by Martin Bril
A few months back, I picked up a copy of "Life on the Edge" by Jim Whittaker.
Mt. Rainier is a centerpiece of the first few chapters, which got me curious about the mountain itself. After doing a bit of research, I concluded that it could be a good challenge at this point in my uphill habits.
Not thinking too much of it, I mentioned the idea to a friend of mine. It was kind of a funny moment to learn that he was actually planning to go at the end of May. I jumped on the opportunity and booked my ticket for Seattle the same day.
This was 2 months before departure and I knew I would have some time to do a bit of training. I was mostly concerned with my lack of experience at a higher altitude and wasn’t too sure what to expect.
After a great start with a mix of running, biking and heavy pack hiking I started to develop IT band syndrome on one of my knees. It took a few sessions of physical therapy to manage the pain and resume training. During that time, I had the great experience of getting certified as a Wilderness First Responder after a weeklong class, which was a neat confidence booster.
The week before the climb, we gathered one last time to do some crevasse rescue practice and go over our gear. I felt ready.
On the eve of our ascent, I took a plane from Anchorage to Seattle, arriving at 4 am with barely more than 15 min of actual sleep. Surprisingly I didn’t feel too tired at the time, and after a full breakfast and couple errands, we were finally on our way.
It was a hot sunny day and we knew that people had summitted the day prior, which was comforting knowing that most parties had had to bail for the past few weeks due to avalanche conditions.
We started mid-afternoon and after about 5 hours, made it up to Camp Muir at 10,000 ft. The snow was soft but previous tracks made for an easy ascent although tiring from the lack of sleep and the high temperatures.
I only had enough energy to dig out a platform, set up my tent and eat a quick dinner before collapsing in my sleeping bag, leaving the frustrating task of melting snow for the next day.
After a few hours of sleep, I woke up feeling restless. I knew it was going to be a long day and decided to just wait lying down in my tent.
At about 2 am everybody was up getting ready with glacier travel gear. Looking up on the mountain, I could see a line of headlamps slowly heading up and back around cliffs rising above the Cowlitz glacier.
We started up ourselves, roped up in a group of two and three. The pace was slow but steady and after getting over Cathedral Gap, we finally made our way up the Ingraham Glacier.
Luckily crevasses were not too much of a concern. A few bigger ones had ladders set up for an easy crossing.
I started feeling the altitude and the thinner air at about 12 000 feet. The pace got slower and slower and I soon had to take deep breaths every few steps. The climb up to the crater rim felt like forever and the only thing that kept me going at this point was the thought of getting to the top.
We finally crossed the crater and by 9 am were standing on the highest point, Columbia Crest.
We had the summit to ourselves and took in the views, tired and sleepy. The sun hit us hard on the way down and with snow reflection, it was imperative to keep our skin covered despite the rising temperature. At this point, I was so exhausted that standing up was a challenge on its own.
We got back to camp, packed our tents and decided to carry on. My knee started acting up a couple of miles away from the trailhead but I was simply glad it didn’t happen sooner. At 3 pm, we were finally back in the car, looking up to that beautiful mountain we had just climbed. I was beyond tired but happy.