Grand Park via Lake Eleanor

Rainier over Paintbrush and Biscuitroot
First you must brave mud pits

I hadn’t been on a trail run in ages and I had seen so many beautiful pics of Grand Park, it was time to give it a go. I had been warned about the dirt road and I was mentally prepared for potholes galore. Bring it on.

  • Distance: ~9mi round trip
  • Elevation: 1,100ft gain, 5,600ft highest point
  • Weather: 80’s and sunny with BUGS
  • Commute from Seattle: 2hrs but add 15-20min buffer for the forest road
  • Did I Trip: NO SIR
Then get a break in beautiful old growth

I got a late start, showing up at the trailhead around 10:45am. I immediately walked RIGHT past the start to the trail and kept heading up the road until I noticed fewer and fewer cars and realized… huh, it must be back that way.

The trail was an absolute mud fest in the beginning. Pits of lose-your-shoes mud with some branches tossed across but not enough to keep your shoes clean. Lake Eleanor came up quickly (maybe a mile?) where I immediately made another wrong turn. The trail dumps you out into campsites next to the lake, and you can follow the campsites along the lake, or you can walk through the first campsite to the left where you’ll pick up the rest of the trail. Fortunately this was on strava, so my trail navigation skills are publicly on display.

Where mosquitos are born

After the lake, you drop a bit of elevation and pass through some meadows/swamps/bogs before regaining it again. Did I mention the bugs yet? The bugs were BAD. And I was sweaty. So any bug that hit my face stuck to my face. Just get to the fields, just get to the fields, soon it’ll be all flowers and no bugs just get to the fields. Oh here’s a field. With mud pits and cesspools of mosquito larvae. Where the King was born. I assume. Or Queen. Or whoever. Doesn’t matter who.

White avalanche lilies

Past the lower meadows, you get onto this ridge like ramble, and the trees get thinner, and the trail gets drier, and the flowers get denser and the colors get brighter. Avalanche lilies were EVERYWHERE, a promising glimpse of what was to come. I always think back to my friend years ago who was SO excited to show his sister the avalanche lilies at Rainier before realizing it was April, and everything was still under many feet of snow.

Avalanche lilies and perfect trail

Trees got more and more sparse, meadows got larger and larger, and suddenly the top of Rainier was in view. And in the next meadow, ALL of Rainier was in view, and you’re meandering along a narrow trail surrounded by wildflowers and grasses. Lupine, these hot pink paintbrush (I’m used to red and white, not hot pink!), purple aster, yellow biscuitroot, more avalanche lilies. And the meadow is nearly two. Miles. Long. You can ramble through this for hours. You can eve see Fremont Lookout up the ridge directly south!

Fremont Lookout over lupine

The only awkward part is passing others. Wildflowers are extremely delicate, and the trail is extremely narrow in some points. If there’s a party to pass, there is no good way to do it.. I ran into a crew going for a peak I don’t remember and passed them by walking next to the trail doing my best to not step on wildflowers and totally got called out for it. I felt so guilty but I honestly don’t know what the alternative would be. They seemed to understand as soon as I was like “I didn’t know what else to do” and I think that’s all you CAN do. Do your best and hope everyone understands you have good intentions. Just sucks because that’s basically admitting that some wildflowers are going to be trampled because of the traffic on this trail, that traffic includes me, and there’s not much we can do about it.

Purple Aster, purple something else, and white something

I took a break at the intersection of the Lake Eleanor trail and the Northern Loop trail before turning around to head back. The trip back through the meadows was no less spectacular, but re-entering the trees… yikes. I passed some lucky hikers wearing bug nets while hiking, they were the smartest folks out there that day. I swear the bugs made me run faster. I corrected all my trail mishaps on the way out missing zero turns, and popped out at the car around 1pm despite my late start.

My car matches the flowers

This is an AWESOME trail for a run or a short day hike. Easy navigation, no parking passes to deal with, tons of scenery, just really high bang for your buck. I can’t believe it took me this long to do it. The only downside is the forest road that lasts forever but it wasn’t as brutal as I had expected. In fact, my car matched the foliage, and the views are pretty good too. Buuut I was still pretty happy to be back on pavement by the end.

Lake Eleanor

Lane Peak Ski via Fly Couloir



Ready to ski! (Photo Credit Haley)


The view of Rainier

I started out the day as a bitch. Anyone can attest. Grumpy cat in true form. I had several friends going up Fuhrer Finger and Gib Ledges, I hadn’t been out in the mountains in weeks, I wasted my Saturday in the city, I was stressed about work and exhausted from the past few weeks and just wanted to disappear and despite my grumpiest efforts no two day trips came together. So there I was, at 7:30am, nagging everyone to hurry the hell up after lying in bed awake for two hours wondering if I should just go solo.

Somehow no one smacked me across the face even though I nagged for another 45 minutes, and then whined about getting breakfast, and then grumbled when Haley thought she forgot her beacon, and then sheepishly confessed that actually it was I, Eve Jakubowski, who had forgotten her beacon. I drove my own humbled ass back to the cabin to grab it and met them at breakfast where I finally relented to the fact that this was going to be a very slow casual day. So I enjoyed my Denver scramble and my cups of tea and the facilities with running water and took a deep breath. Skiied 4/22.
  • Distance: 3 miles? Not sure.
  • Elevation: ~1500ft gain (6012 highest point if you summit)
  • Weather: 50’s and sunny
  • Commute: 2.5 hours from Seattle
  • Did I Trip: I did not trip, but I did pinwheel


Calvin crossing the meadows

We couldn’t figure out why everyone was booting it up the slope from the parking lot to the upper road until we saw a snow plow toss a fridge size snowball over a snowbank. Oohhhhhkay. We’ll boot up on the left too.

We walked the road to the forest, clicked into skis, and survival skiied down to the meadow while Tricia snowshoed around us. You only spend around 10 minutes in the forest, which surprised me. I expected to have hours of suffering because that’s how backcountry skiing works, you earn your turns with hours of suffering. And instead we were cruising through a meadow, took the last snowbridge across the creek, and boom we were at the bottom of the three couloirs. The Fly Couloir is the obvious one on the right. You’ll pass the bottom of the Zipper just left of a patch of trees about halfway up, and Lover’s Lane is still a mystery to me unless I’m looking at Lane from afar, but that’s okay because I’ll never ski that one.


Here we come!

