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Kate's 2004 Adventure on Rainier

From Kate's journal with pictures:

Email, 16 August:


Hi all

I'm on the run again, er I mean on the road again. a quick note here to bring you up

to date.


I awoke at 3:30 am this morning to catch my plane.  I had packed, unpacked, and repacked all weekend trying to fit ice axe, crampons, trekking poles, backpack, rig, helmet, weight belt, computer and clothes into two checked bags that TSA wouldn't go ballistic on.  Turns out my only problem was that one of my bags (the big momma Dakine one) was overweight. Like 25 pounds overweight.  Jeeze. There was no way I was going to be able to get the weight switched around.  I asked the agent if there was any way I could get around the extra weight without paying. She said no way, no how.


 So, I did what seemed best.  I took out my rig and weight belt (this was at the Alaska Air Counter). I put my rig on (I already had a large carry on), put the weight belt around my middle, had, the nice desk agent re weight the bag.  Just right. Then I asked her if I could see the bag again. I then carefully REPACKED my rig and weight belt into the same suitcase.  We exchanged smiles, she handed me my boarding pass, and I left.  Mensa isn't looking for recruitees at the Alaska desk, I'll tell you that.


Nice flight to Seattle, but en route we passed an ominouse dark thunderhead reaching almost 20,000 feet in the air. That would be where Rainier is. Gulp.


Got my car, headed out.  One VERY civilized thing about the Pacific Northwest is the drive through Espresso shops. Like every mile. Like on both sides of the road so you don't have to make pesky u turns. Very nice.  I guess with the depressing amount of rain they get here it's mandatory to have LOTS of caffeine.


En route to Ashford, where Rainier Base Camp is located, I saw a sign pointing left that said KAPOWSIN.  A Dropzone.  Hard left, and then look for signs.  No signs.  Finally broke down and asked.  A U turn later (remember, no journey is complete without a U turn), and I'm off to the DZ. I walk up to the hangar to find Andy Farrington relinging a tandem canopy. Mondays at a small DZ. We shoot the shit for a few and I continue on my way.


As I'm driving out from the DZ I catch a quick view of a XXXXXXX HUGE MOUNTAIN out the left. HOLY SHIT. I nearly drive off the road. This can't be Rainier, it's WAY too big. I straighten the car, and take a quick look again. It's still there. Even bigger. No good can come of this. And it's covered in Ice.  In August. Gulp.  All of a sudden the double shot cappuccino in my stomach isn't sitting so well.   Okay, No time to worry about mountains, let's get to base camp.  I wind my way through the mountains. My favorite sign was the one that said "watch out for pedestrians, bicycles, and elk".  Good thing that they have their priorities straight.


I get to Base Camp, home of Whittaker Bunk House, Raininer Mountain Guides, and Summit Haus (an outfitter). I check in to my modest room and go register for the climb. Pretty simple. I show up at 7:45 tomorrow morning for the mandatory day of schooling before the climb. I then go to the outfitters to see if there was anything that I absolutely couldn't live without. $154 later I walked over to the rental department.  I hadn't purchased boots prior to the climb because I wasn't sure of the fit of the double plastic boots over my hardware infused ankles. It turned out to be a good decision because we spent about an hour and multiple combinations of socks and boots before I found something that I liked. They have a great deal--100% of your rental can be applied to purchase through the Summit Haus. Try before you buy.  I check and double check my equipment list and packing list for tomorrow. I think I'm ready.


Now I'm off to find contact. No phones in the rooms, no cell phone coverage here, although one of the guides said that if you stood right in the center of the busy road and pointed the phone just the right way you might get a bar or two... not for me. Ironically high speed internet access is available in the cafe, so that is why you are getting your updates.  I get my email. 74 messages--WTF? Oh, I released JFTC on Friday. I guess that wasn't a great idea before running off to the mountains...  I increase the amount of storage on my account, since I will not be able to download until the weekend at earliest, and start plowing through the messages.


