- Date Hiked: July 30-31, 2004
- Miles Hiked: 18.0
- Elevation Gain: 9,000'
- Hiking Partner(s): Brandon Kirby
- When I first started hiking in northern Idaho
seven year ago, I remember talking to a friend about how cool it would
be to climb Mount Rainier. Of
course at the time, I was hiking in cotton socks and denim shorts so
Mount Rainier could just have easily been Mount Everest.
Over the past several years, I put a few miles behind me, gained
a few skills, got in better shape, and traded in the old leather boots
and wooden hiking stick for crampons and an ice axe.
Because of this, the summit of Mount Rainier didn’t appear as
unattainable as it had in the past.
- I asked several friends and hiking partners if
they would be interested in attempting Mount Rainier utilizing a guide
service. Brandon was the
only one who accepted my offer, so we added it to our schedules. Although I have done a number of snow climbs and am
relatively familiar with cramponing and the use of an ice axe, I
didn’t feel as though I possessed the skills required to climb Mount
Rainier on my own. Glacier
crossing, rope travel, and crevasse rescue are all techniques that I
have had little to no exposure to.
Because of this, I thought I’d play it safe and sign up with
Rainier Mountaineering Incorporated (RMI).
- In addition to their overall expertise of
mountaineering, there are other benefits that this guide service adds to
the climb. Most
importantly, the odds of making the summit increase from 50% to 75%.
Beyond this, they provide sleeping mats, helmets, harnesses,
ropes, a place to sleep, drinking water, cooking water, and the
elimination of route finding and a lot of anxiety.
In hindsight, both Brandon and I were pleased with our decision
to spend the extra money not only to increase our chances of reaching
the summit, but also learn some new skills and techniques from
individuals who actually climb for a living.
- This trip report is likely going to be the same
as many other reports from climbers who have used RMI, but I’ll throw
it out there anyway.
- Brandon decided to drive to Washington from Salt
Lake City, UT, so he picked me up at the SeaTac airport on Wednesday
afternoon. It took over an
hour to drive to Ashford, WA, which is where RMI is headquartered.
We checked into Whittaker’s Bunkhouse, unloaded our gear,
visited the registration office, and wandered around the Summit Haus
gear store. A short time
later, we went up the road to the Copper Creek Restaurant for a burger
and fries. After dinner, we
returned to our room and organized our gear for the one day climbing
course that would take place the following day.
- We woke the next morning and wandered over to the
rental store where numerous people were gathering for the day.
Three summit teams were forming, one expedition seminar was
preparing to head out, and of course the climbing school was also
getting organized. Our
instructor was pointed out to us, and we jumped on the bus for the
40-minute ride to Paradise. Once
at Paradise, we topped off our water bottles, used the head, and began
our training. (See the
previous trip report for further details regarding the climbing course.)
- The bus returned to Ashford around 5:00 pm.
Brandon and I cleaned up and headed back to the Copper Creek
Restaurant for another burger. We got back to our room and began the process of organizing
our gear and loading our backpacks.
Neither one of us were looking very forward to hiking with full
packs as both of us would fall into the “fast & light” category
of hikers. Although I
usually try and pack relatively light, Brandon may even be considered a
minimalist. Nevertheless, we loaded our packs with the recommended gear
and went to bed prepared for the approach hike to Camp Muir.
- Similar to the previous day, we met at the rental
store around 8:00 am, but instead of looking dumbfounded next to the
sign the read “Climbing School”, we now looked dumfounded next to
the sign that read “Summit Team B”.
We joked around about being “bagged” (When a climber is left
alone on the mountain in a sleeping bag after not being able to
continue.) on the Muir Snowfield while quietly sizing up our teammates.
We were actually disappointed about being on “Team B” because
we had heard that one of the keys at Camp Muir was to get a bed and the
bottom of the bunkhouse. We
assumed that since we were “Team B”, we would depart Paradise after
“Team A” therefore losing an opportunity to get a low bunk.
- Anyway, we repeated the process of riding the bus
up to Paradise, and for some fortunate reason, we ended up being the
first team to leave on the approach hike around 9:00 am. Brandon and I immediately fell in right behind the guide
leading the team up the trail. We
maintained this position for the rest of the hike.
The approach from Paradise to Camp Muir consists of 4.5 miles,
4,500’ gained, and 4 short breaks.
Our team included nine climbers and three guides.
There were two other teams with the same composition. The hike was very structured with the guides setting a slow
but efficient pace. We
would break approximately every 50 minutes for 10 to 15 minutes while
being constantly reminded about eating, drinking, and sunscreen. We were instructed to carry only two quarts of water and
drink one-forth of our water on each break so that we would be empty on
the last section before reaching Camp Muir.
Approximately one third of the approach is on a well-defined
trail before reaching the Muir Snowfield.
