I’m not into the whole girl power thing, but I was lucky enough to be a part of the Peaks of Life All Women’s Rainier climb last weekend, and damn did the planets align for an awesome summit. Strong group, amazing weather, beautiful sunrise, summit all to ourselves, what more could I ask for? Maybe an IV to rehydrate but I’ll settle for excessive Mio and diet coke which will never make sense to me as a post climb craving because it has nothing useful. Separately, not together, jeez.
We’ll start with the week leading up to the climb. Nothing was going right. We were hearing terrible reports about the shape of the Emmons route. We considered postponing, we considered switching to the DC route, we considered bailing, we finally settled on sticking with the plan and going after Emmons. I was late to the team dinner. Anita left early to get permits but got stuck in traffic and couldn’t get there in time. Forrest got stuck late at work when his relief didn’t show up on time. My glacier glasses broke. I had to drive back to my house several times to get gear I told the team I’d bring but promptly forgot. All of the campgrounds near White River were full. Kara, Forrest and I ended up camping at a trailhead nearby while Anita traded beer for a spot in someone else’s campsite and Christina slept in her own cozy bed. We met at the White River ranger station at 7:30am, with banana bread made by Anita and instant coffee made by Forrest. Amazingly, Camp Schurman had spots open.
We parked at the White River Campground and started up towards Schurman. The trail is fairly flat (though not totally, as I learned on the way down) until you reach Glacier Basin ~3 miles in, and then climbs up to the base of the Interglacier. We did not rope up for the Interglacier, since the bottom was very mellow and well covered. There were crevasses towards the top, but we skirted left and gained the rocky ridge to Steamboat Prow a little early and avoided all major crossings. The lower Emmons was surprisingly broken up, but the upper glacier looked okay, and I started to think we had a shot despite all of the doom and gloom coming from everyone who had been up there recently. We had a quick snack of pepperoni-wrapped mozzarella and enjoyed the views. I took the best panorama of Anita every know to man that kept me giggling through the next 24hrs, and did I mention Forrest was wearing a dress, as an honorary woman for the weekend? It was a good start.
We roped up (still not sure how Forrest worked dress plus harness) and dropped onto the glacier a bit early and played a little chutes-and-ladders weaving through some lower crevasses. Getting to Camp Schurman was a short trek through some flirty clouds that never stuck around long but teased us just enough with views of the upper mountain. We got to camp just in time to catch a group on their way out, which meant we could snag their already-shoveled-and-leveled tent platforms. Score! We fine-tuned everything, pitched our tents, and got ready for dinner.
We went to sleep around 6pm with a wake up time of 9pm. We knew we’d be slow, so we wanted as much time as possible to summit. We got up just before sunset, clipped into our ropes, strapped packs on our backs, and started up the long slog.
Here you cross left to some seracs and then start ascending straight up to more overhanging ice cliffs, where you traverse far right (with some switchbacks). Some of the traverse was on sidewalk, and some was on steep exposed snow with steps barely kicked. Fine for bomber frozen snow in crampons, not so fun in the afternoon with wet mushy snow. Ah, well, problems for future Eve. We placed a few pickets on the way up and left them for the team behind us to use, only to regret not having them on the narrower sections of traverse. Not necessary depending on comfort, but it was technically spicier in my opinion than the slope we had protected in the beginning, so if you feel the steep straight up sections of the garbage disposal warrant pro then you should keep it with you for the traversing. But everyone’s footwork was solid and we continued on up, one step at a time.
We placed one more picket on a steep section where you climb right over the corner of the bergschrund, and took shelter from the wind in some seracs to grab glasses and sunscreen and prep for the summit. Christina napped again. I lay there like the michelin man in my puffy jackets. I had gone through every stage of emotion after the last break. I missed John, I hadn’t summitted since we scattered his ashes last year. I was annoyed with my lack of work life balance and angry that I couldn’t spend time doing what I loved and that a desk job could be so depleting. I was tired because it was 3am and I hadn’t slept in days and knew sleep wasn’t coming any time soon and I was wasting energy stressing over whether I had fucked up Facebook advertising for my company in the entire country of Germany before leaving Friday night. I was proud because we can wake up at 10pm and go climb Rainier like it’s not a big deal and now I got to enable others to do the same. And I was laughing, because it’s kind of absurd that you bust ass from 10pm to 7am and I could hear Anita behind me on the rope randomly groaning. Not explicitly bitching, just the generic “[deep breath] uggggghhhhhhhhhhhhkkkkkkkkkk” which made me giggle every time. Mountaineering sucks. It’s amazing, but it also sucks. Just keep plodding away. You’ll get there.
We finally fought through some very tedious annoying penitentes and dropped our bags just below the summit crater. Kara and I ran over to sign the summit register while the others went for photos on the true summit, and we all met up over there to get pictures with the sign. I wrote a small note to John on one page, I guess the Rainier summit is the closest thing I have to a memorial location for him. On the next I was happy to be the first entry for the day, because amazingly, we had the summit almost entirely to ourselves. I wrote everyone’s names down and something generic about great weather/great company/climbing for more than a summit. “Something must have happened with the DC route” I mentioned to Forrest. Usually it’s a party up there, it’s pretty special to have it empty. And to share it with a team that had just pushed so hard was awesome. Headaches, nausea, sleepiness, dehydration, they had quietly fought through everything, and there we were on a mountain so many people dream of climbing. Anita had tried for EIGHT YEARS to summit that damn mountain, and she put it gracefully. “Well if I knew how hard it was going to be I wouldn’t have tried for eight fucking years!”
