S: Climbing The Grand Teton and Mt. Rainier, September 2012
BC: A Photo-Journal of the successful Summit Attempts on the Grand Teton and Mount Rainier by the father-son team of Jim and Eric Kingston, from September 21st to 27th 2012
FC: The Grand Teton and Mt. Rainier | September 2012
1: There are two kinds of climbers, those who climb because their heart sings when they’re in the mountains, and all the rest. -- Alex Lowe | On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude. -- Lionel Terray
2: Friday September 21, 2012 – Flight Out After heaving two large duffels, one of which was skirting the 50lb heavy bag limit, and my Osprey Talon daypack into the bed of Mike Smith’s pickup at 5:00 am it was off to the Manchester airport for a flight to Denver via Philadelphia. Surprisingly I was able to get a last minute Star Alliance Saver seat one-way for only 12,500 miles. If all worked out according to schedule I would be arriving in Denver an hour or so before Eric could get there driving up from Taos NM. Eric was laid off for the season effective this morning after his 2nd season as a seasonal wildland firefighter with the Carson Hotshots. The plan is to rendezvous in Denver, spend the night with Erics college roommate Scott Gilbert, collect some of his camping and mountaineering equipment from storage and leave early tomorrow morning for either the Grand Teton or Mount Rainier depending on the weather forecast for the next week. All my flights and connections were spot on and I arrived in Denver around 1230, Eric was running a little behind getting released from Taos and hitting some traffic along the way so I cooled my heels in the Denver airport for a couple of hours before he picked me up about 3:30. If you have to spend 3 hours in an airport Denver isn’t too bad a place to be - quite a few shops and a decent selection of food. I was so psyched to see Eric – it’s tough not seeing one of your kids for almost 6 months – and even though facebook and the various fire websites can keep me informed about what he is up to it’s no substitute for human contact. We made a quick trip to REI in Boulder to pick up a few final items and our food for the climbs before making our way to Scotts for the night. A final weather check set the plans for tomorrow morning. Rainier is supposed to be holding on to some cloud cover and a little potential moisture until Tuesday afternoon and the Teton looks to be clear until Sunday afternoon. | If we time it right we can make the drive to Moose tomorrow morning, get to high camp before sunset and then summit and descend before the weather moves in on Sunday. After a late night catching up with Scott it will be a short night before heading west. Saturday September 22, 2012 – Antelope and Altitude Our climb of the Grand Teton began today at 0430. Lots of people choose an Alpine start for climbing the Grand but I’d wager that not many begin in Denver with 8 hours and 500 miles between themselves and the trailhead! Dawn found us somewhere west of Cheyenne WY on I80. We were kept entertained by spotting Pronghorns and the occasional Mule deer on the seemingly endless high desert and grasslands. We chose to make the trip to Moose via 287 on the eastern side of the wind river range and as we went north we ran into more and more smoke from the wildfires still burning in the region. We also ran into more and more Pronghorns and it became almost routine to say “there is a nice herd buck – he looks like a shooter”. Then somewhere just south of Landers we both did a double-take at a gigantic buck. That buck was so much larger than the rest of those “nice shooters” that there was no doubt he was a true trophy and ready for the record book. Unfortunately we were climbing not hunting so catching up with him will wait for another adventure. North of Landers the landscape started to change with rolling plains replaced by deeply carved canyons and brightly colored lock layers covering the spectrum from earthy yellows to reds to purples and all contrasting with the evergreens and the bright yellow fall foliage of the cottonwoods lining the canyon floors. | The Grand Teton
3: As fantastic as these sights were I was ready to see some mountains, the Tetons in particular, but even after crossing Togwotee pass and dropping down to Moran Junction the Grand refused to show itself. Smoke from the Snow King fire was hanging in the valley and only the faintest outline of the Teton range was visible. Finally as we approached Moose the air cleared enough for our first good views of our goal, the top of the Grand Teton. From the Wyoming side the Tetons are totally imposing. Thrusting up from the flat valley over 7000 vertical feet in what looks like an impenetrable wall and dividing into sharp deeply sculpted teeth, it is hard to imagine that in a matter of hours we will be climbing toward the tallest of those summits. | First View of the Teton Range- Nez Perce, Middle Teton, Grand Teton, Mt Owen, and Teewinot (L-R) | The summit of the Grand has an imposing Matterhorn-like silhouette from the Jackson Hole valley | We pulled into the Moose Visitor Center at about 12:30pm on a beautiful fall weekend without any backcountry reservations and hoped for the best. Fortunately this late in the year backcountry camping permits were readily available and we had our choice of camping zones. Since light winds were forecast and we wanted the best jump possible on the summit tomorrow morning (possible afternoon showers which might mean ice up high) we chose to carry all the way up to the lower saddle (11,600’) that afternoon. Permit secured (as well as our NPS issue carry-in-carry-out toilet bags), Eric and I grabbed a quick lunch along with a few trail snacks at Dornan’s Deli and then drove to the Lupine Meadows trailhead.
4: We quickly finished last minute organization of our packs, checked maps, turned on the GPS, put on our approach shoes, posed for a happy snap and set off for the Lower Saddle at 2:00pm. We made good time at the lower elevations and smooth trail that we encountered between the trailhead and Garnet Canyon Creek (approx. 8900’) where the maintained trail ends. As we climbed we gained some great views of Bradley and Taggart Lakes and Eric spied the source of at least some of the smoke that was reducing our views. A large pyrocumulous cloud was forming over a wildfire in the Wind River range. | Lupine Meadows Trailhead – Note to self: Wearing your Boston Marathon shirt does not constitute training for carrying 50lbs nor does it acclimatize you to altitude! | Map of the Lupine Meadows Trailhead area – Bear awareness was stressed everywhere we went!
5: Smooth Trails and Easy Switchbacks were the rule for the first 4 miles to Garnet Canyon Creek | Golden leaves of an Aspen stand on the ridge separating Bradley and Taggert Lakes | First views into Garnet Canyon – Middle Teton flanked by the near vertical canyon walls | Across Jackson Hole Valley, a Pyrocumulous Cloud over a wildfire in the Wind River Range
6: As the trail turned around the shoulder of the face we were gradually making our way up we had our first views into Garnet Canyon and it was simply awe inspiring. The scale of everything changed in such a dramatic way that it was almost disorienting. The trail disappeared in the vastness of the canyon, rocks that we would later find to be the size of cars appeared as tiny pebbles, trees that stood a hundred feet tall and 2 feet across looked like shrubs. Eric and I looked at this landscape – only an hour and a half from the car – and then looked down into the valley at the hundreds of people pulled over in their | vehicles at the “viewpoints” and knowing that this place, this experience, this feeling, cannot be had from inside a cage of steel and glass, I felt so incredibly fortunate to be among the 1% that even bother to get off the pavement let alone venture to climb these peaks. These wild places that capture my soul are almost always this way – more severe than comfortable, a scale that makes me feel insignificant, a small part of the whole rather than existing in and of myself,totally demanding of my respect and attention. Just to be here, forget the summit, is worth the trip; and to see the same feelings written in the expression on my sons face at this moment is priceless.