I started switchbacking up in the sun through a mix of slush and ice. The slush stuck to my skins adding who knows how many pounds of shit to my legs and the inability to edge on ice, so really a lose lose situation. I waited for Calvin to catch up to me to take the helmet and ice tool off my pack that I had neglected to grab before (rookie mistake), and started kicking steps up and up and up. The Zipper looked prime and untracked, and I was a little jealous we weren’t climbing that. I paused briefly for a selfie, savoring Calvin’s F bombs in the background because he hadn’t put on his waterproof gloves. I forgot just how satisfying breaking trail is. I was in the zone. I freaking LOVE steep snow. How had I ever forgotten?! Next thing I knew I was hitting sunshine and then topping out. I snapped a few pictures, explored the mini-couloir at the top only to determine I did not want to scramble the rest of it, and dropped onto the south face to see how far it would be to the summit. Far enough that I didn’t want to go because going uphill without skis was like wallowing in nipple deep slush and a recipe for disaster.


Tricia about to top out

We had snacks and water and got ready to ski down. I flipped my boots into downhill mode and SNAP! I stared in disbelief. It had finally happened. My beloved Proclines had broken. Oh my god. I can barely ski to begin with, I can’t ski with one boot in walk mode the entire way. I took calvin’s extra ski strap and the velcro strap I had and jerry-rigged it so I had some semblance of control, but the range in those boots is so crazy it didn’t make much of a difference.


Side slipping like a boss (photo credit Haley)

I side slipped for what felt like ages. On soft snow, until I hit the shade. Then one turn. Then side slip on ice. Then another turn on ice. Side slip on ice. Turn. Shit myself. Slide on ice. Mega wipeout. Head over heels, is my ski above or below me, were there rocks below me? No, right? Okay, good, I came to a stop with my ski amazingly only a few feet away, and looked up to ski I had skipped the hard part. Awesome. Thank god we didn’t go after the zipper. I had forgotten that I don’t know how to ski.


Calvin forgot how to cross creeks

I was shaken, that’s really the first fall I’ve ever had while skiing. I clicked back into the skis, made one turn, then two, then three. Gave Haley my picket in case I wiped out again (you still have that Haley I know you do) just in time to wipe out again, and finally I decided to pop the skis off to walk to wider, softer terrain. Finally I put the skis back on, and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of it. To the point where I skinned back up to Haley and skiied down again. And then skinned back up to Calvin and Tricia (being ski-belayed by Calvin, which didn’t seem enjoyable), and skiied down again. With my one boot. Which I would always forget about until I had to turn left. Ugh.

We made it back to the gate just in time for closing, including a survival glissade (skis horizontal so you can glissade) back to the parking lot because everyone at the bottom was yelling DON’T SKI IT IT’S NOT WORTH IT. I’m not sure why, because the slush was so deep glissading was hard and walking was even worse. Like wading through quicksand. More swimming than walking. I was beyond happy to chug powerade back at the car.
Awesome half day, one of the best I’ve done. Definitely need to go back for a day with better conditions, non-broken boots, and the Zipper when I’m better at jump turns. Dare to dream!

Mt. Rainier via Disappointment Cleaver


Descending the Cleaver on trip 2

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.


JT skinning up

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.


The rare appearance of my vestibule

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.


Skipping to sunrise, Adams in the back

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.


Weaving through crevasses

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.


Sunrise over the crater rim

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?


Me, Sam, and JT summit!


The first awkward bottleneck

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!


Another bottleneck near a collapsing snow plug

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.


Alpenglow at sunrise

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.

It was still cold, and windier than the previous day. I pulled my buff over my face only to have it freeze solid because of my breath. I couldn’t believe I didn’t bring my balaclava. My camera lense froze too, which you’ll notice in most of the photos. One big smudge and a blown out sun. Add that to the list of abuse my camera has endured. And somewhere around 1am on the cleaver, daydreaming, I realized I did not set an out of office email. Shit.
70% of mountaineering is me waiting for the sun to rise and convincing myself that everything will be okay once the sun rises and you can feel your feet again and your face doesn’t hurt and your camera works normally and your water bottle isn’t mostly slush. But Charli had explained why she wanted to summit when we were carrying coils on the cleaver, and I realized I was emotionally invested in everyone getting to the top. That’s not always the case, I can be a little selfish sometimes. But this time around, it was about all four of us getting there.


RMI rope team at sunrise


Coming along the crater rim

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.


Rick, Charli, and me on the true summit! Kayla snuggling in a sleeping bag out of frame.

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.


Me and Kilo Charlie!

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!


Descending into the clouds

“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.


Great visibility

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.


Top of the Cleaver, clouds clearing!

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.


Glissading! Woohoo!

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 cramponed my spork 😦

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.


Looking back up at Rainier from near Paradise

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.

Huge, huge thanks to everyone who was involved in this weekend. It was an awesome weekend with perfect conditions and good company, and it’s amazing that everyone summitted successfully. You guys are all bad asses. And honorable mention to my dermatologist, who didn’t fire me as a patient when I showed up at 7:30am on Tuesday with high alpine facial burns.


Selfie with the summit marker

Mt. Rainier, Disappointment Cleaver Route

Bright and starry eyed group ready for wonder

Bright and starry eyed group ready for the climb

You could say that my first ‘hike’ in Washington State was a climb up Mt. Rainier. A week after moving here last August, I got a message from IMG on Wednesday. Someone had dropped off the team, I was on the waiting list, and if I was in good shape, meet them on Thursday night to go climb the mountain. Of course I said yes, learned basic snow skills like crampons and self arrest, and had a successful summit. But that’s all I knew. I was your stereotypical “rope up the cattle and lead them to the summit” type client. I was in good shape, but I didn’t understand rock fall, or crevasses, or snow bridges, or why they had us rush across certain areas, or why people were worried about elevation, or the effects elevation could have. The list goes on. I kept calling Disappointment Cleaver “Disappointing Cleavage,” by accident. Anyway, after spending all winter and spring and summer learning more about navigation, roping up, setting up anchors, crevasse rescue, techniques to deal with thin air, you name it, I was desperately hoping to have a chance to go up Rainier again. And here it was. Mt. Rainier, 7/31/2015-8/2/2015.

  • Distance: ~17 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: ~9000ft from Paradise
  • Weather: Impossible question. 70’s and sunny to 30’s and clear to 30’s and windy and hailing for a hot minute I mean come on. Also smokey from wildfires.
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30
  • Did I Trip: Guess what? NOPE! How is that possible, you ask? Miracles
  • GPX file: Here, from Ingraham Flats to the crater and back, thanks to John!

