One step in front of the other. One step in front of the other. Only 5,000ft more elevation gain… Every time I embark on an alpine expedition I find myself halfway into it with sore feet, aching shoulders and not a clue as to why I am here. Climbing in an alpine environment with a 50lb pack and amongst freezing temperatures isn't the most sought after experience, yet there is something about it that keeps me craving more.
I was explaining this to a woman at a bar in Astoria, Oregon the day after I had climbed Mt. Rainier and realized the phenomena. I explained to her that 90% of mountaineering, at the time, is a miserable and suffering experience you force your self through to reach your goals and 10% of mountaineering is the most gorgeous and spectacular experience in an unreal environment only few can imagine. The long slogs up glaciers, cold nights in wet tents and sleeping bags, freeze dried food, and the uncomfortable altitude wear on oneself and create question. What is it all worth? It is worth every second of suffering for the 2am wake up calls to begin hiking by only headlamp and starlight- to crest over the ridge as the sun rises so slowly glowing on your face. As mother nature wakes up, I feel as though I am truly blessed to be alive in such an incredible place on Earth. Accomplishing the summit of any mountain is a wonderful and rewarding feeling, although the endorphins really start flowing once you have made it back to the car and are able to basque in the entire endeavor. The woman replied quickly with "it sounds like mountaineering is 10% suffering and 90% the most beautiful experience. The meager moments of bliss are far greater than they seem."
My climbing buddy Pat and I had been talking about putting together a Mt. Rainier trip for a couple months prior to us actually setting it in stone. The spark really became promising when I decided to embark on a summer wanderlust. Pat ended up getting work off last minute and convincing Ryan to join the party. I had left Bozeman a day ahead of them for the 10 hour drive and camped just outside of Missoula. The next day I had made my way to Spokane while they left Bozeman at 8pm. We ended up going the distance to Mt. Rainier National Park that night, arriving at the trailhead to gear up at 8am. We didn't waste time; we packed our bags, checked in with the climbing rangers, got our permits and hit the trail to Camp Muir on the Muir Snowfield.
Camp Muir is a place like I have never seen- a refuge for climbers at 10,188ft with a ranger station, RMI Guide hut, shack bathrooms and a first come first serve bunkhouse. It was fun to be surrounded by mountaineers of all different backgrounds and stories. We briefly had conversations with other parties. We dug a platform in the snow for our three man tent (squishing us all together inside with no room for anything). We then began boiling snow for water and our freeze dried meals; these things taste so good at high altitude when you are starving but I always wonder how bad they would taste if I cooked one up on a normal day after work?
Pat and Ryan went to bed at around 6pm because we were going to be waking up at 2am to allow for plenty of time and good weather for our summit shot. Additionally, as the day warms, rock and ice fall hazards become a very serious concern. I chose to stay up for another hour or so to watch the clouds gather and vanish as they danced in an out of camp. The views were amazing and I was able to get this shot of Mt. Adams and the Cascade Mountains below through the clouds as they opened for a split second. This is one of my favorite photos I have ever taken.
The morning came quick, but the mornings of summit day are always my favorite part of these alpine trips. The clinks of our crampons and ice axes on the frozen ground are music to my ears. In the distance far ahead of us we could see the headlamps bouncing up and down as others made their way up. We chose to take the Disappointment Cleaver route which is very well maintained by the RMI Guides. As we reached the top of the Cleaver, the sun slowly crested the horizon and we stopped to soak in the breath taking views of jagged glaciers and crevasses with Mount Rainier National Park in the distance. We could also see volcanos Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood and the Three Sisters.
We passed three groups on our way to the summit. I guess we were moving pretty fast as we were complimented on our speed by a group heading down. Once we reached the crater rim and false summit there was only a couple hundred yards until the true summit. We celebrated amongst high winds with high fives and then signed the summit log. I made sure to advertise "www.UrsaOutdoor.com" in the book. We found a large rock for shelter from the wind and spent about 20 minutes enjoying snacks and conversation about the endeavor. Although we had reached our goal of the summit, we still had a long way back to the car as we were only halfway done with the expedition.
The way down was the hardest part. With mountaineering boots there is no give as the soles are very firm and rigid for ice travel. We were worn out and fatigued by the up hill travel as well as the high altitude. Pat and I ended up getting headaches from dehydration. Once arriving back at Camp Muir, we took a three hour nap before packing up and heading to the car. Again, this was the most painful and miserable part of the trip. We were exhausted. The real celebration began once back at the car with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer in hand and boots off. What a trip.