Long Intro – can / should skip
June 5th passed like any other Wednesday. I dragged myself to work, did some chemistry and went to group meeting at 5pm. But instead of going back to the hood to continue working, I grabbed my backpack and duffel bag and caught an Uber to the airport. There, I met up with my friends Nick and Alicia and boarded the same plane to Seattle. Once in Seattle, we picked up our rental car, a Ford Flex, which is one of the weirdest cars I’ve been in. It is four wheel drive, has a huge trunk and has about three inches of ground clearance… Who came up with that? Luckily, Alicia has a friend in Seattle who was gone for the weekend and allowed us to use her apartment as a pseudo base camp to organize gear and prepare for the hike. Around midnight we went to sleep.
Thursday was preparation day #1. Ideally, we should have only had one preparation day but a storm was dumping snow on Rainier and we thought it best to delay the climb by a day. We did however, get our climbing permits from the Mount Rainier ranger station. At the station we heard first hand from some ragged and tired looking dudes that the conditions are not the best at the moment (definite win for us). We then filled out the paperwork for our climbing permits. This was one of the most thorough permitting processes I have been through. They wanted the number of people in the group, contact information for everyone, car make and model, tent color, climbing gear we were taking and how much food we were taking. This was kind of an indication that this mountain isn’t San Jacinto.
After getting our permits squared away, we went to the flagship REI store. That place is huge! They had everything you could possibly imagine. I tried to convince myself to not buy anything but ended up buying a bunch of stuff anyways… They had the most extensive collection of cams, ropes, carabiners, cord, boots and all the other goodies I could ever want. That night we went home, studied up on our skills a bit more and went to bed.
Preparation day 2 was more relaxing. We took a tour of the Boeing factory which was epic! We then went to a brewery and met up with our friends Will and Sean. After a few beers and a large dinner we headed back to the apartment and packed everything up. Backpacks weighed in anywhere from 51-57 pounds. The weight slowly adds up when you need all the backbaking gear, winter gear, ropes, harnesses and pickets. Luckily the ranger told us to leave the snow shoes which lightened the load a lot.
Good stuff starts here
Saturday morning we woke up super early, ate breakfast, and drove to the trailhead. Step off time was 7:15am. Although more technically demanding, we were attempting to take the Emmons Winthrop Route up Rainier as the Disappointment Cleaver and Ingraham Direct routes looked like they were swamped with people. Indeed, we heard it is like a highway up there. Not my kind of fun. We began up a heavily used dirt path but after maybe a mile the snow got consistent and we started to follow a lightly traveled boot path up towards the Inter Glacier. Weaving through the forest in the snow was a wonderful experience. It was humid but sunny turning cloudy. The higher we climbed the colder it got but the clouds didn’t allow for any summit views. I really enjoyed watching the clouds move around the mountain as it gave an erie sense. In the days leading up to the climb I had been taking Diamox for the first time. On the trail I felt really weird. My hands were tingling and I just felt off. Must be an effect of the Diamox. As we neared the foot of the Inter Glacier we all took a break and had some lunch. From here on, everything was steep. I was still feeling strong. We began the slow slog uphill and with each step my backpack felt heavier and heavier. I didn’t understand what was happening at the time but I was wasn’t eating enough and I wasn’t drinking enough. The humidity and Diamox was playing games with me.
After a bit of climbing we got to Camp Shurman at 7PM. I was absolutely exhausted. Looking back, that was an awful time to get to camp. We should have been there earlier. The whole team was exhausted but I think I was the worst – not a great feeling. We met with the climbing rangers and talked about safety and our plans for the next day. I’m pretty sure these guys have the coolest job in the world. They get to skin up to Camp, talk to rad climbers and when the weather is good they summit Rainier. And when stuff goes sideways, they do rescues! Shortly after arriving at camp I chopped out a platform for my tent and started to organize gear. Alicia, Nick and I were sharing a stove and we started to melt snow for water. This process takes forever! With enough snow melted for dinner and climbing on Sunday we ate dinner as a team and decided to wake up at 2AM for a 3AM start. At this point I was feeling better but not 100%. I convinced myself that I drank and ate enough and by 9:45 we were in bed.