Charles along the trails at Paradise

Charles along the trails at Paradise

We met at Paradise around 10am to divide group gear and get everyone organized. I was a little anxious. These people had been climbing together for months, and I had never met any of them. But Michael and Jae were both very talkative and outgoing on the drive there (we met up at a park n ride to head south). By the time we got there, I had already confessed to my awkward years of Korean soap operas, so you could say the ice had been broken. I decided I’d try to keep the snark and sarcasm to a minimum for the first day at least, so they wouldn’t think (know?) I was terribly abrasive impatient east coast stereotype.

I savored my last opportunity to use a toilet for three days, we snagged a quick group pic on the stairs below the entrance, and we were off. The first few miles of the trails are paved. They basically built stairs. I remembered being nervous last year, but hey I was in even better shape this year and knew more, so it should go smoothly, right? I lathered sunscreen on my face, my ears, inside my nose, everywhere. I learned the hard way last year. I remember my friend and the guide joking about burning the insides of their nostrils and the roofs of their mouths when they’re out of shape, and I laughed. Until two days later, when the inside of my nose was painfully red, swollen, and peeling. 0/10 would not recommend.

John heading to Muir

John heading to Muir

The best part about not having guides was being able to set your own pace. Once we hit the snowfield, I trailed John up to Camp Muir. Slow, steady, and very few breaks. That’s my style. None of the “try really hard and then break for ten minutes!!!” streaks. Pacing is absolutely something I knew I needed to work on. I knew I’d be the overzealous “let’s go faster!!” type and risk burning myself out by Sunday, so I tried to be overly conscious of that flaw and keep myself in check. I had heard I could trust John’s pace, so I stuck with it.

Finally on the glacier headed towards Cathedral Gap

Finally on the glacier headed towards Cathedral Gap

I was more mentally prepared this year, as well. I knew once we saw Muir, we’d still be like an hour away. Yep, still true. The snowfield was ridiculously melted out, though. You probably could have scrambled most of the way if you really wanted to. We arrived at Muir, and set our stuff down to wait for the rest of the group. I savored my last time using a pit toilet for the next two days (recurring theme already, huh), had some snacks, and took pictures of Sam, a guy who was tangentially with our group but snowboarding down from Muir. As the pro photographer that I am, naturally I didn’t realize his camera was actually turned off for his first few runs, so it took a couple tries.

Looking down on Muir from Cathedral Gap, Adams in the background

Looking down on Muir from Cathedral Gap, St. Helens in the background

Once the group had reached us, we set out towards Ingraham Flats. I’d miss the pit toilet (would I?) but the flats are a more enjoyable place to camp, in my opinion. We roped up, slowly, in two teams of four. John’s rope is a freaking behemoth of a rope (70m!) so we had plenty of extra to carry. Charles was a trooper, carrying the whole damn thing all the way up. I think he, John, and Michael had packs that were well over 50 pounds. Mine turned out to be around 40 by their estimate, which was great – I had never weighed it before, so I had no idea how efficient my gear was weightwise. But 40 including group gear is pretty damn good. And probably explains why I never got too tired.

Little Tahoma

Little Tahoma

I never realize how much elevation you gain between Muir and the Flats, but it’s apparent when you get to Cathedral Gap and look back down on Muir that you’re quite a bit higher. Crevasses were pretty open very close to Muir, but the route was so well traveled that many people weren’t roping up. We still did, of course, I’m not about to play around with that stuff just yet. Past Muir, you cross a dicey rock fall area. It’s one of the areas that the guides last year had us nearly run across, but my group didn’t alter speed too much. Cathedral Gap was mostly just hiking up a trail of scree. We shortened the rope for that area and carried the coils with us. The best thing about Cathedral Gap that I didn’t appreciate last year is that feeling of getting to the top, since it’s a small ridge. Suddenly Little Tahoma is right in front of you over the Ingraham Glacier, and Glacier Peak is far in the background. You can see ice fall and crevasses and seracs and the contrast of ice and rock is just breathtaking, not to mention we had perfect timing because the sun had slipped behind Rainier and just Little Tahoma was lit up while everything else was in shadows.

Almost there!

Almost there!

Jae working on our tent platform

Jae working on our tent platform

Getting to Ingraham Flats, we realized just how late in the day it was. The top of the snow had nearly frozen over, and digging wasn’t going to be a great way to clear tent platforms. We ended up chopping it all up with our axes and using the shovels to level the area once we had chewed it up a bit. What was amazing was how well everyone worked together. I half expected some people to stand around, others to work, that’s how many of my trips have been. But not this group. Charles and I started chopping up ice in areas we thought would be good for tents, Jae joined me to set up our tent space as soon as she had her warm layers on, John started up the stoves to melt the snow that we dug up from underneath the crust, everyone was doing something. Completely without prompting. We had tents up in no time, with water and dinner (dehydrated meals, yum) on the way. I had the Pad Thai by Backcountry Pantry. Highly recommended. Bring extra salt. Ha! Jokes. There’s salt for days in those things. Someone said they were too salty. I don’t know, I’m into it. Salt is delicious.



Sunset was unbelievable. The pyramid shadow of the mountain was very cool, and the moon was huge and bright. There had been a blue moon the previous night, I believe, which is neat. And we could see a huge pillar of smoke from a wildfire off in the distance. Fingers crossed: please don’t let this be like Baker, where we end up socked in by smokey haze, unable to see one ridgeline over, with smoke stinging our eyes and throats. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Looked like the plume was spreading east, anyway.

Glacier Peak and a wildfire in the distance

Glacier Peak in the distance, wildfire just out of the frame to the right

What’s neat is now I know the peaks you can see from the flats. I had no idea last year. This year I was pointing them all out. Hey, there’s Stuart! And Cashmere! And Glacier! And is that Summit Chief, and Bear’s Breast? And Daniel? No, Mt. Index? That’s farther west, isn’t it? And of course, Adams, St. Helens, and Hood were all out on the way up to Muir earlier in the day.

I went to bed around 10, which is late for me on a mountain. Waypoint had let me borrow a sweet, sweet tent (Nemo Tenshi) and it was awesome. Unbelievably easy to set up, and it was fairly warm too, since it was a four season tent. It’s single wall, so I had heard that condensation might be an issue if it rained, but the forecast called for clear. I had a great Nemo sleeping pad too (Cosmo Insulated) which absolutely put every other one I’ve ever used to shame. I was going to bitch about how long it was taking to inflate (no Eve don’t let the string of profanity escape you yet you’ve only known these people for 12 hours), but I soon realized that there were in fact two valves, one of which I never closed. So there I was, giving my lungs an extra workout at 11,000ft because of my idiocy. I dropped a single f bomb under my breath, chuckled at myself and hopped into my sleeping bag.

