Some trips go completely smoothly. This one seemed to be off to a bad start. We met at 6am below our building, and Ariel asked Brent off handedly if he had brought his passport. After a mad dash back to UBC, and picking up Conrad, we were on our way again. At the US border we had the pleasure of meeting two nasty guards and breathed in relief an hour later when they let us go. Then at the trailhead, we were just about to start hiking when we tried to pick up Brent’s backpack and could barely lift it. After nixing a bunch of unnecessary items, and eating a few others (thanks for the delicious fruit!), we were finally hiking up towards The Mountain (as is it is known in Seattle).
Mt. Rainier is a massive volcano. It stands alone, over 4km higher than the terrain around it, one of the most prominent mountains in the world. If (or when) it erupts again, the mudflows (or lahars) could reach downtown Seattle. One of the most distinctive features of Rainier are its numerous large glaciers. Even from afar, in mid summer, one sees mostly snow. On the drive in we stopped on the side of the road to admire this monster of a mountain. It seemed so far away.
I’ve been wanting to climb Mt. Rainier for a while. While hiking up the forested trail, my muscles still hurting and stiff from an intense rock climb two days earlier, I wondered if we would make it to the summit. We could see most of our route up through the trees, a dense maze of crevasses. The trail steepened as we hiked up an old moraine (a hill of rock debris) of the Inter Glacier and on to the glacier. We climbed higher and higher, admiring views of the valley we had come up, Little Tahoma (a subsidiary peak of Rainier) and the many crevasses on Emmons Glacier, just below us.
We stopped for a short break at Camp Schurman, a crowded and bustling campground with a ranger station and outhouse. There were dozens of colourful tents and even some tibetan prayer flags. Then we continued upwards, just another 10 minutes to Emmons Flats, a flat(ish) snowy area, where we camped next to a large crevasse with just two other tents for company. We excavated tent platforms for our tents and built snow walls against the wind. Unfortunately, the park has not designated an “outhouse area” nor an area for collecting snow for drinking water, so as we were excavating our tent platform we came across a few frozen turds. Not too appetizing. Later that night the moon rose, an orange fireball in the sky, I’ve never seen anything like it.
The next day we slept late, and hiked back down to Camp Schurman to use the outhouse and scramble up a small peak behind the camp. After clambering up a loose gully, we admired the close up view of our route, and the tiny dark dots that represented descending climbers. Back at camp we practiced some crevasse rescue, even rescuing Ariel, since he really wanted to lower himself into a crevasse. Apparently it was very wet, light blue and a predictably eery location. We had an early dinner and spent an hour or two melting snow so that we would have enough water for our summit bid that same night.
I woke up an hour before my alarm went off, since I needed to pee. I felt around in the vestibule and noticed that my hiking boots had frozen, so I reluctantly put them in my sleeping bag to thaw, and tried to doze off a bit. At 2am we woke up for real, had a quick breakfast and roped up. Despite moving at an easy pace, we passed a few groups which had left three hours before us. The route wove its way in between the huge crevasses, often crossing them on questionable snow bridges that I preferred to leap over, just in case. We could see the sun’s glow along the horizon for a long time before it actually appeared, casting an awesome orange light. Just before the summit the wind picked up, we put on some extra clothes, and clambered up the rocks to the summit crater. Suddenly the views opened up in all directions, and we were on top of (this part of) the world. We could see Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, St. Helens, and lots of other smaller peaks, all of which appeared tiny – there really isn’t a mountain nearby that rivals Rainier.
After packing up our gear, we started hiking back down the trail. I could definitely feel my knees, not too surprising on a day in which we ascended 1500m and descended 3000m. We slid down the Inter Glacier on our butts (glissading), which was fast and fun but led to painfully frozen asses… We reached the car late in the evening, where we camped and drove back to Vancouver the next day, making the standard stops in Bellingham at Trader Joe’s and a mexican food truck.
Another smooth trip.