Mt. Rainier 2004 Summit Report
Washington State US
14,411 feet
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Lou Whittaker at the BunkhouseSince we signed up with RMI, we booked our non climbing nights at Whittaker's Bunkhouse in the small town of Ashford Washington. A mix up in the reservation made months earlier made for a poor start with RMI as they said they could only accommodate five of our nine for our stay. Even a talk with Lou Whittaker himself couldn't change anything so we were evicted and relocated to the Gateway Inn just outside the park boundary. Sarah Whittaker, daughter-in-law - married to Win, sought us out later to make amends. She restored our faith in the customer orientation of RMI with her personal touch.

All of our team finally arrived on Friday night, July 10 and rendezvoused at the Gateway Inn. We had a nice dinner at the Copper Creek restaurant complete with blackberry dressing, blackberry sauce and blackberry pie for desert. The next day was climbing school and then an early evening for the 2 day climb ahead.

Sunday we went back to RMI to meet our guides: Jeff Justman (JJ), David Conlan, and Corey Raivio . This was to be JJ's 96th summit while Dave and Corey were first year guides with less than 7 summits under their belts. They were polite and professional with a great sense of humor as they walked us through the routine. We loaded into a small bus with all our gear for the forty minute ride to where the climb starts near the National Park Service lodge at Paradise, Washington within the Mt. Rainier National Park boundaries.

There are 4 legs to climbing Rainier: Paradise to camp Muir, camp Muir to the summit, back to Muir and back to Paradise. The first leg started by following an asphalt trail that helps non-climbers get a little closer to nice views Rainier (on a clear day!). We were careful to get in a single file line in order not to over run the tourists. It had been rainy for the two previous days and none of our team had actually seen the mountain so when the clouds broke from the summit, we paused to take some pictures along with the Grand Ma's and kids on the trail.
First View of Rainier after some rainy day
After passing pebble creek at 7,200' were stepped onto the Muir Snowfield. This large snow slope leads to camp Muir at 10,040'. There are some relatively steep sections along the way and a couple of small (15') walls. Everyone did fine as we enjoyed the views. As the clouds cleared, Rainier became huge in front of us and the sun shown down bright and hot. We were dressed in light clothes but shorts and t-shirts would have been more appropriate. The thought of carrying my double plastic boots in my pack was too much so I plodded along in my Koflach's without crampons.

Our packs were loaded with food for the next 24 hours plus snacks and water. We all had a full down jacket for the rest stops on the high mountain plus the requisite Gortex shells and pants. Three layers of gloves, crampons, ice axe and sleeping bag rounded out the load which totaled about 40lbs.
RMI "Hut" at camp Muir
After 4250' and 5 hours 20 minutes later, including a couple of breaks, we arrived at camp Muir. I must say that I was quite surprised at just how primitive the sleeping hut was. After spending time in New Zealand and in Colorado Huts, this was rustic beyond imagination. Not that I expected luxury but the box was nothing more than a box. It had wooden shelves on both end walls in three levels that accommodated 35 people sleeping side by side. JJ gave us a clue to grab "one of the better spaces" quickly as the next RMI team approached the camp.

We put our packs on a rock ledge above the Box and took our sleeping bags inside. RMI does provide sleeping pads but they were old and thin. Their full time "cook" brought down hot water as well as providing plenty of cold water with which to re-hydrate. JJ informed everyone at a briefing inside the stinky box that all three RMI teams would leave for the summit climb as soon after the wake up call as possible. And that "lights out" was at 6:00PM, only 3 hours from now.

We checked our gear and made sure we had our climbing clothes inside the Box as we drank plenty of water and made dinners. I was glad to have chosen a simple freeze-dried meal that involved eating directly from the bag - easy to make, easy to eat, easy to clean up! I crawled into my bag about 6 and put my MP3 earbuds in. This was my key to getting any sleep with 30 people moving around, talking, farting, snoring, groaning, laughing, well you get the idea. But still midnight came none too soon!

Getting ready at 1:00AM
Once JJ announced time to "Rock and Roll", everyone got dressed quickly, including putting on the avalanche beacons required by RMI insurance. Helmets and harnesses were also provided at the hut. The Rainier 9 was to be the first up the mountain so we gathered outside the box to attach our crampons and rope up. The sky was perfectly clear with little wind and a temperature around freezing.