Sweet ass Nemo Tenshi

Sweet ass Nemo Tenshi

Freakin sunrise

Freakin sunrise

The next morning, I woke up just in time to snag a few pictures of sunrise. Through the window of my tent, because I was way too cozy to get up. It was freaking unbelievable. If we didn’t need sleep, I think I’d just never sleep. There’s just too much to do. I went back to bed for two ish hours after that picture, because I knew I’d regret it on summit day if I hadn’t gotten a good amount of sleep. Breakfast was just snacks, and we relaxed around camp for a few hours. Most of the group didn’t want to waste energy, but I go crazy sitting around. At one point, a group reached the flats, and one lone guy started shoveling out a tent space for the rest of them. We watched him, and laughed at how the rest of his group was just standing around talking while he worked so hard. Finally we got up and offered to help, as entertaining as it was. It’s amazing how quickly it goes with three or four people.

Brilliant color at sunrise (should have gotten the tent pic now!)

Brilliant color at sunrise (should have gotten the tent pic now! But I was too cozy)

Afterwards, John offered to practice rescue techniques around the crevasses. Yes, finally! A chance to be actually in a crevasse, not prussiking up to a tree branch or rescuing the chair in my living room. John ran Jae and I through some basic belaying techniques with an ATC belay device, which I had only done once before. Hugely helpful. We didn’t think we’d need it, but I’ll never complain about learning. We set up a very simple z pulley system to review, though it turns out the way he set it up was far easier than what I had learned. Then we moved over to a crevasse, set up a bunch of anchors and practiced getting out.

The first one I dropped into I vetoed immediately. I was basically standing. Too shallow, too gradually sloped, not gonna happen. I walked out and we chose another edge for me to hop over. Snapped a quick crevasse selfie (better not drop that camera), told him to drop me lower (8 feet didn’t seem like enough) and got started with my prussiks. Turns out, it’s exactly like prussiking up to a tree branch, just with better (colder) scenery, and it’s trickier to get over the edge. But I managed to get my axe anchored beyond the lip to pull myself over. And John pointed out that you should never have to prussik much farther than that, which in retrospect, makes total sense. You’re roped to another person, you’ll never have to prussik 50ft up from a crevasse. Hopefully. If that does happen, I imagine you have bigger issues to worry about.

Crevasse selfie

Crevasse selfie

Jae went in once I was done. Both feet first. I was timid about going over the edge (I have the same issue with rock climbing – I really, really have to commit to that first step backwards over a ledge) but Jae just looked at John and jumped right in. At this point, I went back to the group to start melting snow for dinner. It was 4pm, I wanted to be in bed at 5 since we were waking up at 10, and I wanted dinner. I ran to Kayla and Ryan, who had just arrived at the flats, to say hi and chat before retiring to my tent. They were going to go up the Cowlitz route, but decided they didn’t have enough ice screws, so DC it was.

Sun dipping behind Gibraltar(?)

Sun dipping behind Gibraltar(?)

Hardik and Emily arrived around then, and this is where a few issues arose. First, they left their tent at Muir. Good start. Emily had forgotten a helmet, too. Great. I am of the firm opinion that you can’t climb Rainier without a helmet. That’s ridiculous. Michael sent them back down to Muir to get their tent and hopefully find a helmet to borrow. So in one day, they went up to Muir, up to Ingraham Flats, back to Muir, and back to the Flats. If that’s not already enough, they had around 3 hours to rest before we started for the summit.

I got up around 10pm. I was happy to help boil water (okay, watch it) while everyone else got ready. I pack my bag the night before, since I know if I try to pack that morning, I’ll forget something. So the morning of, my bag is packed, and the gear I need to wear is usually all laid out within the vestibule of my tent. If that’s not the case, don’t let me go up, because I’m a creature of habit and that means something’s wrong. And my habit is that plus tea and oatmeal in the morning. Damn, does Earl Grey taste good at 11,000ft.

We roped up and got moving. We weren’t the first group out of camp, but that’s okay with me, I like being in the middle. I knew we’d be moving slowly, so I’m glad we started when we did. The original plan was to leave at 1am, but I requested to push it to 11:30, and then we agreed on 10:30 (though we weren’t ready in time for that departure).

The Cleaver on the way down (too dark on the way up)

The Cleaver on the way down (too dark on the way up)

Starting out from Ingraham Flats is where it gets interesting quickly. Those crevasses are open. Very open. The trail is pretty flat at first, but you cross over some chasms. Just at the base of the cleaver was a crevasse with a pack and an ice axe lying at the bottom. You could probably rappel down and get it, but no one had. “Is there a body next to it?!” someone joked.

Disappointment Cleaver was unbelievably easy compared how I remembered it. Shows you how far I’ve come. Going up that thing last August was my personal hell. I could never tell where we were going, or how they knew where to go, or how to step around all the rocks and boulders and get good footing on scree and this time around it was a piece of cake. It’s all relative, but I was shocked seeing how it really was. Seriously, I think Hibox and Black Peak were harder, and Gene’s Peak. Wow.

Nearly at the top of the cleaver, we pulled over for a break. Emily was feeling pretty tired, and John had a chat with the group. He phrased the “does anyone think they should go back down” question in the best way I’ve ever heard: “Do you think you could downclimb this without a rope?” If the answer is no, you are probably not feeling good enough to continue, and we need to find someone to take you down. It can be anything from exhaustion to altitude to even just a fear of heights, but it’s a great way to evaluate comfort level and whether you’ve crossed your own limits.

Little Tahoma and a sliver of sunrise

Little Tahoma and a sliver of sunrise

We waited for the other team, and it turned out that Hardik was feeling it too. Emily kept apologizing, and I looked at her and just pointed out that she went from Paradise up to Muir, to Ingraham, back to Muir, and back to Ingraham all in a day. And then sat for a few hours before summit day. Jeez, just going to Ingraham and then summitting is considered a push for most people, nevermind the extra trip down to Muir and back! And no one should feel like they’re a burden when they decide to turn around. It’s always the right decision. Emily, if you found this blog (hi!), I had huge respect for you when you made that decision. It’s the hardest one to make, but you perfectly walked that line between pushing your limits and still being smart about it and being very self-aware. And a few hours later, more of us had to make the exact same choice. Give me a shout next time you want to try Rainier!