2AM came fast. I woke up with a slight headache and stomach ache. Weird I thought. I grabbed an Excedrin from Alicia and told myself not to be a little baby. I gathered my stuff, packed my backpack, put my harness on over my hard shell pants and prepared breakfast. I managed to eat about half my oats and drink half my coffee when it felt like a bear was trying to fight my stomach. This is bad I thought. I got that feeling in your throat right before you puke and thought to myself, if I puke now I’m done. Not 30 seconds later I dropped to my knees and everything came out. Breakfast and last nights dinner right out my nose (still can’t eat Backpackers Pantry Lasagna). My trip was done. The other four guys were fine and they continued to prep as I crawled, dejected, back into my tent. Luckily for them they dropped the slow guy. Right before they left Will snapped a crampon in half and I was able to donate my pair of crampons to him so he could make a summit bid. As they left camp I fell back asleep.
Around 6AM I woke up not because I was well rested but because my tent had become an oven and I was roasting in my zero degree bag. Begrudgingly, I hauled myself out of the tent and looked at the amazing views around me. Even though I was not going any higher than 9,600ft I looked up the route on the mountain and really hoped Nick, Alicia, Will and Sean were steadily heading to the summit. I slowly took inventory of what gear I had left and tried to eat some more breakfast. I ended up just eating Goldfish and the remains of my coffee that had frozen solid into the ice around my tent. A little while later I talked to the rangers and told them I decided to quit climbing that day because of the 2AM incident. Unfortunately, I puked right where everyone melts snow for water and I was pretty concerned about other people melting nasty snow and getting sick. After a good chuckle, the rangers instructed me to chip my vomit out of the snow and throw it down a crevasse near camp. This was not an easy task as I was still feeling like crap and the walk was 200 ft each way. Eventually, I realized I had two working shovels if I could get the second one un-frozen. This turned out to be a MASSIVE mistake because as I walked to the edge of the crevasse and threw a double load of chow into the crevasse a wind gust came and blew ALL of it backwards at me, effectively coating myself in my own, now melting vomit. Being alone, looking up and coated in puke was probably the most depressing part of my whole trip.
A short while later, I met a friend who had a similarly awful night as I did. Apparently he had uncontrollable diarrhea and was tent bound. I found a friend in misery. After collecting himself, we sat on a pile of rocks together and waited for our respective teams to come back. A short while later we observed a group of three climbers who looked visibly shaken. They had that aura that something wasn’t quite right. My friend and I talked to them and found out that they busted through a snow bridge earlier that day and narrowly escaped catastrophe. Apparently, they had bunched together (SO wrong) to adjust crampons and when the three of them stood at that spot the snow bridge they were on collapsed. The front two guys were tossed into the crevasse and the front guy was completely buried in the snow. The third guy had to throw himself backwards to catch his two friends and then build an anchor / hauling system to get his friends out. Luckily, the second guy was able to dig out the first guy and clear his airway. At that point their luck ran out and they began their descent to hopefully buy that third guy a case of beer.
Eventually, I was able to watch most of the teams on the mountain and two of the groups I had been watching turned around and began descending. Turns out those two teams were my friends! Unfortunately, the previous days stress was too much and they were exhausted. They only got to 12,500ft and didn’t even climb over the giant crevasse at the volcano crest that I was looking forward to leading. As they got back into camp I was feeling stronger and in slightly better spirits. They immediately took a nap and I busied myself melting snow and filling all their water bottles.
After a nap, we took apart camp and started descending. In the one day of steady sunshine after the snowstorm, the crevasses opened and we had to rope up to safely travel across to the foot of the Inter Glacier. At the bottom, we had to cross an unstable patch of scree which was steadily throwing rocks and dirt at us. I narrowly missed being hit by a basketball sized rock and was quite pleased when we all were on top of this death trap. From here, the route descended back to the trailhead via the same route we took up. Luckily, we were able to glissade a huge portion of this and we dropped over 2,000ft in about 15 minutes. As we descended further, I felt stronger and stronger. Eventually, we made it back to the car and were finally able to take off our mountaineering boots!
After descending the mountain we all went out to eat, and grabbed a single hotel room. This one room turned into a disaster of gear and just plain filth. We re-packed our gear into duffel bags and crashed for the night. The next day we explored Seattle and talked about how none of us had summited.
The major take-away for the team is that our permits are valid for a full year. We are already planning our return. For me, this mountain was a wake up call. Not because it was hard (it was) but because I have let myself slip. In the past year or so I have not really worked out, I haven’t lifted and have only dealt with stupid injuries. Instead of adjusting things and making progress elsewhere, I just sat around drinking and being a fat ass. After this failure I have decided to clean myself up. I have completely stopped drinking and doing all the other stupid crap I have been doing. I started working out more too. I re-started lifting, started running, cycling and surfing again, and have been trying to at least gym climb again despite a pulley injury in my hand. I also signed up for another ultra-marathon in October. We shall see how strong I can get for my next Rainier attempt.