A set of hands cover my eyes. It must be Amy. Amy and Gary Haass are joining me on this adventure, although I'm not sure when they are arriving. I turn and to my surprise it is Micki Bish!!! She is working here, at the base camp, and will be joining our climb on Wednesday. She was going through the reservations and saw my name and decided to join me, what a treat. To add to the Perris group Uli is here as well, although I don't think he is climbing. Sheesh, you cant avoid jumpers ANYWHERE.


So, that is where I am right now, at Base Camp in Ashford Washington preparing to have the adventure of my life, or one of them at any rate, with friends. doesn't get much better than that :-)


I'll try and update you tomorrow post school, and pre climb, but if you don't hear from me then, it will be the weekend before I'm on line again. The cell phone doesn't work here so it will most likely be Friday for that as well. Send good thoughts for blue skies (it's raining now) and fair winds to help me up and back down this great big mother of a mountain.


blue skies

Journal entries—consolidated for better reading:


The email was written too early, the day had hardly began. After I logged off I met Micki’s boss, Win Whittaker. Win (Winston? Winifred?)  is the son of Lou Whittaker,  brother of  Jim.  Both famous mountaineers. Just by looking at the posters on the wall of my simple room in Whittaker’s bunkhouse I can see that Lou led the China/Everest ’84 team on the first successful American ascent of Mount Everest’s North Wall. Another poster proclaims that Lou led the 1989 American Kangchem Kimga Expedition. This mountain, the third highest in the world at 28.146 feet, had never been climbed before by an American team. A third poster states “Climb for Clean Air” Lou Whittaker, July 2004 (with posters from multiple other Clean Air ascents scattered about). He’s good. He’s famous. He’s current.   And his son will be teaching my climbing school tomorrow. Not too shabby.


Back to the present, and Micki loans me her annual passport to Mt. Rainier National Park (worth $10 to me in entrance fees). It’s about 4:00 pm and I don’t expect the Haass’ for another hour or so. It’s time to explore.  I head up highway 706 past Longmire and into the park.  The road twists and turns, ever climbing. Another visual of the Mountain. Much closer. Still larger than life. Still scary. I stop at regular view spots, admiring both mountain and valley beneath. Braided glacier fed streams work their milky way down. It’s warm, and while it’s not raining the mists and fog create almost 100% humidity in this northern rainforest, fogging both my sunglasses and car windows. Huge strings of moss drape down from the firs and pines—an incongruous site by the glaciers.  The smell is wonderful. Pine and moss and wet and crisp altitude all mixed together. I feel the batteries of my soul recharging at every stop I make.


I work my way up to Paradise, the top of the road and the place we’ll start our adventures tomorrow morning.  I’m glad I’ve come. The mountain seems much more…well, much more accessible from the closer view. I can see glaciers, blue-green ice and ridges but this I am prepared for, not the monolith that jumped at me from the fertile Washington plain this morning— it seems like light years ago.  I’ve seen tall mountains from low altitudes before. Whitney can be viewed from Lone Pine, over 12,000 feet below the peak, but Whitney is lost among the jagged Sawteeth of the Sierras. It’s hard to pick it out among the lesser mountains that surround it. 


Rainier suffers from no sibling rivalry. Rainier is a volcano, a big one, and an active one at that. The newsletter given out at the park entrance warns visitors that if “you are near water and notice a rapid rise in water level,  feel a prolonged shaking of the ground, and/or hear a roaring sound from upvalley that is often described as the sound made by a fast-moving freight train—move quickly to higher ground! A location 160 feet or more above river level should be safe.” Does this fall under the category of “duh”?


I reach Paradise, fully planning to stop and enjoy a late afternoon frosty beverage at the lodge. Obviously about 200 other human beings had similar thoughts, and the sight of the full parking lot kept me driving. Time enough later for drinks and humanity, today I’m recharging. I continue up, past Paradise, and down again on the one way loop road. Exiting the road I bear left, and continue down the valley.  The views are unending, with both Rainier and valleys disappearing and emerging from shifting clouds and fogs.  I stop at a roadside pull out.  Box Canyon of the Howitz.  I walk the interpretive trail and admire both the glacial markings and the deep (180 feet) gorge created by the stream I follow.  Back on the road I drive to the next pull out, the Grove of the Patriarchs.  Like the Box Canyon, the walk back was just far enough (about 1 mile) to exclude 90% of homo sapiens on the road.  Those who bothered to walk were, for the most part, appreciative. “Mom, do we HAVE to see more stupid trees???”  The walk ended in a truly impressive Douglas Fir grove. The trees were estimated to be in excess of 1,000 years old and some had diameters of 40 feet or more and were over 100 feet high. A commune with the ancients indeed.  