Michael, group leader, Patron Saint of Slow Climbers Who Nearly Had Their Asses Kicked By Rainier, roped up with Hardik and Emily to head back to camp. I almost offered to go back with them when Michael suggested that he’d drop them and come catch back up to us. But I’m either not that good of a person, or we had been climbing longer than I thought, you pick. The remaining five of us hopped on John’s big ass rope to carry on.

So much for

So much for “just snowfields past the cleaver”

Reaching the top of the cleaver, my memory told me it’d be mostly snow fields to the top. Nope. Between my memory being skewed (I didn’t know anything about anything going up Rainier last year, remember) and the late-season condition of the DC route this year, it was a completely different route. Crevasses were gaping. We had to traverse west across the top of the Ingraham glacier, taking our time across steep slopes. Bridges were a huge obstacle. Bottlenecks and lines in front of both (only two, fortunately) and our slow paced five person team was not helping the situation. We stepped aside to let teams pass on several occasions, and once again I found myself climbing in my DAS parka, which should never be the case. Unless it’s really, really freaking cold. Which it wasn’t. I don’t think I even broke a sweat on the way up. Which in a way is good, because it means I was never wet enough to get deep chills. Sweet.

Another bridge, taken on the way down

Another bridge, taken on the way down

But guys, those bridges. Seriously. Last year, there was one easy bridge that I remember, and one section with a fixed line. This year, there were maybe 5 or 6 fixed line sections, and two bridges. And the bridges were much dicier than the one last year. Both had hand ropes, which was nice, but you still had to be careful going across them, and careful not to tug your teammate when you were waiting on the other side. And careful to get close enough give them enough slack so that they wouldn’t have to stop halfway across the bridge. Those are the types of things that you don’t think about until you’re in the field doing it.

Pic someone took of our team

Sweet pic Amit Bhosle took of our team with neat snow formations

The other part that amazed me was the snow formation. Last year, I swear it was all just flat snowfields. But this year, the snow had melted into small jagged spikes, making the terrain look totally neat in every direction. I wasn’t even bothered by the number of people around us, I was just happy to be up in an alpine environment, especially one that was so beautiful. There’s something amazing about seracs and crevasses, and things so massive you can’t even describe them. My appreciation for it this year was much deeper than last year. Oh, and I didn’t have “sugar…. ohhh honey honey…. you are my candy GIIIIRL and you got meeee wantinnnn YOUUUU” in my head on loop for 12 hours like last year, either. So that was nice. That’s my primary memory from last year. Darkness, being cold, ice, and The Archies floating in and out of my consciousness.

Crossing the first bridge, the sun started to rise. I knew at the top of the cleaver we had no chance of summitting at sunrise, but I didn’t really care. It turned out to be unbelievably hazy thanks to that damn smoke, but that means for a really neat red stripe across the sky. I snagged pictures when I could (fairly frequently, actually), remembering how much I regretted not taking any last year. Damn, I was feeling great. I didn’t even notice the thin air until someone pointed it out, and even then I think it might have been more mental. And to think I spent the entire week freaking out about bringing Diamox just in case, only to never touch it.

Looks like another planet between the snow and the haze

Looks like another planet between the snow and the haze

Beyond the second bridge, Jae started feeling the altitude. We sat down for a bit to have drinks and snacks, something I knew much of the team hadn’t been doing. At one point I force fed everyone goldfish and told everyone to get their glacier glasses on, because the sun was over the horizon and you know how quickly that’ll affect you. We spilled a lot of goldfish, so much for leaving no trace. And my combos were expired! How the hell do combos expire?! Man, that sucked! They were like all I think about up until summit day! They must have been like 4 years old. I thought those things would survive nuclear war. God. Dammit.

Jae pushed on for another half hour or so before deciding to wait for us. We were around 13,500ft, a common place for climbers to stop. A nice woman named Bri was sitting in a bivvy waiting for her team, so Jae went over to sit with her and we gave her a sleeping bag. Not a bad place for a nap – plenty of sun, views (if not for the haze) and even some company. Now we were down to four.

Small crevasse

Small crevasse

Charles was next. 200ft after dropping off Jae, Charles sat down while a team was passing us, and then looked up at me, tilted his head, and smiled. “You know… I think I’m going to just stay right here.” Okay, cool. Backtrack to Jae and hang with her and Bri, and we’ll be back soon. A group on their way down let him trail them back to Jae and Bri just in case, and John, Rob, and I carried on.

Now I was in the lead. I had John show me how to coil the rope and tie it off so if anyone behind me fell it wouldn’t choke me, and we were ready to go. Okay, Eve, don’t take off, just go at a moderate pace. I told Rob and John to yell if we were going too fast, and started at slow hike pace, which was still faster than we had been going. It hailed on us for a quick minute, and I started to worry about the weather. Blue skies above us, but we couldn’t see anything farther because of the haze, and the weather up there can flip in a second. I still had more layers in my bag, not that I wanted to deal with hail at 14,000ft but if it had to happen… actually let’s not think about it. Point is, we got lucky and it didn’t happen!

Blue sky just above the crater, hail held at bay

Blue sky just above the crater, hail held at bay

A few feet from the top, I ran into Kayla and Ryan, looking totally casual about the climbing feat in front of them. I was so proud to run into them right there, with a dozen meters of extra rope wrapped around me tied perfectly and nearly reaching the top with two strong climbers behind me, glowing with excitement. It crossed my mind that that’s just how slow we were (Kayla started three hours after us, passed us on the way up, tagged the top, turned around, and passed us… still on our way up) but who cared, we were 10 feet from the crater rim.

I heard Rob behind me. “I mean you could just drag me to the top…” I laughed and thought, “don’t mind if I do!” I wanted to top that crater and head down. Two people had warned me about the weather, and I didn’t want to be the team that got stuck at the top. We reached the crater rim (WOOO!!!) and descended to the snow, unroped, and had some water.

Rob and John at the summit register

Rob and John at the summit register

It was a funny feeling. I had recognized none of the route until the crater rim, and suddenly it was all familiar, even comforting, like coming to an old friend’s house. I looked at the two of them and mentioned the weather, and said we can run to the summit register real quick and turn around, or we can go back now. The answer? Summit register. Oh, and Rainier. They had both carried entire cans of Rainier to the top. If I had half a can, I’d probably be wasted, and they’d be short-roping me the entire way down.

