Cascade Glacier School

Report from 1/8/16


Where do I even begin?!

I guess I should begin by introducing the man behind the scenes: Dan Mazur. Dan is the owner and founder of SummitClimb and is an amazing climber and expedition leader with a variety of high peaks under his belt. He offered his home to us and welcomed us with open arms. I was the first to arrive with two others on my team that I arranged a carpool with from the airport. One other team member arrived just before dark and the five of us hung out around a backyard bonfire getting to know each other. We all felt star struck as we talked to Dan and asked him questions about all his climbing and experiences. Questions like: “Did you know Rob Hall and Scott Fischer?” to which Dan would reply: “Oh yeah! I was actually their lead up K2.” to which we would squeal like little girls.

That first morning consisted of a breakfast meeting going over logistics and the itinerary for the week and getting to know each other. We totaled 10 team members including Dan. There was John from Lebanon, Akash from New Jersey (originally India), Ben from New Hampshire, Andreas from Germany (originally Canada), Shankar from Seattle (originally India), Steve from Seattle, Akib from Ohio (originally Bangladesh), and Lindsay, my tent-mate who is from Virginia but living in Dubai for work. We then spent the day checking gear, getting groceries, and preparing for the mountain. 

The next morning we work up at 5am to head for Rainier from Olympia. We arrived at Whittaker Mountaineering around 8:30 to pick up snowshoes and any other gear people needed to rent. We then headed up the mountain to the Paradise Visitor Center to get our permit for winter camping on the mountain. After a quick lunch and putting our packs together in the parking lot, we finally started hiking up the hill. The snow was deep and the snowshoes were a new experience, especially with 70lbs of weight on my back. A storm began to kick in just as we were arriving at our camp location. it was roughly sunset and the storm kicked in hard and fast. We had to pitch our tents as quickly as possible in the storm as it was getting dark. After situating ourselves, my tent-mate and I made a quick dinner and got ready for a long night in the storm.

Akash digging out his tent after the storm

We received 13″ of snow overnight. It was incredibly dense and we actually woke up to rain making the snow on our tents even heavier. We had a slow morning waiting out the storm in hopes of learning some mountaineering skills after the rain would subside. 

The best moment of the whole trip was when the storm dissipated enough to allow the mountain to come out for a short moment. Because of the snowy forecast, we were all concerned we wouldn’t receive the chance to actually see Mount Rainier because everything was so socked in; but we got lucky and that moment was glorious. As soon as the clouds moved away, the view was so spectacular and the mountain was incredibly majestic. Because Mount Rainier stands alone with such a high prominence, it looked so massive! Even though we weren’t going to get to attempt a summit bid this trip, I KNEW I needed to plan on a quick return to climb this glorious mountain. After staring at that colossal peak in all its glory, I have to come back this ASAP…. Rainier is calling my name.

The magnificent view didn’t last long. Within about 20 minutes the clouds returned and enclosed the peak. We spent the day learning glacial rope travel, and applying ice anchors. We worked until after sunset before heading back to our little basecamp for dinner and another long night. The unfortunate reality of winter camping is the short days. The sun would set by 4:30 and we would spend upwards of 16 to 18 hours in our tents. 

The next day we experienced snow all afternoon. We went for a hike down to the Nisqually Glacier just to try to get a look at the mountain but the snow was so heavy that there was very little visibility. Our trek took us through trees on a steep hill, and down a steep pitch that required a rappel. 

Despite the lack of visibility, the ridge we stopped at still had view enough of the massive rock formations hiding in the fog on the other side of the glacier to make us feel so incredibly small in comparison.

We returned to camp by sunset but a decision was to be made. Due to the weather conditions, we could not spend time learning crevasse rescue or ice climbing on the mountain. If we were to camp one more night in the snow, the plan the next morning would be to pack up and head back to Olympia. However, leaving that evening would give us the opportunity to spend the next day at a local climbing gym learning what we needed to. We decided to hurry and pack up camp and head down in the dark where we would then pack up the cars and head to Olympia.

Last moment on the mountain (LtoR) Akib, Akash, Me, Shankar, and John

A couple local team members went home to sleep in their own beds, but the rest of us stayed at Dan’s and woke up to go play at the Warehouse Rock Gym in Olympia. We learned how to tie prusik knots and climb out way up the rope in the event of a fall into a crevasse. We also practiced using ascenders as well as creating pulley systems for helping someone who is injured out of a crevasse. The rest of the afternoon was spent, just enjoying the gym and getting in some climbs. 

John, Ben, Me, Dan, Lindsay, Akash, Andreas, Akib

That evening we said goodbyes to most everyone on the team and it was just Akash, John and I left to keep Dan company on our final night in town. Akash and John were the two I carpooled with from the airport and we arranged to carpool back the next morning. We spent that final evening listening to more of Dan’s amazing stories around one final bonfire and just enjoying each others company. The next morning it was off to the airport, where we said our last goodbyes and parted ways not knowing when we might see each other again. As a team we all became good friends and saying goodbye to everyone was difficult.

Overall, this trip was an amazing learning experience! It was an incredible way to build a foundation for my mountaineering skills. I have been rock climbing since I was a toddler, but mountaineering is an entirely different beast!

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