7: Once the Garnet Canyon Creek trail reached the creek any pretense of easy hiking was over. Those tiny pebbles were now clearly resolved as enormous blocks of stone forming a short but challenging boulder field. Following the tiny triangles formed by three dots of white paint on the faces of off-white stone brought us to the lowest camping area on the way to the saddle, known as the Platforms, at 9000’. I was still feeling pretty good at this point. Sure my legs were tired, I am simply not trained for carrying much more than a daypack, but my lungs were still keeping up with the altitude and we had already gained nearly 2300’ in only 1:30 with just a little more than that gain remaining. Just past the Platforms the Eastern face of Middle Teton with its distinguishing vertical dike began to dominate the view. At this point I had identified the valley to the right of Middle Teton as the lower saddle – our goal for the day. I was sorely mistaken! | Spaulding Falls, Highest reliable water source on the Grand Teton – The trail switchbacks up the wall to the right of the falls past the Caves at 9700’ | Approaching Garnet Meadows (9300’). – Only the people well up the trail give an indication of the size of this area.
8: Middle Teton dominates the view for much of the climb up Garnet Canyon | As we climbed I was quickly starting to feel the effects of making the move from sea level just 24 hours earlier. I was pleased with the absence of any altitude illness symptoms but I was certainly noticing the lack of oxygen. The climb became a series of movements; first getting from one campsite to the next, then looking ahead just as far as the next switchback, and finally considering whether the next step was possible. Eric on the other hand, was feeling no effects at all. Amazing what a summer of carrying a pack and a chainsaw up and down mountains while living at altitude can do for you. Or, maybe it’s the difference between being 25 or 49 11/12ths... Real fatigue began to set in after climbing the switchbacks up the valley wall near Spaulding Falls. After passing the Caves camping area, which is really just some bivy sites under overhanging boulders, we could see that what we had identified earlier as the lower saddle was really just the terminus of the Middle Teton Glacier and there were about 1700’ of climbing remaining! It took a full hour to gain the past thousand feet and it was only 2 hours till sunset – time to move. | The high-pitched warning cries of Pika and the occasional Marmot sighting were welcome distractions from the seemingly endless talus
9: Slogging up the talus slope to reach the Moraine of the Middle Teton Glacier - This slope is the above the large cliff face behind the tall pines in the photo to the left | Nez Perce, Cloudveil Dome and South Teton from above Spaulding Falls | The next 900’ feet of vertical were a challenge. Just a steady grind up a steep talus slope to gain the terminal moraine of the Middle Teton Glacier. After cresting this slope the angle lessened and we could see a couple of tents in the Moraine camping zone at 10800’. It seemed to take forever to cross this low angle area – the bright orange tent looked like it was just a hundred yards away but in reality it was well over a quarter mile to the tents and nearly a thousand yards to the headwall. As we approached the headwall and fixed ropes Eric stopped me and said “should we stay here or can you make it to the saddle before sunset?”
10: The last 800'! | The Moraine of Middle Teton Glacier and Evening Alpenglow on Teepe Pillar – “OK Dad, either you climb a thousand feet in the next hour or we stay here” | I said I could make it the rest of the way and Eric emphasized the fact that we had 800’ to go and only an hour to sunset. Up the slope to the headwall was yet another talus field and when we reached the fixed ropes I was pretty much spent. I was starting to feel cramping in my hamstrings every time I lifted my leg. The fixed ropes were a blessing – the headwall would have been an easy scramble with a daypack and fresh legs, but after 4500’ of climbing with a full pack I needed every advantage I could get. My legs finally cramped up for real just above the fixed ropes. | Eric popped open an Emergen-C packet and a few minutes after downing that I was able to climb the rest of the way to the lower saddle. We made it to our tent site at 7:15pm, just beating the sunset at 7:20! In the twilight we could make out the band of black rock crossing horizontally below the base of the needle. This feature, the Black Dike, appeared to be a short stroll up a mild incline, but given the scale of what we had gone through the rest of the day I was pretty certain that just getting to this first landmark would take some effort.
11: From the Headwall you gain a new perspective on Middle Teton Glacier | The Tent site was an area of ground next to a large boulder that had been cleared of talus. The talus had been used to build a rock wall that added shelter from the wind. Although the lower saddle is notorious for being windy there was very little wind tonight. There was no way a tent stake was going into the ground here so we piled rocks in and on the stake loops to secure the tent for the night. Once the tent was up Eric boiled some water for the Backpackers Pantry Chicken Vindaloo and some Starbucks VIA coffee. Altitude makes for a long wait for rehydration. The normal 13 minute soak is doubled for every 5000’ above 5000’ so we had to hang out for 26 minutes before we could eat. | Black Dike and the Needle from the Lower Saddle – Tomorrow Mornings Route. | Made it! Tent site at the Lower Saddle (11600’), Rock wind walls and a large boulder for shelter
12: By this time I was shivering from lack of energy – lesson learned, fuel more frequently during climbs from now on. While we waited for reydration to occur we arranged the daypacks with gear for tomorrows climb. Based on everything I had seen about the route we decided to take just a single rope and only the cam set, quick draws and some slings rather than the full rack – we are opting for light weight and planning on a 2 stage rappel if necessary on the descent tomorrow. After eating, not a big fan of Chicken Vindaloo by the way, it was quickly into the sleeping bag. Even in a bag rated for -20F I could not get warm. I finally fell asleep shivering. An hour later I woke up sweating, the dinner had begun to recharge my energy stores and I was finally generating heat again! Sunday September 23, 2012 – Summiting Grand Teton! A little before 6:00am we woke up to the sounds of a group heading up the trail toward the summit. Eric and I quickly got dressed, boiled water for coffee and added cold water to the Mountain House Granola with Milk and Blueberries (much better than the Vindaloo!) for breakfast. My legs seemed to have recovered pretty well overnight and the weather looked great – a few clouds but little wind and temps in the high 30’s or low 40’s. By 6:30 we were headed up the trail ourselves hoping that we would hit the needle and our first route finding as the sun came up. What looked like a short stroll last night turned out to be nearly a half hour hike, and as the sun gave us our first good look back toward the campsite we were just above the black dike working toward the left of the needle below chockstone chimney. Looking down on the lower saddle and our tent gave us an idea of just how much climbing we had already done. It also provided a view of the privy – really just a windbreak with a “seat” that helped you hold your plastic bag in position for carry-out later. | Sunrise on the Lower Saddle from above the Black Dike | Lower Saddle Campsite and “Privy” (to right – Idaho side - of giant boulder) from above Black Dike
13: Our timing was perfect, we had a good jump on the day and we entered the area where we needed to route find with sufficient light to navigate. We got a good fix on the various couloirs and made our way into the chockstone chimney and escaped onto the ledge leading around the north ridge of the needle directly to the eye of the needle. Finding this key milemarker without incident was a confidence builder and from here on up to the upper saddle we were able to follow the multiple “paths” leading along the western side of the central rib. | Threading the Eye of the Needle | Nearing the Chockstone Chimney in Couloir to left of the Needle | Eric exiting the Eye of the Needle heading up the Grand Teton
14: As we made our way up the western side of the central rib and got higher above the smoke the views kept getting more and more expansive. Soon we could see over and beyond Middle Teton (12804’) and had some great long distance views to the south and west. The horizontally banded mesa’s on the Idaho side of the range were so different geologically from the inclined granite that we were climbing. The turquoise reflections from the silt laden waters of the high glacial lakes popped from the landscape, the contrast providing some great opportunities to attempt to capture the view. The climb to the upper saddle was much easier than yesterday. Although the terrain was much steeper I was carrying only 20-25 lbs and the routefinding meant that we were taking many short breaks as we scoped out the next section of “trail” up the rib. By 8:15 we had reached the upper saddle and both the views and the climbing changed dramatically. | As we made our way up the Central Rib we were soon looking down on Middle Teton’s summit. | The Idaho side has a very different geology than the Wyoming side of the range
15: Turquoise water of a glacial lake below Schoolroom Glacier high up in the western side of the Tetons. | Doubly happy, however, is the man to whom lofty mountain tops are within reach. -- John Muir
16: Let the climbing begin! Eric on the Upper Saddle | Looking Northwest from the Upper Saddle. | From the upper saddle the shear drop below the Owen-Spaulding route became visible as well as the peaks in the northern portion of the Teton range. Even on this almost wind-free day the upper saddle had a cold stiff breeze as the air from the northwest lifted, cooled, and accelerated as it pressed through the funnel created by the walls of the enclosure and the west face of the Grand. We stopped in the shelter of a large boulder just below the belly roll to harness up and sort out the climbing gear. I set an anchor at the base of the belly roll and after Eric established his belay I made a quick hand traverse below the belly roll to a nice ledge before the crawl. This short section was low 5th class climbing and were it not for the multi-thousand foot drop to the valley floor would not have warranted roping up – but with the exposure you only get one mistake! I set another anchor and belayed Eric across behind me. Eric is a way more competent climber than I am but has had little trad experience and almost none in high exposure situations. It was funny to see him pucker a bit as the potential for a decent swing over a huge drop became apparent. I just called it payback for beating me up with his superior fitness on yesterday’s approach hike.
