I requested Monday off from work, which was a bold move on my part (and still nearly regrettable, despite how incredible the weekend was). Big deadlines Friday, many 12 hour days in a row on top of moving to a new apartment (a process I am still wrapping up as I sit here typing instead of unpacking the four bags on the floor in front of me). Kayla had set up an REI team (well, 3 REI employees, I am sadly an ex-employee) and organized a three day trip, and I was in! Kayla’s a total bad ass who was incredibly helpful and encouraging when I started mountaineering last year, so I couldn’t say no. At one point last year I mentioned to her that I was hoping to go up Rainier with a few friends in April but didn’t have any of the gear, and she showed up to REI the next day unprompted with a bag of overmitts, crampons, slings all nicely daisy-chained, a harness, everything I was missing. That’s the type of person you want to be friends with.
- Distance: I am honestly not sure. Maybe 18 round trip? 4 to muir, 5 to summit?
- Elevation: ~9000ft from Paradise to summit
- Commute from Seattle: 2:30
- Weather: 70’s and sunny in the day, maybe 20’s at the summit? Not too bad!
- Did I Trip: Maybe running to see Kacie. I never legitimately ate it though I don’t think.
I had a fitful night of sleep in my car in the parking lot listening to other groups of climbers getting started in the early morning, though a few groups bailed due to visibility. I woke up to fog that I knew we’d get above, and met Kayla, Charli, Rick, JT, and Sam all at the ranger station at 7am. We lined up to get camping permits and climbers’ permits, only to be told that everything was gone. Kautz was open, and three spots on Emmons were open, but no spots at Muir or Ingraham Flats. I turned to JT. Kautz?! Rick and Charli laughed. Not happening.
Luckily, a miraculous 20 new spots opened up at Muir, and we were first to snag them. JT and Sam would be staying through Sunday, Kayla Charli Rick and I would be there through Monday. We signed our permits and ran outside to meet our porters(!), who were helping carry group gear up to Muir.
Our porters knew Charli through OSAT, an awesome organization that this weekend would be taking over Camp Muir. I met H, Dustin, and Lord Byron, who packed my tent, shovel, and rope. Sweet! And I wasn’t even carrying skis! Officially the lightest pack of 2016.
JT was skinning up, and Sam would be battling his knee injury so he decided to take it easy. The rest of us started up, clomping up the Paradise trails in our mountaineering boots. There was patchy snow from the start, but still plenty of rocky stairs to go up, which I knew would be brutal on the way down. We could also see the train of people ahead of us heading up to Muir. It was going to be a crowded weekend.
I went ahead of the group to scout out campsites. At Muir I claimed three spots and awaited our porters when I awkwardly realized I didn’t have a shovel for my platform or a tent to set up on the platform. I got distracted when JT arrived and allowed one of the spots to be poached by squatters. Crap. When JT was done I leveled out my own platform with his shovel, and just as I finished, H arrived with my tent! Woo! I popped it up, guyed it out with some rocks that I then buried with snow (I’m paranoid, remember?) and we made dinner. I whipped out the berries I had jokingly brought for Sam (everyone has their rituals, Sam swears that berries make him feel better at altitude) and passed them around. They were almost as good as the brookies Charli had brought (brownie-cookies) which had half melted in the sun and turned into delicious soft cookie brownie batter lumps. A feast fit for kings. Eventually JT went to slept in his tent, and Sam and I went to sleep in the climbers’ hut so I wouldn’t wake Kayla when I got up for the Sunday morning summit. The climber’s hut was actually a lot of fun, despite everything I had heard about it. It’s small, and dark, and reminded me of Orizaba which was a cozy nostalgic thought. I fell asleep on the bottom bunk listening to the whisper of stoves and the thumping of mountaineering boots on the floor, which is quickly becoming a comforting environment.
At 10PM, Sam’s alarm woke the entire hut. I dozed for another 30 minutes as Sam took some night shots from camp, and we met JT at his tent to rope up. We were moving by 11:30. Halfway to Cathedral Rock, JT stopped and dropped his pack. “I just want to make sure I have my camera.” Five minutes later? “…I definitely don’t have my camera. Should I go back for it?” I laughed. Yes, if I were you, I’d absolutely go back for it. 15 minutes later? “Sleepy me is smarter than awake me. It’s in my pack.” Dammit JT.
