Journal Entries of Mt. Rainer Climber

Written by Susan Burger, Connecticut, USA

Pack and Repack

The day began with more packing. Then there was the unpacking and repacking and unpacking and getting more gear followed by the repacking and then the distribution of he group gear, which meant repacking. And in the midst of it all was the sheer panic that it all wasn’t going to fit. The dread of knowing all that was being packed needed to be unpacked every time you needed something was the sole thought that kept us from the true horror all that lay before us we had to carry.

sitting in snowThree hours later we loaded the bus to the mountain. Our plan was to stay off the beaten path. As if Rainier is even close to being a beaten path but were taking routes less traveled – no pancake route for us.  It’s been a day of kicking and mushing and we have now set up camp on Nisqually Glacier. Mount St Helens flat -topped peak rests sun-baked in the distance. And the cascades lay clear in front of us.

The low laying clouds of the valley in the past few hours have begun to fill our entire view. Like smoke filling a disco the cloud coverage continues to billow up under our feet.

There is no doubt our heads are in the clouds.

The sun at 7:15 is still out but not bright. Dusk has set in. The kitchen is closing down. Time to repack

Knot For Nothing

We tried to sleep outside last night but down sleeping bags, no ground cover and thin pads made it a wet endeavor. So into the tent we went.

group photo of hikers
The midnight sun is making it difficult to sleep. Sunset never seems to happen. And sunrise comes before you know it.

When we left our camp this am the valley below was filled with the same smoky clouds.

The sea of white had filled the entire valley and looked almost like water.

I sit now in our two -day camp. But it was a difficult feat getting here. We climbed snow walls where our hands hit our feet; Rock traverses that were hard to get use to after so many days on the forgiving snow. At least when you fell in the snow you just sank.

We sit now, dinner in our bellys, enjoying the solace of open space. Mt. Adams and Mt Hood rest in the distance blanketed by a blue sky. It is time to learn more knots.

Wish someone would show me how to make a noose.

Everything I tie comes out backwards or unrecognizable.

The Willson Glacier

wilson glacierI suppose walking to a field filled with crevasses and being dropped down one to practice rescue techniques isn’t exactly “touching the void” but it certainly is cool.glacier cravas

Blue ice. Cragged weird shape blocks. Shelf after shelf down. And then behind you the same huge ice wall that never seems to end.

And there I hung.

And instead of using the prussic knot (I had practiced half the night so I could lift myself out of the hole),I asked for my camera  to be  lowered down.  You might of thought I was a child at Disney or some adventure park.

If you ever have the chance to be dropped safely into a crevasse go and look. Otherwise it’s probably a place you don’t want to visit.  Erick  put it best when he concluded had you fallen into the crevasse by accident it would have been a shock at first and then all the knots  and rescue we had learned would have backed up sheer creativity. He’s correct. I hope I never see the inside of one again  unless it is the same way as today.

10, 600 Feet Below Camp Hazard

We had a leisurely morning. Belayed the rocks and took photos.  Then we headed out and up. And up. And up. And up.

It was high and the snow soft. At one point my entire thigh was embedded. And up we continued.  It seemed as if  we were never going to hit where the white of the snowfields and the blue of the sky merged.glacier

Our packs are supposedly lighter. I beg to differ.

We need to start drinking more hot chocolate. There are endless bags of it and it is heavy.

We sit now at 10,600 right below camp hazard. Everything before us. Everything including a summit attempt tomorrow. I suppose you can’t know heaven is heaven without going through a day of hell.

Everyone is a bit on edge. Asking questions about ice  falls and  rock falls and  breaks. I just wanted to know where we were going and how long  until we got there.

But the bottom line is we will get there when we get there and once there the next day promised to be all down hill.

Summit Day

We left this morning in the twilight around 4:40 am. We all knew the day ahead – summit day – would be a push. It began with a straight up climb . Then we froze in the wind while we lowered packs and then we lowered ourselves down so that one by one we could climbed up the ice wall. At the top of the wall  we waited close to 45 minutes shivering in subzero parkas before the whole team  meet up.
standing on summit
The steep climb, the cold, the icefalls were exhausting. And most annoying was the fact no matter how high we climbed the parking lot was always in view. We couldn’t have been more then 2oo feet from what seemed like the never coming summit rocks when I asked Vick if we were closer to the rocks or the parking lot. His reply was  “ we’re almost at the rocks what do you think- how  ‘bout we go for it”.

I have spent enough time on mountains to know a day of never ending up, thin altitude and chilling winds means the reward should be good. But I was not prepared for what came next. Instead of ascending to a point we hit the rocks and then found ourselves walking into a crater.

The Crater of Rainier

Only 1% of the people that come to climb Rainier sleep on the summit. We are part of that 1%. In some ways I wish we were here in August then we really could explore what lay under our feet.. The word is ice caves run from one end of the crater to the other. Steamsnow covered mountain pumps, stalactites hang and there are lots of caves. Much as I regret not being able to see that I am tired and we still have not been to the absolute top.

To be honest the summit was kind of a non-event.  You had this feeling of being on top of the world simply because you had made a difficult ascent not because of where you now stood.  We took a few photos, signed the cache and went back to the business of setting up camp.

My bet is cold as the crater is no one will get much sleep. Every zipper on our tent is broken and it is way cold. Plus the altitude. We went from 10,6 to over 14,000. We are all short on breath and even though it is only 8:20pm we have all been in bed for close to an hour.

Down and Out

We woke at 5:00am to bags covered in a thin layer of snow. Single handedly I tore down the tent as the boys groomed themselves.

We ate the small amount we had left then went up and over to descend down the other side of the mountain. In many ways it was as if we were on a totally different mountain. The smoke filled valleys I had gotten use to were no longer visible. Instead there were just knarled mountainous faces of ice. And in the valley one dangerous crevasse after deadly crevasse. I didn’t know until we were long through it that 20 years almost to the day 10 RMI climbers had been lost there. A huge block of ice had sheered off the face and forced them all to fall to their death.
hiking up in the clouds
Not like we are not without tragedy. Just on a smaller sized scale. Rick is limping through this mess because he has tweaked his knee. I had been leading so I really didn’t know the full extend of his injury until Chris and I switched places. That’s when I saw Rick was placing no weight on his leg at all.

The trail ahead of us was slow going and long. Rick balancing on his axe dragging his leg along. From slushy snow to glacier to the rocky spine of Disappointment Clever .

Down and down and down we went. The air thickened with each step.

When we  reached the flats where we rested. Then slowly we made our way to Camp Muir. A grouping of stone buildings – more like huts set within the hill.

We had thought from this point we would simply sled on our rain gear down the mountain. Instead it  was a  quick paced march through the slushy snow. I think Erick spoke everyone’s sentiment when not more then 4 minutes  after he began the  descent he exclaimed “this sucks!”

Every time your foot slide downhill the front of your toes would wail into the front of your plastic  boots and then the top of your boot would wail into your shin. And then toward the bottom the snow became hard pavement and heat that burned and all I could think about was getting those boots off.

In mountaineering, what goes up is not always lucky enough to come down. And for the most part everyone from our group is in one piece. Some are feeling broken, others are just bruised or snow -burned but everyone is very much alive and dying for a shower and a cold beer.

We are already discussing where we wander next so that we may once again “ Kiss The Sky”.