Twenty years ago I added Rainier to my bucket list, patiently waiting for the time when an ascent would reveal itself. This has been my year. Last week I stood on Mt. Rainier’s mighty summit at 14, 411 feet lingering on the crater rim for over an hour.
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Nine days after publishing my column about seismic activity on Mt. Rainier, Steve Malone wrote Unusual Seismic Recordings from Mt. Rainier Glaciers. Malone asked climbers on the upper Emmons or Winthrop Glacier routes to report back “sounds, sights or feelings” that may be out of the ordinary. (After reading that, I wondered about what exactly I was getting myself into.)
Very large scissors
Flying non-stop from Denver to Seattle is a must for Rainier climbers. We arrived without delay and drove less than two hours to reach Mt. Rainier National Park. Our permits were issued by Ranger Jenny who cut our receipt with the largest pair of scissors I’d ever seen! Apparently no one messes with the rangers in that national park! I later learned those scissors were more than 50 years old and originally used for upholstering.
Blue bag, poop bags
Unlike pooping on Colorado 14ers, all Rainier climbers are required to use poop bags for their waste. The park service issues blue bags to climbers, one for each overnight. Note: there are composting toilets at Glacier Basin and also one solar toilet up at Camp Schurman. Climbers can deposit their blue bags in large metal drums at Camp Schurman. These are then flown out when full.
Day one: Overnight at Glacier Basin
Starting at the White River Campground we hiked up to Glacier Basin at 5,680 feet. With much bear activity in the area, we hung our food on poles provided by the park. Snowline was low which meant our first night was spent on snow.
Day two: Interglacier to Emmons Flats
Waking early on day two we broke camp and headed up over the Interglacier. After a short lunch break at Camp Curtis at 9,000 feet we continued climbing past Camp Schurman at 9,440 feet up to Emmons Flats at 9,750 feet. This glacial wonderland afforded us breathtaking views of our intended route. The glacier serenaded us with crackling sounds interspersed by rock and ice fall from distant avalanche activity. The weather was perfect (almost too warm), cradling us within a volcanic beauty that can best be described as extreme peacefulness. A hushed serenity washed over the group and we settled down for a few hours of fitful rest before our summit attempt.
Day three: Summit Mt. Rainier 14,411 feet
Departing camp at 1:30 am our headlamps illuminated our climb up the Corridor. Slowly and purposefully we stomped our crampons into crunchy snow. As darkness transmuted into red dawn we crossed several small crevasses on 30-40 degree terrain and worked our way under the gun sight ice formation. Circling toward Liberty Cap (a sub-peak of Mt. Rainier) we climbed up and over the bergschrund. In full daylight the views were incredible. As we surmounted the crater rim we all stopped silently in our tracks and looked around for what seemed like a moment yet was more than an hour.
Stifling heat slowed the descent. For over two hours, we post-holed like a bunch of drunken sailors. Two hundred yards from high camp a rope mate plunged one leg into a crevasse, but quickly escaped its icy grip.
Back down in the relative safety of our wanded campsite, I remained humbled and in awe of Mt. Rainier’s enchanting landscape. While packing up on the last morning, a giant rainbow materialized for just a brief minute before giving way to a clear blue sky.
Book: Mountain Rainier a Climbing Guide by Mike Gauthier
Cascade Climbers Forum
National Geographic Map, Mount Rainier National Park
Folks it’s great to be back home and writing again. I highly recommend adding Mt. Rainier to your bucket list! Please feel free to send along your mountaineering questions. Have fun and be safe out there!
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