17: The West Face of the Grand Teton showing the Owen-Spaulding Route, Upper Saddle to Summit is approx. 600’ elevation. (Annotated Photo from wyomingwhiskey.net) | Another photo from wyomingwhiskey.net showing some of the exposure below the Owen-Spaulding route
18: Eric moved into belay again and I lead across the crawl and over to the 2nd entry to the Double Chimney. Again, very easy climbing, a simple hand traverse that would be 4th class if it weren’t for the exposure. I took pity on him this time and set a couple of pieces of pro to minimize the swing risk. The Double Chimney was the last really exposed climbing and I felt it was the hardest of the route. Still not at all difficult, but a bit cramped maneuvering over/around the last block in the chimney with a daypack. The Owen Chimney came next, a stair-steppy climb with some ice to avoid but good protection and a few old pins to clip. This was probably the longest pitch at something over 80’, but with ledges below us the huge exposure of the belly roll and crawl were gone. | We made one of very few route mistakes above Owen Chimney, for some reason thinking the Catwalk was here and could take us to the top of Sargent’s Chimney. After passing the entrance to Sargent’s we soon realized that the Catwalk was actually below Owen Chimney and we made an about face back to Sargent’s. Sargent’s was very ledgey and blocky so we decided to solo from here to the summit. It was a good call and with relative ease we made our way up the summit blocks and at 10:20am we were on the summit of the Grand Teton! Summiting was an awesome experience – high fives, big grins, and the real joy of having pulled off this climb together. We chose not to use a guide service and the experience was just that much richer for it. We did the work, from researching the route, pulling the permits, hauling all the camp gear on the approach hike, the practice of basic outdoor craft, routefinding, and keeping each other going (well Eric keeping me going) when it got tough; so we didn’t have to second guess whether or not we could really accomplish this climb – we did it. Lest we get feeling too big for our britches the names of J. Shive and F. Spaulding were inscribed on the side of the summit boulder. These two along with W. Owen and F. Peterson really did this climb unsupported. There were no foot paths when these names were written here, no internet photos of the route to the top. These guys made the first climb of the Grand, without the benefit of modern equipment, in 1898. | Climbing the lower portion of Owen Chimney – Easy 5th class with limited exposure
19: No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied - it speaks in silence to the very core of your being -- Ansel Adams
20: Our feet and the summit bench mark
21: View from the summit of the Grand Teton – North across Valhalla Canyon with Cascade Canyon on the left, The Jaw, Mount Woodring and Mount Moran near to far on the right. | And another view from the summit – this time looking south over Middle and South Teton to Buck Mountain | A closer view looking down on the crevasses of Middle Teton Glacier | Summit Views
22: View to the East – Teewinot Mountain, Delta Lake, Amphitheater and Surprise Lakes with Bradley Lake far below | South East from the Summit, Amphitheater and Surprise Lakes in the alpine zone, Bradley and Taggart Lakes in the Valley | Close up of the alpine lakes – Delta, Amphitheater, and Surprise Lakes | A final look Northwest before leaving the summit - up Cascade Canyon with the Wigwams and Targhee National Forest on the left. | More Summit Views
23: Tto further reduce our ego two more climbers joined us on the summit, aged 55 and 65, they had left their car at 2:00am and were doing the Grand in a day! Gives me hope for some more good years in the mountains. Since we had each decided to pare down weight by taking a single rope we decided to join forces and ropes on the way down and make the 40 meter rap rather than the 2-stage rap to the upper saddle. The downclimb to the upper saddle was interesting. We chose to rap down Sargent’s chimney and then rejoined our summit friends at the main rap so that we could share ropes and make a single stage rappel to the upper saddle. The total rap distance was 40m and of that nearly 30m was free. Although the distance to the ground was only 100’ the steep drop-offs on either side of the upper saddle made the rap seem that much higher. Eric was last man down and as he was hooking in he started a small rockfall that had us all scurrying for cover down below. Once at the upper saddle it was straight forward to follow the path down the central rib to the lower saddle. Amazing how well you can see the trail from above on the descent where we had to really pick our way on the ascent. We had some snow flurries move in as we left the upper saddle and again as we arrived at the lower saddle and began to pack up camp. I have to say that I don’t like going downhill much better than I like going up when I am fully laden, although it is certainly faster. The trip to the car was tough on the quads, trying to keep my feet underneath me while descending on the talus and scree. Once through the last boulder field below the meadows the trail smoothed out and we made rapid progress toward lupine meadows. | Starting the 40m Rappel – A group from BYU had apparently gotten stranded with a single rope (red) the night before and had to abandon their rope on the rap sling | Another few meters and the free rappel begins!