We made quick work getting to the cleaver, and were on top of it in about two hours if you subtract the camera delay. The moon was a fat, blood red monster above the horizon, looming above the trains of headlamps we could see crossing Ingraham Flats below us. We tried to pass a few groups taking a break, but the leader of one rope team looked straight at JT and made sure their whole team got in front of us. Okay, they must be fast, I get it.
Except… they weren’t. The team in front of them was having technical issues, and refused to step aside to let everyone pass. We were on a steep traverse, so I suppose I get it, but we spent nearly an hour and a half walking five steps, stopping for ten minutes, shaking and freezing. JT put it nicely. “I am… not a patient person.” I was doing “the washing machine” to stay warm, which we used to do during swim practice when the heater broke. It’s basically a less attractive shimmy. “Sam, you should have brought your camera to take some night shots while we wait.” Missed opportunity! That’s how slow it was. There was an IMG group behind us, and finally the guide yelled at the team ahead to move aside. After several attempts at shouting, they finally listened and moved off the path, and we were all able to pass.
The route overall was in incredible shape. The cleaver is far more enjoyable (more like “far less torturous”) covered in snow, there were no ladders, and only two sections of fixed lines, neither of which we considered necessary. We took more frequent breaks as altitude set in (at one point JT just turned around and said “Well, I’m hitting a wall” while Sam insisted on being dropped off, to which we all agreed “fuck no, you should have eaten more berries, who needs an LCL anyway” and kept walking). There was a small hill to crest a couple hundred feet below the summit crater, and we took a break right next to it. Which was hilarious, because you watch every single climbing team get to the top and think it’ll be the summit crater and boom, another 400 vertical feet to go. I watched so many faces change from sheer joy and excitement to defeat and resignation. But everyone pushed on. We summitted just around sunrise, so maybe 5:30. Wanting to get down by noon, we walked over to the summit register, snapped the obligatory photos, signed the book, and turned around. Going down should go quickly, right?
Well, we ran into more bottlenecks. Groups were still on their way up while we were trying to go down, and passing other teams in between crevasses or on steep descents can be awkward. We spent maybe 20 minutes at several different points waiting for other teams before we could descend. But hey, there are worse places to be stuck, and the sun was up so it was fairly warm. Going down the cleaver resulted in some unbelievable pictures, and we were back at Muir by 10:30. Yes!! So much sleep!
Kayla had my sleeping bag and pad all laid out in the tent already (yay!!), and I basically went straight to bed. I didn’t hear Sam leave, but I remember saying a sleepy bye to JT before he skiied down from Muir. Sam snowboarded. They were probably back at the cars in like 30 minutes. Jealous. I lay in my sleeping bag trying to sleep and simultaneously nursing my nose, which was already horribly sunburned.
I dozed on and off for a few hours before getting bored and deciding to make food. I ran into the rest of the OSAT crew, who had taken over half of the campsites there. It’s awesome knowing so many people on a climb. I cooked my three cheese pasta and had a bunch of crackers and cheese. We laid out our ropes and gear next to the tents so all we’d have to do in the morning is get up and grab everything, and then we went to bed. So basically, I climbed, slept, ate, and slept, only to wake up and climb again. Living the dream.
We got up at 10:30pm again, with the intention of being moving by 11. We were a little late to our goal, but got on the route around 11:15 or 11:30. Charli and I were on one rope with Kayla and Rick on the other. With far fewer teams on the route this time, we were able to keep a steady pace, which was a relief. We leapfrogged with a Minnesota Nice rope team decked out in all camo. How did I see them, you ask? They should be invisible! Well Mossy Oak doesn’t camouflage well with snow, unfortunately. Wrong camo. But they were good natured and hilarious, and I was glad to be leapfrogging with such a genuine pair.
Charli trudged behind me as Kayla and Rick brought up the rear. Rick, who I don’t believe I’ve mentioned yet is 62. That’s not a typo. Sixty two. And crushing Mt. Rainier at 4am. We crested the false hill to everyone’s dismay, and pushed on towards the summit. Charli announced that she was done with this shit. A four person team was starting their descent as we gained the crater rim, and when I said hi they laughed and replied “You have your own summit reception party!!” just as Charli behind me said “FUCK my LIFE I hate EVERYTHING” and I burst out laughing. I think I was the only one who heard both teams, but the timing was perfect. Charli apologized for being grumpy and I laughed even harder because grumpy Charli is basically my constant internal dialogue. And of course, 15 feet later, Charli was all smiles.