Back on the road and I fight to avoid a steady stream of suicidal ground squirrels intent on attacking my car. All but one failed in his mission. I hope the one finds what he was looking for in squirrel Valhalla. I notice that nothing seems familiar on the road, even though I’ve been driving for a while. Hmmm. I pull out the newsletter given at the entrance. No map. Hmmmm. I look for the mountain, ever present on my approach. Missing. Hmmm.  Okay. What’s one more U-turn among friends? Back through the gauntlet of suicidal squirrels,   I was better prepared this time, but still winced as I passed the corpse of the one I had hit earlier. What could possibly be causing these wee creatures to run out right in front of cars? I noticed the same thing happening to a car in front of me. They wait on the side of the road, stand on hind legs as the vehicle approaches, then at the last second make a mad-cap dash for the other side of the road. Rodent Russian Roulette?


Back towards Paradise and I see where my I turned awry. A right instead of a left would have taken me back to Ashford, but the errant left brought me the Grove of the Patriarchs and the Box Canyon. A well timed turn indeed and I don’t regret it one bit.  Well, my stomach regrets it a bit as it is now well past 7:00 pm and I’m hungry. Back to the BaseCamp to find Amy, Gary, Uli and  Micki hanging out with Micki (who works until 9:00). They’ve eaten, but I bribe them with promises of beer if they watch me eat.  A fine Pale Ale (Copper Chinook) and a massive burger later and I’m ready for bath, bed and adventures on the morrow.


Today was school day.  The plan was to meet at 7:45 pm and all were there early, nursing their coffees. The mountain goats-in-training were split into two groups. Amy, Gary and I were assigned to Group A to be led by Win (short, I discovered for Winslow, as in Louis Winslow Whittaker Jr) and Mark Smiley.  Our group consisted of 11 trainees, 9 of whom would climb the mountain the following day (with the Haass’ and I) and two who would return on a later day.  We were given instructions to lighten our packs to bare minimums for a day hike and eagerly complied.  Lightly laden we took the 45 minute ride, in a van this time, to Paradise.  Once there we hiked for just over an hour with about a 1,100 foot elevation gain to some extensive snowfields. Once there we dropped our packs, rehydrated, and listened to a brief overview of the skills that would be needed to keep both ourselves and our team mates alive on the mountain.  First the parts of the ice axe were discussed.  The pick, the adze, the spike, and of course the opening in the adze—also known as the adze-hole (everyone has one). Using the ice axe we learned self arrest and team arrest, then we practiced self arrest without ice axe.  We learned to rest step and kick step and the fine art of pressure breathing. Then we donned our crampons and did all the above again, but with more lethally pointy things strapped to our body. Only one member of our party managed to injure himself on his own equipment today and I’m proud to say that it wasn’t me.  Lastly, we roped together, in teams of 5 and 6, and practiced walking at the same pace (important when one is attached to other human beings by a rope).  All the above took about 4 hours, with a few breaks, and a lot of schlepping up and down ice fields and across rock falls.


Back at the Basecamp I see Ed Viersters, also known the guy featured in many Everest documentaries and a multiple climber of Everest and other major peaks, with him were George Dunn, Lou Whittaker, and several other luminaries of the climbing community. I ask my guide what they are doing.  There is a “high roller” private trip scheduled to climb Rainier the same time as us.   The group has a 5-3 guide to client ratio. One of the clients is the CEO of REI.  Think of 3 people doing 8-way with Airspeed.  That would be an interesting trip indeed. They didn’t linger with us common folk though. I know you can hire an Airspeed member for $400-500 a day to coach you in skydiving. Something tells me that the buy in rate for this climb was somewhat higher.


