From the time we went to bed to Tuesday morning’s breakfast, the weather conditions deteriorated dramatically. The winds picked up and, worse, the rain started. Ultimately, it was the rain that was our downfall. Wind, snow and cold would not have stopped us. The rain did.
One of the dangers of climbing Mt Rainier is not staying hydrated during the climb. We were drinking about 2 liters of liquids (hot drinks and water) a day. Needless to say, this caused midnight trips to the bathroom for nearly everyone. I went first at about 11:00 pm. If you look back in the video and pictures from the previous post, you’ll see how protected the area right outside the door was, and how exposed the walk to the bathroom was.
The winds had picked up to around 60 mph, sustained, with gusts has high as 80 mph. While laying in bed, you could feel the ghambu hut shaking when it would get hit by one of these gusts. I just kind of hung out outside after my bathroom break taking the whole environment in. It was really incredible, having never been in a storm like that before. Shelley made a trip later in the night and said it was just like the movie, “30 Days of Night.”
We were woken up by Don at around 6:30 am Tuesday morning. When he walked into the ghambu hut, he was soaking wet. Water was dripping off his nose and his hard shell was soaked. And he just walked over from the cook tent. This was not a good sign. Here is a video of the weather conditions from Tuesday morning. Notice the visibility when the camera pans to the right towards the public shelter and compare that the Monday’s photos and videos.
After Don gave us a run down of the days plan, we got up and packed our packs then walked over to the cook tent for breakfast.
Breakfast was great. Pancakes, bacon and eggs. Lapka was our cook.
Our day was spent in the cook tent. It was too rainy to go outside and we had to move out of the ghambu hut because another IMG group was coming up the mountain and they were going to move into the ghambu. See, IMG and Alpine Ascents share facilities, the ghambu hut and high camp, on the mountain. When IMG is at high camp, Alpine Ascents is at Camp Muir and vise-versa. An IMG group spent Monday night at high camp on the Ingraham Glacier and were supposed to summit Tuesday morning. They didn’t get to and went back down to Paradise Tuesday morning and a new IMG group came up and moved into the ghambu. We were supposed to move from the ghambu, up to high camp and summit Wednesday morning. So, we had to move out of the ghambu. We packed our backpacks and moved all our gear into the cook tent and just hung out there hoping for some clear weather.
We could not go outside because we needed to keep all our gear dry in case we got to move up to high camp. If our clothes started to get wet, there was no way to dry it out on the mountain, so we hunkered down and just told and listened to stories from each other.
One story the guides told us was about the cook tent during the night. The guy-lines holding the tent down were being pulled out of the snow and lifting the cook tent off the ground. They had to go out in the middle of the night and re-secure the tent’s guy-lines and spikes to keep the tent from being blown over. Evidently, this is a common task in mountaineering. Remember the cook table in the cook tent? They had all been laying in their sleeping bags when a gust of wind hit the cook table wall with such force the cook table was shoved across the floor about three inches. Lapka jumped out of his tent faster then Ben could even raise his head to see what happened. I guess 14 attempts on Everest (13 successful) and nearly being killed by three avalanches on K2 will make you a light sleeper.
The other issue stopping us from moving to high camp was snow school. Since this was a beginner hike, the guides had to put us all through snow school before moving to high camp. Snow school consists of learning to climb in crampons, how to use the ice axe, walking while roped up and how to self arrest with the ice axe. These are all things Shelley and I had already done last year on Mt Hood, but we had to do it anyway since we hadn’t done it with Alpine Ascents. Later in the afternoon the rain started to let up and the winds dropped to reasonable conditions and we were able to do snow school. We did it in segments because we could only be outside for about 15 – 20 minutes before the weather would turn on us again and it would start to rain again.
Some have asked how heavy the rain was outside, so I will try to explain, especially since you can’t really see it in the videos. The rain came in two forms. The most common, which is in the videos, was the constant heavy, misty rain. Not rain like a summer shower where you can see and feel the drops hit you. You can’t feel this stuff hitting you. After being out in it for a few minutes, you just look down at your clothes and your soaked. It’s just a constant, sideways, sheet of water. After all, we were in a cloud that was moving over us from 30 mph to 60 mph. After being out in it for more then 20 minutes, the precip penetrates right through your hard shell clothing and starts to soak your soft shell. If that happens and you can’t dry off, then hypothermia starts to set in.
The other rain was the heavy, large sheets that would sweep over the glacier every once in a while. I was never outside for one of these. They were short and hit the cook tent regularly. It would usually come with a large gust of wind and would hit the tent hard. It sounded like someone was standing outside the tent with a can of rock salt and just tossed the rock salt against the side of the tent in a wave. At times I could feel it against my back if I was leaning close enough to the side of the tent.
While sitting in the tent I took advantage of this boring time to get a photo of Lapka, Shelley and I together. It was during this down time that we learned more about what kind of mountaineer he was and his climbs of Everest and K2.
Our guides were in touch with the IMG group at high camp that morning and IMG did not have good news from their night on the Ingraham Glacier. One of their tents had been shredded by the high winds and the poles were broke in half. Luckily, they only lost one tent. With that news and the rain outside, our guides decided we better not move to high camp that afternoon. If it rained at all on the way up, we would be soaked and would not be able to dry out at high camp and our summit attempt would be lost. The decision was made to stay at Camp Muir and attempt the summit from there. It would only add about an hour to 90 minutes to the climb and it would give more time for the weather to clear. Our guides told IMG to break the high camp down and place all the tents into the larger guide tent and secure it as best they could. IMG brought the lost tent back down with them. The reason for breaking the camp down was since no one would be staying there that night they were concerned about losing more tents and no one would be there to try and maintain them.
The problem then came to were we would sleep. We could not move back into the ghambu since the new IMG group was coming up that morning and guided climbers are not allowed in the public shelter without the National Park Service’s (NPS) permission. Independent climbers (climbers on their own without guides) have first dibs on the public shelter. But since the weather was so bad, only three climbers came up on Tuesday and the NPS rangers gave us the okay to move into the public shelter.
There were about nine climbers sleeping in the shelter when the seven of us moved in that night. It was set up just like the ghambu hut, just more space. There was also a counter top for cooking.
The guides gave us the plan for Tuesday night. They would be getting up around 11:30 pm and checking the weather every 30 minutes till 2:00 am. They wanted to see the weather starting to trend to the better before coming and getting us for our summit attempt. They told us the latest we could leave was 2:00 am. If they didn’t come and get us before 2:00 am, then the summit attempt was off and we would be getting up around 6:30 am for breakfast and then head back down to Paradise.
We went to bed around 7:00 pm anxious for the attempt, but realistic about our chances.