Once on the crater rim, we ran into the OSAT group who had beaten us to the top and exchanged congrats while I hid my blistered nose from view. I was rocking white face from all the sunscreen I had been using too, and still no luck. Kayla was freezing cold so we set her up in my sleeping bag and started making hot chocolate and tea to get her warm again. Rick (62!! Can’t use your age as an excuse anymore Rick!), Charli, and I trekked over to the summit register so we could sign and snap our summit photos, and then returned to Kayla. I kept an eye on where the Emmons route meets the crater rim, hoping we’d see Kacie and Shawna’s OSAT group as well.
Amazingly, they summitted 15 minutes later! I turned around to see several 4-person rope teams gaining the ridge, and knew it had to be them. I dropped my stuff and ran back across the crater. Literally. Past our Minnesota Camo friends, who had just summitted. I got to the summit register and asked if anyone was with OSAT. I saw Shawna sitting by the register and ran over to say hi, followed by “WHERE’S KACIE?!” “Over there!” “KACIE!!” And there she was!! Kacie Grice, conquering Rainier!
“Come over here so I can smoke downwind.” I cracked up. Top of Rainier, and she’s about to smoke. Well okay. Gotta mark your territory. I went to go sit downwind with her and immediately burned my ass on a fumarole, which I thought was her cigarette until I realized she was smoking her cigarette, which had to mean it was not touching my butt. Amazing how hot those heat vents are even when everything else around you is freezing. We snapped a summit photo of the two of us, and I returned to my friends to start our trek down. Clouds were moving in and the forecast called for thunderstorms, and I didn’t want to end my weekend like that.
The route had already changed, even just in the 24 hours since I had summitted with Sam and JT. One crevasse was widening and had become a significant step, and a snow plug was collapsing piece by piece. The snow plug was still passable going quickly while it was still cold, but late in the day, we’d probably have wanted to set up protection. The larger crevasse had turned into a legitimate jump, and on our way down there was a ladder ready to set up across it. It’s amazing how well the guides care for the route. DC would be a pretty gnarly route in August if it weren’t for their help.
We were back at camp around noon, leaving us two hours before our porters met us. We made food, napped, chatted, and I basked at how I was chilling on a glacier instead of sitting at a desk in front of Excel. I tied a shirt around my face to block the sun because everything hurt. Lord Byron and Dustin arrived and told us H wasn’t coming because he wasn’t feeling well, but as we were packing up, who comes trudging through camp? H! Pushing through the pain to help us get down. And they had bought us fresh fruit and coconut water! Guys, apples taste SO GOOD on climbs. So good. So do blueberries. I bring shitty food on climbs. That needs to change.
We began the glissade descent to Paradise. Dustin had mapped out every glissade chute, and even named some of the steeper ones. Glissading is both hilarious and efficient. It’s like sledding for adults. My allegedly waterproof pants were soaked through after a few chutes, but that’s not enough to stop anyone! Once past the glissade chutes we fought through the stone stairs of knee destroying doom and Kayla figured out a shortcut to the overnight parking lot so we didn’t have to go by the ranger station. Yes!
I got to the car and realized something was missing. My hat!! Not my hat! Shit I just lost Hat 1.0 like a month and a half ago, how did I already lose this one?!?! Okay Eve calm down deep breath let’s walk a little ways back up the trail and maybe it’ll turn up and YES there it IS IT’S LYING IN THE PARKING LOT I have never been so relieved in my life. I slathered lotion on my sunburned face and we regrouped with the team to figure out where to grab dinner. I suggested treating our porters to dinner and of course everyone agreed. We settled on a small pub about 2.5-3 miles from the national park gate.
I was pretty tired. I knew it was going to be a long drive, so I was thrilled to break it up a bit. And lemonade is always so freaking good after a climb. We devoured our burgers and fries and I chugged several pink lemonades (lies! they were yellow! The waitress warned us though). I put more lotion on my face. And ate more. I couldn’t finish my burger, which was weird. I’ll chalk it up to the sunburn. No one was spared. Rick had a raccoon burn going, Kayla’s arms were lobster red, and I look like someone had tried to make a creme brulee out of my face.