I’m not sure if we’ll be teamed with the same groups again tomorrow, but the group we had today was good. Mostly were older business men with the exception of Yoshima (a younger Japanese business man who had never gone hiking before) and us.  I noted two Phils, one heavyset and one with a white nose (zinc oxide), a Bob (tall) a Dave (white hair) a Jamey (bad shoulder), a Mike (traveled with Jamey and two others who obviously didn’t make much of an impression on me.  White nose Phil did because he gave me a beer when we got back today.  I could feel my shoulder when doing left side self arrests with the ice axe but I think no lasting damage was done.  My feet are a bit sore on the bottoms—not used to the double plastic boots—and I’m going to start out tomorrows climb in my running shoes—and option that has been offered.  I figure that 5-6 hours I don’t have to be in those boots is 5-6 hours my feet can relax a bit and recover. .  I’ve also returned to the rental shop and tried on some different boots in hope of damaging a different part of my feet.


Back to shower, hang out my wet clothes to dry, and pack up for tomorrow’s big adventures. With sleeping bag, 2 liters of water, a stupid amount of food (is the deli turkey and cheese sandwich really necessary? Will think on that. Maybe eat half for breakfast), ice axe, crampons, trekking poles, 5 sets of tops, ranging from long underwear to thick down jacket, 3 pais of bottoms ranging from long underwear to goretex outer, three pairs of hand coverings, head lamp, cup. Spoon, extra socks and extra shoes the pack is suddenly MUCH larger than it was before.  I hoist it up.  Holey mackerel. This is one heavy pack. Of course it has the heavy boots strapped on to it, and two full liters of water in it. And we’ll be eating heavy food first, but still. Holey mackerel.


Tomorrow’s goal is to get to Camp Muir, a stone building up at about (I think) the 10,000 foot level. We’ve been told it will take about 5 hours and we will not need the ice axe or crampons for this part. Just trekking poles and, at least for the first half, trail runners. Once we get to camp we make beds and prepare for the midnight launch.  Dry out clothing, divvy up food for the summit climb.  Then we sleep. At 5:00 pm. In the middle of the day. Full of nerves.  Earplugs are recommended because of the close quarters and snoring and I have them.  About midnight we’ll be woken to prepare our packs  (sleeping bags, spare food and trekking poles are to be left at the camp), put on boots, crampons , long underwear and goretex layers with gaiters and rope into our team. We will be roped into teams of 4 for the next 14 hours.  Non stop.  Gotta urinate? Pee in the line.  Gotta cough or sneeze—it’s in the line.  The roping is a safety issue. We will be crossing live glaciers, glaciers have crevasses. The crevasses on Rainier can be 150-170 feet deep.  We do NOT want to fall into one. If we do, then we all yell “FALLING” and hit the ground, ice axe in, butt in the air, feet digging in.  WE are the lifeline to the person in the crevasse. We alone. It’s a team.  I hope I get teamed with smart people. The client to guide ratio is 3:1, not too bad.


I don’t know much more about the summit climb other than much of it is done in the dark (hence the head lamps), it can get really cold (hence the stupid amount of clothing and down parkas we’re bringing) and that at least 5 people have died this year alone on this mountain. All with gear very similar to that we are carrying tomorrow. The good news is that about 5 people die each year. I figure that they’ve already made quota.  The summit day is an up and over. After summit and the obligatory self congratulatory shots, we head home. Down. Down to Camp Muir to pick up the items left behind, and then again with a stupidly heavy pack on weak and exhausted legs down to Paradise where the van awaits.   Everyone says the down climb is the worse, and I believe that from my experiences in the Sierras.  My feet hurt today on the down and I’m toying with some different sock combinations that might help. I also might just duct tape them to keep them from blistering further. Honest. It’s an approved method. We’ll see.