John among the pillars of snow

John among the pillars of snow

Guys, the snow in the summit crater is so neat. One side is just flat, but the other side has melted the snow into these big spikes. It looks like another planet. I jogged/speed walked to the other side of the crater, hoping I could try to get a pic of Rob or John crossing through the snow pillars. I opened the summit register and waited for them to come sign – it’s almost full! I looked for our signatures from last year, when I climbed with Owen and Angie and Brenda, but the new register started a week after we had been there last year. It would have been awesome to see my name in there.

We ran to the high point, where luckily there were two guys left, one of whom was willing to hang around for a few minutes and take our picture. Thanks Kurt! Guys, I’m a happy person, but I can’t even convey the joy of this pic. I get so happy just looking at it, knowing how happy I was to be there. When I had realized just how slow our pace was going up the cleaver and on the five man rope, I didn’t think we’d make it. I figured we’d have to turn around because of time issues. But there we were! Standing at the top with two cans of Rainier and smiles for days.

Yeah buddy!

Yeah buddy!

And it was then that Rob told us he had been on crutches just 8 months ago. He had a torn ACL/MCL, and had gone through months of physical therapy. And here he was on top of freaking Rainier! Holy shit! I was floored. I couldn’t believe it. I had just sidled my way up the side of the mountain, and here I was looking at someone who had fought tooth and nail for the past 8 months to be able to do this, and successfully summitted one of the toughest climbs out here. Damn. The things I take for granted.

Well, we still had to get back down. Getting up is optional, going down is mandatory. We roped back up (still worried about the weather) and started out to pick up the climbers we had waiting for us. Jae and Charles were bundled up in sleeping bags and bivvies, and seemed rejuvenated when we arrived. I hope it was a pleasant nap. We could see them from afar when we were still a few hundred vertical feet above them, so we knew we were there. We put them in the middle of the rope, and continued on.

Looking down at the easy ladder

Looking down at the easy ladder

Getting back across the ladders was smoother than the first time up, but still a bit of a process. And you know what I didn’t consider about a five person rope team? Communication. I had no idea what was going on in the back. Unless someone yelled to me, I was relying on tension, and if the rope got taught, I’d stop to see what was going on. Especially with some of the bridges and corners and steep sections where I had no line of visibility, I was 100% relying on messages to be passed forward to me. We figured it out, clearly, but my primary experience has always been with three man teams, and navigating a five person team through such a dicey, windy route was an accomplishment in itself.

Before traversing the Ingraham Glacier to the top of the cleaver, I glanced behind me and Charles was just looking around in awe. There’s nothing like being up there surrounded by glacial features. I thought I had heard the “boinggggg” of ice cracking earlier, so I had been on my toes lately. It’s just an unnerving noise. I had given up on telling everyone when we were stopped in a bad place. There had been several instances where I’d be waiting for the team while standing on a thin snow bridge, or trying to balance on a narrow ledge above a steep slope with 20ft between me and the lip of a crevasse. But I finally realized… that’s what you get. That’s just what you get climbing a mountain like that. There won’t often be good places to stop, so make sure you’ve got good footing and hope for the best. A football-sized chunk of ice whizzed past my head about 3 feet in front of me at one point, and I turned around to Charles with the “OH SHIT!” look on my face. I still don’t know if he saw it. But the team members behind us were working on unclipping from a rope (no idea why it was taking so long, tangled or something?) and there was nowhere I could go. Yay, helmets.

He's stretching, not attacking, don't worry. But it was too perfect

He’s stretching, not attacking, don’t worry. But it was too perfect

The traverse went smoothly, though, and at the top of the cleaver, we unroped for the scramble. I wasn’t okay with this. We always took forever to rope up, and this meant we’d be sitting at the bottom of the cleaver in a soft rock fall zone trying to get the rope back on for the last part of the glacier back to Ingraham Flats. John was right, the scramble was much faster unroped (and again, so much easier than I remembered it being!) and it kept the rope in good shape, but I wasn’t fond of waiting around while we got ready again, especially in a danger zone. Michael chewed me out for it back in the car on the way home. Not in an aggressive way, just in a “what were you thinking?! I couldn’t figure out why you were sitting there, I thought something had to be wrong!” kind of way. But luckily, no rock fall, and we made it across to the flats just as two IMG guides were scouting out their own route.

Rob on the last traverse to Ingraham Flats

Rob on the last traverse to Ingraham Flats

Kayla and Ryan were still there (yay!) so I went to go chat with them. They had just cooked food, too, and offered me some. I was hesitant until they pointed out there wasn’t exactly anywhere to throw it away, so I’d be saving weight if I helped them eat it… okay, I’m sold. I’ll help. I started wolfing down food and telling them about our epic climb. I still couldn’t believe we had made it, given how the rest of the team had been feeling.

We were the last team off the flats, and the last group to leave Muir as well. Michael had headed down earlier with Hardik and Emily, and said he’d meet us at Paradise. It started raining at Muir, a good reminder why you bring clothing for every climate. I had waterproof gear from head to toe. I didn’t want my helmet to get wet and had nowhere good to strap it on my pack without potentially destroying it (the foam ones are damn fragile!) so I left it on my head. John wore a garbage bag like a diaper to expedite the glissading, I stuck with my trusty Marmot pants. Let’s get the hell off this mountain, I’m tired.

Rob heading down from Muir after weather moved in

Rob heading down from Muir after weather moved in

The sun set just before we reached the end of the snowfield. Well, it was raining, so there wasn’t really a sunset. We turned on headlamps and aimed for the Pebble Creek trail. Now I’m pretty unfamiliar with the Paradise trails, and everything looks different in the dark. I was totally convinced we were on a different trail than we took on the way up. At one point I pulled ahead of the group, and then realized I’d be paranoid about getting lost if I stayed alone up there. So I waited until Rob caught up. He seemed to know the area better, so I stuck with him. 2.2 miles to Paradise, the first sign said. I’m still convinced we took a longer route than that, but I’ll never know. We followed the Skyline Divide trail, chatting mindlessly, one foot in front of the other. My IT bands were screaming. Of all the things to be sore. Nothing else was complaining, just the IT bands. I have to give Rob a huge thank you. I was losing the mental game in those last two miles. I was tired, I just wanted to be at Paradise, I wasn’t sure if Michael would even be there waiting for us, what if Michael left how would I get the things I left in his car, are we going in circles? We might be going in circles. No, we haven’t made that many turns, and we’re still on the right trail. Is that a tent or a rock? A rock. What about that one? Whoa, people camp here?? No, also a rock. Okay, dammit, we’re on a paved trail, we’ve got to be close now. And finally we popped out onto the stairs we had taken the picture at in the very beginning.

