Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Mt Rainier June 24-28

Since my last failed attempt to climb Rainier, I have been constantly thinking about my next attempt. In February when few friends from the Summit Sensations plan a trip to Rainier this June, I immediately took interest and discussed the plan and people with Tom, and with Tom blessing and encouragement, I signed up for the trip. The plan was a 5-day quest via Emmons/Winthrop Glacier: Day 1 to Glacier Basin, Day 2 to Camp Shurman, Day 3 a rest day, Day 4 summit day, Day 5 another summit shot or hike out. 4 months later... With great anxiety and anticipation, I packed my bags headed to Seattle last Saturday. I met up with 6 other climbers at Renton to spend a short night and headed up to White River Camp the next morning.

Day 1. We arrived at the White River Ranger Station at around 10 AM under steady drizzle. Tom who has moved to Seattle last year was already there waiting for us at the parking lot. He would join us on our hike into Glacier Basin. The hike in to the Glacier Basin was uneventful. We hike through the area where the trail was washed out by last November storm. The trail crew made excellent progress rerouting the trail marking them with yellow caution tapes. The reroute wasn't hard to hike on and was very easy to follow, I guess we the Northeast hikers are very used to rock hoping and mud stumping, no big deal for us.

The rain drifted in and out during the hike, by the time we arrived at Glacier Basin, it died down a bit. With Tom supervision, I quickly set up my tent, which I borrowed from him. The supposedly awesome view from the meadow was hidden behind the thickening cloud, as quickly as the rain stopped, it picked right up and abruptly turn into snow shower. Tom left me with well wishes and headed back to Seattle where he told me he will be thinking of me while having his sirloin steak in his soft warm couch. Nice guy huh.

I was feeling good and truely enjoyed the serene snow scene. We walked through the snow drifting meadow to the river where we pumped our drinking water. On our way back, we saw a deer walked slowly cross our path and into the field. Who care about the snow and coldness when you're at a place like this. For a minute there, I forget about my fear and anxiety of the challenge in the days to come.

Day 2. We woke up to a clear blue day. We took our time to pack up our wet gears and enjoy the awesome view. We started up our trek up to Inter Glacier around 10 AM, we're joined by a father and son team who would be following us all the way to Camp Shurman. We passed the meadow to a yellow mud ridge where we'll cross over to the foot of Inter Glacier. Looking up the headwall of Inter Glacier, all I can think of was that will be so cool to glissade down. Which also mean, wicked steep to climb up. After a break to regroup and fuel-up , we began heading up the headwall, taking turns kicking steps (Yaro, our strongest climber actually did most of the work).

The long and tiring slog up the headwall never seems to end, as we thought, that's gonna be the top of it, only to see another hump raise above it. Another short break later, I took the lead up the second part of the slope, there we began to see 2 small opening of crevasses. As I approached the top of the headwall, I notice the boot-path diverged, one straight up to the top, the other busier boot-path bear to the left. My instinct told me to go with the busy boot-path so we beared left. As it turns out, if we go straight up we would reached the top of Inter Glacier, where on the another side of it was a shear rock wall, that drop more than 100' directly and insanely steep down to Camp Shurman, a shortcut for the rangers. The left turn brought us toward the ridge of Mt Ruth where we had a great view of Little Tahoma on our left, and behind us the Glacier Peak and the hazy Mt Baker. That was quite rewarding. From the ridge, we drop steeply onto Emmons Glacier. The drop itself wasn't all that bad, but what made it scary was a mouth of a crevasse was at the bottom of the slope, waiting for a good meal to drop in. Slowly and steadily, we made it down safely. Less than an hour or so later, we finally crawled our way into Camp Shurman.

Day 3. Another great day. We would kick back and relax today to hydrate and prepare ourselves for the summit climb. Throughout the morning into the afternoon, we saw many happy climbers descended back to the camp. Some skiers skied down the mountain, artfully avoided the crevasses and made it into the camp smoothly. Remember the steep rock wall? apparently in was also a "safe" way for skiers to get back to Inter Glacier. We sat and watched them climbed up the rock face in their ski boots and skis on their back. Just like that, almost effortlessly, they made it to the top and disappeared behind the wall. Amazing!

I called Tom for a latest weather forecast, according to the NOAA, our summit day would be a windy one with wind speed predicted at 40 MPH, and snow later in the evening. Thursday forecast was worse with snow and shower all day. So based the latest forecast, we decided our only chance for summit was tonight. We plan to start before midnight hoping to got down early and packed out to Glacier Basin to avoid the snow shower at Camp Shurman. So that was the plan.

Late into the afternoon, I climbed into my tent to try to catch some sleep, but the wind began to pick up significantly and wobbled my tent in all direction. I began to worry if my tent could with stand the occasional gust of wind. After all this was the first time I pitched a tent at a 9000+' camp, Tom has warned me about the wind at Camp Shurman can be fierce. I regretted not buried the stakes deeper than I did, second guessed my choice of tent location, should have pull the guylines farther away and etc. Then came a hugh gust which I could feel my tent lifted up briefly. That's it, I wasn't gonna just lay there and bit my finger nails anymore. I got out of my tent and inspected each stacks and guylines, reburied the iffy ones and covered all of them with more snow. Finally quite satisfy with my craft, I looked over my shoulder and saw MikeO was up, damn, it's time to get ready. I had about 2+ hours sleep in total.