So, where am I now:  Feet sore, hot spots only on balls of toes.  Shoulder sore (one hard left self arrest), face slightly burnt (in spite of copious smearing of sunscreen AND wearing a hat.  But—my brain is happy and I am content.  The climb will happen, and it will happen well. The weather gods are smiling in our favor—the mountain was exposed almost all the day, of course that allowed the high altitude beams to bear down on us and I spent much of the day soaked in sweat.


It’s 9:30 pm right now. I have to be ready to go at 8:00 am and I need to buy another set of sock liners first.  Oh, and drink a triple shot espresso since it will be my last real coffee for a few days. I do have my secret weapon with me, coffee covered espresso beans and I plan to use them as needed. I also have some instant Miso Soup and some tea (both with and without caffeine) so I can enjoy warm beverages both tonight at Camp Muir and the following morning (if midnight can be called morning).


I think I’ve packed well. I’ve followed their clothing guide, using my existing clothes where possible and purchasing new products where not. I had always wanted to own an ice axe and crampons anyway. How cool is that??? The backpack is stupid heavy though. This is more then I’m used to carrying, certainly more than on my solo training climb. Did I mention that I didn’t train for this mountain? I am suddenly regretting my cavalier attitude towards training as I hear stories of my teammates spending hours on stairmasters with full packs. Oh well, it’s only 5 hours to Camp Muir,  I can do anything for 5 hours, right? I’ll worry about the summit after that.


I’m off to bed and restless sleep. Last night I woke up arguing with my alarm clock (in my sleep) and managed to completely change both the time and the alarm from what it had been set at. I have no phone in the room, my cell phone is in the car, and I don’t know where my watch is. I finally booted up my laptop to get the time, reset the clock and alarm time, and went back to my angst filled dreams—no doubt of being late.


That’s all for now, It’s time for me to sleep, hopefully with less dreams of ice falls, avalanches, and dangling ropes.


Morning of the 18th,. We meet at 8:00 am to get placed into groups. There are 3 climbing groups for this trip. I am assigned to Climbing Group A, led by Brent Okita, aided by Kris and Robert. This will be Brent’s 274th ascent of Rainier and he has 15 ascents of Denali and at least one successful summit of Everest. Another guide shouted to Brent “Tell them about the time you bivyed at 26,000 feet on Everest”. Brent blushed and declined to share the story. I’m not sure if it was bullshit, the equivalent of yelling to an AFF instructor (in front of his students) or if there is a true tale to be found there. When I get the chance I’ll google his name and see what, if any, stories are in print about Brent. Brent is intriguing. He is Asian, blonde, lean as a rail and cut, in short—he’s a hottie. He instantly installs confidence in me and he is obviously respected by the other guides, who defer to him.


The Haass family are in Climbing Groub B, led by John of the deep voice (not sure of his assistants).  We show up with our backpacks, laden with all required and recommended climbing equipment.   My backpack is heavy. Stupid heavy. I show it to Brent who lifts it and says that it isn’t that heavy. So much for whining.  I’ve got blisters from the school day boots on the soles of my feet. I go into the rental shop and try on two different pairs of boots. Double Plastic Boots aren’t supposed to need to be broken in. Right. I decide on a combination of newer Koflach Degre boots and lots of duct tape. Tape to be applied directly to the soles of my feet underneath the socks.


We take the shuttle back up to Paradise and start walking.  It’s hard work with the full packs and we start sweating right away.  It’s 4.1 miles to Camp Muir, our destination for the night, and with 4 stops (15 minutes each) the total climb time is to be 5 hours.  We are given very specific water drinking guidelines—1/2 liter per each of the four stops en route to Camp Muir will ration our bottles perfectly. We start on maintained trails, graduate to snowfields, but the crampons stay stowed. Steady hiking but we get to chat with our team mates. On the way up we pass two groups descending from the previous day’s ascent. The first group had not summited. They didn’t look happy. The guide was carrying two packs and several of the clients were limping. The second group had summited. They didn’t look happy either. In fact they looked worse that the first group. What’s up with that?