Don't slip too far

Don’t slip too far

We dropped our packs on the stairs, and I took off all my extra layers and my boots and my helmet. We lay down on the stairs in amazement that we were back. I knew I had to find Michael. Rob, watch the bags, I’m going to make a lap around this parking lot. I stood up in my socks, went to use the bathroom (the men’s room, zero fucks left to give, the women’s was closed for some reason – I drove a guy out of there with my horrific appearance and stench I’m sure) and started towards the parking lot.

Okay, what do I know about Michael’s car. It’s a small SUV. A Honda. A Honda CRV, and I think it’s blue. And there are some Z’s in the license plate, Z and then a blue letter and then another Z (synesthesia is useful sometimes). Was it a B? No, and R? That car has ZRZ. And it’s blue. And it’s… a Honda. I jogged straight towards it, and saw the window cracked, with Michael right behind it. MICHAEL!!!!! I shouted, “holy shit! I can’t believe you’re still here I’m so glad to see you” and ran. He opened the door, “Oh my god Eve I’m so glad you’re okay where’s the rest of the team are they okay too I even asked the rangers if there had been any incidents and they said no but–” “The rest of the team is still coming, Rob’s over by the stairs but the other three are still on the trails I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU’RE HERE” it was a whirlwind of adrenaline and relief all at once. We went back to get our packs and toss them in the car, and Michael announced he had sandwiches. Yes!! Michael the Patron Saint of Climbers Who Wish They Could Sleep Eat and Shower Simultaneously.

Snowbridge and some small chunks of snow (only three times as tall as me, maybe four)

Snowbridge and some small chunks of snow (only three times as tall as me, maybe four)

I saw a headlamp emerge from the woods, and jogged over to it. “How are you running?!” I head Charles’s voice. Charles, yay! I led him over to the car where he dropped his pack. I started devouring my sandwich. Michael handed one to Charles, who took one bite and immediately started vomiting everywhere. I turned to Michael – “Why?!?” “Exhaustion, probably,” Michael replied. His body saw the food and said eff that, we don’t have the resources for digestion, you’re finally relaxed for the first time in 24 hours, we aren’t dealing with this. I giggled a bit, mostly from sleep exhaustion and the fact that I was still enjoying my sandwich less than three feet away from a guy puking all over the pavement. Too tired to care. Yay, sandwich.

Slowly but surely making our way through

Slowly but surely making our way through

Finally we saw two more headlamps. Jae and John! Yay! I jogged over to meet them again. John was hiking in his socks, he had given up on boots when he hit the pavement. I offered to take Jae’s pack, which she handed over to me without protest. I told her 200 more feet to the car. 200 more feet to safety, to a place to sleep and eat and finally relax. All that stress, the mental duress even along a trail as easy as those leaving Paradise, it adds up. Especially after such a long climb, and coming back in the dark. I had been feeling it too, for those last two miles. I told Rob that if I had been solo, I’d probably have set up camp and waited for morning.

Thankfully, Michael had driven Jae and I. John and Charles had to drive themselves home, and Emily and Hardik were long gone. I can’t sleep in cars, so I knew I had another two hours of being awake. Jae looked at me and said “I give it five seconds until I’m asleep. You can sit in the front.” On the drive back, Michael explained how the downclimb with the two of them had gone, and it sounded terrifying. I’m still not sure whether my decision to keep going up was good or bad. On one hand, it might have been nice for Michael to have another strong climber on the rope, but on the other hand, it turned out he had to stay at camp to watch the two of them (one was getting sick from exhaustion), and I do not think I’d have gone back up alone to catch up with the team. Regardless, I was just amazed by Michael as a human being. Patron Saint of Sandwiches and Vomiting Climbers.

Summit selfie

Summit selfie

This was a learning experience. I learned a few technical skills, and strengthened what I already knew, but most of all, it was a reminder that Rainier is a serious climb. It doesn’t matter how many guided trips there are, how popular the route is, that a 9-year old summitted a few weeks ago, that my coworker can do it in less than 10 hours from Paradise. Rainier is still not to be taken lightly. On the physical side, it’s like a marathon. Most people need to train for months to make it happen. The mental duress is far worse in my opinion than a marathon, where you can step to the side any time, and you don’t have a team relying on you. And of course, the hazards are always there. The elevation, which can make people belligerent and hamper decision making and communication while simultaneously taking a toll on your fitness. The physical strain itself, of climbing for many hours straight while remaining alert enough to arrest if someone slips, make sure you have good footing, make sure conditions are still in your favor, make sure everyone on your team is on top of their game. The lack of sleep the night before summit day, waking up at 10pm to start climbing through the night. The crevasses, the ice, the rock fall, the seracs, the wind, the ice chunk that would have been bad news if it was three feet to the left of where it whizzed past me, the boing of ice cracking that could have been above us rather than in the distance, the hail that could have turned into a full blown 14,409ft thunderstorm, the climbers who drew the line exactly where they needed to rather than crossing it and putting everyone into a dangerous situation.  I have been very lucky with my climbs so far, and this was a trip that reminded me just how much I’ve been taking for granted. You can never be too careful, and it was a perfect first lesson on the decision making, risk management, and general awareness that mountaineering demands from you.

Quick final note: I can’t thank everyone in the group enough. It was an incredible experience on so many levels, and I’m so thrilled to be able to say we did it. Best of luck on your future climbs!

Paradise Inn: Glacier Vista

A sunny day at Rainier National Park! I had been there two weeks ago, but we were completely socked in by clouds. You’d never have even known the mountain was right there if you weren’t familiar with the area. Tough to estimate distance/elevation accurately since we took a roundabout route along the Skyline Ridge path to begin with, but I’ll put the specific Glacier Vista stats anyway. Hiked 12/30/2014.

Mt. Rainier from Glacier Vista

Mt. Rainier from Glacier Vista

  • Distance: 3 miles (we did more like 5 or 6)
  • Elevation: 700ft gain, 6300 highest point
  • Weather: 20’s and sunny (though 11 degrees when we got started!)
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30, plus tire chains and a park entrance fee
  • Did I trip: No! Ha!

Getting started!