24: As we entered the timber we began to hear occasional elk bugles that increased in frequency as we got lower on the trail and later in the day. It was the perfect ending to the trip, almost like they were saluting us for our efforts. When we reached the last trail junction Eric ran ahead – not using the wag bag has its price – and I could hear three bulls ping-ponging their bellows around the meadows near the parking lot. When I popped out of the trail at 6:10 pm I was greeted by the sight of a big bull, at least a 5x5, strutting around lupine meadows and tearing up the trees with his antlers. It was 12 hours since we began the day and I enjoyed every one of them. Eric and I have had a lot of great times together over the years: Hunting; Boat Building; Skiing; Camping; Canoeing You name it we’ve done it. This trip is already ranking up with the best of those times and we have another mountain yet to climb. | As we left Moose and started toward Victor Idaho for dinner and a soft bed the sun was beginning to set behind the Tetons and they gave us one last spectacular view. We crossed over Teton pass and dropped into Idaho a little after dark. Our search for Teton Ale was unsuccessful, fulfillment of that tradition will have to wait until Mike Smith can join the climb, but we did find some good food and some nice microbrews at the Royal Wolf in Driggs. I was surprised at how hungry I was once the smell of real food hit me. One of Eric’s Hotshot crewmembers Dan, and his wife Hillary, a NOLS instructor, joined us and it was great to put a face with people Eric has been spending his summer with. We didn’t last long at the Wolf, knowing that tomorrow would be another long day with an early start trying to get to Trout Lake Washington by late afternoon. | Big Bull Elk in Lupine Meadows
25: The Grand Lift of the Tetons is more than a Mechanistic Fold and Faulting of the Earth's Crust; It becomes a Primal Gesture of the Earth beneath a Greater Sky. -- Ansel Adams
26: Monday September 24, 2012 – There’s no Mountain Here Another 4am departure and a long day on the road. We left Driggs in the dark and hit the first (and nearly last) rain of the trip. Good timing for climbing the Grand, it would have been icy up top if we had delayed 24 hours! Idaho and much of eastern Oregon was pretty non-descript so getting into the Columbia River Gorge was a welcome change. From just east of The Dalles all the way in to Hood River was some pretty awesome scenery, tall rugged canyon walls and a wide, wide river. Crossing the Columbia at Hood River we expected to get some views of Mount Hood but the fires and some low clouds had it totally obscured. We traveled up 141 toward Trout Lake and saw the scars from the fire that had run up that canyon earlier in the year. Entering Trout Lake Eric said “Mount Adams is right there”, but there was no sign of the 2nd tallest mountain in Washington. We had arrived during what had become the largest fire ever on Mount Adams and visibility was totally smoked in. | We stopped by the Mt. Adams Ranger District Headquarters and met up with a number of the fire crew that Eric spent his first year in fire with. We took advantage of Taco Monday at the Trout Lake Country Inn, and I had a great time listening to fire stories and getting a feel for Eric’s experiences in that first year. Good food, good beer, great people. Many thanks to Keith for putting us up in his cabin for the night – reminded me of my Uncle Warrens cabin on Pike Lake in Ontario when I was a kid – rustic but comfortable and way better than a truck bed. Tuesday September 25, 2012 – Now that’s a Mountain I for one was very happy that Eric had to take the time to register his truck in White Salmon this morning. My legs did not recover well from the downhill leg of the Grand followed by a day of inactivity in the car. We decided that we would take an extra recovery day, let Eric take care of his administrative duties, and just get to Mt. Rainier and camp in the park before starting the climb tomorrow. This has the added benefit of letting some residual clouds clear the area and would allow us an early start on Wednesday. After breakfast at the Station Café we made our way into White Salmon where we had much better views of Mount Hood than on the way in yesterday. We took care of business, checked emails in a coffee shop while waiting for the DMV to open, and headed for Portland. | Mount Rainier | We climbed the Grand just in time – This photo of the Black Dike from wyomingwhiskey.org was taken on Sept 29th
27: Mount Hood Oregon towering over the town of Hood River | On the way to Portland we made a quick stop at Multnomah Falls, the 2nd highest continuously flowing waterfall in the United States at 620’. The falls are right off I-84, the parking lot is actually between the East and Westbound lanes, and they are spectacular. The mist from the falls makes the whole area a rainforest, the height of the falls sneaks up on you, they really don’t seem that big until you realize the height of the trees and watch the time it takes for a pulse of water to make its way down the face. From the falls we made our way to REI and Safeway in Portland, restocked our food supplies and picked up some anchors for pitching the tent on the glacier. Then it was on to the park. | Multnomah Falls – 620’ drop
28: We entered the park through the Nisqually entrance (2023’) around 2:30pm and headed for the Longmire Wilderness Information Center to purchase our climbing permits. Before we got there we got our first view of the mountain as we crossed Kautz creek. Wow – this sucker is big! The vertical relief is just incredible – we are at just over 2000’ and this mountain tops out at 14410’! | The mountain had clouded in again, at least the view from Paradise was obscured, but the Tatoosh range was still in the sun. These 6000+ foot peaks are close enough to Paradise that you can see the ruggedness of the terrain, the north slopes hold snow and small glaciers year round, and there is enough of an elevation difference that they appear to tower over the view. After checking out Paradise we drove back down the mountain to Cougar Rock and prepped for the climb. A few Steller’s Jays kept us company for the evening, I think the last time I saw this species we were living in Monterey, over 20 years ago. We spent some time rigging our prussiks and going over some crevasse rescue techniques before eating dinner and checking our backpack contents one last time. I have to admit to being a little nervous about the glaciers. This is new territory for Eric and me, and although I have spent more than a few hours rigging 3:1 z-pulley’s for practice, nothing beats experience. It would be nice to have a 3rd person on the rope once we get on the glaciers, I’m confident about arresting any fall and about setting an anchor and rigging the pulley, but setting an anchor while maintaining arrest would be a challenge. Having that 3rd person there to build an anchor while one of us holds arrest and the other is down in the crevasse would make me more secure. I don’t ever plan on rescue from another party but it is still good to know that there are guided parties on the mountain in the event something goes way wrong. In any event, the climb goes tomorrow and since the sky continues to clear everything looks good. | Parting Clouds gave our first clear view of Rainier | After picking up our climbing permits – they’ll let anybody on this mountain :) - we made our way to Cougar Rock campground, secured our campsite and headed to Paradise to get oriented and pick up the actual climb registration form that we will need before we head up the mountain tomorrow. At Paradise we picked up our climb registration form and our blue bags (basically doggie clean up bags, but for us humans) and checked out the area for tomorrow mornings climb. The visitors center was open and it had an interesting set of exhibits, but the climbing information center and ranger station were closed for the season.
29: Top: The Castle from Paradise – (approx. 6450’), Late afternoon clouds were moving down the mountain Bottom: View of some of the Tatoosh Range from Paradise – Lane Peak and Denman Peak (both are just over 6000’) | Above: Climbing Info Center at Paradise – Closed for the Season but there were still guide services on the mountain for a few more days.
30: Wednesday September 26, 2012 – On the Glaciers I woke up this morning with legs that felt considerably better than yesterday. The weather looks great and we’re both anxious to get started. The plan for today is to make our way from Paradise at 5400’ up the Skyline Trail and then climb the Muir snowfield (beginning at ~7200’) to Camp Muir at 10000’. If this goes the way we hope it will then we will take a rest break there before roping up to cross the Cowlitz Glacier, climb up Cathedral Gap and onto the Ingraham Glacier where we will camp at Ingraham Flats at ~11,000’. After a quick breakfast we started for Paradise and decided to take the scenic loop on the way up. We got our first cloud free view of the mountain and another perspective on just how huge it really is. After a couple of photos we made our way to the parking lot at Paradise to begin the climb. | Pre-climb preparations at Cougar Rock campground | Steller’s Jay checking out the campsite at Cougar Rock | Rainier, scaled by the 150’ trees on the small peak in the foreground
31: As soon as we left the parking area I could understand why John Muir fell in love with these alpine meadows. The stunted evergreens, the golds, rusts, and reds in the ground cover beginning to show their fall colors, all contrasted with the white glaciers of the mountain and the deep blue of the crystal clear sky above us, that almost indigo blue that you only get when you are in an airliner with little atmosphere above you to transform the black of space. Hopefully there’s more air than that up here, we’re only at 5400’ and there is over 9000’ yet to climb. | Eric at Paradise, Ready to roll. | Blacktail deer along the trail largely ignored our passing.