Once we get to Muir, at about 3:00 pm, we have a meeting. We are assigned to rope teams within our climbing groups, as far as I can tell based on our performance during the days hike. I am in Climbing Group A, rope team 1 led by Brent.  The rope team goes, in order, Brent, Dave, Phil and me. I am the anchorperson. I think that means that if I fall into a crevasse they can cut the rope. I saw the movie. I had eaten breakfast with Dave and Phil earlier. Phil was white nosed Phil, not fat Phil (who was in Climbing group B with the Haass’). They were both from the Baltimore area. Phil was 60 and tomorrow, summit day, was to be Dave’s 55th birthday. They were strong hikers, funny, and were carrying alcohol. My kind of hikers.


Camp Muir is a combination of stone and wood huts dating from the 1920’s located on a ridge below the Ingram Glacier, midway to the summit.   Most climbers stay there, either in the hut assigned to group climbers (us) or in the “first come first served” communal hut (them).   Some choose to pitch tents in the snowfield just past the huts. Our job upon arriving was to prepare our backpacks for the morrow.  We would take ice axe, avalanche beacons, wear crampons, take all warm and super warm clothing and food, but leave sleeping bag, toiletries, general hiking equipment and trekking poles. This almost halved the weight of the packs.  We were assigned helmets that we affixed our headlamps to, harnesses, and carabiners as well.  Hot water was served for the freeze dried meal of your choice. We needed to bring all our own food, I chose cup-o-soups and instant miso soup for the hot meals and an assortment of gels, gus, nuts, and dried fruit (with of course the mandatory chocolate covered coffee beans) for the hike. We were in bed by 6:00 for a restless night, stacked 5 across on wooden platforms.


At 11:55 Brent came in to wake us up and get us ready. More hot water for the breakfast (for me, more cup-o-noodles and tea) and we were dressed and ready to hike by 1:00 am.  The night was warm, above freezing I think, and we were treated to a display of the Perseid meteor shower under a moonless sky as we prepared. As our rope team lined up we sang Happy Birthday to Dave, I followed that with a “Him”. Brent stared at me and said “golly gee, that Kate is certainly a different kind of lady isn’t she?”  I started out wearing a long john top and fleece pants, with boots, gaitors, baklava under the helmet to cover my ears and lightweight gloves.  The hike was illuminated by headlamps and we went slowly, first through an ice field, then through what was known as the Ingram Ice Fall.  I later found out that the worst climbing accident in North American history happened at that ice fall in 1977.  An ice fall (from the glaciers above) happened as roped teams, similar to ours, crossed and took out several teams who fell to their collective deaths. Phil, from my rope team, fell in the middle of the ice fall, effectively halting our rope team in the midst of the most dangerous part of the climb. Brent was yelling at him—the only time during the climb he ever raised his voice—saying “Phil, listen to me, you need to get up and move RIGHT NOW!! It wasn’t until after our return that I understood the grave position we were in. Ignorance is bliss. 


We took 3 breaks as we trudged towards the summit. As on the hike to Camp Muir, we were given specific water rationing guidelines so that we drink equal amounts on each of our stops, including the summit break.  It is bitter cold, sub freezing in the 10 knot breeze, but we are soaked in sweat from the climb.  As we stop at each break the drill is to drop the packs straps side up in the snow and immediately grab our thick down parkas and put them on over the soaked shirts. We had stashed a water bottle in one of the parka packets—so it wouldn’t freeze, and some easy to eat food in another pocket. This meant that as soon as the parka was on we were ready to rest, eat and rehydrate efficiently without further hunting in the pack.


 80% of the climb was on ice (glacier) or snow, the rest on rock.  The combination of rocks and crampons suck. This was by far the worst part for me of the climb.  We could climb the snow almost straight up, but had to traverse on the scree, rock and harder ice.  As we climbed we steadily lost people due to altitude, non training, or injury. We started with probably around 30 climbers at BaseCamp, and were 25 by Camp Muir (heavy Phil and another couple turned around less than two hours from the parking lot), and several more decided not to continue from the camp. One of the people who stayed at Camp Muir was C.E. who had summated Mt. Rainier in 1977 and was returning with his son-in-law. Another climber, Renee from Arizona, had severe foot damage from the walk up and chose not to continue. One lone climber, Yoshima, made it all the way to Disappointment Cleaver, 75% of the way to the summit.  He was deemed too weak to continue and was “bagged” by the guides—placed in a warm sleeping bag, given instructions not to move (he was on a inclined glacier) and left for our return..  Disappointment Cleaver, a stark pinnacle of rock that obscured the summit earned its name on the first attempt by this route. After climbing the arduous rock that they thought would lead to the summit, they saw the true summit several thousand feet higher. The Cleaver was named and that ascent was halted. It is funny how many times the word “disappointment” comes up in routes on different mountains for that very same reason.


