Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mt. Rainier...the Return Trip

After much gentle reminding pestering, Bryce has finally written about his and Jack's climb from the summer.  

First of all, my apologies for the lateness of this post! Work has been a complete whirlwind starting (literally) on the drive from Rainier back to Seattle and with no end in sight. Anna put her foot down, thankfully, so I'm finally getting this out there!

Since this is so late and most (or all) of you know the outcome of this trip, I'll spare you the suspense...

Bryce and Jack at Columbia Crest

Now that the punchline is out of the way, I'll tell the story. Yes, there is a story; it seems that at least where Jack and I and Mt. Rainier are concerned there is always a story.

I'm going to draw a lot of comparisons to our trip to Rainier last year and I have to apologize for that; it was just such a different experience this time. It's amazing to me how much difference about 6 weeks can make in the weather out there in the Seattle area. Last year I did not even see the mountain until we were climbing down off of it at the end of the trip. I never did actually spot it from Seattle or flying in or out. 

This year, the mountain made it's presence known from the very start. We had some excellent views from the plane on the way into SeaTac and from the first glimpse of that giant hunk of volcanic rock I was feeling mighty small. The pictures can't convey just how HUGE this thing is! All I could think as we flew by was, "I'm gonna climb THAT?! I must be crazy!!!"

Rainier from the air
As Anna has already shared, we and the Parsons were able to spend a very enjoyable couple of days in the park and around Paradise. The skies were fairly clear, most of the snow was melted off around Paradise and the wildflowers were beginning their brief appearance upon emerging from the snow (in mid-JULY!). Here in the park, again, the sheer size of this mountain kept announcing itself to me. It's ridiculously large, and intimidating, and gorgeous! Also, looking through my binoculars from several hundred feet above Paradise I realized, for the first time, that I could actually see Camp Muir from there! Couldn't get a picture of it but I could see it. Pretty cool (at least I thought so).

Saying goodbye to our families the night before the climb and seeing that the NWS forecast for the next few days showed good weather (and winds at the summit diminishing from 60+mph down to merely 15-20mph), Jack and I were feeling pretty optimistic about our chances of reaching the summit this year.

Waking up at Paradise on the first day of the climb this year was much different than last trip. We woke to sunny skies and temps in the 50s; last year it was dumping snow and in the low 30s. By the time we started the trek to Camp Muir (only about two hours later, mind you) the sun was mostly hidden and the wind had picked up just a bit. Have I mentioned that the weather on Mt. Rainier can turn on a dime?! 

With all the snow melting off, the first hour or so of the trip to Muir was really just an uphill hike, mostly on the paved trails leading up out of Paradise. It was a relief getting onto the snow as those double plastic boots are not well suited to pounding the pavement! The weather continued to change for us on the trek to Muir, improving quite a bit as we emerged from the clouds that hang out around 8,000 ft. However, you could really see the evidence of the strong winds at the summit - lenticular clouds on the mountain means winds strong enough to thwart a summit bid. 

On the Muir Snowfield
With the nice weather and pleasant temps we made the trip to Camp Muir (+4600 ft over about 5.5 miles) in right at five hours, downright speedy compared to the seven hours in rain, wind and blizzard conditions last year! Camp Muir looked much the same as last year with only a bit less snow. We occupied the same wooden box (the Guide Shelter), set out our sleeping pads and bags and got a little rest. 

We hadn't been at Muir all that long when the wind picked up a bit more and it began to rain. Really, the weather up there is just a wee bit unpredictable. We weren't too concerned about it. All we had to do was get over the hill to the Weatherport for dinner and then back to the shelter for some sleep (mostly rest for me since I couldn't sleep more than a couple of hours at altitude again this year). We did feel bad for the RMI group on the other side of the plywood wall of the shelter. They had arrived at Muir about the same time we did but they were getting up around 11pm to make their summit attempt. In the rain and wind. 

Morning finally arrived at Camp Muir on day 2 and the weather had changed yet again - I know...shocker. It was a beautiful morning and the views were pretty sweet.

Mts. Adams and St. Helens peeking out above the clouds

As we were getting ready to head to the Weatherport for breakfast, several of the RMI climbers were getting back into camp. Someone in our group made the mistake of asking them how their climb had been, knowing full well it probably didn't go all that well. They had to climb in the rain and they were already back at Muir, right about the time they should be at the summit. The response was something like, "Oh, it was really dangerous! A snow bridge over one of the cravasses [these are cracks in the glaciers that can be veeeery deep, veeeery large and can swallow climbing parties whole] on the route opened up...with one of the guides on the snow while it was moving! The route is blown, man. It'll be a few days before they can reset it." And I thought to myself, "Holy crap! Here we go again!!! The weather is supposed to be nearly perfect and the route is blown?! Are you kidding me?!?!"

To be continued...

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