32: ... the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings. -- John Muir
33: We left Paradise at 8:40 and began the hike up the Skyline trail. From the parking lot the trail is asphalt and it seemed strange to be heading up this mountain on pavement. Just a few hundred yards from the trailhead we passed two young girls that asked us if this was the way to Camp Muir, they were dressed in jeans, cotton sweatshirts, and canvas tennis shoes, I hoped they were kidding. A few minutes further up the trail we ran into a group of blacktail deer that were totally unconcerned with our presence. They continued to graze as we walked past them only 10 yards or so off the trail. The paved trail continued another mile or so and then became a well maintained dirt path that was very easy walking. We continued to gain elevation and views of the Nisqually and Wilson glaciers became more and more impressive. It was also about this point in the climb that we had our first exposure to the unmistakable sounds of rock and icefall. The rockfall seemed to come primarily from a waterfall at the base of the Wilson glacier that cascaded probably 300’ over the cliff-band. The solid clunks of rocks getting spit out of the glacial runoff and crashing down at the base of the waterfall was nearly continuous. In contrast, the icefall came mostly from the Nisqually, and although less frequent it was also more intense, with crescendos of shattering ice building in volume as the initial trigger picked up additional ice blocks as it fell. These falls were all very distant from the trail and were of absolutely no danger to us so they were just fascinating to watch – this was not the case later in the day. | Off the pavement but still on trail, near Panorama Point, Wilson and Nisqually Glaciers behind | Waterfall from Wilson Glacier meltwater, a constant source of rock and icefall. For scale this is approx. a 300’ waterfall.
34: A look back toward Paradise showed just how much elevation we had gained already. We were now above the majority of the Tatoosh range peaks and from the looks of the haze, which all seemed to be below us, I was happy to be above the smoke layer that had formed from the forest fires in the area. As we passed Glacier Vista and approached Panorama Point the trail pitched up and the air warmed up as the sun got higher. After climbing the switchbacks up to the ridgeline of Panorama Point it was time to shed a layer or two and take a refueling break. One lesson learned from the approach hike to the Grand Teton – don’t forget to eat as well as drink before you think you need to. While we were breaking the two girls we passed near the trailhead went by us again, still headed for Camp Muir. Now that we were on the ridgeline we had our first good views of the full Muir snowfield. From where we stood the snowfield looked like a short hike up a low angle slope all the way to Camp Muir. Given that we had climbed about 1600’ over 2 miles at this point and we had 3000’ over 2.5 miles to go to get to Camp Muir I should have known better. The next mile was probably the easiest of the climb, a rolling, gradual uphill that gained only about 200’ before coming to the Pebble Creek crossing at 7200’. On the far side of the creek the Muir snowfield began. The two girls were sitting here again and asked if we knew the path form here. I couldn’t keep quiet anymore and tried to dissuade them from going any further by letting them know that the climbing rangers had reported crevasses opening on the snowfield and that if one of them fell in they would not stand a very good chance in cotton clothing. They said thank you, but they would be “as careful as grandma’s”. With that, I figured my duty was done and Darwin would have to do the rest. | It didn’t take long out of Paradise before we were looking down on the Tatoosh range. Smoke from the Mt. Adams fire and Wenatchee Complex fires reduced visibility at lower elevations | First good look at the snowfield and Camp Muir with Cathedral Rocks behind (Photo is highly zoomed in – Camp Muir was over 2 miles away)
35: We made our first routefinding mistake getting onto the snowfield. The snow terminated in a steep slope that was probably 20 feet high just on the far side of the creek. We did not see a bootpack anywhere on the snow so I decided to try to just kick steps up to the low angle slope above. I had decided to wear my light hikers rather than my mountaineering boots on the approach to Camp Muir so kicking steps in the highly compacted snow/ice was probably not the best idea. By setting a shallow traverse I was able to get up the slope but not without expending more effort than necessary. Once on the snowfield the travel was straightforward until we reached the area of Moon Rocks at 9000’. We were able to follow a bootpack in the snow and although the slope was nowhere near as gentle as it appeared from below it was reasonable walking and we were able to maintain steady progress. The occasional outcropping of rock made convenient benchmarks to set as goals before the next rest stop, and demonstrated that we were gaining ground on the otherwise blank snowfield. I have no idea what distinguishes a permanent snowfield from a glacier, and even after being on both I didn’t see a practical difference. I do know that it is hot on the snow – it is strange being surrounded by snow and ice and sweating up a storm as the sun beats down and reflects up on you. A good hat and glacier glasses as well as sunscreen are required gear! Each step up the snowfield put us that much higher above the smoke undercast and extended our view. Since Eric had worked on Mt. Adams it became a focus of our attention as we climbed. As we pushed closer to Moon Rocks Mt. Saint Helens popped up through the smoke as well. | Mt. Adams emerged from the smoke undercast as we gained elevation | Eric taking a “beauty break” about half way up the Muir snowfield, Mt. Adams and Mt. Saint Helens peaking above the undercast with Paradise and the Tatoosh range in the foreground
36: From Moon Rocks to Camp Muir the travel got tougher. Having seen some blog entries about crevasses opening up on this portion of the snowfield I was nervous about the route and we began seeing evidence of cracks in the surface. We again made what was in retrospect a poor route decision, and headed up the slope toward Anvil Rocks rather than continue more or less straight ahead to Camp Muir. We ended up skirting quite a few small crevasses and losing the bootpack for this last push to lunch. I was also considering changing out of my hikers to my mountaineering boots and crampons. The sun cups, also known as nieve penitentes, were getting deeper at this altitude and I was doing some backsliding whenever I got caught down in one of these cups. Rainier is a dusty mountain with mostly unconsolidated rock that creates a red-brown layer of dust and debris on the surface of the glaciers. This uneven coating of debris causes localized melting that concentrates the sun and wind causing further melting that | eventually creates large depressions – sun cups – on the glacier. Surrounding the sun cups when they get large are pillars or fins of unmelted snow and ice that appear to bend over at their tops looking like penitent monks of snow – nieve penetentes. We made Camp Muir about 1:15, and took a welcome lunch break. Eric was feeling great and I was doing pretty well, other than the general lack of oxygen. We took 4 hours to travel 4.5 miles and gain 4600’ in elevation, not a bad day so far. Since we had plenty of daylight left and we were both feeling good the decision was made – on to Ingraham Flats. | Almost lunchtime! Catching a breather just below Camp Muir. Jackets and long sleeves were a thing of the past. | Lunch in the sun at Camp Muir, Summer Sausage and Cheddar. This stone building, the historic Public Shelter was constructed in 1921 | The view from 10,080’, Paradise from Camp Muir.