Once on the snowfield, we proceeded in single file kicking steps
in the snow all the way to Camp Muir.
Although the pace was slow, one of our teammates struggled and
fell behind the “peloton”.
- Summit Team B would be the first to arrive at
Camp Muir 5 hours and 15 minutes after departing Paradise.
Brandon and I immediately grabbed the bottom bunks on the east
side of the bunkhouse and began hydrating and resting.
We heard over the guide’s radio that the other two teams were
having a bit of trouble and had slowed some.
After hearing this, we were happy with our team’s progress and
felt more confident about the upcoming climb.
We snooped around the ridge that Camp Muir is located on and I
took a few photos. Once the
other teams arrived, we had a group meeting where one of the guides went
over the details of the climb and made clothing recommendations.
- Immediately after the meeting, we were provided
hot water and had dinner. After
eating, we began preparing our packs for the climb that night and our
beds for what ended up being a sleepless evening.
Our backpacks would be lighter on summit day, but we still went
through the process of checking off the list of clothes, gear, food, and
water we would need. The
bunkhouse actual quieted down significantly at 7:00 pm and a few people
started sawing logs immediately. Neither
Brandon nor I could sleep. I
had to pee a lot because of all the water I drank, and the anticipation
of the climb also kept me awake. I
did drift off from 9:00 pm to 11:00 pm, but Brandon didn’t sleep much
- A guide noisily came into the bunkhouse at 11:45
pm. More hot water arrived
as the bunkhouse erupted with people scrambling to get dressed, assemble
gear, and eat breakfast. Although
the first rope team would not be leaving until 1:00 am, Brandon and I
were ready to go in 30 minutes. The
two of us would be on the same rope with a guide and one other climber
from Boise, ID. Because of
our performance the previous day, Team B would be the first to depart
Camp Muir for the summit. Things
were falling into place for Brandon and I, and we were happy to hear
that Team B was leaving first.
- Regardless of my climbing ability, I was a
liability to the team because of my diabetes which I fully discussed
with our three guides the previous day.
As a result, I was assigned to the rope of Team B’s lead guide.
So not only would Brandon and I be on the first team to leave
that night, we would also be on the first rope to head out.
Things just kept getting better and better for us.
- The teams assembled on the ridge and clipped into
their respective ropes. Brandon,
myself, and the Boisian, were partnered with the lead guide Jeff.
Three Canadians were roped up with RMI guide Dave, and only two
people from Washington were left to tie into Ben’s rope.
The individual who struggled to get to Camp Muir the previous day
decided not to attempt the summit.
- Although the summit climb has the same statistics
as the approach (4.5 miles/4,500’), breaks are dictated by safe zones
rather than time. Because
of this, we were only allowed three breaks before the summit instead of
the four that we received on the way to Camp Muir.
The initial section of the climb crosses the Cowlitz Glacier and
switchbacks up the rocks to Cathedral Gap.
Upon reaching the Gap and gaining the ridge, we proceeded to the
Ingraham Flats were we took our first break for the morning.
Once we pulled off the trail, we coiled each other in, took off
our packs, threw on our parkas, and began eating and drinking.
I left Camp Muir with a long sleeve base layer, a short sleeve
t-shirt over that, running tights, and shorts.
As we pulled into our first break, I was slightly cold, so I
added my soft shell before departing the Ingraham Flats.
- The next section of the climb crosses the
Ingraham Glacier to the base of Disappointment Cleaver and then ascends
the western edge of the “DC”. It
was during this leg were we crossed a crevasse approximately two feet
wide that had a ladder across it on the way back down the following day.
Brandon and our other team member changed out batteries in their
headlamps below “the backboard”.
We were now on rock and our guide short-roped us together.
Negotiating the loose rock of Disappointment Cleaver is
considered the “crux” of the route.
Doing this in the dark with crampons is even more of a challenge.
If I were to climb independently, I am certain I’d take the
extra 5 minutes to remove my crampons for climbing through the rock on
- Approximately half way up the cleaver, we
listened to and watched tennis ball sized rocks whiz by the light of our
headlamps. As Brandon and I
got hit in the legs a couple of times, our guide was hit in his ice axe
hand. At this point, he
yelled for us to move it as we rapidly proceeded up the mountain to get
out of the rock fall. He
stopped to assess the condition of his hand that was already beginning
to swell. We finished the
climb to the top of the Disappointment Cleaver around 12,300’ where we
took our second break for the morning.
As instructed, packs off, parkas on, eat, drink, pee, get off
- With only 10 - 15 minutes available, I didn’t
have a lot of time to get all of these tasks accomplished along with
checking my blood sugar level. I
intentionally adjusted my insulin dosage to compensate for the extra
physical exertion. The
reading was slightly high which is where I actually wanted it to be.
