Mt. Rainier - 14,410 ft
Climbers: George Barnes, Mark Brown, Matt Shepard, Nate Stutzke
Route (Ascent): Gibraltar Ledges
Route (Descent): Ingraham Glacier Direct
RT distance: 14.0 miles
Elevation gain: 9,000 feet
USGS Quadrangle: Mt. Rainier
Friday, June 16 – Approach
At 8:00 AM our party of four shouldered 60+ lb packs at Paradise beneath unsettled, cloudy skies. We got the occasional view of the mountain’s lower flanks through the broken clouds from the parking lot. Despite our coming from Colorado, this fourteen thousand foot mountain still commanded our utmost attention whenever it revealed itself. The views of the Nisqually Glacier and its intricate crevasses were intriguing and intimidating.
We hiked through clouds as we reached tree line at ~6,000 feet. Here we noticed that the wind was picking up and the weather was looking less and less encouraging, so we stopped to locate our goggles and adjust clothing layers accordingly. I also retrieved my ipod, expecting a 4,000 foot monotonous slog through hellish conditions – I wouldn’t be disappointed. After a handful of gummy bears and corn nuts we were moving up the snowfield once again. Matt took the lead as I followed his somewhat short spaced steps. Minutes after we started moving the imminent threat of rain materialized, and I was glad to have the distraction of Chris LeDoux and Johnny Cash. The rain increased to downpour status, and began blowing nearly horizontal from left to right. At first the only annoyance of the rain was the din of the rain hitting my Marmot Genesis jacket hood. After a while I noticed the unpleasant sensation of water creeping through my Schoeller pants on my left leg. Before long my entire left leg was soaked, and I could feel water running down my midweight long underwear, behind my gaiters, and into my plastic boots. This was certainly bad news, but there wasn't much I could do about it. Once the rain penetrated my soft shell gloves and my fingers started to become numb I got a bit annoyed. I of course had warmer gloves along, but I didn't want to get them soaked and jeopardize a summit bid for lack of warm gloves. As we ascended we met throngs of people descending, mostly guided clients of RMI. After talking to a couple guides we learned that the cloud layer was somewhere around 9,800 feet, just below Camp Muir. Above this we knew we'd enjoy clear skies and a break from the rain. As we broke out of the cloud layer and into the sun I stopped to trade my wet gloves for some heavy mitts. Muir was just a short push from here, and we soon arrived at the climber shelter there, a little over 4 hours after leaving Paradise. We had initially all planned to stay in a tent on the trip, preferably as far from Muir as possible. Despite these plans, we knew that our best chance at dry boots and gear the next day was to get into the Muir shelter. It turned out the shelter was relatively empty and only about a dozen climbers were calling it home. As we unpacked I was elated to find that even my backpack had soaked through and I was the proud owner of a dripping down jacket and sleeping bag. Best of all, after removing my boots, I was able to pour out no less than 12 oz of lukewarm water, almost enough to make a Mountain House dehydrated dinner. Nate and Matt shared in my boot woes, between us I think we could have filled a Nalgene. Mark miraculously had dry boots, and didn't hesitate to remind us of his good fortune. Who would of thought you'd get drenched en route to high camp on a glaciated peak... obviously not me. Anyway, we spent the remainder of the day melting snow for water and placing Nalgenes of boiling water inside wet boots in hopes that they'd dry faster. After a Mountain House dinner we retired, earplugs in place, with alarms set for 3:00 AM.
Saturday, June 17 – Summit Day
Surprisingly, I was sleeping well when I awoke to Matt's headlamp in my face. I rolled over, hoping he was up to use the bathroom. A quick check of my watch revealed 3:08AM, I'd slept through not one, but two alarms. Nate would later assure me he heard them both.
Forced to face reality I started getting dressed while I ate an oatmeal bar. Even after fifteen hours of drying I was still able to squeeze water out of the padding on my boots. I laced them up hoping I'd have swamp-like, but warm, feet. Once I got my harness on and gear racked up I clanked my way out of the sleeping bunkhouse. Early morning brought cold, relatively calm, and clear weather, certainly favorable for our summit bid. Out of the shelter we stepped into our crampons and tied into our respective rope teams. By 4:30AM we were sidestepping our way up the edge of the Cowlitz Glacier towards the Beehive and eventually Gibraltar Rock. We stopped only long enough to take a few pictures as the sunrise turned a distant Mt. Adams pink with alpenglow.
As we reached the exposed rock of the Cowlitz Cleaver we enjoyed a little mixed climbing on loose rock with crampons. I'd put the difficulty somewhere around third class or M2. We placed the occasional snow picket to protect awkward moves, but mostly simul-climbed with no protection between us.
Over two hours after leaving camp we made the notch below Gibraltar Rock indicating the start of Gib Ledges. Here we stopped for some much needed refueling and previewed our route. The ledges were mostly snow covered rock, all above an attention getting drop into Gib Chute and down the Nisqually Glacier. Conditions here were pretty excellent and crampons provided secure footing on well frozen snow.
At the end of the ledges the route exits into Gib Chute for a steep snow finish to the saddle between Gib Rock and the summit of Rainier. From here we could preview our descent route on the Ingraham Glacier, some two thousand feet below.
Our route soon joined the wand marked Disappointment Cleaver route for the remaining push to the summit. This route had seen plenty of traffic and was well packed and easy to follow.
A good dose of snow slogging later the rocks of the summit crater came into view. Stepping up to the rim of the crater and watching steam vent from numerous fumaroles is pretty humbling, I remember thinking, "Yikes, this thing really is a volcano." From the crater rim the true summit, Columbia Crest, is about a 20 minute stroll away. Columbia Crest proved to be exceptionally windy, as evidenced by my snow picket blowing out at 45 degrees on my harness. We stayed on the top long enough for a few pictures, then sought shelter from the wind back in the crater. To see a short video (10MB, .mov) from the summit, click HERE. Unfortunately you'll need QuickTime to view it.
On the descent we followed the standard DC/ID route to a fork above the Ingraham Glacier. Here we chose the more expedient Ingraham Direct, crossing some recent slide activity caused by a serac breaking off at ~13,000 feet and sweeping down the glacier to around 11,500 ft. Needless to say, we wasted no time moving through this part of the route.
Below the slide we navigated towering seracs and bridged crevasses as we made our way towards Cathedral Gap. I counted about five crevasse crossings, some of which required a request for a slack rope and a quick hop to cross.
The view of Muir from Cathedral Gap had me feeling like a horse that could see the barn, as I was ready to end our eleven hour day. By this point the sun had turned the Cowlitz Glacier into a sauna and I was lamenting the two pairs of midweight long underwear I had on.
Muir had turned into a popular destination while we were on the mountain, with numerous day trippers there to ski and glissade back to Paradise. The weather had also changed dramatically from 24 hours prior, and we were able to celebrate our climb in the sun on the rocks around camp in our socks.
Sunday, June 18 – Descent from Muir
The hike back to Paradise was pretty enjoyable after another night at Muir. We welcomed every opportunity to glissade down the mountain, and reached Paradise in about 2 hours. All in all a great trip with a great team, even with the wet boots.
Sunrise from Camp Muir
The hike out
Artificial ice at Whittaker's Bunkhouse
Rainier from the plane