Mount Rainier Part 2

The plan for today included walking up to Camp Muir– the last bathrooms before you rope up for the glaciers, then to Ingraham Flats.

One of the fun things people do not tell you about climbing Rainier, you poop on the glacier then pick it up in a blue bag– like dog shit, and carry it up AND down the mountain. So. Much. Fun.

We hit Camp Muir mid- morning, sat down for a break, and pulled out gear to rope up for the Cowlitz Glacier. It was very warm and sunny, not a cloud in the sky, which also means frequently re-applying sunscreen.

Camp Muir has guide huts, ranger huts, and lots of camping. It was very dirty and crowded but had a lovely view of the ants hiking up the snowfield. Despite all of this, it was really pleasant to have one more bathroom to use before ascending to upper camps.

After our break, we started along the wanded route across Cowlitz Glacier, to Cathedral Gap, which you ascend before turning uphill towards Ingraham Flats, our next camp.

Sarah at the front of the team across the Cowlitz.

We trudged along on the packed snow path to the base of Cathedral Gap, which is essentially a notch of chossy, loose rock. In other words, everything moves and when you step somewhere it lets loose a cascade of rocks. The warm temperatures did not help, creating a small river of water cutting through the volcanic rock/sand making it even more unstable.

At the very base of the gap, we were moving across a steep gully one at a time— Sarah had just made it across and was belaying me to her when a cascade of bowling ball sized rocks came rocketing down the gully. I had very little time to react, I was either going to pull Sarah into it, or dive forward and pull the rope taught between Greg and I. I chose the latter, which was wise. I almost got mowed over, they would have taken me on a ride down the glacier and into a crevasse.

Crevasses. Courtesy of Sarah Engel

At the top I pulled out my first aid kit and quickly doctored my hand which had gotten scraped up when I dove away from the rocks. It was getting late in the afternoon, and we needed to get to Ingraham Flats and set up our summit base camp.

Ingraham Flats lays at the bottom of the Ingraham Glacier, below all of the calved off, cracked blue ice. As Greg describes it, the flat spot in the center of a Pringle, before the glacier careens slowly down the hill, cracking and grinding.

We probed a spot for camp, a “safe zone” where you do not need to be roped up to move around. Then set ourselves to work building camp, boiling water, and Greg built the most beautiful 2 seater toilet in the snow. It really was glorious.

By the time we had finished boiling water and setting up camp, it was time to eat dinner, then get a meager amount of sleep. As we were eating dinner, then drifting off to sleep— we were serenaded by the lovely sound of rock and ice fall beyond our safe little camp.

Return- Mount Rainier Part 1

I have been MIA for over a year, but this is the first time I’ve actually wanted to write about something.

Back in November I had another surgery on my left foot to correct a rather annoying bunion that made it so I couldn’t wear any mountaineering boots, hiking boots, or really any shoes that weren’t one brand, one size. It was supposed to be 7 weeks. However, my left knee did not agree with the changes made to my left foot. I was finally released fully from PT at the end of February, which meant that I only had a few months to build up for Rainier.

The entire process was very frustrating. I’d start feeling pretty good… then my other knee would hurt, or my orthotics would stop feeling right. It just felt like nothing was lining up the way it should, and my body wasn’t working right.

I would wear a brace on my left knee to help support and line up my patella, and soon before we left I was having issues with my right, so I was wearing another one. It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the bruising, rubbing, and scabs. I was rather miserable.

I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to summit and disappoint my team.

I had lost all of my confidence in myself and my strength. It was demoralizing.

We woke up at 2 something to catch the 3AM bus from Boulder, which by the time it hit the park and ride was standing room only. The airport was for some reason super backed up in security, so we were in line for at least an hour or so—which is highly irregular.

We arrived in Portland, then acquired a vehicle and our giant pile of luggage.

We made our way up to the park, found a campsite, and decided to have dinner at the National Park Inn, literally in the middle of the park. After dinner we were able to see the mountain for the first time looming above the landscape surrounded by colorful swirling clouds.

Morning came quietly, no sounds of animals, just surrounded by dense cool fog. Everything was covered with a thick layer of dew– I was worried that we’d spend our time on the mountain but never really get to see anything.

We stopped in the climbing ranger station for our permits and put the finishing touches on our packs and started up the damp asphalt which soon turned to snow.

Often people climb Rainier in 2 days, but we decided to stretch it one more night and were able to secure a permit for Camp Protection on the Muir Snowfield. It split up the approach to Ingraham Flats, which I was honestly very grateful for– carrying 50+lbs is less fun, and more difficult with every step.

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Pebble creek Junction

As soon as we hiked above 7,000′ the fog began to thin and we got our first real glimpse of our objective. It was beautiful, commanding and towering over the landscape in shades of white, blue, and dark brown rock.

