TRIP REPORT: Mount Rainier (14,411′)

I have been waiting a VERY long time to write about this one. I can’t believe it’s finally done! This mountain has always been about timing, and that rang true even for this climb.

In January of 2016, I ventured to Mount Rainier for the first time to attend a glacier mountaineering course hosted by Dan Mazur of SummitClimb. We were not able to go for the summit due to weather conditions but it was a great learning experience. From that point on I was hooked and knew I needed to come back asap.

Rainier views back in January 2016

I planned to return that summer with a friend, unfortunately they weren’t able to commit. So we postponed to the following summer, and again the next year and the next. Eventually I decided I needed to find other partners who were interested. I gathered a group of friends who were ready to go and committed, and then COVID hit. We waited and watched for the government to lift restrictions. In June 2020, Washington began to move to their “2nd phase” of opening from the pandemic, and the rangers announced the upper mountain of Rainier was open and we were stoked and ready to go.

However, within that first week of opening, 2 climbers died. About a week later, right before we were about to get our plane tickets, the park service announced the DC route was not established. Guide services were not yet taking clients up the mountain due to covid restrictions and we would have to do our own crevasse navigating… something I wasn’t super comfortable with while taking glacier newbies up the mountain.

We ultimately postponed. In 2021, I contacted each of my friends from the 2020 group and everyone had circumstances keeping them from climbing that summer. I found another partner and we planned for Labor Day weekend. Unfortunately, I fractured my foot in June and then Washington had massive heatwaves shutting down the upper mountain completely by the end of July… It just wasn’t our year.

This year I knew I need to make it happen. I have bigger fish on my list and I wanted to get Rainier over with and out of my brain. I established a group early, plenty of time to plan and prepare and then my best friend suddenly passed away and I was really struggling. I still planned on Rainier and we applied for a permit for the 1st of July. However, I was not really training much as I struggled with depression and grief. As we got closer, conditions were complete opposite of last year. The wettest spring in like 75 years. “Juneuary” literally hashtagged. Full blown winter conditions in the summer season. Guide groups weren’t summiting as avalanche danger was insanely high and the snow just kept on coming. On top of all that, our group slowly fell apart and it was debate of what to do.

Eventually things calmed down. We had already decided not to go for July 1st due to conditions but I knew if I had the chance I still wanted to make it up there. I didn’t have much time as I have to go back to work first week of August, so I watched, I waited, I asked around for anyone willing to just sporadically go for it should a weather window open. That’s when I met Mandie, she tried to summit in the heatwave last year and had to turn around due to rapidly deteriorating conditions as things melted out like crazy. We met up and took a hike together, talked shop and came up with a plan. We had a tentative window of time and decided to watch for the weather and pick the best day and hope for luck with walk-up permits.

It was game time! We had our dates, and luckily last minute cancellations opened up spots online for Camp Muir. We booked them and on Sunday July 17th, we took a LONG drive to Paradise.

We camped in the parking lot and woke up Monday morning to a foggy, misty scene. Webcams showed sunny skies at Muir while the lower mountain was socked in with clouds. We packed up, checked in, and officially headed up the mountain.

Our plan was simple, take our time. Go as slow as we need to, and do whatever we needed for the best chance of success. Our initial plan was 2 days (with a third day on reserve), hike to Muir, take a power nap and then head for the summit come midnight or so. We were both feeling great at first. I was even giddy and surprisingly confident (usually anxiety wins). I was never more excited to climb a mountain. We felt strong, and steady until pebble creek, then we headed up the Muir Snowfield, a 3000′ slog to say the least. That snowfield kicked our ass, and definitely slowed us down. It felt never ending and was painfully slow with our 50+lb packs.

We made it to Muir at 6pm, much later than anticipated. There wasn’t much time to get settled to we set up camp as fast as we could and started melting snow for water. We finally settled in, and ate what we could. Mandie was feeling headachey, tired, and nervous about immediately getting back on foot. We decided to try to sleep and see how we felt come 11pm when we planned to get up. 11 came, we didn’t get any sleep, and the ultimate question loomed, do we go for it or wait a day? Monday night to Tuesday morning was predicted to be calm, perfect weather. Tuesday night to Wednesday morning was a bit more of a gamble with winds. For me personally, an extra day also meant I was more likely to get anxious. I felt good, a little tired but overall I felt very much like I could push for the summit that night. Mandie was less sure. She didn’t want a repeat of last year (where she did push in 2 days and struggled) and she was suffering from mild altitude sickness. For the best chance of success we decided the smart thing to do then is wait. Rest up, acclimatize, and go for it the next night.

It truly is all about the right timing.

We had a lazy day in camp, slept in, are, drank water, lounged around, I did feel a little antsy but overall I was feeling better about having to wait an extra day. It was the smart decision and it gave time for our legs to rest. We went to bed early, attempting to get a couple hours of sleep and then the alarms went off.