37: From Camp Muir we would first need to cross the Cowlitz Glacier. Since we were now on a “real glacier” this meant roping up for safe travel. We descended off the back side of Camp Muir and onto the glacier, hooked up, and set off across the obvious bootpack toward Cathedral Rocks. Not long after we started we began hearing rockfall from the cliff band and I couldn’t believe how long the rocks continued to bounce down the slope. Looking at the topo I realized that the reason those rocks took so long to fall was because they were falling almost a thousand feet! Halfway across the Cowlitz we began seeing more and more rocks on the surface of the glacier, most fist size, but some as large as our backpacks. Knowing that these rocks had to get here somehow, and that that somehow was more than likely from rockfall, was not comforting. Even less comforting was the large fall that we saw just a short time later. After hearing and watching the rocks gain volume and momentum and seeing the size of the dust cloud they kicked up Eric was hesitant to even take time to pull out the camera for a picture. We did take one snap then we did our best to make quick work of the remainder of the Cowlitz that was in the zone of potential rockfall. We hit our first significant (or so we thought at the time) crevasses after crossing most of the Cowlitz. The first opening cut just across the bootpack trail and required a short detour to bypass. The next blocked the return to the bootpack and required a step across to negotiate. As crevasse rookies, it certainly looked impressive to Eric and I and in any case was not something you wanted to fall into.After the crevasse crossings we soon reached the base of Cathedral Rocks and it was time for another first – negotiating a volcanic scree and talus slope while wearing crampons. The climb up Cathedral Gap was taxing, the steepest grade we saw all day, hot, dusty, and loose under foot. I am glad we did this today though, tomorrow morning we will be encountering similar terrain on Disappointment Cleaver and it will be dark! It’s nice to have the feel and technique of crampons on rock worked out in daylight. | On the Cowlitz Glacier we witnessed a large rockfall from Cathedral Rocks, the cliff band is nearly 1000’ high, this dust cloud is big! | Looking back to Camp Muir from the Cowlitz Glacier, near the base of Cathedral Gap.
38: The vistas that opened up at the top of Cathedral Gap gave us a real feel for what we had accomplished today and what we had cut out for us tomorrow. From the ridgeline we could look back at our crossing of the Cowlitz and ahead at the Ingraham glacier, there was no comparison. The Cowlitz, while certainly crevassed, was straightforward for navigation with well aligned cracks and lots of solid real estate between them. The Ingraham was highly broken up with crevasses that could swallow entire buildings and in many places those crevasses seemed to follow no particular pattern. From the vantage point of Cathedral Gap there seemed to be only a narrow region where it was possible to traverse to the Disappointment Cleaver. | I for one am very happy that we are here in good weather and that the guide services have a well-established route. It is also from this vantage point where the immensity of this mountain is revealed once again. Disappointment Cleaver is a ridge of rock that separates the flows of the Ingraham and Emmons glaciers. The cleaver is an almost insignificant bump on the side of Mt. Rainier, notable only because it offers one of the easier routes to the summit, and this is where we will be climbing tomorrow morning. What is incredible is that this tiny bump actually gains 1600’ in elevation, as much vertical relief as Mount Monadnock back home. | Our first real crevasse crossing, a step across that would seem trivial by this time tomorrow. | Cathedral Gap from the Cowlitz Glacier, Climb winds up about 300 vertical feet of volcanic scree and talus to the ridgeline and eventually the Ingraham Glacier
39: We can also see the secondary summit of Little Tahoma, the third highest peak in Washington at 11,138’, standing over 2000’ above the surrounding glacier and almost 900’ above its highest junction with the main peak, a mountain in and of itself, yet dwarfed by Rainier. Looking high above Disappointment Cleaver we can just barely make out the rocks of the crater rim, here we stand near 11,000’, already higher than the highest point of 37 states, and we still have 3,500’ of vertical to go. | The Cowlitz Glacier and Camp Muir from Cathedral Gap, The migration of the bootpack up the glacier as crevasses opened up through the summer can be clearly seen
40: One of my favorite photos – the scale of the crevasses can be judged by the size of the tents in the band of sunlight. Our camp was just left of the group of tents where three small dots are packing up the site we would use. Disappointment Cleaver, rock ridge behind the tents, gains 1600’ in elevation – think Mount Monadnock! | If you wait for the perfect moment when all is safe and assured, it may never arrive. Mountains will not be climbed, races won, or lasting happiness achieved. --Maurice Chevalier
41: Nieve Penitentes on the Ingraham Glacier – These cups are between waist and shoulder deep | Ingraham Flats, well it’s relatively flat anyway... These tents were occupied by a guide service that provided our wakeup call. | Camp is a platform cut into the glacier, snow stakes and “parachutes” buried in the ice anchor the tent. Cadaver Gap is over Eric’s left shoulder. | Funny thing about Glaciers – there’s no water there. We spent almost an hour chopping out clean snow and melting down 8 liters of water.
42: From the trail at the top of the gap we could also see a cluster of tents pitched at our destination for the night, Ingraham Flats. We could just make out 3 tiny dots that appeared to be picking up a tentsite just outside the cluster. It took less than 30 minutes to reach the flats and we met the 3 climbers that we saw packing up from back at the gap. Great timing, as they told us they had just vacated a well excavated tent platform with room for cooking and a good source of clean snow/ice for water. That’s a whole lot of work carving out a flat spot for the tent that was saved. Glacier camping is another new experience for Eric and I. Pitching the tent requires different anchor techniques than bare ground. We used a combination of snow stakes, wide aluminum stakes with holes that allow the refreezing of ice through the holes to secure the stake, and “parachutes” that we secured to the tent anchor points and buried in holes we chopped in the glacier and then refilled and tamped down with our boots. We had 24" pickets with us in the event of high winds but the air was amazingly calm so we opted to retain all our pickets for rescue anchors. The Mountain Hardware EV3 was more than big enough for the two of use, but three would have been snug. The built in vestibule was fantastic and provided plenty of space for setting out gear for the morning and we had zero condensation, which was a pleasant surprise in a single layer tent. Once the tent was solid and sleeping quarters set up, food and water became the focus of our activities. The next task was finding clean(ish) snow under the dust layer and melting it to make water. We used the first liter to rehydrate dinner, a Backpackers Pantry Lasagna that was much better than the Vindaloo on the Grand, then downed a 2nd and 3rd liter to rehydrate and warm ourselves. Five additional liters later we had a stash set aside for breakfast and 2 liters each for the climb. All told making H2O took the better part of an hour and a bottle of fuel through the MSR. | By 6:30pm we were curled up in our bags discussing departure time for the morning. We both agreed that 0200 would be early enough and we should be able to summit in 6 hours. We had read that the route made a long traverse above the cleaver but still figured that 3500’ in 6 hours was a conservative estimate, even at 14,000 feet. As we lay in our bags trying to go to sleep in the twilight shadow of Gibraltar Rock we were treated to another unique feature of glacier camping – wondering just how far off and how big were the rock and ice avalanches that continued to rumble even after the sun stopped warming their surface. Thursday September 27, 2012 – 2nd Summit in 5 days! Shortly after midnight the guide for the group camped near us on the flats began flashing his headlamp about the area and calling his clients to breakfast. I know that Eric and I had agreed to a 0200 start but I was concerned enough about routefinding through the Ingraham that I decided we should get up and get moving in order to follow these guys through the crevasses. Eric reluctantly agreed and we roused ourselves, got dressed in our puffies, and started breakfast boiling. With oatmeal and coffee in our bellies I pared down the clothing layers a bit and we fired up the headlamps and were ready to roll by 1:30 am just minutes after the guided group departed. We headed out a few hundred yards behind the lights of the group and soon found the bootpack heading up the glacier. I still don’t know what happened but within a hundred yards or so we managed to get off route and although we were following an old bootpack it quickly dead-ended at a large crevasse – trying to end-around we then ran into a 2nd crevasse that T’eed into the first. By this time we had lost contact with the guided group and it was time to head back downhill and try to find the real bootpack.