As we approached the summit our rope team was leading, and was climbing strongly.  Phil had another nasty fall on the way up, but performed a self arrest and recovered. No problems there. We hiked across glaciers and traversed around awesomely deep crevasses and stared into dark blue icicle filled ice caves. Several false summits teased us and I stopped wondering “was this the one?”  There were several independent climbers (all teams were roped and wearing helmets) on the route, but we steadily overtook every other group lead by the untiring Brent. Over another rocky ridge and suddenly I was staring down into the huge snow filled crater that makes up the summit of Mt. Rainier. We had ran out of up. 


Just before 7:00 am, as the sun was coming over the ridge we walked down into the crater, still roped and dropped our packs. Brent said that the “true” summit was on the other side of the glacier, ½ mile away, and about 300 feet higher. The guides chose who was allowed to continue on, but our entire rope team were told that we were expected to continue. Phil declined the invitation, but Dave and I accepted. We started the long walk  off the rope for the first time of the day, forgoing our hour rest on the crater floor in lieu of the chance for further glory  We made the true summit, took the obligatory hero shots while admiring the views of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood, and started back. On the way back I met up with Gary and Amy who had also been invited to make the trek to the 2nd summit and were signing in on the registry.


Back to the group and gear up for the long LONG return home. We walked down to Camp Muir, doing in just over 2 hours what had taken over 6 hours to climb. The exhaustion of the day was evident as many spills happened, especially on the treacherous rock traverses.  Phil had a spectacular fall that actually required our rope team to put to practice the team arrests we had learned on the previous day. Coming down we saw the beautiful and treacherous glaciers that had been hidden in the starlight on the way up. Some were seemingly bottomless, blue green oases in the ice.  We had to cross several of the glaciers on ice/snow bridges which made for fantastic viewing, but limited lingering.  At one stop, on the Ingram glacier, we watched a member of another rope team fall, and his ice axe and water bottles slid into the crevasse below him. Only his rope (and team mates) saved him from a similar fate. Kris said that the guides make several trips a year to rappel down into the crevasses in search of “crevasse loot” which range from ice axes to sleeping bags and more. Then they practice their ice climbing skills exiting.  This is on their days off.


Down at Muir there was time for another quick bite, repack the bags with the items left behind, and get started on the rest of the down climb. In spite of the seemingly massive amount of food I had brought I had run out shortly before reaching the summit. I had eaten something—a gel, some nuts, fruit—at every break and now was looking at an empty bag.  Whenever someone in the group opened a bag of food and asked “does anyone want..”. I said YES. I wasn’t hungry, but I couldn’t risk lapsing in strength on the return.  This was a major mistake on my part and I was lucky others had food to share (and that I didn’t have to admit my faux pas to the guides). I’ve always overpacked food in my prior outings and in my haste to save weight for this trip I midjudged my needs too closely.


No ropes or crampons below Camp Muir so we were encouraged to “boot ski”, or slide down on boots with the trekking poles to make the descent quicker. Some elected to glissade down while sitting on trash bags using their poles as braking devises. We passed the next day’s climbing group on the way up and I went out of my way to smile at them and encourage them for the next day’s trip. Good energy breeds good energy and that was my gift to them.  We were back at the parking lot by 3:47 pm, a mere 15+ hours after departing the camp early that morning.


The group was elated and the emotions high.   We shared beers, stories and hugs while received our “suitable for framing” summit certificates back at BaseCamp. Gary, Amy and I had a celebratory dinner and all were in bed before 11:00 pm for a well deserved long sleep.


