I can’t believe it hasn’t even been two months since I climbed Mount Adams. Being the first mountain I climbed, it was the beginning of a new calling. Climbing has taken up so much mental energy since it seems like it’s been a year. I believe that experience will change the course of my life. It may sound odd to someone who hasn’t experienced something like this but I feel my life has more purpose because of it. Almost two months ago I climbed Mount Adams. About maybe 3 weeks later I climbed Mount Hood and a couple weeks after that South Sisters. This past weekend I summited Mount Rainer. Climbing Mount Rainier was hands down the most difficult and technical mountain yet. Pushing yourself far past what you thought was possible is powerful. Accomplishing what you set out to in such a beautiful environment burns an image in your mind. I’m obsessed. Its going to be hard to focus on personal training, haha not.
Soon after I climbed Mount Adams, Mount Hood and Rainier were on my radar. My fathers side of the family has had a cabin on Hood that runs in the family since 1910. I grew up running around in those woods. I still spend a lot of time there. It was only natural that Hood be the second mountain I climb. It also seemed appropriate. From my research, I gathered Hood was a step up in difficulty from Adams but not as hard as Rainier. Hood was a great climb. The mountain was different from what I imagined all these years. It was more difficult than Adams as the mountain was much steeper. Though it was harder and gave me an idea of what a more difficult mountain could be like, it did not quite prepare me for Rainier. Rainier was a whole other animal and the danger was much more real.
On September the 11th at 6 am my climbing partner Nick and I began our trek up Mount Rainier. Starting at Paradise (elevation 5,400 feet). It was cloudy. Visibility was no more than 100 feet which made me nervous. The weather forecast said it was supposed to clear up by noon. I had my doubts. Mountains are known to create their own weather. We got lucky and ran into a couple of climbers coming down that said the weather cleared a couple thousand feet below Camp Muir. The climb flew by and we quickly made it to Camp Muir (10,188 feet) by 10:00 am.
Camp Muir was to be our base camp for the night. The plan was to wake up early the next morning to make our push to the summit. We planned to begin hiking around 2 or 3 am. The idea was to hit the summit and begin returning before the sun heated up the snow causing it to loosen. This can make coming down more dangerous. After hanging out at Camp Muir for a couple hours I got in a conversation with a few guys who were also planning to hit the summit the following day. Only they were planning on getting up at 11 pm and leaving at midnight. Even though that was much earlier than we had planned I thought it might be a good idea to tag along with them. Strength in numbers! I asked if they would be alright with it and they couldn’t have been cooler.
Camp Muir sits on a ridge made of rock. There are cabin type shelters for rangers to stay in along with one for hikers. In Rainier’s busier months of the year, it can be almost impossible to get a space overnight. Because it was so late in the season to climb there happened to be plenty of space. We got in! That night we got in our sleeping bags and attempted to go to bed by 7 pm. I say attempted because although Nick was successful at getting to bed I was not. Between two people snoring and another rolling around in their bag all night I never fell asleep. NOT FOR ONE MINUTE!
We started getting ready by 11 pm and were off hiking by 12:15 am. For not getting any sleep I actually felt pretty good. The excitement was keeping me alert. It was cold and dark. A half-moon barely put light on the landscape around us. I could see outlines, glimmers on the snow. No more than 10 minutes into the hike we began passing crevasses. When the leader of the team came across a crevasse he would yell back to the person behind to warn him. That person would then warn the person behind them and so on. We were hiking in a line and I was toward the middle.
The hike up went pretty smoothly. Know one fell at any point and no one complained. It was a pretty quiet hike beside the wind. There was not a lot of talking but we all seemed to be in good spirits. We passed a dozen large crevasses, crossing them on ladders that had been made into bridges. It got my heart pumping. Things were going well until about 2 hours away from the summit. Nick underestimated how cold it was going to be and did not bring enough layers. He was starting to get cold and our group had been slowing down. With the slower pace preventing Nick from warming up we decided to push past the team. We were about 70 percent of the way up the mountain and the sun had started to peak out over the horizon.
As we climbed closer to the summit the winds picked up and it got colder. Unfortunately, Nick was unable to keep himself warm enough by hiking. His hands were getting too cold. He naturally wanted to put his hands in his pockets to try and warm them which wasn’t safe. It affected his balance. No more than 800 feet from the summit there was one more large crevasse to cross followed by a steep hill. He had mentioned turning back earlier and when we came across this last obstacle he did not look confident. We both decided that it would be better if he stayed behind while I hit the summit. It was right there! Nick hunkered down while I went for it.
I arrived at the summit at about 6:45, about 30 minutes after leaving Nick. I was the first person of the day to make it there. It was beautiful and I was full of emotions. When you find something you love that can make you feel like crying out of happiness, you found something worthwhile. I didn’t cry but I could have. I didn’t stay on the summit for long. I took pictures and soaked in all that I could. Within 15 minutes I was charging back down the mountain toward Nick.
After connecting back with Nick we both seemed to gain a second wind. Nick was disappointed that he didn’t make the summit but a weight seemed to be lifted off his shoulders. I think he had been nervous longer than I had realized and was glad to be heading back down. We were moving fast but carefully. We pushed hard for about four and a half hours making it back to Camp Muir around 11:30 am. We were both quick at picking up the rest of our gear that we had left behind the night before. We both wanted to get back to hiking so we could end the day. No longer then 15 minutes later we were back at it. I had been hiking for almost 15 hours straight of no sleep but my body still felt fine. Mentally I was strong. I honestly could have kept going but I was ready to end it. We arrived at the car at 3 pm ending the hike 15 hours after starting that night.
Climbing Mount Rainier was physically the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never pushed myself like that in such conditions. It was a different kind of fitness. Mental and physical combined. It was around 8 degrees out with 30 miles per hour winds. Although it was as hard as it was, I was ready for it! I could have kept going. I’m now curious how far I could go with it. How hard I could push myself. I don’t know but I’m going to find out!