Getting started!

Originally we wanted to get to Paradise Inn for sunrise, but then we realized (oops) the park doesn’t even open until 9am. So we left Seattle before 7am and got into the park at 9:07. Somehow, other cars beat us. They checked for chains, we paid, and we were on our way. We didn’t need the chains until about 6 miles in, but given the past few weeks, chains have become second nature. It’s almost hilarious that I asked the tire place “Can I return these if I never use them?” because they’re a staple of Rainier National Park in winter, not to mention getting un-stuck on icy gravel mountain roads. I completely understand why the parks and national forests around here require them November through April.

Jean and Jonathan looking over a valley by Skyline Ridge

Jean and Jonathan looking over a valley by Skyline Ridge

Anyway, once chains were on, we continued up to Paradise. Rainier was already gorgeous, and the day was perfectly clear. I thought I would recognize the trails from when I was there this past summer, but everything looked very different covered in snow. And the snowshoeing routes don’t necessarily follow the summer trails. Anyway, we put on snowshoes quickly because it was so damn cold. Jean had brought three pairs of sunglasses, which is good because Jonathan and I had brought zero. Jonathan had some issues getting his snowshoes adjusted, and I started jogging up and down the trail in mine because I already couldn’t feel my toes. I was wearing wool liners and wool socks, but I’ve been using my hiking boots to snowshoe: no insulation! It wasn’t a problem until that morning. Turned out, it was 11 degrees when we got started. As long as I kept moving, the wool did its job.

Snowy/hailing day for comparison

Snowy/hailing day for comparison

There were a few prints in the snow, but you could roam wherever you wanted. I put up a photo of Jean and Lee on the day we snowshoed through snow and hail for comparison – they’re trekking just north of the picture where Jean and Jonathan are looking out over the valley by Skyline Ridge. You can barely even tell there’s a valley beyond the hill to the right in the foggy picture. Both times, we had a set of fresh prints to follow as well as our map – nothing came of it on the cloudy day, but on this sunny morning, we soon came upon a group of parents and kids sledding! One dad must have seen our faces light up, because he asked if we wanted a turn with the sled. Turns out, you’re never too old to love sledding. We each took a run, and it was almost as good as glissading down Rainier this past summer only to wipe out at my guide’s feet back in August.

Sheer joy

Sheer joy

Anyway, definitely bringing sleds next time. Jean got some for Christmas, we have to put them to use. Then they offered us candy. Sledding and candy? Okay. A few other kids were digging a snow cave in a snowbank, which was totally cool. The things you can do when the snow is 6 feet deep are endless. It’s like a huge playground for adults (and kids) with okay, just a little bit of avalanche danger. There’s a suggestion of a trail, but it’s up to you how much you follow it.

Made it up the short slope between the turn off from Skyline to Panorama

Made it up the short slope between the turn off from Skyline to Panorama and were greeted with a wide open snow field

We continued on across a small bridge, and hiked up to a lower ridge to see how Skyline looked. And it looked steep, and far away. So we turned out sights left. Towards Panorama Point. Which I will achieve someday.

There were tons of people switchbacking up to Panorama Point, but we were worried about avalanches and stayed away from the slope.

Avalanche debris

Avalanche debris

A skiier had triggered one earlier, and you could see the debris. We snowshoed along some smaller knolls, which we soon found out was Glacier Vista. We met a few hikers from Portalnd, Oregon who were familiar with avalanche terrain. I asked how high the avalanche risk was on the slope everyone was climbing to get to Panorama Point – he laughed, and said “on a day like today?! Nothing’s going to happen on that slope” as I stood there thinking god dammit. Next time, when I know more about avalanche evaluation.

View south from Glacier Vista, Adams and Hood in the distance

View south from Glacier Vista, Adams and Hood in the distance

But the views from Glacier Vista were still pretty incredible – Mt Hood, Adams, St Helens. Not to mention the rolling hills of snow or the sun lighting everything in view or the glaciers on Rainier itself. Looking at Rainier, I’m amazed I ever climbed it.

Jonathan dwarfed by Rainier

Jonathan dwarfed by Rainier

We sat at the final knoll of Glacier Vista and had tea, some awesome trail mix Jean had made (with rice krispies and chocolate covered peanuts! who knew rice krispies were so good in trail mix) and maple-bacon chocolate. Jonathan took some time lapses with his camera, and I’m pumped to see how those turned out. I spent my break dropped rice krispie trail mix everywhere like a clumsy child. After a solid 30 or 40 minutes, we decided to pack up and head back. We had to be out of the Paradise area by 4:30 since the gates at Longmire closed at 5 for the night, and we didn’t want to be stuck. What I didn’t mention was that my toes had been MIA for maybe 15 minutes, and I needed to get moving to warm them up again. I had foot warmers just in case, but that would involve taking off my boots, which didn’t sound ideal when I knew moving would help and the car was not even 30 minutes away. The rest of my gear was spot on. Now that I’m stocked up on puffy layers and a good outer shell (beta AR folks out there?!), winter hiking has been pretty straightforward.

Soon to be alpenglow, the sun is setting

Soon to be alpenglow, the sun is setting

As we snowshoed back down the Glacier Vista trail (much shorter than the way we had taken to get there) the sun started making everything look yellow. Alpenglow was coming! We got back to the parking lot and snapped a few last minute pictures. Or at least I did. As the driver, I could not take photos from the car. Meanwhile, Jonathan was hanging out the back window as I drove as slowly as possible without pissing off the jeep behind us so he and Jean could get some pictures of the mountain, which was lit up all pinkish orange. I’ve only seen alpenglow a few times in my life, and this was incredible. Check out Jean’s pictures of it – sadly, I have none.

Rainier in the beginning of sunset

Rainier in the beginning of sunset

Being the Pacific Northwest, where nice polite drivers live, no one honked at us. Unfortunately, we did drive past a Jeep that got stuck in a very deep ditch, so even if you’ve got high clearance and four wheel drive, be careful! Don’t take those turns too tightly. As for me, I patted my trust Honda Accord, took the chains off a few miles later, and continued being awesome.

A full day in the snow! Finally feeling like winter, unlike in the city, where everyone freaks if it’s below 40. “Optional winter” out here is nice. And winter in the mountains is far more attractive than winter in gray, concrete Chicago. Sorry, my Chicagoland friends! Some sadistic part of me misses the subzero temps, but… I’ll stick with single digit nights in the mountains.

Mountain selfie

Mountain selfie