I anchored the lead rope with JJ in front and two of my teammates in between. We started a steady pace at 1:20 AM utilizing pressure breathing and the rest step. This was to be routine for the next nine hours. The route started as an easy traverse across the Cowlitz glacier from camp Muir with little altitude gain. Once we hit the Cathedral Rocks, we left snow and hit a mix of dirt, rock and boulders aka scree. This was the first hint of things to come. The trail was well worn through the Cathedral Gap as we made our way up about 300' to the Ingraham Glacier.
Dissapointment Cleaver
It was dark so we could not appreciate the views in front of us but we knew we were climbing higher as we approached the first rest stop at Ingraham Flats this after a 1000' gain and one hour of climbing. As became the routine, we dropped our packs, put on our down jackets, drank half a liter of water and ate a Cliff Bar or other snack. Each break only took about 10 to 15 minutes, maximum.

Mt. Adams from Rainier at sunrise
Back on the route, we approach the "crux" of our climb: Disappointment Cleaver. This is a 1,000' crumbly rock bulge that was safer to ascend than the crevasse ridden Ingraham. We would see the difference upon our return later that day. There is one section of the route along the Cleaver that tracks underneath a rock wall thus the need to stay focused on the trail and stay alert for falling rock. Even with helmets, it would be serious if one of these large rocks released on top of you!

Once pass the "Backboard" we made the steady climb up the cleaver. It was mostly switchbacks at a steady rate. We continued our 1,000' an hour pace until the next break on top of the Cleaver. The sun was just starting rise in the east making the entire area softly lit. At the break, there was a little talking as we ate and drank and took in the views of Mt. Adams, Hood and St. Helens to the south. With the crux behind us, JJ announced we were almost to the summit. However we were at 12,300' with another 1,811 to go! It was about 4:15 AM.Sunrise from the Ingraham Glacier

Now focused on the final legs, we climbed up the Emmons Glacier to our last break at "High Break" or 13,500'. With dawn complete, we could easily see the route but not exactly where the summit was. Some of our team began to feel the altitude but with good techniques of rests steps and pressure breathing everyone maintained the pace. And then we there! The summit crater. A nice rounded area with fifty foot walls thus defining the crater. It was filed with snow but not deep.
Click for Video: Crater walls on the summit
We waited for all of the Rainier 9 to arrive and continued up to Columbia Crest, the true summit of Mt. Rainier. Even though vocalists define a volcano's summit as the crater, mountaineers claim the highest spot the summit so off we went. The views were impressive: Washington and Oregon volcanoes to the south and to the north the sub peaks of Point Success and Liberty Cap with the infamous liberty ridge just out of sight. After a few pictures and a summit video, we returned to sign the log book which was nestled in some rocks near the west side of the crater.

After an hour, we left for camp Muir. We all felt pretty good but a little tired but would, have felt better if we had known we had made it from camp Muir to the summit on 5 hours and 20 minutes which was a season speed record for an RMI team in 2004.

Crevasses on Ingraham Glacier with park in the abckgroundThe downclimbs to the Cleaver were steep. As I have always maintained it is much easier to go up than down - especially with bad knees! But we pushed on through the Cleaver with no real surprises until we approached the Backboard -that area where rocks fall of top of your head! Now the real dangers of Rainier revealed themselves: deep long crevasses, sharp rock walls and ice cliffs - even in July. We made our way down to the Ingraham Glacier where we took our final break and reflected on our climb with our Guides.

Finally back to camp Muir. The return trip had taken 3 hours and 11 minutes. We took on some more water, repacked our sleeping bags and other gear for the final leg to Paradise. The guides and Canadians boot skied all the way down but us slow folks took about two and half hours. Once there, we took the bus back to RMI headquarters for a cold beer.
Rainier 9 with our Guides
Rainier was a great climb for me. It was good to be back on steep snow slopes in crampons with my ice axe. The Rainier 9 was an excellent team that made the trip even more fun. And our guides did a first rate job of getting us to the top ... and back down safely and enjoyably.

Lenticular clods on the sumit caused by extremely high winds

Mt. Rainier be "only" 14,111 feet high but it is a world-class mountain in every aspect. It has difficulty, mixed terrain, weather and, like all other mountains, is unforgiving to mistakes. We were fortunate to have almost perfect conditions. As we were trekking out, a lenticular cloud formed on the summit. It was almost like she was saying "You got me this time, but watch out next!"

Click here for videos of the climb.