On the way back down the mountain a day hiker out of Paradise, upon seeing me in my full hard shell clothing, hood, glacier glasses, gortex gloves, plastic double-lined boots and dripping wet, asked me, “How was it up there?”
I wasn’t in the greatest mood at the time, having been turned around by the weather and our guides; having trained for this trip since March; been mentally focused on this for so long, so I hope my answer didn’t come across as rude.
“Go stand in your shower fully clothed, then turn a fan on to 60 mph. That’s what it was like.”
I don’t think I lost stride as I went by. He and his wife were smiling as I passed them, and I think I had a smirk on my face so they knew I wasn’t trying to be rude. But realistically, that’s exactly what it was like.
For 24 hours.
I won’t be able to tell the whole story in one post, but I know many of you are interested so I will tell some of it here and then post more video and photos over the coming days.
Our trip started out meeting at the Alpine Ascents parking lot at 6:00 am on Monday morning. Robert dropped us off before he headed off to work. We picked up one of our four guides here, Lakpa Gelu Sherpa. Yes, we had a real, true Sherpa on our team. More about him and what we learned about the Sherpas later.
The two guys are on the right by the van doors are Joe (r) and Mark (l), they are two of three high school buddies, now in college, from Virginia. Lynn, the woman with her back to the camera was from Boston and Lakpa is blocked from view by a guide getting a ride up with us. I never got his name. The man in the blue shirt in the background is just a passerby.
Then it was about a 1:45 hour van ride to Ashford, WA where we had another chance to get a bite to eat and use a restroom. We spent only about 30 minutes there and picked up two more of our guides, Ben Floyd and Brent Langlinais. Then it was off to Paradise.
Once at Paradise we finalized our packs and clothing for the first push up the mountain. The elevation at Paradise is 5400 feet. According to my GPS.
The first two hours was pretty nice. Lakpa led the way to start and I took some ‘action’ shots from the rear of the formation. If you look closely at the background, you’ll notice you can not see the mountain. It should have been, and probably was, an omen for what was to come.
We hiked for about an hour or so and took our first break at 6500 feet. You can see we are still wearing our original, light weight hiking clothing at this point. The man standing on the right is Ed, from California. Sitting on the right is Brent and the three guys from Virgina; Joe, Mike and Mark are standing behind Shelley. Mike and Mark are brothers.
We continued to climb for another hour or so after this break and took break two at around 7500 feet. We also took out our hard shell clothing and started to get dressed for wetter weather as we moved into the clouds. The wind started to pick up just above this stop as well. It turned out to be fairly dry as we entered the clouds and the winds were around 30 mph. Everything was still very manageable and I dare say, fairly comfortable. All things considered.
Brent is on the left. Maylon is on the orange pack in the middle. He’s the 61 year old father of Ed, to his right.
Now, I’m sure some of you see these pictures and think, “That doesn’t look very comfortable or manageable.” Shelley and I knew what we were getting ourselves into and what Mt Rainier was capable of. And with that in mind, we both felt pretty good. Both of us have hiked in the Sawtooth Mountains and central Idaho and have been cold and wet before and this really wasn’t much different then that. It would get worse, worse then either of us had ever experienced, but right here, at 7500 feet, it wasn’t that bad.
Due to the deteriorating weather conditions above this break, we pushed through our third break stop and went straight into Camp Muir at 10,080 feet. I don’t have any pictures of this part of the trek as my camera was buried under a few layers and there was no stopping to pull it out for a photo op.
We arrived at Camp Muir about 4 1/2 hours after leaving the parking lot. I had one equipment malfunction on the way up just after leaving break 2. I was wearing a pair of soft shell pants under my hard shell gortex pants. This soft shell pant was found in the 5th Ave house after my last tenants moved out and I kept them. The problem was they were a size 36 waist and I’m a 32 – 33. I also forgot to pack a belt.
About 30 minutes after we left break 2, they started to slip from my pack’s waist band. By the time I got to Camp Muir, they were completely down to my knees, inside my hard shell pants. My legs were still warm, which shows how nice the gortex pants are to have, but I was stuck taking little baby steps.