Day 3-4. The night wasn't even completely dark yet when we're all up and getting ready. As planned ahead, the father and son team would be joining us on our quest to the summit. While waiting for other climbers, I pulled out my camera hoping to take a picture of the night-line of Seattle, but found out that the batteries were too low for pictures. So I recorded a panoramic view and tucked the camera inside my chest pocket hoping to warm up the batteries. Finally by the time we're all set to go, the sky was completely dark, it was about 10:30 PM.

The snow at the lower section was still very soft and sluggish, we made our way up very slowly. The wind at this point was still bearable, only an occasional gust now and then. Although it was dark and I couldn't see much around me, but I did recognize few places from pictures I've seen before, like the traverse along the side of the mountain, with the night-line of Seattle on our right. Wondering why it's sleepless in Seattle? Try turn off the lights. Among the many disadvantages for a woman climber, top the list I think has to be trying to take a piss while roped up, with pack on and on a slope. I couldn't unrope from the team, I couldnt remove my pack (if I want to see it again) and I really needed to go. Astronaut diapers jumped right to my mind, but it's too late now. Anyway, after some tricky maneuvering later I finally did it. I thought I was well prepared for the trip, but this is one important maneuvering that I failed to practice at home.

Off we went. The higher we climbed, the stronger the wind get. I could feel the wind was pushing us from the top down, bringing snow and ice palettes with it and knocking on our helmet. We reached a pretty steep but short section where we needed to kick the front points to climb. The training in Huntington Ravine this past winter did prepared me for this kind of terrain, I kicked my way up, a little tire but with confidence. As I looked back I saw layers of orange stripes cut across the sky, it's dawn! I absolutely not aware that we had been climbing for almost 6 hours, it felt like 2. The crack of the dawn really help boosted our spirit. The sky rapidly lite up after that, and we're braced in the morning sun. At around the same place, we noticed the boot-prints has became scarce and we're facing a short snow wall, the first thought was we wandered off the beaten path. But on the other hand the area was steeper and with thinner snow, the boot prints could have been wiped out by the wind. We belayed both rope teams in, together with the father and son team, took a break and surveyed the surrounding. The son took the lead headed up the snow wall, but only to turn back. He thought we're off the path and that behind the snow wall were many crevasses, he didn't feel that's the right path. Somehow Dave the leader of our other rope team decided to see for himself, he led the team up to the top of the wall, and managed to spot some boot prints and most importantly a wand marking the lip of a big crevasse. So we followed him up the wall and walked over a small crack of crevasse right at the top of the wall into a vast field of many many crevasses. I later learned from Yaro that MikeL sank into a crevasse up to his thigh and swarm his way back up.

Good news was the terrain after the short snow wall was slightly less steep, bad news was it was very very windy after that. We pushed our way against the wind slowly making progress. Somewhere around here 2 RMI groups caught up and passed us one after another. Every big gust of wind, we need to quickly plunged in our axe and curled over it. I was pretty tire at this point and suspected that our people were too as we're almost crawling our way up. We took a quick bundle-up break and all of us were wrapped in our down jacket on top of our wind breaker, it was cold and windy. At this point, my mind was repeating the same phrase over and over again, "one step at a time, you can do it." Every bump we climbed over, we hoped to see the rim, but it just wasn't there yet. Here the first time during the climb we made an assessment, Yaro and MikeO expressed thought of heading down, BillD volunteered to lead them down. But somehow, all changed their mind last minute and we continued to push on. We managed to caught a sight of the RMI groups that passed us awhile back, that kinda energized us a bit. So with all our mights, we forged into the gust and pushed ourselves all the way to... yet another snow wall, this one with a big tall crack of crevasse wall next to it. We've arrived at the bergschrund. We tried to hunker down near to the crevasse wall but there provided zero shelter to protect us from the gust. BillD pulled out his glacier glasses and the case was swiped right off his hand into the crevasse. No one was pulling anything out of their pack after that. We waited for our other rope team but as soon as the father and son team arrived, BillS our rope team leader and the son led the teams up the bergschrund to survey the situation. According to them, it was near whiteout condition out there with crevasses to negotiate and the rim was still far away... That's the news and turn back were the word. I was staring at the top of the bergschrund just few steps away, looking at the snow danced ferociously at its mouth and swooshed toward us. Nobody said a word. I could feel my heart shredded into pieces and blew away by the wicked wind. But all heart aches aside, I knew we're making the right decision, today's not the day and it didn't matter how close we're.

Between the 3 altimeters we have, the reading showed we've reached between 13,980' and 14,010' when we turned around. So 14,010' it is! it was a personal record for most of us, not too bad. We got back to the camp at around 2PM, I was very glad to see my tent was still there. No one have any energy left to pack and leave, so we stayed one more night at Camp Shurman and hiked all the way out the next day.

Of course there were some should have, could have going on afterward, it's all part of the learning process. In the end, it was a great experience for me. We climbed into the wind and gust and made it to 14,000-ish; I looked into a crevasse and hopped over it (well, most of them just walked over it); I not only survived 4 nights in a tent but actually enjoyed it, even in a cold damp night I made 2 trips to the out house; I had no altitude problem and hey, we made it to the top of the Glacier.

And so it is... Mt Rainier has become my mecca, my most faithful yearly pilgrimage.

Here are the pictures. Enjoy!

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