We took a long break for snacks and more coffee before fighting through the godforsaken penitentes again. I knew they were killing Anita’s feet but she was still crushing it. The way down went faster than expected, partially because we managed to take a shortcut that cut off a large chunk of the route on the way up, including avoiding the narrow, now soft traverse. There was one very soft section of snow and in hindsight we agreed we should have scouted more and taken it more seriously, but instead we cruised right across it. Unfortunately, this shortcut left our pickets ~1,500ft above us where we had left them for other teams to use.
I let Forrest run up there (regaining 1,500ft is a privilege right?) to retrieve them while the rest of us took an extended
nap break. The brutal part of Emmons is you can see Schurman from most of the route, and it’s so far away. It’s like looking at Paradise from the DC route. Or looking at Muir from the top of the Cleaver, except it stays that distance away forever because the cleaver always seems to expedite the elevation loss for me on the way down. But we managed to get back to camp with a couple slow motion sit downs and some short boot skiing and a lot of groaning and probable heat exhaustion and snacking on snow to try and cool down. Glaciers are like deserts in the sun. The sun reflects off everything and from everywhere and my eyes were sunburned and you’ve been on your feet for 13hrs already and you just want to drop your body in a shallow river and lie there while your temperature returns to normal and your feet remember they have work to do. So we wander the alpine desert, trying to ignore the general discomfort until we are back at camp.
We got back to camp and took another extended break. We had left snow in pots to melt, which it did, but it was covered in an oily film that we didn’t trust, so we melted new snow. (and made more coffee). Just enough to get back to the base of the Interglacier, where rivers abound and hydration station awaits. Christina took another nap, Kara paced around camp with all the energy in the world, I bitched about my shredded feet and the heat rash on my calves, and we all lamented the size of the packs we needed to lug down another 7 miles. We finally got moving, and knocked out the last section back to the rocky ridge where we could finally stash the ropes. We dropped back onto the Interglacier higher than last time, and crossed two hollow sections that I did not like at all. Below those was a glissade chute built for the mountain gods themselves. I was walking next to it as Forrest cruised past me on his ass shouting “You look like you’re trying too hard!” and I hopped in the track behind him. I’m a slow glissader, I don’t like going fast. So I braked with my axe the whole time but who CARES sliding on your butt is WAY better than walking and we were down what felt like 15 minutes later after a few rounds of bumper cars where I’d hit a snow bumper and Kara would hit me and I’d paddle to get started again before Christina caught up.
We found a good spot on the trail by the river to get water and take a break while Forrest and Anita caught up. Anita caught up, but Forrest was still walking in circles. Anita and Christina started back to the trailhead. I ran up to Forrest, who had stashed his grey and black approach shoes somewhere but couldn’t find them. He had a gpx mark, but to no one’s surprise grey and black camouflage very nicely with gray rocks and black shadows. Kara waited patiently. We found Forrest’s shoes to the cheers of another nearby group, and finally started on our way back down, where we caught up to everyone at the Glacier Basin campsites before losing them again while we gave beta to a group on the way up.
I plopped my pack in the trunk and immediately took off boots and flopped on the ground to wait for the others. The post climb yard sale at the car is one of my favorite parts of climbing. Gear scattered, tired climbers in various states of sitting/sleeping/grumbling/eating, and the general satisfaction of a great climb. We agreed to meet for burgers in Enumclaw, and begged the waitress for water ASAP because we were all so thirsty. I mistakenly ordered a burger with BBQ sauce, which was sad because I don’t like BBQ sauce unless it’s on pulled pork. Or chicken sometimes. I checked my eyes in the bathroom mirror and they were nicely bloodshot, hooray eye sunburn. Don’t look in mirrors immediately post climb.
I take a lot of things for granted. One of those is Rainier. These trips are an awesome reminder of how incredible it is to be able to summit that mountain. Most people will never have the chance, the turnaround rate is still 50%, you fight objective hazard like rock and ice fall and crevasses and add exhaustion and altitude and heat to that and you’ve got quite the challenge. It’s not like a marathon where it’s over in four hours and you run through crowds and can see progress as you pass by new street corners.* It’s pushing through the dark of night, one foot in front of the other with no tangible reward, no one cheering you on, too spaced out to chat with your team. It’s just you and your thoughts and the snow and the sky and the night. And yet, you’ll keep going back time and time again just to do it all over again.
Huge congrats to Kara, Christina, and Anita for earning that summit with every step and reaching the top for the first time. Thanks to Forrest for leading the climb at the last minute, thanks to the rangers for the beta and the absurdly nice restroom (way better than Muir), thanks to Anita for anchoring my rope. Thanks to the guys who traded stove gas for carabiner. Thanks to the Germans for shoveling great platforms that we could steal. Thanks to Rainier for letting us summit, and with such perfect weather! Thanks to Peaks of Life for letting me be a part of such an honorable cause. It was a whole new angle of appreciation seeing everyone’s successful Facebook posts the day after, I swear I was sitting at my computer just glowing. Climbing is great in itself, but there is something just 100x more rewarding about going with a group like this, chasing a greater cause, and using your favorite hobby to give a little bit back to the community. So here’s my successful post. A huge day for the Peaks of Life women’s team, incredible conditions on the mountain, and I’m happy to say that through it all we raised $4,500 for Seattle Children’s!