11pm getting up and ready to go. A headlamp snaffu caused a bit of a delay but we still started off just after midnight.

Slow and steady in the conga line with guide groups that left at the same time we worked our way to Ingraham flats. A couple mild cravssses to hop over but nothing crazy. Feeling good so far, just taking it all in stride. Up through the bowling alley and that’s when the real adventure began: the Disappointment Cleaver.

Fixed ropes were set up to help traverse the rocks, and not that we could totally see but there was a good amount of exposure below. Those fixed lines worked their way into an insanely steep ascent up the snow covered spine. As we worked our way up the Cleaver we heard a pretty massive avalanche slide down the glacier below (which was rather unsettling). Off the lines, steep switchbacks through snow and rock continued our ascent. Panic attack ensued. The snow conditions were slippery and sugary, making the steep exposed conditions even freakier. Slowly but surely we worked our way to the top of the cleaver. I knew with the heat of the day, this would be the worst part coming down (spoiler alert: it was).

Views opened up as dawn approached and we could see the ascent ahead of us. My initial impression was we could see all the way to the summit from there. I was very wrong. It was a much more mild incline up from the top of the cleaver and less terrifying. We worked our way up and eventually things got steeper. More crevasses made themselves known. The sunrise was absolutely gorgeous and I was feeling better.

As we worked our way up, every time I thought I was getting close to the crater crest, more of the mountain would appear and crush my spirits. This happened at least 4 or 5 times. The false summits were starting to really get to me. We hopped over a few more crevasses, and crossed a small crevasse bridge. When we approached the last crevasse crossing, a guy coming down explained how close to the crest we were. With his description I was thinking it would be fairly quick. Assuming it was the ridge above me, I had high hopes we were nearing the end.

But as we worked our way up, yet another false summit appeared, the real end to it all seemed like another like 5000′ away. I was out of gas after going nonstop for 4 straight hours without a break (because I kept thinking I’ll just break at the crater crest thinking it was closer than it was.) Slowly but surely we made it to the crater and I collapsed and cried. Relieved we made it but also knowing I needed to finish the last 400′ to the true summit. We dropped our packs, ate and drank a bit and then worked our way across the crater.

Windy but a sigh of relief. I did it. FINALLY.

It may have been a slow night but we summited at 8:30am.

After snapping some photos we headed back to our packs, ate another quick snack and loaded up for the descent.

This is when things got even more interesting. Things heated up in the sun FAST. The crevasse bridge melted out twice that day, by the time we crossed it, it was a slushy mess and coming down it was definitely sketchier than on the way up. The further down we went, the slipperier things got. Steep switchbacks we’re a challenge to keep from slipping, and then we approached the top of the cleaver.

Nervous knowing what was ahead of us, we carefully worked our way down the cleaver. Everything was slippery slush, rocks were falling, we kept post holing and slipping, it was a giant mess. We spent maybe half of that cleaver descent on our butts, carefully scooting down steep pitches, meanwhile a sharp dropoff was right next to us. We finally made it to the fixed lines where we could at least clip in with backup protection, adding a little later of comfort in the sketchy conditions. It also symbolized nearing the end of the most dangerous part of the route. We worked our way down the lines and finally we were off the Cleaver. A quick walk past the bowling alley and we were officially out of the most danger.

We stopped at Ingraham flats to take a breather, get some water and process what we just survived. After 3 hours of descending sleep slippery snow, we only only about 45 minutes left to camp Muir. Homestretch. 

The remainder of the route was fairly easy and straightforward, but complete mashed potatoes. Step, slip, step, posthole, step was the name of the game. Camp was in sight, it was finally over.

Well mostly. 

My partners knees were totally shot, and my feet were killing me from pounding on them for 13 1/2 hours. She did not think she could get back to Paradise today, and as much as I want to sleep in a bed and shower, I also really didn’t think my body would appreciate another 4500′ descent with a heavy pack.

We decided to wait until the next morning to head down and give our bodies some much needed rest. We packed up camp and took a glissade trip down the Muir Snowfield. It only took us an hour to get down the 3000′ of snow to pebble creek. From there it always a self explanatory follow down the trail back to Paradise. Getting to the parking lot was bittersweet. My feet were killing me, my legs, back and butt all sore. But we did it. We finally did it. Rainier was finally complete!

On the way out, we stopped in Ashford for some much needed real food. We decided to take a bit of a scenic route on the way home so we could pit stop at a waterfall we both had really wanted to see. Multomah Falls was absolutely stunning and it was a great way to end our adventure.

Overall, I am very relieved and proud to have finally checked this mountain off my list. It has been a LONG time coming. It may not be the tallest mountain I’ve climbed, but it most definitely was the most physically and mentally demanding climb I’ve ever done. It is definitely an accomplishment worth celebrating.

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