43: As we backtracked we saw the headlights of another group that had come up from Camp Muir. They must have really started early! They were heading up the glacier maybe 50 yards closer to Cathedral Rocks than the track we were currently on so we broke right to meet up with them. As we made our way over we came upon a bamboo wand with a small red flag of reflective tape that had broken down right where we had gone off course. We were now back on the tracks of the group we were originally following and headed up the mountain followed by the Muir group. | In just a short while we found the first ladder crossing over a fairly major crevasse. The guide services have carried lengths of aluminum ladders and 2x6’s up the mountain to create bridges across crevasses that would require too lengthy a detour from the main route. These ladders are bound down to the glacier by ropes and pickets and you literally trust your life to their being secure. In the dark all that was visible was what was illuminated by the beam of your headlamp, which was probably a good thing since all your focus remained on the ladder and planks rather than the unseen void below. After two more ladder crossings (the last being very wobbly) and more than a few step across’ we came to the moat at the edge of Disappointment Cleaver. Here there was a short length of fixed rope that lead up a snow ramp around a large block of ice and onto an ice bridge that sounded and looked way to thin for comfort. Once off the ice bridge we were on the cleaver, climbing the relatively steep talus and scree in the dark. Climbing Disappointment Cleaver seemed to take forever. I’m sure that we didn’t take the “best” route to gain the ridgeline but we didn’t run into any trouble either. There were so many wands of different age and marker style stuck in the rock going so many different directions that it became apparent that any route that got you there was the right route. After climbing the steep nose of the cleaver the grade lessened as we made our way up the ridge, very much looking forward to the easier footing of the upper glaciers. We had been climbing the cleaver for about 2 hours, almost 4 hours after leaving our tentsite, when 4 headlamps appeared above us coming down the ridge. We couldn’t believe that these guys could possibly have made the summit and come down already. As they passed us we found that one of the guides had turned around at the top of the cleaver due to some issues with fatigue and cold hands of one or more of the clients – the guide also let us | 1:30 AM, Saddled up and ready to roll.
44: know that we had about 2-300’ of vertical left on rock before we topped out on the cleaver. We had actually been gaining ground on this part of the guided group that “lost us” on the Ingraham. The rest of the cleaver was event free, and it didn’t take long before we were on snow and crossed from the southern side of the ridgeline to the north. Once we could see to our north it became obvious that we had not been gaining on the rest of the guided group. We could see headlamps at the far end of the traverse from the top of the cleaver to the far shoulder of the Emmons glacier. From where we stood those lamps looked a long way off. The traverse was probably the easiest part of the climb, almost flat and relatively easy going with only a few detours around small crevasses (they seem small now, but almost all bigger than that first crossing way back on the Cowlitz yesterday afternoon), but it was probably a half mile of travel without getting any closer to the summit. At the shoulder of the Emmons the bootpack came to an immense crevasse/ice cave and a 50+ degree slope that clearly ran wet during the daylight hours. This water ice had the potential to be much harder and more difficult to climb than glacier ice of the same slope. There was a fixed rope here that made me more anxious since somebody obviously thought it was necessary. In retrospect, the slope was quite simple, the ice was soft and other than a change in ice-ax technique from cane to high dagger and a short section of front pointing there were no issues. The fixed line was more of a distraction than anything else. The difference in fitness between Eric and I started to become apparent here. While I was very comfortable and my level of exertion was keeping me warm, Eric was starting to chill. He was just not working hard enough on the flat traverse and during the stop and go of the steeper slopes to keep up his body temperature up in the sub-freezing darkness. | From this point to the summit his fitness was also obvious in setting the pace up the long grinds traversing upward at about 20 degrees with occasional switchbacks at slightly steeper grades. Altitude, boots, and 30lbs on my back were having their effect. Like on the Grand, absolutely no altitude illness – not even a headache – but just a gradually decreasing level of performance as we gained elevation. Above the shoulder of Emmons the bootpack made its way generally southward and upward at a steady grade. Dawn found us at a switchback around a large crevasse that presented a great opportunity for a quick break and some photo’s. The sun was coming up red through the smoky undercast and it was just so awesome to see the world below us lighting up a little at a time. The crevasse we were bypassing formed a perfect tunnel guiding your eye to Mt. Adams as it experienced its first glimpse of the sun. Alpenglow is simply magical – the softness and warmth of the indirect sunlight is in such stark contrast to the sharpness of the features it reveals on the mountains – and to be in high places watching that golden light slowly flood the earth is the rare privilege reserved for those of us that climb. While I had experienced some measure of this in the Adirondaks and White Mountains, it wasn’t until I climbed Mt. Whitney in 1990 that I really saw the full splendor of this phenomenon. To pause here, soaking in this beauty with Eric, knowing that he appreciates it every bit as much as I do, is about as perfect a moment as I could ask for. (After writing this I came across the quote from John Muir - There's a reason he was a writer and I'm an engineer... In any event, I hope my reverence for that special time of day comes through.)