I didn’t think it would be good to have a low blood sugar
reaction during the climb. Before
long, it was time to uncoil and start heading out again.
- The next section of the climb takes us from the
top of Disappointment Cleaver to High Break.
From this point on, we would be taking the switchbacked trail
across the Emmons Glacier to the crater rim.
During this section, we would encounter more large crevasses,
some exposure, and slightly colder temperatures.
I didn’t add anything over my soft shell even though the
coldest part of the morning is just prior to the sunrise.
This was definitely my favorite segment of the climb.
Watching the headlamps turn into climbers, watching the sunrise,
knowing the crux was behind us, and being over half way to the top all
contributed to my enjoyment of this portion of the climb.
- Pulling into High Break, I felt the same chill I
did when coming to our first break on the flats. I added my hardshell before putting on my parka for break.
Also at this stop, we donned our sun glasses and put on some
sunscreen. We were at
13,300’ with a little over an hour of climbing to go. By this time we had heard that a rope from Summit Team A had
turned back at the flats and at least one climber from Summit Team C was
left at the top of Disappointment Cleaver.
- Our guide instructed us that once we see rocks,
we would be close to the summit. The
bare rocks are actually the crater rim.
We continued to plug along and eventually gained the rim and were
looking down into an active volcano.
The actual highpoint of the Mount Rainier is on the opposite side
of where we gained the crater rim.
We continued to hike to the center of the crater where we dropped
our packs and congratulated one another.
After a short break, we finished the hike across the crater and
began the short walk to the Columbia Crest.
We took a few photos and then reconvened at the backpacks.
It was a surreal feeling to be standing in the middle of a
volcanic crater with the sun warming us and the wind around five miles
an hour or less. There was
still a bit of work ahead of us, and it didn’t take long before it was
time to shoulder our packs and begin the descent.
- We stripped down to our base layer and made our
way back to the rim on the southeast side of the crater.
The climb back down to Camp Muir takes a little over half of the
time of the ascent. We made
it to the top in 6 hours and 5 minutes and down in 3 hours and 25
minutes. On the descent,
there are only two breaks, one above the cleaver and one at the flats.
Essentially, the itinerary eliminates the rest at High Break.
The climb down was uneventful and we passed Summit Team B and C
when they were approximately 45 minutes to an hour away from the top of
Mount Rainier. Considering
that we had already spent around 1 hour on top, we felt comfortable with
our progress for the day.
- The descent wasn’t too bad considering the
softening snow which almost immediately began balling up on our
crampons. Once back at Camp
Muir, we were allotted one hour to grab some water and pack up for the
hike back to Paradise. The
guides let us go at our own pace as we tried to glissade where possible.
Towards the end, I think everyone just wanted the hike to be over
with. Brandon and I were
cut loose, so we shifted into overdrive and cruised back to the
trailhead. We were the
first ones to leave the parking lot at Paradise, and we were also the
first ones to return. It
took 2 hours and 25 minutes to go from Camp Muir to Paradise.
- After the bus ride to Ashford, we loaded our
packs into the back of Brandon’s pickup and drove into Seattle where
we spent the night with a mutual friend, Mark Smith.
Mark was kind enough to put some meat on the grill for us and
provide a couple of Fat Tires for consumption.
We slept well and were up early the next morning to go to the
airport. I didn’t sleep
on the flight home, but it was cool to see the Sawtooth Mountains of
Idaho along with the Lost River Range.
- In retrospect, Brandon and I were both surprised
at how easy the climb was. I
am in descent shape and hike regularly while Brandon is a marathon
runner. With the exception
of the rock fall incident on the Disappointment Cleaver, neither one of
us lost our breath during the entire climb from Paradise to the summit
and back. Although somewhat difficult, the descent wasn’t as brutal
as expected either and we moved at a swift pace with neither one of us
developing any blisters. Sunday
morning we both felt good with nominal soreness.
I took Sunday and Monday off from running, but I think Brandon
went out Monday. I am not
trying to come across as arrogant; I am trying to make a point.
Simply stated, anyone in average to better than average shape who
can follow directions should be able to climb Mount Rainier (with RMI)
without any significant problems. Obviously,
the better condition you are in, the less you will struggle and the more
you will enjoy the climb. The
pace is slow and the guides provide adequate advice and support where
needed. Efficient climbing
techniques, perfect weather, and a strong team all assisted in the
success of the climb. I
would almost have to say that Rainier is more of a mental challenge than
a physical one. You just need to take it one step at a time and not get
psyched out. Although
pleased with our decision to use a guide, now that I am more familiar
with the mountain and route, I think I’d try to climb Rainier
independently if I ever did it again.
- Click here
to view a route
photo of the area where this hike is located.
- Click here
to view a 2D
map of the area where this hike is located.