant crevasse I couldn't see the bottom of.

The picture below is from the Mount Rainier brochure put out by the Park Service. I like it because of the different perspective it gives of Little Tahoma Peak, to the left, with Cathedral Rocks, Gibralter Rock and Disappointment Cleaver to its right.

Further down the Ingraham Glacier, before Cathedral Rocks, my foot brook through the snow into a crevasse, all the way up to my crotch. I also tripped and fell at least once as I got more and more tired and the front points of my crampons clipped my pants.

It was fun talking to Joe about his experiences as we hiked. He said his favorite route up Rainier is the one we were doing. That Liberty Ridge is not much more difficult, but that you do your own route finding and there are about 1,000 feet of ice. Joe also stated that Mt. McKinley does not have anything much more difficult than Mt. Rainier, except that it is steeper in places. Both are basically glacier climbs, but McKinley does not have any rock, takes longer (2 to 3 weeks because you have to do the route twice, once with half your load and again with the rest of your load), and the weather is very harsh. Everything he had on our trip was stuff he wore on McKinley. He and many of the other guides were wearing Scarpa Inverness boots. Apparently they are one of the cheapest on the market, but enough for McKinley.

From this point on, I did not keep a good record. We rested at Camp Muir, then did a ridiculous, fast trot down the mountain. When we reached the bottom I was as tired as I have ever been before. In the materials I got from RMI, I have the following highlighted: “Mt. Rainier is considered the longest endurance climb in the lower 48 states.” Matt indicated that a marathoner that was a part of his group had stated this was the most tiring activity he had ever participated in.

As Judy pulled up in our rented van to the guidehouse, with the kids, to pick us up, I was so tired I didn’t even attempt to help her put my pack into the van. I just climbed in.

This article from the front page of the Riverside Press-Enterprise, less than two weeks after we climbed Rainier.

The following article was from the Salt Lake Tribune two years earlier. It was sent to me by my brother-in-law, David Kenison, just after we hiked Mt. Whitney. The power of suggestion.


  1. Cute outfit at the beginning, Bob. It's so you. I remember seeing you and Matt collapsed on the ground as I drove up. You dragged yourselves into the van, leaving your packs on the ground. I looked at them and then at you and figured that you would just as soon leave them there as load them yourself.

    What an adventure.

  2. Great account of the hike. Thanks for documenting the whole thing!