Mount Rainier peaking out of the fog.
Mount Rainier from Muir Snowfield

As we got higher the view became more incredible. Never before had I seen a glaciated peak up close, or really been that close to glaciers. It was like walking into a dream. I had only ever imagined myself in these places, and here I was–FINALLY.

I was moving slower than I had wanted to, but I was still moving. We trudged up the edge of the snowfield to around 8700, where we picked a location to camp for the night, called Camp Protection.

We were above the clouds.

Mount Adams dominated our view that evening.

Greg and Sarah had all of the tent bits, so they started setting up camp and creating our tent platform.

Camp Protection

As they were setting up the tent, I had collapsed into a pile on the rocks and began melting snow, which I learned is a long and tedious camp chore, BUT it meant we had water and could eat.

Snow melting perch, such a view.

We ate a lot of calories and sat in the afternoon sun, drinking in the view.

Sarah and Mount Adams from Camp Protection

The next morning we would continue up the snowfield to Camp Muir, then rope up, and cross the Cowlitz, ending at Ingraham Flat. But tonight– tonight was about scenery, and good sleep.

Sunset near Adams from the top vent in the tent, cuz we were too tired to get out of the tent.

To 13,000 and Beyond- back to the mountains.

The last mountain I climbed was the end of August 2016 with Sarah, and it was Blanca Peak at 14, 345′. I was injured a little over a month later, which lead to my surgery in June 2017, and my extended recovery.

I have been anxious to get back out there, I know it sounds silly but the surgery was one thing, it’s the mental part that takes time to get over it. I lost all of my confidence in the mountains.  It took me finally realizing that’s why I hadn’t been out in the mountains so much this winter, and I realized I just need to do it.

So fast forward to now, Ashley, Sarah, and myself decided to hike James Peak, a 13er on the front range. My only real goal was to get to 12K, and if I was having a hard time, we’d practice glacier travel, self arrest, then go home.

We started at the trailhead at 8AM, it was icy with rocks…very much late spring conditions all the way up to the lake.

St. Mary’s Lake with Kingston straight ahead.

We made our way over to the glacier, and began the up hill trudge to the flat meadow above.

Courtesy of Sarah Engel.

The sun was blazing, it was a beautiful blue bird morning, and I was down to my base layer with my pants pulled up above my calves. It’s rare when there isn’t howling wind coming down off of James Peak, but we got incredibly lucky.

We made it up to the top of the glacier and sat down for a break.

Courtesy of Sarah Engel

After some discussion, we decided that we would give the summit a try, I was feeling pretty good, and trying to stay hydrated.

We continued across the high plateau towards the base of James Peak.

Our trail!

Ashley heading towards James Peak, Courtesy of Sarah Engel

My beautiful strong friend Sarah!

My beautiful strong friend Ashley!

The higher in elevation we got, the harder it got for me to breath normally, I hadn’t been up above 12K in almost two years, so my red blood cells that helped me with elevation, had disappeared. Sarah encouraged me up the hills, telling me to take 50 steps then take a breathing break, then repeat. It really was helpful for me not to concentrate on the fact that I was having a hard time.

We made it to the last 200 vertical, and the clouds had started to close in and as I was counting to 50 for my last few steps up to the summit, it lightly began to snow.

That light snow, within a matter of a few minutes became near white out conditions, and remained as so all the way to the middle of the glacier.

Looking across at Bancroft.

As we headed down the mountain we had to select a spot in the foreground and keep moving,I continued to check the GPS as we made our way across the high plateau. I was mentally exhausted, and a bit out of sorts. The elevation was really getting to me, and I tried to remember to eat and drink, but it’s difficult when you are so tired. I wasn’t quite walking straight, and I kept thinking that I should turn down a different basin. When I was having these thoughts, I’d stop and check my GPS, it was hard to see more than 200′ in front of us, and I was trying to stay focused.

We finally made it back to the rock outcropping that we took our first break at, and located the edge of the glacier, we were home free!

We had also thought that we would be able to glissade, but with all of the fresh powder…it just didn’t happen. Sarah’s Jump-n Jostle Glissade. Sarah had a genius idea, click the link to watch the video.

Once down from the glacier, we worked our way down the icy path, which was now covered in about 3 inches of snow, back to the car. It was baffling to see the difference that 8 hours had made, it didn’t even look like the same place!

We though an ice ax shot was appropriate when we got back to the car, totally worked.

The drive back to town was….special, slick roads and steep turns– but we made it to WestBound and Down, for dinner.

Food could not have come fast enough and just as we finished eating, about to pay….the electricity in town blew. Like the whole town.

It was a great day, and we all made it home safely. I was glad that I had made it there and back without having any major mishaps. Though, next time I’ll make sure to have a larger breakfast and more water.

Thank you Sarah and Ashley for pushing me, I’m grateful for such wonderful friends and climbing partners.