After arriving at Camp Muir, I put together a make-shift belt using some spare straps and clips I had packed and the problem was solved.
Camp Muir is really a small stone ridge between two rocks. It’s not very wide and less then 200 feet long. The east side of the camp has three latrines and a public shelter that is built out of stone. It was built in 1921 in honor of John Muir. The shelter has a counter top for cooking, a heater and can sleep up to 30 if necessary. 15 – 20 is more comfortable.
This photo is taken from the west side of the ridge looking east to the public shelter. To the right (south) the approach trail from Paradise and to the left (north) is the snow field where climbers can tent over night on the glacier if they choose or if the public shelter is full. The public shelter is first come-first serve.
The guide services that use Camp Muir have a bunkhouse built of plywood that is on the west side of the ridge. It was built by a Sherpa years ago, but none of our guides knew exactly how long ago. Alpine Ascents shares the right half of the building with IMG and the left side is used by RMI. You can see on the right side the propane tanks that the guide services have brought up by helicopter. There is also a solar panel on top for power (although there was no power inside the building that we used) and a weather assembly.
There is also a National Park Service Ranger hut and two smaller stone structures for climbers. The guide services have a single latrine on the west side of the ridge.
Once at Camp Muir, Shelley and I were really feeling pretty good. Our training really paid off as our legs and backs were not tired. In fact, we looked at each other and thought, “Why are we still here? High camp is just another hour away, let’s go!”
Course, we would have been in a tent shredded by high winds over night, but hey, who’s thinking about that?
Here’s us in the bunk house drinking hot chocolate.
After we arrived we had one of our climbers, Lynn, turned back. I never really spoke to her about why so anything I say is speculation. I will just say it was a decision she made on her own. Brent escorted her back down (as they won’t let you go alone) and then he came back up the next morning.
After arriving at Camp Muir we met up with our fourth guide, Don Carpenter. He had overnighted at Camp Muir and summited earlier that morning with the previous Alpine Ascent group.
Monday night we ate dinner prepared by the guides (actually, prepared by Lakpa) in their cook tent. He wouldn’t let anyone else cook. This tent is where the guides slept as well. This tent is set up on the snow field to the north of the ridge. IMG has a twin tent next to Alpine Ascents. Dinner consisted of shredded chicken burritos. They were really good, except for the sour cream and guacamole. Shelley thought they were great. I had a hard time with the sour cream and guac, but I kept my mouth shut and ate dinner, taking little bites of the sour cream side and mixing it with the good side.
The guides also kept boiling snow for hot water to keep everyone hydrated and warm. That is what Lapka has going in the photo.
Remember this table in the photo. There’s another story about it coming up from the overnight storm.
After dinner we went to bed early, around 6:30 pm. The winds picked up since we arrived and visibility had started to drop. Some private climbers had also arrived and began to set up tents in the snow field as well. You can see them digging into the snow wall in this photo. This is taken from the cook tent, looking back towards the east side of Camp Muir and the public shelter. The three latrines are on the right.
The second photo is the west side of Camp Muir. Some more tents are visible on this side of the snow field as well.
Before we turned in, I took two videos around camp. This first one was taken from the east side of Camp Muir. The clicking noise you’ll hear is the strap for the camera flapping in the breeze. Also, the rain had started by this time, but it wasn’t all that bad. We could stand outside and not get too damp. That would change. The white mist you see coming over the ridge from left to right is the “precip” in the air. That’s a new term I learned. It’s not really snow, but it’s not really rain either. It’s precip.
In this one, I got back to the bunkhouse first after dinner and shot some video from inside. Alpine Ascents and IMG use this for storage as well. When the season is over, they will pack up the cook tent and move it into this room for the winter.
We were still pretty upbeat and excited about where we were and what was in store for the next day. The wind and cold didn’t bother us and we both felt strong and ready to move to high camp on Tuesday. Here’s Shelley all tucked in and ready for a big day on Tuesday.