 All and all I can say that this was once of the more rewarding and challenging goals I have undertaken. Mt. Rainier is widely recognized as the most strenuous climb in the lower 48, and is often used as a training ground for Denali and many European climbs. I had come as a training trip for an upcoming Ecuador climbing adventure and I was very pleased with the level of competence the guides offered and would highly recommend RMI to any who were interested in this mountain. In reviewing the equipment list provided by the company I had used virtually every piece of clothing and equipment required or recommended.  Had an emergency happened on the mountain requiring extra time, the rest would have been quickly utilized. They know what they are doing.


Email sent Thursday night, 19 August:


I came, I saw, I kicked ass. My favorite statement (from the guides). "How does a skydiver stay in such good shape?"  I answered it was all the beer I drank.  Summited about 6:58 this morning, went into the crater, and then climbed up to do the "true" summit which was about 400 feet higher than the ridge the route we used brought us to.  About 30 climbed, 20 summited, and 5 did the 'true" summit.  I was the "Anchor man' for my rope team. Not bad since I've never done rope work before. Pretty damn cool. It was hard, but I feel quite good save some small blisters (currently covered by duct tape) on my feet. This is supposedly the most strenuous climb (whatever that means) in the lower 48 and is often used as a training mountain for Denali.  I'm pleased. Amy and Gary Haass summitted as well.  It's all good :-)  Journal to follow 

More later. Beer and food call.



More Journal entries:


The following day, Friday, we checked out from the Bunkhouse and made our way south towards Portland and Skydive Oregon for the celebrated Dice n Dine event hosted by Theresa Baron and Joe Weber. My route went via Mt. St. Helens to catch a view of the devastation left by the massive eruption in 1980 where the mountain lost 1,300 feet of its summit. Dead trees still line the hillsides like so many matchsticks but life is slowly returning to the area.


While driving towards St. Helens I started feeling nauseated and ended up getting violently ill. I wrote it off to a bad breakfast sandwich (who would have though you could go wrong eating at a place by the road whose motto was “we’re the ONLY place in town to eat?”).  I fought nausea all day long but was feeling better as I reached the drop zone. A wonderful 1 ½ hour massage later I headed to my hotel for an early evening.  The next day dawned to yet more blue skies and after a light breakfast we started dirt diving the first in a sequence of intricate sequential dives designed by Dennis Worden. I started feeling poorly after the first dive, but made the second (a repeat) and then felt like I was burning up with fever, despite the relatively cool day. I went up to Theresa and Joe’s house above the runway to rest. Cherie, the massage therapist, came up to see me and noted my elevated pulse rate (125+ from a normal resting rate of sub 50), shallow and rapid breathing and clammy skin. I had all the classic symptoms of an extreme electrolyte imbalance, similar to heatstroke. Was this related to the strenuous climb almost 48 hours previous? I had remained hydrated throughout the climb, but the warm temperatures caused me to sweat excessively and I had drunk only water, not electrolyte drinks during the climb and recovery, in addition I had run out of food on the return and had depleted my body further.  I’m not sure, but 6 hours of ice packs, damp towels and diluted Gatorade later my body recovered somewhat and I was able to once again get up and move about. I had felt good, even great, post climb but I had dangerously depleted my physical resources, almost with devastating results. Lesson learned. 


We were treated Saturday evening to an Australian barbeque courtesy of Theresa’s kitchen complete with Kangaroo (imported from Oz), Ostrich, Emu and an assortment of classic 1996 Australian Shiraz’s from Joe’s cellar.  Sunday morning dawned to a steady stream of rain, the first of the week, and I was successful in changing my flight home to Sunday night.  Thus ends the current most excellent adventure of kate. The next one, the 50/50 event in Pepperrel and the Brit Chix event in Langar, UK starts on Wednesday. I need to do laundry and I’m tired.


Until next time.





Rainier Mountaineering, Inc:

Equipment list:  

Brent Okita:  

Mt. Rainier National Park: