Friday, August 15, 2014

Club Members on Mt. Rainier Expedition

Climbing up the Muir Snowfield with Mount Adams in the background
 Two of our club members, Jerry Thomas and Steve Anderson, recently climbed Mt. Rainier. It was Steve's second time and Jerry's first. Jerry wrote the following report and all of the photos were taken with his camera. Some of the photos were his and some were taken by his guide. Jerry owns all of these gorgeous photos. Congratulations, guys!

Mount Adams from Camp Muir at sunset
 Mount Rainier Climb Aug. 4-7, 2014 Trip Report

We arrived in Ashford, WA on August 4th about 1pm.  At 3pm we met with our guides for an orientation meeting and equipment check.  The senior guide, Brent Okita, went through our equipment thoroughly.  Anything that was deficient would have to be rented from RMI.  The next day, August 5th we had snow school.  We hopped in a bus at the Whitaker Mountaineering Base camp.  That’s where the Whitaker Bunkhouse is where we stayed for two nights.  The bus dropped us off at the Paradise Visitor’s Center in Mount Rainier National Park at about 5400 ft.

Steve at Camp Muir with Mount Adams and the "high table".
 We hiked up to 9700 ft where we could practice our snow skills on the lower part of the Muir Snowfield.  We spent the whole day practicing what to do in case someone fell and we had to self arrest with our ice ax.  We practiced self arresting on our butts,  head first on our stomachs, head first on our backs.  We practiced how to go up switchbacks roped up and how to arrest if someone fell.  For fun we practiced how to glissade with and ice ax as a brake.  We got back on the bus about 3:30 and returned to the Whitaker Bunkhouse.  Note that snow school was not easy as we had to ascend over 4000 ft and then practice all of the skills needed on the mountain.  The rooms in Whitaker Bunkhouse were very basic with no TVs and no AC.  Our rooms faced west so they got a lot of sunlight in the afternoon.  It did cool off fast in the evenings and was comfortable for sleeping.  We packed our backpacks before going to bed.  On August 6th we got on the bus to the Paradise Visitor’s Center where we started our ascent to Camp Muir at 10,000 ft.

Inside the bunkhouse at Camp Muir

   The Visitor’s Center is at 5400 ft so that meant we would climb 4600 ft up to Camp Muir.  We started up what is called the Skyline Trail which basically follows the Nisqually River and Nisqually Valley on the left with the Paradise Valley on the right.  The Skyline trail heads towards a high point called Panorama Point at 6909 ft and continues up to the Nisqually River.  At this point the trail ends and the rest of the climb continues on snow, ice and glaciers.  From the Nisqually River intersection we continued climbing up what is called the Muir Snowfield.  Its called a snowfield because it is static and not moving like glaciers.  The snowfield was much safer to travel on because it is not a glacier there are no crevasses to be worried about.  

We hiked up the snowfield in our boots without ropes, crampons or ice ax.  We reached Camp Muir at 10,000 ft at about 3:30pm on August 6th.  At Camp Muir there are two bunkhouses, one for guided climbs and one for the general public, there was a stone storage house and a stone structure which is used by the National Park Service.  I saw one park ranger that was staying there.  The National Park Service has a small weather station at Camp Muir which they maintain.  There were three pit toilets located very near the bunkhouses so that wind from the right direction would make for some unpleasant smells in the bunkhouse.  The pit toilets are emptied occasionally by helicopter.  We ate as much as we could and we were told to lie down at 6pm.  At 10:50pm we were awakened.  Well, we had wake up call although the author did not sleep at all.  By midnight on August 7th we had all of our equipment on and were roped up and ready to go.  

We started up across the Cowlitz Glacier.  We had only an easy traverse across the Cowlitz Glacier.  There was an area of rock fall to cross but during the dead of night, the threat of rock fall diminishes.  We crossed the Cowlitz Glacier in twenty minutes reaching the ridge of rocks that go up and down the mountain called “Cathedral Rocks”.  At this point our guide shortened the interval between climbers and we held the slack rope in our hands.  This was to prevent the rope from being caught on rocks as we scrambled up and over the Cathedral Rocks to the Ingraham Glacier.  With the Cathedral Rocks close to our left hand side we climbed up Ingraham Glacier to our first rest stop at 11,100 ft.  This area is called Ingraham Flats and is a relatively flat area where people like to camp and rest. 

 At this point, one of our group, John, decided he couldn’t make it any further.  He had been complaining of leg cramps since our arrival at Camp Muir and the guides had urged him to try to continue.  We had already ascended almost 10,000 ft in two days (4,000 ft for snow school, 4600 ft to Camp Muir and another 1000 ft to Ingraham Flats).  We had three guides and nine people, three climbers per guide.  One guide, Stoney (that was his real name), took John back to Camp Muir.  Now we had to rearrange climbers and we had four climbers with the remaining two guides.  After our break we crossed a crevasse on a ladder bridge, reached the other side of Ingraham Glacier and started up Disappointment Cleaver.  

The Cleaver is another ridge of rock similar to Cathedral Rocks running up and down the mountain.  Normally the Cleaver is covered with snow but at this time it was almost entirely free of snow.  The terrain was very steep and we had to scramble up rocks similar to the upper chute on Juniper Peak or somewhere in Pine Creek Canyon (in Red Rock Canyon NCA). This was very difficult since we were wearing crampons, had an ice ax in one hand and a coil of rope in the other.  The author kept getting his crampons caught up in the rope and on a couple of occasions almost kicked our president, Steve Anderson, who was directly behind me, in the head. 

 Disappointment Cleaver lived up to its name and when we reached the top of it, four more climbers decided they had had enough and were ready to go back down.  My colleague told the guide that his legs were cramping and could not make it any further.  I told the guide that I would go back down with my friend.  I did not realize that three others had already said they were going down and our senior guide told me that he didn’t have enough guides for me to go down too.  He asked me how I was feeling and I said I felt generally good.  No cramping or head aches.  So he said "you have to commit you either will continue to the top or many people will be disappointed when everyone has to turn around."  I said, “Let’s go”. 

The author near the summit of Mount Rainier
 From this point we had only 2,000 ft more of elevation gain all of it on glaciers and above 12,000 ft above sea level.  We rearranged guides from our group and another group led by Walter Hailes from RMI.  We now had twelve climbers and four remaining guides.  One guide took four climbers down from the rest stop above Disappointment Cleaver.  This is the maximum that can be on one rope due to the minimum interval spacing and length of rope.  From the top of Disappointment Cleaver we climbed about 500 ft and then began a long traverse to the north until we reached the upper slopes of Emmons Glacier.  From there we began the arduous switchbacks up to the summit.  At this elevation it is very important to use the high altitude mountaineering techniques called pressure breathing and rest steps.  The author made it a point to use these techniques ascending and pressure breathing descending.  We reached the summit at 7am on August 7th just before sunrise.  The reason for climbing during the night was that the snow and ice on the trail was frozen which made it easier and safer to climb with crampons.  On the way down in the sunlight the snow and ice got much softer and slushier making descending slippery even with crampons on. 

A crevasse on Ingraham Glacier near Ladder Bridge
The stats for the climb were:

total elevation gain for climb: 9000 ft
Elevation of summit: 14400 ft
total elapsed time: 30 hrs
total elevation gain including snow school: 13000 ft
The author crossing the ladder bridge
 When we started descending, my guide asked if he could take some photos with my camera.  He was very experienced having made 500+ ascents of Mount Rainier, 5 summits of Mount Everest, and 20 ascents of Denali among others.  I agreed wanting to make sure I concentrated on what I was doing since statistically the most accidents happen on descents.  Therefore, most of the most stunning photos were taken not be me but my guide.  Both my colleague and I gave our guides generous Las Vegas tips at the ceremony back at base camp. ~ Jerry


Larry Dunn said...

Jerry: Thanks for the great report, including the photos -- whoever took them! I'm proud to know another Mt. Ranier veteran. ...Larry Dunn

Jerry Thomas said...

Thanks for posting this! Hopefully we will get lots of views!

thomas yang said...

I think this is their wonderful experience

thomas yang said...

wonderful experience