45: Long, blue, spiky-edged shadows crept out across the snow-fields, while a rosy glow, at first scarce discernible, gradually deepened and suffused every mountain-top, flushing the glaciers and the harsh crags above them. This was the alpenglow, to me the most impressive of all the terrestrial manifestations of God. At the touch of this divine light, the mountains seemed to kindle to a rapt, religious consciousness, and stood hushed like devout worshippers waiting to be blessed. --John Muir
46: Without that experience I think I probably would have done an about face without summiting. Finally the last grade to the crater rim came into view. It was just a few degrees steeper than we had been going up and it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. On more than one occasion after stopping to catch my breath, as I tried to get moving again I had to rock back and take a 2nd attempt to make that first step. At about 7:45am, 6 hours and 15 minutes after leaving our tents we crested the crater rim and made our way into the summit crater of Mount Rainier. I’m not sure whether the first thump hitting the ground was me or my pack but I was spent! | The rest of the way to the summit was something of a blur for me. Just a grind up a near constant grade punctuated by the occasional switchback. The climb was mostly bootpack with only one snowbridge crossing that evoked any real concern. On two occasions I was certain that we had just bypassed the bergschrund and that the crater rim must be just above – wrong! I was so lucky to have had the experience of running marathons before this climb – I was suffering, but I knew that I had not crossed that line where I was not going to recover quickly once we stopped at the summit. | Little Tahoma pre-sunrise from above 13000’ on the traverse back to the South after gaining the shoulder of the Emmons Glacier | Little Tahoma below us and Penitentes in the dawn light on the upper slopes of the Ingraham Glacier
47: The guided group that left before us had had just enough time to cross the crater, reach the true summit and return so they were probably 40-45 minutes ahead of us. We had done well to keep up the pace we set but we were not done yet. Leaving our packs behind we set off across the crater to the northwest rim and the true summit. We probably only had to climb 100’ or so to get to the summit but it was all I could do – at one point I stopped and told Eric I couldn’t do it. Being a good taskmaster and having learned from the best about showing no sympathy - I recall a hike up another volcanic rim at Crater Lake when he was about 4 – Eric told me to get moving. | With those encouraging words I sucked it up and climbed on. We passed by steaming vents and without thinking wondered aloud who put a geocache box up here. In no time we were off the scree and back on snow again, this time on the summit of Mt. Rainier at 14,410’, a new altitude record for Eric and only my 2nd time above 14K on foot. It was 8:10am, 6 hours and 40 minutes from tent to summit, including the time spent off route. | Mt. Adams from the summit of Rainier | Mt. Saint Helens. In 1980 the summit was located over 3000’ above the floor of the crater and over 1300’ above the current summit.
48: Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity...” -- John Muir
49: Panorama of the Main Summit Crater from the Summit of Mount Rainer, 14,410’
50: We spent about 15 minutes on the summit; it was a perfect morning, no wind, moderate temperatures, pristine bluebird skies, and great visibility above the smoke layer. We had the summit and the crater all to ourselves, we had put a lot of distance between us and the next group behind us, what a feeling! All the satisfaction we had summiting the Grand a few days ago was back and even amplified. This was all new territory for us, glacier travel, crevasses, alpine starts with extended periods of climbing by headlamp, crampons on rock, melting snow for water... We had managed the technical and logistical challenges of this climb, relying only on our own experience and craft. To say I was proud of Eric is an understatement, in almost every way he has surpassed me in his wilderness skills and physical abilities. I am just happy think I had some part in his getting to this level. In actuality we were not done yet. To quote Ed Viesturs “getting to the top is optional, getting back down is mandatory”. We had a lot of down to do before the day was over! After a 15 minute recovery, rehydrate, and refuel session back in the crater it was time to head down. As we were leaving the crater we overheard one member of a team that had just arrived ask their guide "where do we register?" That's when it hit us - that was no geocache we saw under the rock earlier, it was the summit register! Sorry, but there was no way I was walking back across the crater to register - we had our summit photos and that would just have to do. One thing I found out on the Grand is that my quads do not care for downhills while carrying a load. Trying not to brake while still maintaining control and keeping your center of gravity over your feet takes strength that is not well developed by running. Even so we made quick work of the descent to the top of the cleaver. What had taken 3 hours to cover on the way up took only an hour and a half on the way down. With the sun well up and another bluebird day we were treated to some spectacular views and it was amazing to see how many features we missed climbing up in the dark. | Two happy climbers on the summit of Mt. Rainier. We were only the 2nd group to summit that morning and the next group was over hour behind us – so unfortunately no photo of us together.
51: Five Pacific Volcanoes – Rainier, Adams (left), Hood (center), Jefferson (barely visible on horizon just right of Hood), and Saint Helens (right) | You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place ? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know. -- Rene Daumal
52: Getting down the Cleaver was another fun talus and scree descent, not my idea of a good time in crampons, but it was over quickly and the route finding went smoothly in the daylight. After another sketchy crossing of the ice bridge over the moat getting off the cleaver and onto the Ingraham Glacier it was time for our 2nd set of ladder crossing of the day – this time in the daylight. Seeing the depth of these crevasses as we crossed was a definite adrenaline rush. It was all I could do to keep composure putting one foot in front of the other, every instinct said get off that ladder! By the time we had re-crossed the third ladder we were getting the hang of it and with the major crevasses behind us it was just a short descent down the glacier to our tent site at 11:45am. We had covered the same route that had taken us over 6 hours to ascend in just 3 hours. | While we were on the summit another group arrived in the crater and began to make their way across the crater floor to the true summit. | This crevasse/ice cave was strikingly beautiful in the sunlight, an amazing blue color and full of hanging icicles. In the dark it was pretty scary and a fixed rope up the water ice was a welcome aid.
53: Getting to the top is optional, coming back down is mandatory -Ed Viesturs
54: While I was repacking my pack with the gear and clothing we had left at the site for the ascent Eric quickly took care of getting the tent down and packed away in his pack. Given how sunny and warm the air was I was very happy with how well the parachute style anchors had held out. They were in solid and had to be dug out and we had none of the melt out that is common with aluminum snow stakes. We took a few more minutes to rehydrate and eat a couple of snacks and a Snickers Bar then reluctantly saddled up again for the last leg of the journey – the descent to Paradise. With no significant crevasses in front of us we decided to unrope for the remainder of the trip down Ingraham and the crossing of the Cowlitz. This made travel easier, especially on the descent of Cathedral Gap where we no longer had to worry about rope drag and causing debris fall from the rope catching on the loose rock. By 1:30 we made Camp Muir, took a quick breather, took of the crampons, and set off down the snowfield. The snow was too deeply cupped and too rough to glissade but it was possible to make short boot ski runs and we made excellent time down the snowfield. Eric was flat out flying down the hill and I felt like I was making pretty good time myself. When we made it down to the level of Pebble Creek and the end of the snowfield it became obvious where the trail that we had missed on the way up had been set. We had made our way too far up the creek before crossing directly onto the snow instead of making the ford near the bench and onto the trail alongside a morainal rock outcropping. Next time we’ll know better... By this time my legs were pretty well shot. The boot skiing had been quick but tiring. I was also feeling the effects of blisters and we stopped to change out of our mountaineering boots for these last couple of trail miles. | Both of my heels were totally torn up and both shins were blistered from my boot tops. I knew my heels were bad but I had no idea about my shins before we stopped. Slipping into hikers felt good, there wasn’t much repair I could do until we stopped for the day and at this point all I wanted was down, so off we went one more time. The next 2 miles were some of the longest I have ever experienced. The hard packed earth and asphalt surface was just totally jarring to walk over after the time we had spent on snow and there was absolutely no shock absorption left in my legs. Even the beauty of Rainier in the afternoon light wasn’t enough to keep my mind off the hurt. Walking into the parking lot just before 4:30 pm was a truly happy moment. After a bathroom stop (neither of us used the blue bags), quick face wash, turn in the check-out card at the registration station, throw the gear in the truck and we’re on our way to Gail’s house in White Salmon. It’s a bitter-sweet feeling. The big goal of the trip is behind us and there is a feeling that even though we still have another five or six days left together the adventure is coming to a close. We have had an amazing time, seen and touched some of the most beautiful country I have ever been in, and surmounted a very tough physical challenge summiting two peaks with 7,000 and 9,000 vertical feet of climbing in just 5 calendar days. We worked well together and we have gained invaluable experience for future climbs on even higher and more challenging peaks. I am more than satisfied.