Mt. Rainier, July 2008

(written by Andrew)

The story begins in the fall of 2007. My dad had an aggressive form of cancer and we knew that time was limited, but things shifted gears when we started to discuss what would be done with his ashes. My brother and I were going to get a portion to spread amidst the mountains and adventures we encounter, we couldn’t think of a better place to start with than the summit of Mt. Rainier.

Rainier as seen from Tacoma, Washinton

We were well versed in mountaineering in Colorado, but this would be on a whole new level. Immediately my brother and I started running, biking, and climbing harder than we ever had in the past. Failure from lack of physical endurance simply wasn’t an option. We also trained hard in roped crevasse rescue. My dad passed away December of 2007, and I had never been so anxious for any climb in my life. There was so much pent up anxiety around this climb that it kept me up at night. Finally… FINALLY, we were on our way. My brother and I drove to Washington, which we had done before, but this was the longest 1,300 miles of my life. The first time we caught a glimpse of Mt. Rainier during the drive my heart must have stopped. We grew up in the shadow of this mountain in the town of Tacoma, but seeing it this time was different.

Starting out the hike from Paradise

Our climb started on July 21, 2008. We set out from Paradise (elevation 5,400 ft) in the late afternoon and planned on setting up camp in the Muir snowfield around 9,500 ft. The trail up until this point is very well-built and very straight forward. We arrived at our campsite shortly before sundown. We dug out a ledge in the snow for our tent and changed from shorts and t-shirts to full winter clothing. It’s amazing how fast temperatures change when the sun goes down. That night I woke up in the middle of the night and took a quick peek outside the tent. It was a pretty full moon with a blanket of clouds covering the foothills thousands of feet below, it was breathtaking! Over the next two days that blanket of clouds never cleared, but the skies above were blue.

Looking at Cathedral Gap from Camp Muir

The following morning we ate breakfast, packed up camp, and continued upward. Another 1,000 vertical feet and we reached camp Muir, the last stop before we had to rope up due to crevasse danger. We ate a quick bite and donned our technical climbing gear. Over a glacier then up a steep and loose rock face called Cathedral Gap and we were approaching our next camp at the Ingraham Flats.  At 11,500 feet things around us were beautiful… surreal even.

Crevasses at Ingraham Flats. Notice our camp on the left side of the picture.
Ice formation at the Ingraham Flats camp.

We had a pretty easy day, but we knew that tomorrow would be a different story. We ate dinner, drank as much water as possible, and went to bed ASAP… but there was no way I was going to sleep. After countless hours of ‘resting my eyes’ my alarm went off. It was midnight and time to head out for the summit. My boots were frozen solid and I couldn’t stop shivering, but I was just happy to finally be on my way. Finally, I was taking my first steps toward the summit and the sound of my climbing gear clanking on my harness, and my crampons crunching through the snow was like music to my ears.  After a few hours we had gained a prominent ridge called Disappointment Cleaver. After this it was about 2,000 vertical feet of glacier travel. We climbed for hours with a small beam of light from our headlamps to guide us. We stepped over countless crevasses and ‘snow bridges’. I would aim my headlamp into these crevasses and find an endless void, which was both nerve-racking and beautiful at the same time. It was like being on another planet. 14,000 feet and I was completely physically exhausted. All I could do is put one foot in front of the other. My legs hurt, my chest hurt, and I felt completely worn down… and then the sun came up.

Sunrise from 14,000 ft (The lens cover on the camera was frozen in place, partially open, hence the black corners)

It was an inspiration and a burst of energy. I could tell we were getting very close.

Shortly after sunrise we took our last steps onto the crater rim and the summit. We decided to spread my dad’s

“See you”

ashes at the southeast side of the rim, it would face the sunrise every morning. Words can’t describe how I felt on the summit. I was both overjoyed and felt more miserable than I ever have. We snapped a few pictures. My brother had a shirt made that read, “see you” on the front and “around the bend” on the back

“around the bend”

to commemorate my dad’s last words in his final article.

All in all we probably spent 15 minutes on the summit. All that time and preparation and all I wanted to do was get back down. We charged all the way back down to camp where we both collapsed in the tent for a quick nap. I couldn’t even crawl all the way in my tent, so I slept with my boots hanging out the door. After that we packed up camp and set out to descend all the way back down to the car. Passing camp Muir again was a relief; we could sort of let our guard down now that we were out of crevasse danger. It seemed like forever after that point. I remembered to snap one last picture of the mountain just before we descended into the clouds.

After that it was just hours and hours of mindless descending in wet and sloppy snow. Once we reached Paradise it sank in that we were finally done and our thoughts turned to the most important issue at the time, where we were going to stop to eat. Naturally, it was the first greasy cheeseburger joint we could find. Climbing Mt. Rainer was unlike any other experience, and despite all the misery I can’t wait to go back to do it again.

One last picture before the descent into the clouds

2 thoughts on “Mt. Rainier, July 2008

  1. Thank you for sharing this very personal story. We will never look at Mt. Ranier in the same way again……it is bigger and more magnificent than ever. I will always remember the way you boys honored your father.

  2. Wow Andrew! I know you don’t know me, but I think this is an amazing story! Whitney sent me the link to the first 14er that we climbed together and I came along this story. I lost my dad to cancer as well and I’m fighting it myself right now. I can’t wait to get back out to Colorado and climb another one after I kick this cancers ass! Cheers 🙂

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